How to Travel the USA For Free (without mooching)
As I write this I am traveling the USA without a penny in my pocket. I left my home in San Diego on June 2nd with $2,000 cash and on August 12th I took a leap of faith in humanity and gave the last $421 I had with me to a non-profit. I made the goal that day of finishing my ride to New York City moneyless just to prove to myself and others that it is possible. Today I arrived in New York City on my bicycle, still without a penny in my pocket. People have tried to give me money but I have easily refused it.
This experience is about much more than just not spending money. It’s about showing that you and I can be contributing members to society whether we have money or not. It’s about showing that there are much more rewarding ways to live than just throwing money at every situation. It’s about living a life that is truly beneficial to the earth, my community, and myself. It’s about being more involved in our communities and treating each other with respect. And it’s also about teaching you how to live with less money so that you can follow your dreams and live independently of corrupted systems that don’t serve your best interests.
If you follow this guide exactly you will literally be able to travel the country without a penny in your pocket. However, I know that most of you won’t be able take that leap of faith right away because it has taken me years of practice and a vast amount of dedication and resourcefulness to get to this point. You can most certainly adapt a few of these tips though and in doing so learn to travel very inexpensively. Once you learn to do that the country and the world will be yours to see.
I’m no stranger to traveling without money.
Earlier this year I flew to Panama with just the clothes on my back and passport to Share My Way Home and two years ago I flew to Cabo, Mexico moneyless and hitched 1,300 miles back to San Diego through the desert. These trips were downright grueling but I came out of them knowing for certain I could travel without money. Now I’ve made it a way of living and over the last month and a half of traveling moneyless there were only a few remote occasions when I even had the urge for money. I’m amazed that I, a man who used to say I was going to be a millionaire, now forgo the thought of money on a daily basis, but it is in fact the case.
I have learned to live simply and because of that I live more freely than I ever have before. Here is my guide of how to travel the USA for free without mooching:
Gear Up with Some Necessities
In order to be self-sufficient and travel sustainably you may need to spend a little bit of money upfront but if you buy everything used you won’t need much money to get going at all. Shop at thrift stores and second hand stores or use sharing economy websites like Yerdle and Craigslist. With a resourceful mind you might not even need to use money to get the necessities. Most importantly, remember to travel light and only take what you actually need. My necessities will be mentioned throughout this blog and the tips within can help you with procuring them.
Go Human Powered
The bicycle is an amazing machine that can get you just about anywhere you need to go. One of the greatest keys to freedom is having a bicycle. It doesn’t have to be a sweet bamboo bike like I ride though. A $300 bike from Craigslist will do the trick or you can even get one for free through an Earn-A-Bike program. You’ll never have to pay for gas, parking, tickets, or all the other money sucking expenses of car travel.
Learn how to repair your own bike and get used parts. Carry simple tools to fix your bike and some spare parts such as inner tubes. Often you can get free parts from community bike shops or in exchange for volunteering.
Dumpster Dive for Food
It’s a shame but in the USA we throw away enough food to feed another entire USA. That means we throw away nearly half of all the food we produce. I have found out first hand that our grocery store dumpsters are filled to the brim with perfectly good food. There is such an abundance that I can be picky with what I choose to eat from the dumpsters. I’ve eaten from over 500 dumpsters across the USA and never been sick.
Just go behind the store, open up the dumpster, and enjoy the bounty of free food. (My guide to dumpster diving).
Forage for Food
Open up your eyes and you’ll realize that food is growing free all around you. Fruit from trees that aren’t being tended to, wild grapevines, cactuses in the desert, mushrooms in the woods, berries, and wild herbs have all found their way into my belly. Food is Free!
Bring a water purifier and a reusable bottle. Many parts of our country are abundant with natural bodies of water and a simple water purifier will make it clean and healthy for you to drink. If that is not available, we are also blessed with clean tap water. You can get this from public fountains, restaurants, bathroom sinks, etc. There is no shortage of places to fill up your bottle. Be conservative with water too. The average American uses one hundred gallons of water each day while I am able to use just five or ten.
How can you sleep without paying for a hotel room? Well, it turns out that the body needs so much less than you think. Carry a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat and you will find that you can sleep just about anywhere.
I’ve slept in campgrounds
And the middle of nowhere’s
All of these places have provided me with a place to rest for the night. Not to mention all the churchyards, fire stations, baseball fields, backyards, and even cemeteries. I’m a man of 5’10” and there are an unlimited number of places that I can comfortably fit my small body for the night.
Or you can stay with friends and family of course. This is my mom:
Live Naturally- Personal Hygiene
If you accept that the body does not need all the modern luxuries that are advertised you’ll see that it does not cost money to upkeep the body. In the past, I would shower every day but it’s now been 17 months since my last shower. I bathe solely in lakes, rivers, and the ocean or use a gallon of water from the sink. The only body care products I carry are toothpaste, Dr. Bronner’s Soap, a toothbrush, floss, and essential oil. This actually is one area where about $20-$50 per year could really help you out.
The more naturally I live, the more freely I live.
Well, you don’t need electricity to live but if you choose to carry some electronic devices like a computer or cell phone bring a solar panel to meet your energy demands. This way you don’t depend on the grid for electricity. Otherwise, you can just plug into any of the millions of outlets that exist in the USA.
My cell phone is currently the only bill that I have and one day I may get away from that as well. This summer I canceled my last credit card, paid my last debt, ditched all of my other bills, and switched to a local credit union. I’m still progressing into a moneyless way of living myself but I’ve been chipping away from the dependence and am more free than ever before.
Travel with a Purpose Greater than Yourself
If you travel with a purpose to make the earth a better place you will find that your needs will be more easily met. People are always excited to be a part of a greater cause. By involving them, they often receive as much from helping you as you received from their help. I give all of my trips a theme such as doing good for others on the Goodfluence Tour, demonstrating eco-friendly living on Off The Grid Across the USA, or simple living and sharing on Share My Way Home. People love to be a part of my travels and go out of their way to get involved and host me!
Make Goodness Your Currency
When you do good for others, others will do good for you. The great thing about goodness as a currency is, the more you give, the more you receive. You don’t need to have anything to start with to use this currency. There are so many people in need of help and all you have to do is go out there and help them.
Exchange and Barter
I have started to make transactions that don’t involve money but I was somewhat unfamiliar with this in early adulthood. You can volunteer on organic farms with WWOOF and have your lodging and food covered while you’re there for example. You could go dumpster diving for $100’s of dollars worth of food and trade that for what you need (as long as you tell them where you got it). You can also work in exchange for what you need. Exchanges don’t always have to be linear either. By giving to others when you can, you’ll find that what you need may come from others not involved, just because they know you are a good person.
Entertainment needs not cost a cent. It is only a matter of perspective as to finding your forms of entertainment. Let nature provide you with smiles. This field of wheat made my spirits soar.
The clouds, the air, the green grass, and the trees bring me pleasure.
There are 300 million Americans, all with their own unique story that can provide friendship and conversation.
And the animals have often kept me company too!
There are thousands of public events that you can find for free like documentary screenings, dances, and parties. Communities are loaded with free events. The library is also a wonderful resource filled with infinite knowledge both via books and public computers. (See 13 awesome things that are free for more inspiration)
Live off of The USA’s Wastefulness
I mentioned dumpster diving for food but there is so much waste in the USA that you can find just about anything you need in the trash with just a little work. Even thrift stores get so much stuff donated to them that they toss a lot of it into dumpsters. In my opinion that is free for the taking. Retail dumpsters, residential trashcans, and alleyways can provide you with everything you need and at the same time you will be diverting stuff from the landfill. The Average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash per day. Basically everything you need is in the trash. Here you can even see me bathing in a leaky fire hydrant.
Shake Off Social Norms
Live in a manner that you know is right for you, serves you, and serves humanity. Say see you later to the social norms that restrict you from doing what you truly want to do. Stop caring what people think and start being the you that you truly want to be. When I decided to this it opened up my life and allowed me to live in the manner that I speak of today.
Don’t be too proud to take help from others. All humans are needy. We all depend on community to support us. We all depend on the earth to provide us with food, water, and air. It’s only the illusion of money that makes some people appear that they don’t need help.
Sometimes you’ll take and sometimes you’ll give. You won’t always be able to give back to the person who helped you but as long as you are paying it forward then you are helping to create a better society. Plus a lot of people feel great purpose in helping others so you may be returning the favor more than you know.
Realize it’s OK to Not Pay Taxes
Some would argue that if you are not spending money and you aren’t paying taxes, you are mooching from public systems such as the roads, parks, and libraries. That could hold true, but you can assure that not to be the case by living in service of your country. And heck no I’m not talking about the army. I am talking about doing your part to help these systems that you are involved in but not paying taxes to do so.
If you use the library, volunteer at it.
If you use the public parks, clean up some trash.
If you use the public bathrooms, leave them cleaner than you found them.
It’s important to realize that reciprocation does not have to occur on a direct give and take basis. For example, a man could spend one hundred percent of his money, say 1 million dollars, on creating a safe highway infrastructure for Americans but does that mean that he doesn’t deserve to use the public parks, the library, or walk down the sidewalk? Of course not.
Maybe you don’t have a way to give back to the road system but you could dedicate time to getting more people to walk, lessening the impact on the roads. Maybe you don’t pay for healthcare but you can keep others that use free healthcare out of the hospitals by teaching them to be healthier via their eating and exercise habits. In these ways you can actually save taxpayers money, which would cover your lack of financial contribution. It’s important to note that 50% of taxes goes to war so when you do pay taxes you are funding war.
You have to think outside the box to understand this but taxes are by no means the only way to contribute. Money is not the only form of transaction, although we have been lead to believe that. You can be a contributing member to society without paying taxes or using money. In fact, you can contribute much more in this manner than you would by paying taxes. Once you realize this, your possibilities are endless and the future ahead of you will shine bright.
Then forget what taxes are and pretend to be a child again. You can start by hanging from a tree.
Then stand on your head.
Play like a wild animal.
And explore the simple unknowns.
Earlier this year I received a message from Abby, one of my first girlfriends. She said, “I remember you being convinced you would be a millionaire someday, that was your life goal.” I dated her when I was in University and if anyone knew me at that time it was definitely her. I didn’t just want to have stacks of money though. I wanted to be a millionaire because I thought vast amounts of money bought freedom. Now I’ve learned that the drive for money actually makes you a slave. A slave to the dollar, a slave to bills, a slave to your stuff, but most importantly a slave to your own mind. When your priority is making money you will never have enough.
I no longer desire to be a millionaire, but looking over my life purpose from nearly ten years ago I see something very familiar written at the top of the list.
“Live a life full of health and happiness”
For the most part my goals haven’t changed, just my means of achieving them. In the last few years I have come to find greater levels of health and happiness by living simply. It turns out that all I need to feel an abundance of health and happiness is real food, clean water, simple clothes, simple shelter, and most importantly a bounty of friendship, love, and purpose. I have learned to meet all of these needs with the use of very little money and this have given me the freedom and time to pursue my greatest desires and follow my deepest passions. This knowledge in simplicity has given me the ability to live more freely than I ever could have imagined in my younger years. Now that my needs are met I have dedicated my life to being a steward of the earth that and helping all the beings that make it home.
This reading may not inspire you to travel the USA without a penny to your name but at the very least it can help make traveling more accessible to you. This is important because traveling creates strong, open minded, resourceful, understanding, and compassionate beings. If you wish to practice what I’ve written for you I recommend that you leave your house on foot for just one day with no money or possessions in your pocket. Experience what I am talking about in your own community and leave everything else at home so that you are forced to immerse in the moment. You may experience hunger or be uncomfortable but this could stir a feeling of aliveness that you haven’t felt since childhood. If anything goes wrong home will still be there for you to retreat to. I started small the same way that I am recommending to you. It took me many years of adventure to get me to where I am today and that will likely be the case for you as well.
What I speak of in this blog can be of service to you even if you feel like you can’t travel right now or don’t want to. All of these ideas can be adapted into your life at home as well to live in a manner that is beneficial to the earth, your community, and yourself and to pursue a deeper level of health, happiness, and freedom.
Start living the life you desire today.
UPDATE: Quite a few people bring up the difference between a man and woman living this sort of way. This is something that I do care about and think is very important. I have met 100s of women travelers over the last years and heard mostly wonderful stories. But of course not all have been wonderful. Rather than me write a blog on this topic I asked my female friends who travel to contribute to a blog and gave an open invitation on social media to contribute. Here it is: Safety Tips and Stories from 23 Solo Women Travelers
The photos are from my last two cross-country bikes. Most of them are from my first ride and taken by Brent Martin. Thank you for helping me tell my story Brent. Also, I have a book that just came out that is basically the extended story of this blog. Feel free to get a copy of Dude Making a Difference. 100% of my proceeds are donated to nonprofits.