Entrepreneur & Meaningful Travel Advocate: The Traveling Advisor

GoAbroad Interview with The Traveling Advisor

Samantha Martin and friends in Istanbul, Turkey

Today we bring you a GoAbroad Interview with Samantha Martin, the founder of the Traveling Advisor, and one of the founders of a new site called Project Travel.  She is a former study abroad advisor at SUNY New Paltz and Jacksonville University. Her projects are not only innovative, but also directed towards helping others change their lives through meaningful travel.

Check out our interview with Samantha below, and learn more about why The Traveling Advisor should be on your bookmarked list!  

Sam I first met you when you were a student at the University of South Carolina. You had studied abroad with Global Learning Semesters via GoAbroad.com.  Jennifer Engel has helped create an amazing study abroad program at USC.  How did that environment influence your decision to study abroad?  And how was the Global Learning Semesters program?  Are you a Cypriot forever at heart?

My experience with GLS in Cyprus inspired my interests in peace and conflict studies and social change. The Cypriots taught me so many valuable lessons like the importance of knowing your history and stepping into someone else’s shoes to see life from a different perspective. My semester abroad and subsequent travels planted the ‘seed’ for starting my career in international education.

I started out as a peer advisor in Jennifer Engel’s office at the University of South Carolina and I consider her to be my first mentor in the field. I absolutely credit Jenn as well as the USC and GLS study abroad staff in helping me win a Gilman Scholarship and make it through the study abroad process. I remember meeting you, Troy, at the Carolina study abroad fair and asking for an internship! You helped me launch into my first full-time job at International Education Programs at Jacksonville University. I thank you as well for helping me get to where I am today.

You have a pretty varied background from your childhood in the Pennsylvania Dutch community to your graduate degree in Conflict Studies in Northern Ireland. How did these experiences lead you to where you are?

Aphrodite's Rock in Cyprus

Aphrodite’s Rock in Cyprus, courtesy of Samantha Martin

My entire family going generations back is from Lancaster County, PA and surrounding areas (famously Amish country, though I am not Amish!). In the community I grew up in, independence, a strong work ethic, volunteering, and honesty were always emphasized values and today they inform who I am and how I approach life.

However, it was truly my personal experience in Cyprus and studying side-by-side with my Greek and Turkish Cypriot classmates that helped me understand how higher education and international education can be a unique way to explore and transform personal and social identities. In a way, my study abroad experience gave me the tools to develop my own critical analysis of the world through cross-cultural dialogue, research, travel, and educational experiences.

The Traveling Advisor is a great site full of amazing articles. Have you always been a writer?

Thanks! I don’t know that I claim to be a writer (yet) but I have written in many different forms from a very young age. It has been a central part of my life. I also have to credit those who write excellent guest articles for The Traveling Advisor because they add so much to the site.

Who needs to use Traveling Advisor and what can they get from the site other than the great reads?

The Traveling Advisor is for those who are interested in experiencing travel as a learning opportunity, in other words, embracing both the comfortable and uncomfortable aspects of travel in order to grow as a person.

Visitors can take a fun 20 question Travel Profile Quiz and get a sense of what they value about travel as well as their strengths and struggles as a traveler. Otherwise, content on The Traveling Advisor tends to fall into one of three categories; travel planning resources that guide people through a process,  articles that highlight aspects of travel not typically covered (for example, staying with strangers), or first-person narratives on change through travel.

Your latest ‘project’ is called Project Travel.  The way you met the original founder is an amazing story can you share it here?

Sure! It’s one of my favorite. I had just come back from studying Spanish in Medellin, Colombia for a summer and launched The Traveling Advisor. I decided to take a 6 week road trip across the United States to network and learn from experienced entrepreneurs and fellow travelers about how to create something valuable with my site and reach my audience. Since I was on a serious budget, I was CouchSurfing, staying in hostels, and also visiting family and friends. There was a new website called StartUpStay (now Bizpora) that had recently launched and it was the ‘CouchSurfing’ for entrepreneurs.

Antioquia Province of Colombia

Samantha in Colombia at a finca in the coffee growing region in Antioquia Province

Anyway, while researching my options in Chicago I saw this woman’s profile and that her startup helped students fund meaningful travel. I contacted her, she agreed to host me and several weeks later I showed up on her doorstep! We hit it off immediately, talking for hours on end about our goals, our websites, and how we were going to help people travel. We kept in touch and long story short, Jennifer Thomas the Founder of Project Travel, invited me to become a part of the team and I’ve been learning and growing with them ever since.

Project Travel is a site which helps students and others peer-fund study abroad and educational travel experiences.  But it’s more than a peer-funding website. Can you tell us about it?

Project Travel’s mission is making educational travel possible, and to realize our mission, we really believe we need to help students and others going on educational travel programs be successful at peer-funding. We do that by focusing exclusively on supporting peer-funding for educational travel experiences and projects, providing resources on our site specifically for peer-funding educational travel, and working with every Project Starter to help them reach their goals. Also, we are building a community of advocates who value educational travel and want to join us in our effort to make it more accessible to a more people.

GoAbroad has a crowd sourced funding site called Fund My Travel and students ask us why not just use the big sites like GoFundMe?  Why would students use Project Travel rather than GoFundMe or any of the other sites?

There are three main reasons why Project Travel provides a unique value and experience. First, Project Travel and other focused crowdfunding sites provide specific resources and services to educational travelers that a generalist crowdfunding site simply cannot. If you are raising money for a marathon, how might that be different than raising money for a study abroad program? I think it is very different. Secondly, Project Travel works with academic institutions, third party program providers, and non-profit organizations that advise the same students and program participants interested in peer-funding with Project Travel.

We can collaborate with these institutions to reach out to and support the Project Starter in a way that is not feasible with a large, generalist crowdfunding site. Third, we offer a design and user experience that is different from other sites out there and perhaps more appealing to a certain set of potential Project Starters. In the end, however, if GoFundMe or another generalist crowdfunding website helps a student reach their goal, excellent!

Crowd sourced funding was around before the internet when students showed slide shows at church and wrote letters to their relatives.  Will it be around in the future?

Nobel Prize Winner John Hume

Samantha and Nobel Prize winner, John Hume, at the University of Ulster

Nobody knows what the future holds,  but not so long ago, people were asking if social media would be around in a few years and look at where we are today! We know that the crowdfunding industry grew by 81% between 2011 and 2012 and is expected to reach 5 billion dollars in 2013 (another 89% jump growth rate from 2012).

We tell our Project Starters that peer-funding successfully does not simply mean posting a link to Facebook, it is about engaging their community in meaningful ways–including in person as well as on digital platforms. A student might still give a presentation at church, only this time, include a link to their Project and invite people in the audience to support their goals via their smartphones and share it with their networks. The message remains the same but the method has changed and is likely here to stay.

Where will you travel next?

Recently, an opportunity came up to work intensively with leaders and starters in the entrepreneur community for a few weeks this summer in Northern Michigan, so that’s my next stop. On my short list, however, is to visit the Philippines where I was born and to see where my parents lived for 3 years.

Thanks for chatting with GoAbroad, Sam, and good luck with all your ventures!


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