The backpacker who wants to volunteer his way through wildlife sanctuaries; the vet student seeking an internship in South Africa; the cancer survivor biking the length of South America; even the wanderer who was robbed en route to Tokyo and hopes that you’ll help refill his wallet.
These are just a few of the many travellers who have turned to crowdfunding to make their dream trips a reality. Rather than following the Kickstarter model of creating a product and seeking investors, “fund my life” campaigns are essentially donation-based, with no tangible reward for those giving.
The idea is not new, but the medium has changed. Fundraising has long been used by those volunteering overseas. Except now, instead of handwritten campaigns to friends and relatives, travellers are taking their causes online and, in the crowded market of online fund-seeking, the educational trip abroad could be listed right alongside a couple of hopeful honeymooners.
While crowdfunding can be a useful tool for travel with purpose, it also raises questions about the ethics of asking others to foot the bill. Are young travellers looking at round-the-world trips, gap years, and costly overseas internships as a right instead of a privilege?
Many how-to-crowdfund stories on popular websites promote that idea: “Travel on Someone Else’s Dime” reads a Yahoo.com headline. “It basically boils down to getting other people to pay for something you want,” writes Brittany Jones-Cooper, Yahoo Travel Editor, in another article. GoFundMe’s travel page is tagged “The EASY WAY [their emphasis] to raise money for travel expenses!”
But it can be dangerous to begin thinking of this as the "easy" option. Those who argue against travel crowdfunding hold tight to the idea of valuable travel as an experience that is earned.
Not all those who crowdfund their travel are asking for a hand-out, however.
Travel writer Turner Wright describes the trend on Vagabondish.com in part as “long-term travellers looking for easy income on the road without having to produce any results.” A recent New York Times article, “GoFundMe Gone Wild,” questions “do I really want to pay for a friend to travel to Peru to become a shaman?”
Not all those who crowdfund their travel are asking for a hand-out, however. Recent nursing graduate Samantha Maddox had invested a lot of money and hard work into her dream volunteer trip before starting a campaign.
Last August, Maddox volunteered at Kanti Children’s Hospital in Kathmandu for three weeks. She was able to make the trip, in part, thanks to the $2,725 donated by family and friends through GoFundMe. On her page, Maddox listed where the money would go and posted a video and link from Work the World, the organization she’d be volunteering with. In response, she received over 40 donations and plenty of positive feedback.
“I decided to use a crowdfunding platform because I was right out of college with not much spending money,” said Maddox. “If you have something you’re passionate about, like volunteering and helping others, but have a limited budget, it’s a great way to get a helping hand.”
So what are some ways to crowdfund responsibly? Consider offering tangible rewards to your donors, highlighting all the research you’ve done for your upcoming adventure and including the personal savings that you’ll invest into your experience. Show this wasn’t just the easy option. Most importantly, be transparent about your goals and remember that, ultimately, it's up to donors to determine whether they want to donate to your cause.
Want to start your own crowdfunding journey?
Here are some of the most popular platforms for travellers in need:
• Indiegogo and Generosity
One of the most popular general-use crowdfunding sites, Indiegogo offers both fixed and flexible funding options. There is no specific category for travel, so campaigns will need to be filed under another tag relating to their trip goal, such as education or sports. Generosity is Indiegogo’s fee-free site for socially conscious funding, which includes those wanting to volunteer abroad. generosity.com
Created for “compassionate crowdfunding”, YouCaring offers support for every kind of cause, including personal enrichment overseas. Travellers wanting to volunteer can raise funds through the “Volunteer and Service Projects” category. Those seeking to study abroad can campaign under “Education and Schools.” youcaring.com
PlumFund’s adventure and travel category allows any type of traveller to raise money for their dream trip. There are no donation fees, and PlumFund offers the option of "offline" donations to avoid third-party processing fees. plumfund.com
This article originally appeared in Verge's Fall 2016 issue.Add this article to your reading list