The following is a guest post by Francis Tapon.
It sounds like an impossible dream: a bunch of people throw money at you so that you can travel around the world.
However, it’s now easier than ever to travel the world.
Planning your first trip around the world? Get this guidebook!
Throughout history it seemed that only rich people could travel the world, yet even they rarely went far. That’s because most people who are rich enough to travel to around the world for months would rather sit on their ass in their cushy mansion.
Still, there were exceptions. For instance, I just read A Voyage Across the Americas about a wealthy dude who left Switzerland and explored the Americas in the 1850s. And then there’s the most famous self-funded traveler, Marco Polo.
However, my favorite is the Duke of the Abruzzi (1873-1933), who didn’t just travel all around the world, but was also a hardcore mountaineer. He not only climbed North America’s second highest mountain (in Alaska), but he also found the easiest way up K2, the second tallest mountain in the world. Although he never got to the summit, that popular route is now called the Abruzzi Spur.
But wait. Not all world travelers were filthy rich. Some were just filthy.
Crowdfunding Travels is an Old Practice
Crowdfunding your travels is actually old news. Many famous explorers of yesteryear crowdfunded their travels:
- Christopher Columbus: You probably were taught that the Queen of Spain bankrolled his three ships. However, what you probably don’t know is that she only provided half the money. The other half came through Columbus’s crowdfunding efforts. In fact, by the time Queen handed him the gold, he had already lined up a bunch of rich Italians who had committed to chip in if the Queen kicked in the other half of the money.
- Mungo Park: In 1794, the private African Association paid for this Scottish man to explore the Niger River. Such associations were the crowdfunders of their day.
- Roald Amundsen: He received seed funding from his king and parliament, but his brother crowdfunded the rest. As a result, Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole.
What’s the source of a government’s budget? Taxes, which are a type of forced crowdfunding. Pay your taxes or go to jail. Thus, even government funding is a type of crowdfunding. Governments have funded the following legendary explorers:
- David Livingstone: The British monarchy funded his pioneering expeditions across Africa.
- Lewis & Clark: Thomas Jefferson used government funds to bankroll this team to explore the Pacific Northwest.
- Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin: Ah yes, the ultimate government-funded travel outing: walking on the moon!
OK, by now you should no longer feel awkward asking for others to pay for your travels—it’s an old practice. The advantage of this century is that it’s now easier than ever to crowdfund your voyages.
How to Crowdfund Your Trip
Nowadays a 25-year-old nobody can crowdfund his travels. You no longer need to be a renowned explorer, or be a rich Duke, or have Obama on your speed dial. However, you still need to be well-connected and able to convince enough people to foot the bill.
Kickstarter is the Coca-Cola of the crowdfunding industry. The problem with Kickstarter is that they prohibit “fund my life” projects—and that includes funding your trip to Tahiti.
However, there’s an easy way around that rule. You simply have to propose a creative project that requires you to spend time in Tahiti. For example, you could say that you need to go to Tahiti to:
- Write a novel about the region
- Film a documentary on how global warming is affecting the island
- Take photographs to make a gorgeous coffee-table book
- Work with locals to grow, harvest, and export unique food products
You can do whatever you want on Kickstarter if you know how to exploit the loopholes. For instance, The New York Times reported a couple who raised $16,000 to do a road trip.
A lady crowdfunded a plane ticket and travel expenses to write a guidebook about Oxford.
An even better example is this guy almost crowdfunded his way to a $25,000 airline ticket!
Although Kickstarter is the Kleenex of crowdfunding, other sites have their own advantages.
For example, if your Tahiti project requests $10,000 in funding and you raise $9,500, then you will get nothing if you use Kickstarter.
With Indiegogo, on the other hand, you would keep the $9,500 (though you will have to share an extra 5% of the money you raised as a penalty for not having made your goal).
There are several niche crowdfunding sites:
- Go Fund Me: specializes in funding personal things, especially illnesses and disaster relief, but also handles travel.
- RocketHub: Can give you exposure to A&E.
- FundAnything: Lets you crowdfund your hopes and dreams.
- Crowd Rise: Creative projects, birthdays, run/walks, volunteer; they’re all ways to justify your travel.
- My Free Implants Yeah, crowdfunding for breast implants. See, I told you there’s a niche crowdfunding site for everything!
However, until now there hasn’t been a niche site solely dedicated to funding travels. Now there is. Trevolta.com may sound like a site that will teach you how to disco dance, but it’s actually a new site that does only one thing: crowdfund travels.
It’s nice that now you no longer have to hide the true motivations behind a creative project. You can just say, “I don’t want to write a book or do produce a documentary, I just want to drink wine in Paris.”
The problem is that if that’s your Trevolta project, it’s unlikely that you will get funded. Therefore, you’ll have to do basically what you have to do in Kickstarter: (1) propose an interesting project and (2) provide valuable rewards. Otherwise, you’ll stay in Omaha.
7 Tips on Crowdfunding Your Travels
1. Research first.
Ask yourself: has someone done this before? Research to find out. How did they fare? If they were successful, how much did they raise and what rewards did they offer at what price points?
2. It’s just as important to study failures as it is to study successes.
You might see some successful crowdfunding projects and think, “What? He got $30,000? I’m better than he is so I can do raise at least that much!” Then you try to raise only $3,000.
What’s not always apparent in successful crowdfunded projects is that the creator is exceptional.
He may be a Hollywood producer or a famous artist. So he can get away with putting together an unimpressive crowdfunding proposal and still raise $80,000, while a nobody puts together a slick proposal and can’t even get his mom to pledge.
Examine failures so you don’t repeat their errors and realize that there’s more than meets the eye in successful projects.
3. Propose an original project.
Be remarkable. After looking at many projects, you should have an idea why your travel plan is better than the other 10 you looked at. Make sure it’s at least as interesting as the ones that were successfully funded.
My idea is to travel to all 54 African countries over 4 years, spending one month per country, filming throughout. That’s unique.
4. Pre-launch is more important than post-launch.
Although we haven’t raised the $20,000 yet, I’m confident that we will succeed because we've done a lot of upfront work.
Also, I showed the draft project page to strangers and friends to get their advice on how to improve it—that was quite useful. If the project is interesting, word-of-mouth should give the project wings. Do the same for your project.
5. Get as close as you can to the final product.
Ideas are a dime a dozen, which is why you’ll just raise pennies if all you have is an idea. Try to simulate or prototype what you’re trying to achieve.
If you want to be the first person to climb Colorado’s 14ers in a wheelchair, then make a remarkable video of you climbing a few mountains in your wheelchair. (This wheelchair bound guy successfully raised money to see 50 cities.) Want to scuba dive in Borneo? Then take photos of you diving in Cuba.
I took plenty of photos and video in Morocco, the country where my pilot TV episode will take place. All this shows that you’re serious and that this is not just a pipe dream.
6. Invest time and money.
You have to spend money to raise money. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on camera equipment, a car, visas, and an editor to put together a pair of 3-minute videos. You also have to devote significant time to make your project happen. If you don’t, then it will show and you’ll have definitely wasted your time.
Most successful projects get 80% complete on their own dime and then use crowdfunding to cover the final 20%. If you do just 5% and hope that crowdfunders will cover the other 95%, then you will probably fail.
If you have little money to spare, then find a believer who will provide some seed money for you to get started and then make him co-creator so he shares the glory.
7. Pledge on another project.
The best way to feel like a backer is to be a backer. I pledged on 25 Kickstarter projects before starting mine. Therefore, pledge on a project on one or more of crowdfunding sites.
Notice how the project’s creator communicates—what does he does right and wrong? By seeing life from a backer’s perspective, you’ll be a better creator.
Speaking of pledging, please spread the word about The Unseen Africa Project!
It’s about turning my 4-year trip to all 54 African countries into a TV series.
Although my trip is going to happen whether my project is successful or not, I wanted a powerful medium to change people’s perception of Africa and TV’s the way to do it.
Crowdfunding your travels is older than Columbus. However, just like Columbus was remarkable, well-connected, and proposed a unique project, you need to do the same. You may not discover a New World, but you can help the world see things in a new way.
About the Author: Francis Tapon, author of Hike Your Own Hike and The Hidden Europe, is creating a TV series and book called The Unseen Africa, which is based on his four-year journey across all 54 African countries.