The Explorers Club, founded in New York City in 1904, is the hub for the world’s foremost explorers. Its headquarters are the Manhattan hangout where they come together to socialize, learn, and plot their next great expedition to advance humanity’s scientific understanding of the world. Conversations at club HQ can range from trips to the Amazon and the bottom of the ocean floor, to debating whether that really was mammoth meat served at the 1951 annual club dinner.
So, as you might expect, becoming a member of The Explorers Club is no easy feat. The membership committee looks for applicants that are of the same caliber as renowned alumni like Sir Edmund Hillary, Thor Heyerdahl, and Ernest Shackleton. In his 1915 application, Teddy Roosevelt famously filled out the "Experience" section of the written application by penning in “President of the United States.” (Though it’s more likely he officially earned his spot by trekking into the Amazon rainforest to uncover the headwaters of the Rio da Duvida.)
Current members and club honorees include some pretty high profile names like Elon Musk, James Cameron, and Jeff Bezos. So what exactly does it take to join this society of intrepid exploration junkies?
“It's a fine line often between adventurism and exploration," said Marc Bryan-Brown, explorer of the Siberian Arctic and the club’s Vice President for Membership, "All explorers are adventurers, but not all adventurers are explorers. You can climb Everest, or scuba dive with sharks, or hang out in New Guinea with a bunch of tribespeople and it's a lot of fun, but in and of itself that is not exploration."
So here’s what you’ll have to do if you think you have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of club member Neil Armstrong (yes, those footsteps) and become a member of The Explorers Club.
1. Check out club events near you
Attending events gives you a chance to schmooze with current members, which will come in handy later when you're looking for sponsorship. But it’s also a treat in itself, with lecture series, panels, and film screenings open to the public that’ll help get you acquainted with the organization’s mission.
Keep an eye on the website's events calendar so you don't miss anything, and find your nearest chapter. While you're at it you may want to study up with the club's extensive research holdings to get inspired for your next expedition.
2. Figure out your membership type
Applicants to The Explorers Club can apply for five different types of membership. Here's the breakdown:
Fellows: They're the most distinguished of the bunch. Fellows have directly and substantially contributed to the scientific understanding of the world through field research on their expeditions.
Members: They have contributed more broadly to the cause of exploration. Fellows and Members are the only positions that are entitled to voting privileges and who can serve as sponsors for future applicants.
Associates: For those who haven't quite summited their personal Everest yet, the Associate position may be the right fit. You won't get all the benefits of full membership, but it's a great stepping stone on the way there.
Term Members: These members are full time grad students whose studies contribute to scientific exploration.
Student Members: These members are eligible for application at the age of just sixteen. The Club considers it an important part of its mission to encourage the next generation of explorers. As Bryan-Brown says: "We have a huge respect for the past, but we're all about the future." After all, this is the club that awarded a grant to a 14-year-old Neil deGrasse Tyson to observe a solar eclipse off the coast of South Africa.
3. Find your sponsors
You'll need to prove you’ve got the same exploratory chops as those who came before you. But don't get caught up in the pressures of sponsorship. Members want to expand their network of explorers and meet new adventurous souls who may someday accompany them on expeditions.
"At the end of the day, this is a social club," said Bryan-Brown. "The number one benefit is to be immersed with our members.”
It's not easy getting all the pieces perfectly in place, and The Explorers Club still encourages you to apply if you don't have a sponsor yet. If they think you're qualified they'll suggest members to sponsor you after you've applied, but it really doesn’t hurt to make those connections ahead of time. Fellow and Member applicants will need two sponsors, where everyone else just needs one.
4. Complete your application
This is your chance to prove your worth among the elites. Some recently admitted Explorers Club members include a marine archaeologist who recovers medieval artifacts from Polish rivers, a diver who has discovered 67 shipwrecks — including the largest ocean liner to sink in WWII — and a balloonist who holds two world records for speed racing.
The best applicants are those whose exploration has contributed to the scientific understanding of the world, so be sure to include any research or scientific publications you contributed to during your travels. Serious consideration is given to field exploration undertaken on behalf of scientific organizations, universities, or museums.
Remember this isn’t about how many passport stamps you have. The website clearly states, "Travel without scientific purpose or objective, big game hunting, personal photography or similar pursuits do not represent sufficient qualifications." Don’t turn in a round up of your all-time favorite vacations. You want to show how you’ve given back to the scientific community as a result of your exploration of the world (or worlds beyond this one). But don't be discouraged if your explorations haven't exactly gone down in history. The membership committee wants to see that you scratched an exploratory itch, not that you necessarily uncovered a groundbreaking new revelation about the world.
"Thor Heyerdahl of the Kon-Tiki has pretty much been definitively proven to be wrong. But we still think he's an absolutely fabulous explorer because he took a theory and he went with it," said Bryan-Brown.
5. Pay your dues
Alright, so nobody's exactly thrilled about this part. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially if you’re being served iguana balls. Thankfully membership dues are refreshingly reasonable considering the bang for your buck. If your heart is in it, you'll be more than willing to shell up some fees for the honor of carrying The Explorers Club flag on your next expedition, among the other club benefits. Rates vary depending on your membership category and geographic location. A full run down of the membership fees can be found here.
So that's it. Now it's up to you to crack open a world atlas and get started on those expeditions. If you're looking for a good place to start, remember only 5% of the world's oceans have been explored. So what are you waiting for?