“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?)
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.