Expedition funding isn't just for elite professional athletes and scientists. With the right idea and a convincing proposal, anybody can get a trip funded. "You have to answer the so-what question," says Jeff Blumenfeld, editor of ExpeditionNews.com. "Sponsors respond to projects that are different—that seem to be more than a vacation." Sweeten the deal by promising as much media exposure as you can handle: the more blogs, magazine articles, videos, Facebook posts, and pictures you can provide, the better. Blumenfeld cites Andre Tolme, the man who in 2003 and 2004 golfed his way in 12,170 strokes across Mongolia, as a prime example of creativity trumping athletic prowess. "It also helps to solve a mystery or find something," adds Blumenfeld. "Like Irvine's camera, Amundsen's tent, or Amelia Earhart." His guide to expeditions, You Want to Go Where? ($25; Skyhorse), is packed with hundreds of tips, including info on more than a dozen grants, but the following big three are a good place to start.
GORE-TEX SHIPTON/TILMAN GRANT: Probably your best shot, given it's for "avid enthusiasts who believe in traveling in small, compact teams, unburdened by porters and excessive bulk." Three to six expeditions divvy up $30,000; gore-tex.com
POLARTEC CHALLENGE GRANT: The most "compelling, passionate, and original adventures" in any sport undertaken by "frugal, low-impact teams who respect the local culture." That's totally you. Two to four expeditions divvy up $10,000-$15,000; polartec.com
THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY'S JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME: Creativity and salesmanship will net you funding for "an original and inspiring journey anywhere in the world, awarded to those with a curiosity about the world and the desire to communicate with a wider audience." One winner at $6,300; rgs.org