Young adventurers embark on summer trips courtesy of crowd funding

07/25/2013 12:00 AM

07/25/2013 6:38 AM

Sacramento resident Sam Wineman, 28, wanted to take a road trip this summer, but he didn't have the cash to bankroll his asphalt-paved dreams.

What he did have, however, was Web savvy and a knack for recognizing humor in awkward situations.

Those attributes, along with help from the online crowd funding platform Kickstarter, allowed Wineman, an aspiring filmmaker, to raise more than $3,500 for a trip through the Western United States that included going on several blind dates to be featured in a Web series he's shooting.

"It was amazing," Wineman said about his trip. "It was unreal. I can't even think of an articulate way to put it."

Ashley Ross, 29, tells a similar story.

Getting antsy with city life in San Francisco, where she worked as a photographer and massage therapist, she organized a hike from South Lake Tahoe to Canada along a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, rounding up $600 to help pay for her trip on another crowd funding platform, GoFundMe. She left in June and is still on her journey.

"I've already had a few unexpected twists and turn," Ross said, referring to a minor foot injury that kept her temporarily off the trail. "Other than that, though, it's been pretty fantastic."

Wineman and Ross represent a new generation of travelers who may not have the personal finances to support their wanderlust, but still manage to embark on once-in-a-liftime trips by leveraging digital platforms – once intended exclusively for artists and entrepreneurs – as well as social media.

It's another iteration of the phenomenon known as crowd funding, with websites formed in the late 2000s allowing people from all over the world to contribute money to an individual's project or goal.

Initially, the concept behind these sites was to help raise capital for creative or entrepreneurial endeavors. For example, Indiegogo, a popular crowd-funding platform, was aimed at filmmakers and launched at 2008's Sundance Film Festival.

Over time, however, many of these sites, which take a small percentage of the money collected, loosened policies that restricted what David Alan Grier, author of the book "Crowdsourcing for Dummies," calls "fund-your-dream crowd funding."

Instead of raising cash for a creative project or a startup business, these campaigns are all about actualizing someone's personal dream, such as visiting Machu Picchu or climbing every 14,000-foot-plus mountain in the United States.

"It's like a lot of things that have come out of this technology," Grier said. "We think that at the start that (these policies) are going to make us better, and then as the demands of business grow upon us, we loosen some of them a bit."

The relaxed restrictions mean that an increasing number of wannabe adventurers are taking to these sites to help defray travel costs.

A quick search on Indiegogo, which has ditched its film-centric mission and embraced an all-inclusive one, reveals pages of travel-related campaigns. Other sites, such as GoFundMe and When You Wish, show similar results.

However, the king of the crowd funding market, Kickstarter, hasn't pulled back its restrictions. The company allows only campaigns designed to produce a tangible creative project, such as a film, video game or music album.

This forced Wineman, who wanted to use the platform, to think creatively when planning his odyssey. A recent UC Berkeley graduate, he got the idea for his road trip/blind date project shortly after a bad breakup with his boyfriend of 3 1/2 years.

"I just knew that I wanted to get out and have an adventure on my own," Wineman said.

Imagining the comedic situations that might come out of being set up with strangers, Wineman recognized that others might be interested in seeing the trip.

"I thought it might be an adventure worth recording," Wineman said.

His campaign – to raise funds to travel with a small film crew through 12 cities and produce a YouTube series – launched on Kickstarter in mid-May. Less than 20 days later, Wineman successfully exceeded his $3,300 goal, allowing him to keep the $3,554 pledged.

Reaching that funding goal was no easy feat, Wineman said. He describes running the crowd funding campaign as a "full-time job all month." He worked on designing perks for donors (such as handwritten postcards, personalized comedy songs and DVD copies of the series), promoting the project on blogs and planning the Web series, with the first episode premiering at the end of July.

Concluding the trip last month – which included stops in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, West Hollywood and Palo Alto – Wineman is editing the series, with plans to premiere the first episode at the end of July.

While Wineman's campaign will result in a Web series, Ross' campaign was about personal fulfillment. Those can be more difficult to fund, experts say.

"Travel-related and fund-your-dream kind of goals that seem inward-looking or selfish rarely get off the ground," Grier said. "(However,) campaigns in which (potential contributors) say, 'I like that idea, and I like that person,' are much more likely to get the funds that they need.' "

The latter is what friends said about Ross' campaign.

While on the trail, Ross keeps in touch with those who donated money by sending updates on how her adventure is going. This allows them to participate in the experience even if they aren't physically there.

"I think people are pretty excited to help their friends and family reach their goals and live out their dreams," Ross said. "I think it helps kind of inspire them to do the same thing.

"It gets them thinking, 'Oh, maybe I can do something like this to do what I want to do.' "

Blake Boles, author of an e-book called "The Unschool Adventures Guide to Online Travel Fundraising," said there are other ways to increase the likelihood of success with this kind of campaign.

Most crowd-funding sites allow organizers to create and customize rewards for contributors. Using these effectively, Boles said, can result in a higher end tally.

"The successful campaigns that I've seen ... offer perks that are actually valuable, things that you would actually pay money for, and they aren't just, 'Donate $50 and we will give you a shout-out on Facebook,' '' Boles said. "That's just a charity drive. A good crowd-funding campaign gets to be much more than that."

Boles said successful rewards he's seen include homemade food, personalized tutoring, a promise to bring back a souvenir and an introductory video guide to the travel destination.

Call The Bee's Kurt Chirbas, (916) 321-1030.

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