“Raise money to go on an exciting trip! Embark on the adventure you’ve always dreamed of.” The “Travel and Adventure” page on Go Fund Me, a popular crowdfunding site, opens with these simple, enticing sentences.

The words are simple. But the meaning is profound: in a time when young people are seeking big adventure, in a world where “Wild” is a bestseller and gap years are growing in popularity, it is now possible (and easy) to achieve big adventure fully funded by your Facebook friends and strangers. A few minutes perusing the travel section on Go Fund Me reveals just how successful these attempts at funding a vacation can be: thousands of dollars successful. Googling “travel crowdfunding” leads to a wealth of how-to articles and blog posts condoning the practice. You probably scroll through a few friends’ crowdfunding attempts on social media on the regular. The whole concept is hard to avoid.

But just because something is trendy and out there doesn’t mean it’s right.

From the beginning of planning our year-long U.S. adventure, I’ve been firmly against using crowdfunding to pay for this trip. Here’s why.


Work hard, play hard

Cole and I are grateful to have been brought up in families that valued hard work and thriftiness. When we graduated college in 2012, Bachelors degrees and new entry-level jobs (teacher and business analyst) in our pockets, we aimed hard to put these same values into practice. It was honestly fun to see our college and car debt decrease and our savings increase. (Because we are dorks?) When we decided to say yes to this year of travel, we knew money would be a huge hindrance. It was the first thing we started thinking about. Duh! Money is how this trip would be possible.

Because isn’t that the foundation of travel? Work = Money = Vacation. Makes sense to me. The concept of a vacation is to take a break from work and other stressful responsibilities to recharge and see awesome things. To me, you can’t really have one without the other. It simply made sense that if we wanted to travel for a whole year, we better get our asses into gear. (Cole started driving for Uber on the weekends, I opened an Etsy shop.) Our side hustle earned us an extra $6,000, almost one-third of our year’s expenses.

We carefully put money away and looked at the year’s expenses to ensure that we’d be able to cover the costs. Even while people were suggesting setting up a crowdfunding page, and even though we knew that we’d surely get some some thrown at us by kind relatives, this is not the route we wanted to take. We pressed on.

As I dove into the world of travel blogging, I discovered that work-play lines get blended in the digital nomad lifestyle. Thousands of people are now working remotely while traveling. Others work seasonally, and travel for longer chunks of time. The vacation cycle is still present, just woven a little differently. You have to work hard and be uniquely skilled to be successful in this way, but we super admire this kind of lifestyle, (even when we realized it isn’t for us in the long term.) Any way that you can balance working and adventuring makes sense to me.

What doesn’t make sense to me is asking your friends and family to fund your adventure.


The reason these sites exist

Of course, I don’t condemn general crowdfunding. At all. Sites like Go Fund me are most frequently used for things like suffocating medical expenses, memorials, voluntourism, and plenty of other worthy causes. And having a quick, convenient way to be generous with your money is, overall, a good thing. Let’s be honest. If these sites didn’t exist, the money might not ever make it out of my wallet. It’s hella convenient to donate to someone online. But the fact that it’s just as easy to ask for donations is the tricky part.

Think about it. Go Fund Me is a business. They receive 5% of each donation. (And there’s a 2.9% withdrawal service fee for you, too. Boo!) Of course they want you to “embark on the adventure you’ve always dreamed of!” They’re benefiting from millennial shamelessness. Big time.

It’s not a bad thing to accept generosity. I’m definitely not above that! (Do you know how many friends we have crashed with?) I’m going to take you up on that offer for a beer. I’m going to let my parents pay for dinner. But where I draw the line is seeking out generosity from my Facebook friends. For a vacation.

Cheap travel is so extremely possible

Another problem I have with crowdfunding your travel is that travel can be so cheap! Our generation is bringing back frugal travel, and dirtbagging is mainstream now. We see more and more people who are taking advantage of free public land camping and airline hacking to make these cheap trips possible. National Parks and other federal land has never been more accessible. Hostels make visiting a city safe and affordable, even while traveling solo. Camping is cool again. (Was it ever not?)


Camping for free on BLM land outside Joshua Tree National Park

On top of these opportunities, in this information age, tips on how exactly to execute an aforementioned frugal vacation are at our fingertips. If we want it badly enough, we can afford to travel.

The problem is that a lot of us want to travel right now. And far away. We saw a picture of a girl looking at a beach on Pinterest and dammit, we want to be that girl. We are young and haven’t made money yet. And all of our friends are crowdfunding their trips… See how tempting it is?

But I promise travel is best when earned. When you know exactly what went into that paycheck, even if it’s whittling the hours away in a cubicle, you will feel it. You will feel it when you are standing atop the mountain, clicking “confirm” on your plane tickets, or even just pulling into a new park for the weekend. It will feel better than if it was paid for by someone else.

“But Elizabeth, ya big hypocrite, don’t you have sponsors?”

It’s true that we sought out and acquired gear sponsors before and during our trip. We have not received any money from these partnerships, and they are just that: partnerships. We provide a promotion service in return. It has been a great way to try out gear like sleeping bags, navigation systems, and even granola, and also sharpen our communication and marketing skills. But these weren’t essential costs, just much-appreciated upgrades, so we still consider ourselves fully self-funded.

Life within your means, travel within your means

To me, it all comes down to common sense. If you work hard and save your money, then you get to travel. If you are creative and thrifty, you may get to travel sooner and more often.

A few things speak loudly to me:

Travel is amazing, and you should do it often.

Travel is cheap, and you should seek out ways to save money.

Travel is better when you have earned it, so pay for it your own damn self.

The millennial generation is actively seeking out ways to enhance our cultural experiences. We love to travel. We use our technology savviness to find travel deals and share our adventures with the world. Let’s be known for those trends, not for crowdfunding our vacations and pestering our Facebook friends for study abroad money.

Work hard and play hard, but always work hard first.




Written by Elizabeth

  • Aunt Anita

    Great article!
    Also love the picture of the two of you! Sounds like you enjoyed the family time in Seattle, too.
    Even though you won’t be there, we’re looking forward to TPIR viewing.

    • Thanks, Aunt Anita! We’ve loved Seattle!

  • Justin Walder

    I love your blog, and while I disagree with this post, i say to each their own.

  • Wendy cotting

    I love your blog and really love this post. You guys are awesome!

  • Megan Stroup Tristao

    I LOVE this! Couldn’t agree more. And even if your partnerships did offer cash sponsorships, I wouldn’t mind that – that would be part of your “job” as a full-time NP explorer this year, and that’s totally different from crowdfunding travel expenses. I really admire what you and Cole have done – hope the rest of your trip is a blast!

  • Ashley & Matthew

    As fellow self-funded, frugal adventurers, well said! We worked hard and saved as well before hitting the road and also supplemented our savings by stopping during the Halloween/Christmas/New Years season to get jobs managing a lot that sold pumpkins/Christmas trees/fireworks. Plus we acquired new skills and experience! We definitely feel a sense of accomplishment and appreciate our adventures even more!

  • Ra Shields

    My husband and I visited 23 Natl Parks last summer, all west of the Rockies. We did it in an 8ft camper ( too old to tent camp anymore). After the 10th week I was going to commit murder so in Kalispel, MT we traded the truck and camper in for a small motorhome. We has a blast except for the 112 degree heat in AZ and Utah! It was a memorable trip and I wish we would have done it40 years ago when we could hike without pain. I say do your living now because you never know when your expiration date is! Safe travels.

    • Wow, that sounds like an amazing trip! Sometimes we feel like we’re so over tent camping, too. Thanks for the support!

  • Couldn’t agree more! My boyfriend and I are traveling for 4 months this year, and we have worked SO hard to be frugal, save, pinch pennies, and budget. Crowdfunding never crossed our minds, and I didn’t know people were traveling like that!

    We have found that having to be creative and frugal has been part of the fun – we like figuring out how to get deals or travel cheaper. I so respect that you’re traveling this way, and I think you learn more doing it like this!


    • Thanks, Katie! Have fun on your adventure!!

  • Ryan

    As half of a GenX couple who traveled the country and visited national parks for 3 months while in our 20s, I couldn’t agree more. We spent a number of weekends putting in OT to help for our trip. (We called it a “trip” and not a “vacation” 🙂 We kept costs down by camping a lot, hunting for bargains, and, yes, staying with friends and family. It felt great to do it ourselves and finishing with a sense of owing anyone anything.

    Kudos to you two for doing it yourselves 🙂

    • Awesome, Ryan! We are reassured every day that we did it the right way. (Even when we sometimes have to camp in 20-degree weather… then it’s a little harder…) Thanks for the support!

  • Kellie Klees

    Elizabeth- great article! And an even better experience! I am thrilled of this incredible adventure you guys made for yourselves and I enjoy following it 🙂

    • Thanks Kellie! Your adventures & work/play balance has always been an inspiration to me!! 🙂

  • Hey guys! We are driving down the road to Death Valley and are reading your blog! We just wanted to say that we agree with you 100%. So much time, work, and effort have gone into our trip and we’ve loved all of it! The work hard and the play hard and the STILL working hard! One of our big beliefs is that you can really set out to do anything, including saving money for “the dream trip”. We’ve worked hard to acquire sponsors and we are working hard for those sponsors as part of our job on the road. We love the part where you talk about how possible it is to blend the lines of work and vacation with this day and age of the Internet and how we can work remotely and in different capacities than ever before. You’re a great writer and we appreciate your values a lot. We have loved reading your blog! Keep it coming! Good luck guys!

    • Thank you so much, Madison! That means a lot coming from people who know firsthand how the work can pay off! You guys are an inspiration – we are excited to keep following you after we finish our trip in August. I’m sure it’ll just make us want to get back out there again!

  • TJ

    It makes me feel a little uncomfortable when folks will throw up gofundme’s to fund their vacations or travel adventures. I had a friend recently go on an European cruise to Italy, Greece, Turkey etc. Her profession is a grade school teacher and she threw up a gofundme in hopes of “benefit her students with the new knowledge and experiences” I don’t think I saw any contributions go there.

    Even in this 2016 National Park space, the 59in59 guys raised $11,000 on one of GoFundMe’s competitors and have shameless donation buttons all over their website. I guess good on them for convincing people to fund their traveling, but it kind of rubs me the wrong way.

  • Really enjoyed your article and completely agree with your perspective. You’re great role models. We fall into the category of people who have managed to get creative and thrifty and hit the road (in an RV) working and traveling from the road full-time as we travel. My hubby Marc doesn’t get a lot of vacation time with his work so this is a great way for us to feel like we get more time off and travel and enjoy that experience. Fortunately, he is able to work remotely, albeit for a regular 40hr a week job. We are big advocates of work-life balance though. It’s a shame when we see a lot of people who are living on the road and traveling but end up working as many (or more) hours than they would at home! Gotta switch off some time! And yes, I remember when I bought my first car at age 17, no help/funding from parents, and it was so very gratifying, that’s how we live our lives too. When you work and pay for your own goals, it’s so much more rewarding and a healthy self respect comes with it. Anyway enjoy the journey, thanks for sharing.

    • Great point about work/travel balance. It was really difficult at times to maintain the blog while still enjoying the parks fully. We are glad we did it the way it worked for us. Thanks for the post!