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Many long distance bike tourists dream of funding trips, especially around the world bicycle tours, through donations raised through their websites or blogs. The thinking runs along the lines of donating to PBS or NPR: if people like the content enough they will be willing to pay to keep it going. This article does not address raising money for a third party or charitable cause. I raise that issue on a separate page in detail.
Asking readers of your web site or blog to send you money to help fund your trip is controversial in many bike forums. You might want to consider this before asking for posting that Paypal donate button.
My own experience started back in 2002 when my trip started. Amazon and Paypal had recently rolled out services to add donate buttons to websites. Lots of people were putting them up. During the first couple of years of my tour, I had only a small number of people donating money but this tapered off to nothing as the years passed. My website, DownTheRoad.org, grew to thousands of pages and because of the inactivity of the donation button, I forgot it was even there.
In 2008, as I was riding from Alaska southwards, I logged on to a popular bike touring forum (which shall remain unnamed) and found myself getting called a "freeloader" and a "panhandler," also that I was "begging for money." One poster even went as far as to say that my trip and website took away from the "purity of touring." As you can imagine, it was a total bummer to read that sort of thing about myself, and definitely subtracted from the purity of my tour. I didn't know where this attack was stemming from, so I dug back to find a comment that complained about my funding my whole trip through donations. Like that had ever happened! My donation button was buried and forgotten deep in my website but since it was obviously getting someone very riled up without bringing in any donations, I removed it.
I personally don't think there's anything wrong with touring cyclists attempting to fund their trips with donations. And this all happened ages ago, so maybe things have changed a little since then. I read lots of bike touring travelogues and it seems like donation buttons are getting more common these days, especially among younger riders.
I think the controversy this stirred up in some online cycling forums was way over the top. First, after talking to hundreds of touring cyclists I met on the road, it seems like few, if any, have received much funding from donations beyond friends and family. Most cyclists I met came to the conclusion that having a donation button didn't translate to many actual donations. Secondly, bike tourists are a mostly open-minded bunch and criticizing another bike tourist for doing their own thing seems out of place.
In conclusion, I am very pro-choice when it comes to bicyclists asking for donations. I do not include a donation mechanism on my website anymore, not after that little storm of negative comments. But it seems perfectly acceptable and okay if others want to try it out. If you add donation buttons I probably will not pull out my wallet but I won't run away and complain either. Beware, if your trip and blog asks for money and grows popular enough, you might run into some resistance from the online bicycle touring community.
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