How to fund an adventurous trip for free

Young people have the time, energy and imagination to make adventurous travel choices, but they don’t always have the funds to match

Young people have the time, energy and imagination to make adventurous travel choices, but they don’t always have the funds to match their big-trip ideas. And sometimes their parents don’t either. That was exactly the situation I found myself in two years ago, when my then 18-year-old son wanted to team up with a charity to take part in a four-week volunteering trip to Nairobi, Kenya to teach kids in the slums. I could see the zeros lining up before he even dared reveal the cost.

‘It’ll only be about £3,000 mum,’ he said, super-quickly, ‘And that’s all inclusive, safari and everything. And I’ll teach maths in a classroom, to real kids, something I could never do in the UK without a list of qualifications. Just think what a great experience that will be. For me, and the kids I’ll be working with.’

Great experience or not, how on earth were we going to afford it?

It’s not always easy finding money to find big travel projects © everst, Shutterstock

Well, first off, he said he’d contribute. But at that particular moment, he was studying hard for his A levels, so finding the right balance between academic work and paid work wasn’t going to be easy. That said, he managed to secure a part-time gig tutoring maths (the Nextdoor app is great way of finding this type of work – and it’s free), which meant not only would he be bolstering his own maths skills, but he stood a fighting chance of raising a third of the cost.

However, the balance of £2,000 was a big sum to find. And it loomed heavy over us. I contacted the chairperson of the charity he was travelling with.

‘You should try and get the entire trip funded through grants and donations,’ he said.

‘What grants and donations?’

‘Try Jack Petchey and then keep going.’

So, we took the advice, Googled ‘Jack Petchey’ and followed that with ‘How to get grants for volunteer trips abroad’ and. as with so many of these things, one line of enquiry inevitably led to another. There were plenty of dead ends and ‘you don’t quite meet criteria’ moments, but a day or so’s work gave us ten promising leads, of which five yielded positive results. The 2018 trip was paid for entirely from donations and my son’s ability to work his maths magic.

Once Matt was on his way to Kenya, I sensed there could be a second, third and maybe fourth trip in the offing, so in order to get a head start on the next one, I catalogued everything we’d done, and sorted my new charitable friends into groups:

The geographical one

Some organisations grant awards to recipients who live in a specific geographical area, and Jack Petchey is a good example. To qualify for a Petchey award, you need to be based in London or Essex, aged between 11 and 25, and the project needs a volunteering element. But if successful (and most people tend to be) they pretty much guarantee you a £300 cheque.

An even more specific opportunity we found was the Thomas Wilson Educational Trust, which prioritises young people living in Teddington. As my son went to Teddington School, we snapped that one up and they were very generous. There are numerous other local examples up and down the country, so get your fingers tapping on those keyboards.

The educational one

If you’re at university, search your college’s website or contact your student hub, as there are some surprising offers of money buried deep within faculty web pages. Matt is now at Imperial and we discovered they have an ‘Exploration Grant” available. Although it requires him to put together a highly detailed proposal, it is remarkably generous if he’s successful.

Imperial College has an Exploration Grant

Imperial College offers an Exploration Grant © shawnwil23, Shutterstock

Private schools are another good source of funds, but they don’t always publicise their offers. Contact the bursar and see if there is anything available in your school.

The charitable one

The charitable slant is covered by various organisations. The Lord Mayor’s 800th Anniversary Awards is a great example. We were attracted to it in 2018 but missed the deadline (February in the year of travel), so it’s first on our list this time round. The eligibility criteria says it favours 17–24 year olds who have a connection to the City of London and will be taking part in teaching, community or conservation work.

The adventurous one

If you are planning adventure rather than volunteering, try Timmissartok. They caught my imagination with their small, perfectly curated website filled with inspiring quotes, and the message that they encourage absolutely anyone to apply for a grant for their thrill-seeking idea. And who knew that ‘timmissartok’ meant ‘fly like a bird’ in Greenlandic?

There are absolutely no guidelines given, but there is a useful list of past recipients to help you gauge what they are looking for. Alpkit, Young Explorers (Under 19) and the Captain Scott Society all look promising for projects that have a more outward bound angle.

The DIY one

Try the ‘Do It Yourself’ angle by setting up your own fundraising page on Virgin Money Giving. Write a few snappy lines about your trip and circulate the webpage to friends and family. Suggest £5 donations and you’ll be surprised what people might offer. My son gave up Christmas and birthday presents and asked people to donate instead.

The ones that fly under the radar

There are some generous donors who keep a low profile, such as the Rotary Club, the Lion Club and the Quakers (although you need to be a Quaker to be eligible). They all have a history of funding young people’s adventures. Again, there is no specific format for applying and it can be difficult to get hold of the right email address (keep persisting), but once you have navigated your way through their hierarchy they are generous with money and have a genuine interest in seeing dynamic young people develop their skills. My son secured two lucrative Rotary donations.

Final thoughts

Lastly, three hot tips we wished we’d known before we started:

· Put together a chatty style resume (an extended version of the University Personal Statement served us well), because you can cherry pick sections of it to suit most applications, and it will save you loads of time in the long run.

· Check the closing dates on absolutely everything before you start. We got three quarters of the way through some applications and then realised we’d missed the deadline.

· Triple check the eligibility criteria.

And here’s the best bit; January is the perfect time to begin chasing down these grants for next summer’s trip. Use the long winter evenings to Google the hell out of every possible option. Maybe you’ll find some organisations we missed? My son’s booked his 2020 adventure, and he’s confident the money will follow.

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