Sam Wineman wanted to take a road trip this summer, but he didn't have the cash to bankroll his dreams. What the 28-year-old Sacramento, Calif. man 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.
Wineman's success is typical among 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-lifetime 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, which began with websites formed in the late 2000s that allow 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 their policies. 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.
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.
Getting antsy with city life in San Francisco, where she worked as a photographer and massage therapist, Ashley Ross, 29, 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 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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blake Boles, author of an e-book called "The Unschool Adventures Guide to Online Travel Fundraising," said 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.
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.