HOW TO PLAN A SWIMMING EXPEDITION - PART NINE - "Show Me The Money"
Welcome to the 9th article in our series focused on how to plan outdoor/wild swimming (whatever you want to call it) expeditions. As this series draws to its penultimate moment we wanted to tackle one of the most contentious topics of all and one of the hardest parts of planning your own swimming expedition, MONEY. In part nine of the series we tackle this tough task and answer your question as to “how the hell do you pay for it?” We will look at advice, tips and ways to shave off pennies so you can afford your swimming expedition in Part 9 of the series, “Show Me The Money”.
“How do you pay for it all?” It’s a question we get asked when it comes to our swimming adventures and it’s a common misconception that we’re well off. We come from pretty a pretty bog standard northern upbringing, we were all born in Yorkshire and lived in a 3 bedroom house in Skelmanthorpe. Our parents divorced and we moved up to the Lake District to live with our Mum and her ex-partner Iain. Our Dad worked as a Geography Teacher, Iain worked in building surveying whilst Mum worked as a learning support teacher. We went to the mighty state school of Ullswater Community College and spent our teenage years in a small village in the Lake District called Langwathby. After university Jack worked as a Copywriter, Robbie as an artist and Editor of a fitness magazine and I hurled myself into the startup tech scene in London. Our expeditions were always a release from our busy chaotic working lives and the sudden jerk from teenage years and university to the 9-5 grind of adult working life. We by no means had a large pot of money to go off on swimming expeditions and used a multitude of methods to pay for the swims.
So, what do you actually need to pay for? That’s the 1st question you should start with, really break down your expedition and work out where your big costs are. The typical costs for an expedition are likely;
Swimming Equipment - You’ll likely have some of this already if you’re a swimmer but there will likely be some kit costs. We’d recommend that you focus on only the truly necessary kit and where possible approach a swimming brand over email to enquire as to whether they might be interested in sponsoring your expedition with some swimming equipment. You’re much more likely to be successful with this if you have either A) A cause/charity that your swim is aimed at and B) If you have a following on social media (we’ll get to more on that a bit later on)
Nutrition - Food and Drink for however many days your expedition lasts, try to stay local and we used a trick of asking Pubs whether we could camp on their grounds if we ate there, usually they obliged and it meant we got a porcelain toilet (a must!), hearty grub and a pint of ale! Again you can approach brands and see if they’re interested in partnering with you for your expedition.
Accommodation - This cost really depends on the nature of the expedition but is typically the biggest cost, for your 1st swims stay local and stick to friends and family or leverage social media and reach out to fellow swimmers to see if they’re willing to put you up for the night. Again you can approach hotels to see if they’ll donate a room in exchange for sponsoring your expedition.
Transport - Flights, trains or buses - This is the toughest cost of the lot as it’s incredibly difficult to get airlines to donate flights. We’ve had zero luck so far when it comes to securing free flights from airlines, we had to cancel an expedition to New Zealand as we couldn’t persuade Air NZ to sponsor us with free flights. However we’ve had more luck with independent travel companies and Caledonian Sleeper sponsored our overnight journey from London to Inverness for “Wild Lady of Lochbroom” and “NK Norge” sponsored our ferry for “Into the Maelstrom” - both these swims had environmental messages so that definitely helps.
Ship Captains - This can be a big cost and it depends on the ship captain, some may donate their time and boat if they’re particular interested in the swim or cause but this is one cost that you really need to plan for. We’d advise going for single day expeditions so you can keep the cost down to the day or to go for a multi day swim which only requires kayak support, such as a staged river swim.
Our second piece of advice is to really closely look at your own financial means and match that to your expedition. It’s no use planning a monstrous/expensive expedition if you simply don’t have the means to fund it or experience in fundraising. We’d advise to start close to home. Our first expedition together was “Swim the Eden” a 145km swim of our local river in Cumbria, England. This brought significant financial benefits and you have to get into the “beg/borrow” mindset and really shave off costs wherever you can;
SWIMMING EQUIPMENT = Speedo agreed to sponsor us as we had a small niche following in outdoor swimming and the swim was to raise money for children who cant swim (Swimming Trust)
NUTRITION = High 5 sponsored us for the same reasons and Mum arrived on daily basis with endless donuts!
ACCOMMODATION = We could stay with friends and family as we knew the area and grew up there. We also camped and used gardens/pubs etc
TRANSPORT - It was our hometown so we didn’t need to raise costs for lots of flights/transport
SHIP CAPTAIN - It was a multi day river swim so we didn’t need one, our friend James supported us as kayaker.
Depending on your abilities and skillset you may be able to get creative when it comes to fundraising for your expeditions. We’ve worked a number of partnerships out with brands who want to promote and active and adventurous lifestyle. We partnered with General Tire to work on our Swim Wild Documentary, Calum joined forces with Kelloggs to promote a Vegan Cereal and we’ve worked with Wiggle to get people up and at it for 6.00am starts! If you reinvest these fees into your expeditions then it makes working on them all the more fun and meaningful!
However hard you scrimp, save, beg, borrow and blag there are always going to be some costs and one avenue to explore is to apply for adventure grants. There are a wide range of adventure grants and bursaries available to young adventurers and your swimming expedition may be exactly the kind of unique project they’re looking to support. For “Swim the Eden” we successfully applied for a £1,500 grant with “Sculpt the Future” which was looking for an environmentally conscious expedition. This was a lifesaver for us as it meant we could cover things like Robbie’s flight from Berlin (he lived there) as well as Dad’s Airbnb for the 9 days he was chauffer and land support;
There are a number of aggregator sites that list out potential grants and awards and we’d thoroughly recommend you look through to see if they might be suitable for your adventure;
The final area is both a blessing and a curse. It is a lot easier to raise money/get free kit/accommodation/sponsorship etc if you have a following on social media. Whether you choose to leverage this is up to you but for every single expedition we’ve done we wouldn’t have got any of the grants, equipment, lodging etc if we didn’t have a following on social media. That’s not to say you have to have one as some of the greatest swimming expeditions of all time were planned before the dawn of social media but rather that in the modern world it is easier if you do have one. We can only speak from our own experience but when it comes to persuading Tourist Boards to part with funds or Brands to offer their services for free, it certainly doesn’t do harm to have an aquatic following. Don’t make this the reason for doing your swims but rather as a fun/light hearted way of sharing and documenting your adventures. The most successful ones for us have been Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Mailchimp and Twitter, make sure you’re using social media rather than it using you and it can be a useful weapon in your arsenal for saving pennies on your swimming expedition.
The final element of paying for the expedition is that you have to be able to bite the bullet and pay for it yourself if you aren’t able to either raise money or get things donated. Ultimately this will depend on your own lifestyle choices and piggy bank. I’d been working a rather soulless sales job in London which whilst slowing draining all joy down the plug hole meant that I had some disposable income to spend on expeditions if we couldn’t raise the funds, for all our expeditions we secured certain elements as donations ranging from hotels, ferries, equipment etc but our fixed costs looked somewhat like this;
2015 - Swim the Eden Expedition - Cost - £1,500 - 9 days worth of food/drink, accommodation for support team, train tickets, flight from Berlin for Robbie - Secured £1,500 grant from Sculpt the Future.
2016 - Into the Maelstrom - Cost £2,500 - 7 days worth of food/drink, flights to Norway, ship captain fees - Paid from out of sales commission from soul destroying job in London.
2017 - Wild Lady of Lochbroom - Cost £300 - Sea Kayak Hire, Food/Drink - paid out of own pockets
2018 - To Hellespont and Back - Flights £500 - Only cost as we partnered with SwimTrek. We treated this as our holiday for the year and paid the flights with our own money.
2019 - No expedition due to life getting in the way (I’ve moved to Singapore with work, Robbie’s getting married in Slovakia and Jack’s holding down the fort in London).
So now you’ve bootstrapped your expedition, cut all necessary corners and raised funds for your expedition and answered the fundamental statement of “Show Me The Money”. You’ve followed steps 1 through to 9 and the final piece of the jigsaw is in place, all that’s left is dive on into the watery world and enjoy your swimming expedition, and that’s the key part of all of this, remember that you want to ENJOY it, don’t get too caught up in filming, promoting etc and stay mindful that the memories that will last are the ones you enjoy. To close off the series we want to take a look at the greatest swimming expeditions ever completed, from mind boggling logistical nightmares to negotiating with warring world powers, from deep fears of highly concentrated dangerous wildlife to bonkers feats of physical endurance, we will count down the “Top 10 Greatest Swimming Expeditions of All Time”.
Next week – Stage 10 of Planning a Swimming Expedition “Top 10 Greatest Swimming Expeditions of All Time”
For the story behind our journey from Cumbrian couch potatoes to everyday adventurers check out Little Brother Jacks book - “Swim Wild”