To most, the thought of living without money seems impossible, if not altogether terrifying. But a small and growing population of citizens all over the globe are choosing to live that way. Take Heidemarie Schwermer of Germany who has lived without money for 17 years and counting, or Daniel Suelo, who lives in the caves outside Moab, Utah, and hasn’t touched money in over a decade. It’s impossible to ignore the spark in their eyes when they say their lives are genuinely happier and more abundant without money.
Naturally, the money-free life is a debt-free life. But the heart of their decision goes much deeper than freedom from the shackles of debt. There is a lot to learn from this obscure cult of benevolent deviants.
The moneyless creed is hardly radical or new; it’s rooted in values we learned in kindergarten: share, take only what you need, love your fellow man, and trust that if you do these things the universe will provide.
If travel is any indicator of living a full life, then the moneyless tribe is brimming: The penniless-by-choice are traveling—extensively. It’s almost as if their empty pockets facilitate their mobility.
There are the young nomads like Ibby Okinyi, 31, who is currently walking from Norway to Africa without money or passport, or Benjamin Lesage and Raphael Fellmer, 28 and 29, of Foward the Revolution, who have traveled moneyless through Africa, Europe and the Americas for three years.
There is Spyke, 37, a handyman in the United Kingdom living moneyless for 19 months by trading his skills for food and a place to stay. And then there are the veterans like Suelo and Schwermer, who leave their home bases frequently by train or thumb, to see the world and interact with mankind.
At the very least, interviewing these individuals about their worldly lifestyles reveals one refreshing fact: perhaps it’s our conception of travel—hotels and resorts, restaurant dining, tourist traps, and conventional transportation—that is racking up such an unnecessarily high bill.
While the following guide generously divulges the secrets of moneyless travelers on how to find transportation, food, and shelter, it also brings to light the philosophy behind it all— the why—and the core values of moneyless living and collaborative consumption that propel them onward through the world.
The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Without Money
The Internet is a useful tool in moneyless travel, but it’s certainly possible to take the voyage without, and the guide provides both web and non-web based resources.
“I’ve managed to publish over 200 pages on the net without owning (a computer),” said Ibby Okinyi, who recommends using public libraries and the computers of friends that aren’t being used.
“If we choose to use computers, we should try our best to share them as much as possible, to curb their production, considering the blood-soaked origin of the minerals within them,” said Okinyi.
TRANSPORTATION: Getting from Point A to Point Z
Internet Sites For Finding Rides
Using Craigslist as a ride source worked well for Joseph Garner of the documentary film Craigslist Joe. He traveled from the West to the East coast of the United States and back again via rides found on Craigslist. Of course, he also had a camera man with him, which may have helped encourage the generosity of fellow craigslisters, but it’s worth a try. This method does require patience.
Liftsurfer.com may be the most promising Internet resource for travel within the United States, Canada and Australia. Geared towards travelers (and not daily commuters), the site features a database for posting your rides and needed-rides, and honors the free-spirited lifestyle of the backpacker.
Thumbing a ride is an effective way to travel but here are a few important things you should know:
“Trust your instinct, if it feels strange listen to you inner voice and choose safety! Being fearless doesn’t mean imprudent,” said Benjamin Lesage.
Daniel Suelo, who has also hitchhiked extensively, says he has only felt unsafe a couple of times, when the drivers were intoxicated on alcohol or drugs. “Then, again, I’m male, and not a small man,” he added.
What about carrying a sign?
“After all these years I still don’t know if it’s easier to get rides with or without a sign. If there is a fork in the road or different options of destinations ahead a sign definitely weeds out the ones who aren’t going my way,” said Suelo.
Suelo also recommends accepting every ride, even if it’s just for a mile or two.
“If anything, it keeps my spirits up to accept every bit of generosity and to talk to folks,” said Suelo. “Sometimes I end up in a harder hitching spot than if I hadn’t accepted the ride, but it miraculously works out, anyway. Hitching for me is really about being a meditation, to give up attachment to destination and learning to be and enjoy the moment. It can be a really difficult meditation, difficult to be patient, but I feel it’s more effective than sitting lotus in comfort.”
Lesage recommends not traveling at night, and hitchhiking in strategic places:
“Tolls, Gas station, exit of cities, be patient and optimistic and Smile!!!”
When hitchhiking, it may also pay off to pay attention to how you are presenting yourself, and how you smell.
“Many people told me they gave me a ride because I look clean and showered. It definitely helps,” said Lesage.
Last, and most important: “Don’t wait, just be! When you don’t wait no frustration comes,” said Lesage.
Dozens of cities all over the world offer free public bicycle programs. Ask around or research ahead of time if the cities you’ll be traveling through has one. Start with this Wikipedia’s extensive list of bicycle sharing systems around the world.
Heidemarie Schwermer travels often to conferences and to speak to others about her lifestyle. She often finds ways to travel for free on the train in Austria.
“In Austria there is a man who is allowed to take one person with him on his ticket, because he is nearly blind,” said Schwermer. “If I am in Austria he brings me from town to town for free. He gives me his gift and is happy to have interesting talks with me.”
It’s also possible to travel by train in Germany, she says. Ask about assisting blind persons on public transit, and ask the locals about tickets that have promotional free rides—these are common.
Daniel Suelo also utilizes the historical art of “train hopping” in the United States.
FOOD: Finding Fuel for your Journey
Perhaps one of the greatest fears associated with traveling (and living) without money, is not being able to find food. But just because you won’t be able to walk into a grocery store and pick whatever you want off the shelf, you will find food.
“First of all, realize you aren’t going to starve to death,” Suelo said. “There’s absolutely no reason to worry or fear. Even if, by very rare occurrence, food won’t be available, you aren’t going to die if you don’t eat for a few hours, or for a day, or even for a few weeks. Realize a human can go weeks without food and that fasting actually makes us healthier.”
Ibby Okinyi learned early on in his walking trip to eat only when he was hungry so as to preserve his food supplies. Moneyless travelers find food in the abundant waste stream of the developed world, the generosity of friends and strangers, and mother nature.
Eating From Mother Nature
Suelo has been eating wild edibles for years. When traveling, he sometimes goes to a local library to read about what the local plants are, but most of the time, he says, finding food in the wild becomes instinct. It’s also about opening your eyes—people walk right by fresh berries and apples on their way into the grocery store to buy fruit, he points out.
“I will say that, when you fast, your mind becomes clearer, more in the present moment, and your instincts become sharper,” Suelo said. “You can see what you need to eat, and its color will even tell you if it’s right to eat or not. How else do deer and bears know how to eat?”
There are hundreds of varieties of mustard, for instance, and he has learned how to recognize the entire family.
“Almost all are very good and nutritious,” says Suelo. “Some can be a little toxic, but you won’t die from them, and you can tell right off if they burn the bottom of your tongue. In fact, that’s a good way to test food. First with the eyes—weird colors are toxic, then with the nose, then with the bottom of the tongue. A fruit looks and smells and tastes good to you because it is advertising to you to eat it.”
But even an expert like Suelo can make mistakes, and eating the wrong plant in the wild could cost you your life. So if you’re in doubt: don’t eat it until you’ve verified that it won’t kill you with a local person or an encyclopedia at the library.
Surplus domestic and feral produce gleaned from farms and orchards are another abundant food source. Who has not seen fruit rotting, uneaten, on the ground underneath a fruit tree overburdened with fruit?
“I try to ask the owners at houses,” said Suelo. “Fruit hanging over a property line is legally free for the taking.”
There is food in dumpsters everywhere, all over the world, though many are locked up, says Suelo. The key is to dive discretely so as not to ruin it for other dumpster divers.
“It’s best to go at night after the store closes,” said Suelo. “And if you go in the day try to be stealth…the more dumpster-divers show up, the more they will lock up their waste. They will in no way reduce their waste, which would be ethical. Instead, they lock it up out of sight, out of mind, not so much because dumpster-divers are a problem harming anything, but, I believe, because stores don’t want their obscene amounts of waste to be known.”
Lesage and Fellmer report that California was among the most “wasteful” of the places they traveled through, and that the dumpsters behind Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods notorious for being stuffed with perfectly good food. But please heed Suelo’s advice and walk, don’t run, to your nearest grocery store.
“As far as getting in trouble, store owners and workers will often tell you to move on, but I’ve never had them call the cops on me, only threaten to,” said Suelo.
Dumpster diving is legal when the dumpster is part of public trash service paid for by taxes, said Suelo, but it could technically be considered trespassing if the trash service is private, or if the dumpster is on private property, or if the owner asks you to leave and you don’t, says Suelo.
The best time for dumpster diving varies from store to store, and you’ll have to observe when they throw out food, and when the trash pick-up happens. In general, “Sunday nights are usually great, before Monday morning pick-up,” said Suelo.
Shareable offers a more in-depth guide to dumpster diving here.
Benjamin Lesage is a vegan living on the “Freegan diet” of mainly vegetables and fruit, tortillas, beans, rice and bread.
He says, “I get the food from the local markets around 6 p.m. when they start to close, they give me the ones that get kind of bad or have just a weird looking aspect.”
When asking for food or anything, says Lesage, always ask for the direct owner, “He is the one that can take the responsibility to help you.”
If you’re in Mexico, Lesage recommends visiting the Tortillerias where they often throw out the day’s cold tortillas. He also asks at restaurants if they have vegetarian meals they can give at the moment of closing.
Where there are lots of tourists, there is a lot of waste, adds Lesage.
Inquire About “Food Sharing”
“Here in Berlin where I am now, begins something very interesting, the foodsharing,” said Heidemarie Schwermer. “More and more people organize that food is not to smash away but to care. The foodsharing group works for it, there is even a shop where you can go and fetch something to eat without money.”
Schwermer also founded “Gib & Nimm,” or “Give and Take,” a program signified by a sticker that she created.
“My idea is to have this sign on the baggage or the bags or on your jacket,” said Schwermer. “This sticker means: I want a world without money and I want to share.”
SHELTER: Where to Stay
On Strangers’ Couches
Couchsurfing is comprised of nearly 4 million members—both “surfers” and hosts offering a free couch, bed, floor space or spare room. Hosts open their homes all over the world, including North Korea, and the surfers stay for free.
PROS: Each member has a profile, so you can find members who have similar interests and weed out the party animals if you’re not into that kind of a thing. The organization does not conduct criminal background checks on its members, but it has a built-in feedback component so you can read host reviews from surfers.
It’s helps you nail down a guaranteed place to stay, and it’s a great way to meet people:
It’s also a great way to learn about other cultures, and Atwood says there seems to be an unspoken agreement that hosts show their guests their way of life.
“They really host you,” said Atwood. “They cook you local food, and they really make a point to submerge you in the culture. If I had stayed in a hotel I wouldn’t have gotten all that.”
And while surfers don’t pay for their shelter using money, reciprocating in some small way, by doing the dishes after a meal or helping to clean, seems to be the norm.
“I don’t know about this whole traveling without money business, but I would never advise it,” said Joey Reyes, a seasoned couch surfer and host living in Los Angeles.”I would never show up at a host’s house without the intent of at least treating or making them a dinner. I don’t expect people to buy me or treat me when they stay with me but it’s just common respect.”
Stephanie Dail, 25, has been hosting couch surfers in Raleigh, North Carolina for the past few years.
“I have had people bring gifts from different places, a French man brought a mug with French chocolate and a key chain with the Eiffel tower, a German man with different drink recipes… One of my favorites was an Italian guy named Renato who stayed with us for 11 days and cooked authentic Italian food he provided everyday for us.”
Dail enjoys hosting because she gets to see the world without having to leave her job behind.
“When I have people walk in with beautiful smiles and honest hearts looking for an awesome time and a comfortable place to sleep it never gets old and continues to make my life bright, and always excites me,” said Dail.
CONS: Atwood began filtering her search to just women after staying with a man in Bordeaux who said he had a spare room, but only had a double bed in a dorm-like setting which she was expected to share with him. She also picked up bed bugs from a couch in Paris.
“It was such a relief staying with just women after that,” said Atwood.
Dail also reports that some couchsurfers overstayed their welcome, so make sure you’re respectful of their space and clear about how long they’re comfortable about you staying.
Non-Virtual Couch Surfing, also known as “Winging it.”
Over the past three years, Benjamin Lesage and Raphael Fellmer, of Forward the Revolution have been traveling without money through Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Morocco, the Canary Islands, Cap-Vert, Brazil, French Guyana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States.
Originally from France and currently living in Mexico, they’ve tried Couchsurfing.org, but prefer to meet their hosts in the streets and towns they travel through.
“It is very interesting to meet the ‘non virtual couchsurfers,’” said Lesage. “The ones who invite you to their places without any Internet. There are a lot of them! You just need to walk in the street and wait for them to see you. It is an important part of traveling without money, we are all brothers and sisters and If you treat anyone as your friend… he will become your friend.”
For Daniel Suelo, who often hitchhikes from his cave dwelling in Utah to see friends around the United States, sleeping out is one of the most exciting parts of the trip.
If you have the choice, Suelo recommends carrying a tarp rather than a tent, since tarps are easier to quickly put up and take down, and easier to keep “stealth,” which comes in handy when you’re sleeping in a strange place.
“I think the great fun of hitching and train-hopping is not knowing where I’m going to sleep, and finding that it always, always works out, like magic,” Suelo said. “There’s always a grove of trees or a nook or cranny or abandoned shelter or roof somewhere waiting for me.
Sometimes I carry a hammock and set it up in trees in parks. Nobody thinks to look up, except children. When you don’t have a car to worry about, you can be stealth most anywhere. One time I camped in a grove right next to a police station, the last place cops would think to look.”
Should someone ask you to leave?
“Only on very, very rare occasions have I been discovered and asked to move on,” said Suelo. “In such cases, it’s no big deal. Just move on, no problem.”
Okinyi has been traveling with his trusty blue tent and plans on giving it away when he arrives in Africa. If you’re pitching a tent, he says:
“The area should be relatively flat and soft. If the ground is slanted the angle should be minimal and your head should be more elevated than your feet, this is the natural position for blood flow.
Secondly, your tent should be hidden as much as possible. This way you also allow the police the chance to indulge in a morning sleep in as well. Give the public servants a holiday, so they don´t have to serve you a breakfast coffee.
Thirdly, and this I stress, if you want a good night sleep and to drift into the kind of deep dreamy slumber from which all our creativity is born, camp as far away from a road as possible. Cars, no matter how slowly they drive, are extremely loud and offensive to dreamers.”
Craigslist and Social Media
Joseph Garner of the documentary film Craigslist Joe, found places to stay on craigslist.com, either directly or indirectly by participating in free events and meeting the right person. He also had success in bars.
Facebook and social media is also a helpful tool for lining up places to stay with friends in different areas.
And if you’re still in a bind:
“Ask in the Fireman station, hospitals, and RedCross when you need a safe place to stay,” said Benjamin Lesage.
Working for Your Travels: Go Freelance
Spyke, 37, (who has given up his last name) is a handyman in the United Kingdom who is planning a trip to Ireland in the next few months. He has lived moneyless for the past 19 years, and trades his skills for places to stay. On his blog, Spyke lists his various skills—ranging from oven cleaning to light brick work. He also uses Gumtree, where you can place a free ad in the U.K., and says Facebook is equally effective. Most of the people who have “booked” Spyke have also offered to help get him to his next destination by either driving him or helping to pay for his passage.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is another great way to see the world, working on organic farms all over the world in exchange for food and shelter.
SHOWERS: How and Why to Stay Clean
Staying fairly clean is courteous to others when sharing a ride or place, and usually a shower is the first thing people offer if they’re letting you stay at their home. You can also find showers at the fire stations of the world:
“The great ones are the firemen—the best! They often let you stay in the station, they have a kitchen, showers and sometimes…beds!”
He also recommends the Red Cross station (especially in central America),
Okinyi adds, “There are clean creeks, lakes and rivers flowing naturally around the planet wherever our species should inhabit it. As long as the Darwinian principles of evolution hold true, the contours of human body are manufactured to intimately tango with these geographical features.”
FINAL TIPS FOR TRAVELING WITHOUT MONEY
Lose the Itinerary, or at least Keep it Loose
Traveling without money relies largely on serendipitous meetings and the philosophy of the gift economy—giving and receiving freely. The chance ride, meal, or friend simply can’t be planned, and many of our moneyless guides warned that a strict set of plans may work against you.
“I believe that destructive tendencies grow from stagnation in routine,” said Okinyi. “To anchor myself down to tedious planning could hamper my learning and interfere with my longterm plan of continuing to be a happy, healthy, and socially constructive human.
A principle aspect of traveling without money is that it forces me to be more spontaneous and resourceful, and live without pedantic short-term plans.”
Okinyi does not have a set itinerary as he (currently) walks through Spain on his way to Africa—he may meet some new friends and stay for a week, or continue on, and his attitude is relaxed: everything that comes into his trip comes for a reason.
Open Yourself up Socially
Unless you’re on a solo camping trip, social interactions are crucial to traveling through any populated area without money. In fact, it seems to be one of the main reasons that many of our moneyless guides do it—to meet the people they meet.
“Traveling without money depends not so much on special places but more on my mood,” said Schwermer. “If I don’t feel well it is much more difficult for me asking people to take me with them.”
Traveling without money doesn’t mean being a freeloader
“Moneyless travel abides by the economic laws of supply and demand,” said Okinyi. “If you are being a social pain and not contributing enough, you will quite quickly have to reflect on your attitude and correct the antisocial behaviors, or you will bankrupt yourself and have to find money to cover your shortfalls.”
Learn to Give and Receive Freely and the Universe Will Provide
“I believe we should accept what people give us with love without any obligations,” explained Lesage. “Then if you see you can help in something, obviously, it is good to do it. I always feel that when you see someone needs you, you got to help him as much as you can, without counting hours or efforts. That’s the way. If you give this way, you will receive the same way.”
“Your attitude creates the attitude of the others. Be honest and trustful, speak the truth, if you do, people will feel it,” said Lesage.
Make Your Way to Morocco
Of all of their travels with Forward the Revolution, Fellmer and Lesage found Morocco to be exceptionally conducive to moneyless travel:
“People are so trustful in Hallah that they don’t fear and if they see you in the middle of the night walking on the highway they will stop to ask you what’s going on. They invite you to their place, let you take care of their children even if they know you for less than a day. This strong faith they have allows us to face life with a smile and less worries than most of us… Morocco changed our perception of life,” said Lesage.
“Share everything you have whenever you can. The law of universe is such: you receive what you give!” said Lesage.
Okinyi adds “I try my best to make the few possessions that I have communal. This is ambitious and idealistic, but I believe it’s worth striving for.”
It may sound a little Kumbaya, but it was included in all interviewees tips, so it must be true:
“Love every little part of your body, your day and the people you meet,” said Lesage. “You’ve got to love the people and be grateful when they help you, you need them and they need you, we are all connected!”