There is a growing trend
among travellers of using the internet to solicit donations to help fund their
But if you want to quit
your job and follow your dreams to travel the world, is it OK to ask
others to pay? And how does that differ from accepting the help of a stranger
you meet along the way?
Many travellers post "donate" buttons on their blogs,
ranging from "buy us a beer" to requests for cash in return for
useful travel tips. Others go
further and use target-based crowd-funding websites such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo to launch fundraising campaigns that
offer donor rewards,
which can range from something as simple as a thank-you postcard to copies
of creative products such
as books or documentaries.
US couple Brad and Sheena Van
Orden saw the uglier side of the phenomenon this week, when they launched a Kickstarter
to raise money for the proposed next leg of their round-the-world road trip: traversing
China in their campervan. The route, they said, is prohibitively expensive due
to China's high permit and guide fees.
In return, donors will receive a digital version of the book they have pledged
to write about their adventure.
The couple had raised 30%
of their $25,602 target in just six days when they began to receive abusive
messages, both through online comments and emails, about their “self-indulgent, middle class adventure”. These messages
forced the couple to consider
cancelling the fundraiser.
“We chose crowd-funding
because we saw an opportunity to tell a story. It became a matter of business
because we needed sponsors. It just made good sense to ask the people who would
be reading our book to help,” Brad said. “What we didn’t expect was that, as
word spread, there would be such a degree of hatred aimed at us. No longer was
our project seen as a 'project', but as a couple of spoiled kids trying to get
strangers to pay for our vacation. This is the entirely wrong message."
Among more than 200 comments
a website that featured their campaign, a reader that goes by the online name Michigan
accused them of concocting a "flimsy scheme to defraud people" while another, Detox
440, said: “I have a hard
enough time paying for my own life and interests... it's pretty crappy of you
to ask others to subsidize your poor decisions.”
Another reader, Chi-town-andy,
defended the couple’s campaign: “You
don't have to give them
money... this isn't a tax. Why can't we be appreciative of their journey and
the risks involved?”
The ethics of asking for
money are a topic of much debate among travellers. Bryan Scott, who is blogging his journey through Central America, said that his choices were “not someone
else's responsibility to fund”.
Overlanders Zach Channing
and Jill DiMedio removed their website's donate button after it was only up
for just a few days and returned the money they'd received after some family
members disparaged the idea. “Knowing we'd lived simply and worked multiple
jobs to save up enough money, they felt it was out of character and offensive,”
But, like many bloggers,
digital nomads Jessica and Kobus Mans and Jared McCaffree feel comfortable with
their website’s "buy us a beer" button because it's a voluntary way for
readers to reward them for the free travel information they publish. “Since we
put a substantial amount of time in documenting campsites, budgeting, border
crossings and internet availability, we have no qualms about creating a way
people can send money if they want to,” Jessica said.
The history of
travel is awash with tales of the kindness of strangers, taking in wandering
travellers and giving them free food and shelter. So is asking for money online
any different than accepting free hospitality from people encountered along a
A family of six that
has been travelling
the world continuously for 13 years recently completed the African leg of
their round-the-world journey, with plans to take on Europe next. But Herman and Candelaria
Zapp said their travels would not have been possible without the help of
the people they met. They have been hosted in some 2,500 homes during their
travels, with countless others helping with more than just shelter.
has a roll call of 12,000 people who have helped,” Herman told the UK
Daily Mail. “Almost 90% of the time we stay in people's
many travellers, accepting free lodging and meals is totally different than asking
for money. For example, even though Channing and DiMedio decided against adding
a donation button to their website, they have participated in ”pirate”
(free) camping on locals' land.
“What is happening is a
non-monetary exchange that benefits both
parties,” Channing said. “What we bring to the table is our story, our
adventure, and our experiences.”
Similarly, in crowd-funding
there can be a fine line between simply asking for cash and seeking donations
in return for a service or creative work.
Blake Boles, author of The
Unschool Adventures Guide to Online Travel Fundraising, said these campaigns are “not a charity
drive” because participants must offer rewards in exchange for contributions. ”The
most important ethical matter to consider is: can I truly deliver what I'm
promising?” he said.
According to Boles, the
Van Ordens approached their China project correctly – demonstrating they worked
hard to save for their trip, offering interesting rewards and showing that the
particular goal for which they're seeking money is a one-off opportunity they
couldn't fund otherwise.
who criticize either don't understand crowd funding or are perhaps just jealous
of their incredible adventure,” he said. “People may accuse you of being cheeky, but if
you've designed a respectable campaign, you're in the right.”
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