Challenge yourself through an interaction with the wilderness or by immersing yourself in an unfamiliar culture. The Congressional Award allows you to choose between an Expedition and an Exploration.

The aim of your Expedition or Exploration should be to develop a spirit of adventure and discovery. Organizing, planning, training and completing the Expedition or Exploration requires self-reliance, determination and cooperation.

The Expedition or Exploration is a one-time experience that you plan and execute. It is not an event you attend that someone else has planned. You should learn to be responsible for yourself while learning more about our world, through first-hand experience in the wilderness or in a new and different culture.

Many activities are acceptable for the Expedition or Exploration, but your activity will need to involve a significant amount of planning that you will complete independently. Concerning costs, Expeditions and Explorations are neither designed nor intended to be expensive. For example, participants should work together to secure the necessary equipment, but should not have to purchase tents, sleeping bags, etc. Some participants even make their own camping equipment!

By their nature, Explorations can involve fairly high expenses. This is something you must consider if you choose this type of activity. You may wish to explore sponsorship or scholarships. Although participants are to be self-supporting and self-sufficient, an adult supervisor oversees the venture.

The adult supervisor observes the activities, but the actual participants are responsible for carrying out the Expedition or Exploration.

Guidelines for Expeditions

The Expedition is the activity most participants choose. Through this part of The Congressional Award you will find that an interaction with and appreciation of nature enhances life and develops qualities of resourcefulness, flexibility and teamwork. Generally participants work as a member of a team to plan, train for, and undertake a wilderness activity. This usually involves a hike, canoe (or other water) trip, long-distance cycling, cross-country skiing, or something of a similar nature.

The expedition will typically occur as a small group project. It should, by its nature, involve uncertain circumstances. You and your group have the responsibility to be properly trained and to work with a qualified adult in preparing for the expedition. This is an important part of the expedition process.

Often, award participants will choose to incorporate a scientific study into their expedition. For example, obtain fire damage information while on a backpacking trip in a National Park; or search for signs of prehistoric life in a remote area.

Unacceptable Examples:
Activities which are substantially planned by others and in which the participant is not self-reliant do not qualify as Congressional Award expeditions. Sports camps, college orientations, home-hosting of foreign students, leadership conferences, etc. (while worthy activities) are not appropriate as Congressional Award expedition activities.

Guidelines for Explorations

Some participants may choose a venture experience that provides an equal or greater challenge than an expedition activity. Therefore, if a participant can demonstrate an adequate level of adventure and discovery through a venture activity, then an exploration activity may be chosen.

Examples of explorations include a participant from a rural western community living with a Louisiana Bayou family for an extended period of time to learn about a different culture. Or, a participant from the Midwest may spend a couple of weeks with an Appalachian family helping to restore their home.

Some Award recipients have taken historical explorations, such as traveling on a pioneer wagon across the Oregon Trail. Another interesting exploration example was developed by a participant in rural Arizona who had never attended a school (was taught at home). The participant, who had never experienced urban life, spent several days with a family in the inner city of Phoenix, attending school and living in a small city apartment.

An exploration activity will require advance training and research just as an expedition will.

Expedition/Exploration FAQ’s

What is the Difference between an Expedition and an Exploration?

Expeditions are typically outdoor excursions that include camping, hiking, and wilderness activities. This usually forces the participant to forgo the comforts of home and learn to pack and prepare equipment, set up a tent, and cook food over an open fire. Participants should always take safety precautions and consult an adult when necessary.

Explorations are trips that provide the participant with a new cultural experience. These may include living on a farm, traveling to a foreign country, or exploring a new environment. Explorations involve preliminary research and preparation. Challenges may include language barriers, traveling great distances, or learning new tasks. You may want to consider an overnight stay with a local family if possible.

Whether alone, or as part of a group, everyone’s personal Challenge Level is different. Be sure to plan an Expedition or Exploration that’s right for you.

What should I include in the write-up of my Expedition or Exploration?

The presentation of your Record Book is very important. Be sure to provide as many details as you can, and be specific. There are three questions to consider when you are writing-up your Expedition or Exploration in the Congressional Award Record Book.

1) How did you prepare or plan?
2) How is this different from anything you have ever done before?
3) How were you self-reliant? Include details of how you were able to think on your feet and provide examples of how you took initiative.

The National Office Review Committee will look for this information, especially at the medal levels.

What Qualifies as an Expedition or Exploration?

Expeditions and Explorations are all about adventure and discovery. Participants should plan, prepare, and be responsible. Pre-planned activities, or “Sign Up and Go” type trips would not qualify as a Congressional Award Expedition. School band trips, sport camps, conferences, leadership workshops or competitions are examples of these pre-planned type trips. There are three exceptions to this rule that are acceptable due to the time commitment, total immersion into a new environment and the level of physical and mental challenge required. These include:

  • Philmont Scout Ranch, BSA
  • Outward Bound
  • People to People Ambassador Trips

Also note that family vacations are fun and relaxing, but there must be a level of challenge and discovery involved with the trip to count as an Expedition or Exploration.

If you are looking to get feedback on an Expedition idea, you may submit a written description to the National Office to information@congressionalaward.org, or fax to (202) 226-0131. Send to the attention of: Program Staff. For additional information, call the Congressional Award National Office at (202) 226-0130.

Expedition Ideas:

  • Bicycle tour
  • Canoe trip
  • Horseback endurance ride
  • Mountain climbing
  • Outward Bound activities
  • Camping
  • Civil Patrol Rescue
  • Reenactment
  • Wilderness hiking

Exploration Ideas:

  • Undertake a special cultural project while studying abroad
  • Live with an Amish family or on a Native American Indian Reservation
  • Live the life of a ranch hand for cattle round-up
  • Explore a new environment

Minimum Hours

Bronze – A one-day venture activity
Silver – A two-day venture activity
Gold – A three-day venture activity

Bronze – At least 10 hours of venture activity, including one overnight in a shelter or tent
Silver – At least 20 hours of venture activity, including two nights in a shelter or tent
Gold – At least 40 hours of venture activity, including four nights in a shelter or tent