How To Travel 100% Money-Free, Indefinitely

A quick search on Google reveals a number of blogs and articles entitled ‘how to travel for free’, ‘how to travel the world for free’, ‘how to travel forever’, and other variations thereof.

Reading these pieces, however, usually reveals that they are not really about free travel at all. Instead, they’re almost without exception about how to earn money on the road and use travel hacking and couchsurfing to avoid spending more than you need to.

This, to me, is not ‘free travel’ – at least not in the sense that I wanted to explore when I boarded a train for the far end of my home country without a penny to my name.

Instead, I wanted to test out the idea of ditching money altogether; neither possessing it, spending it, nor looking to earn it, yet seeing if I could pull off my journey all the same – and even enjoy it!

I’ll not lie: it was a frankly terrifying moment, leaving that flat, knowing my wallet was still lying on the kitchen table where I’d left it. It really was. I, like almost everyone else, could not envisage life without money.

And as I made my way to the railway station, wandering among taxi ranks and newsagents and coffee bars and convenience stores, pockets empty, I suddenly noticed how dominated public life really is by spending and commerce and consumption. All that money flying around – it suddenly seemed like a crutch, a way of glossing life over, a means by which we could avoid really having to interact with each other on a personal level as we rushed around on our way to something far more important.

What – I wondered on the train to Penzance – would happen to me, setting forth to travel without any money in an environment like this?

Land's End hotel staff

Three weeks later I arrived in Edinburgh. I didn’t spend a single penny for the entire duration. I barely even thought about money, in fact, for I usually had more interesting things to worry about.

I’m not going to tell you it was easy. Nor am I going to claim that the experience has made me an expert in the art of money-free travel, because I don’t really feel that three weeks penniless across a single country was much more than a brief introduction.

I did, however, feel that I’d uncovered an entirely new way of existing in the world – at least, for me personally – and it has provided much food for thought. In this piece I’d like to try to share a little of what I learned with you. How is it possible to really travel money-free?

Reassess needs versus wants

Basic material needs are so passé these days – food, water, shelter. We know this.

In the Western world, though, we’ve gone way beyond it. We live in a society where unlimited credit and unbridled consumption is not just the norm but actively encouraged. Almost everything we buy is something we want, not something we need, to the point where we often have trouble distinguishing between the two. It’s an ideology so deeply entrenched that we’re barely aware of it, we’re so rarely forced to truly reconnect with what we actually need.

Please note that I speak factually here; this isn’t a lefty rant. The point is that having no money whatsoever moves the goalposts firmly (and rapidly) back into the realm of needs: food, water, shelter. Water can always be freely obtained, and you can carry your shelter with you in the form of camping gear, so food is usually the only material need that remains.

Feeding time

Travel, of course, has one additional requirement: transport. I chose to use a bicycle for my experimental journey; the perfect balance of human power, range, and the all-important connections it’d help me make with the people and places I travelled through, which I would soon learn was critically important. Walking and hitch-hiking would doubtless work just as well, as would any other simple form of human-powered (or food-powered, if you like) transport.

Relinquish the notion of independence

There is this notion of ‘independent’ travel, in which the traveller operates outside the realm of tour operators, guides and other hand-holding concepts. Sometimes, one can’t help but detect an air of superiority about those who evangelise it.

But independent travel still rests upon the crutch of money. So-called independent travellers are just as locked into the transactional system as everyone else. They’re just making a few more decisions about what to spend their cash on.

Without any money whatsoever, access to every traditional payment-based opportunity to satisfy your needs – i.e. to travel independently – goes out the window. Shops, cafes, hostels, hotels: these will no longer be part of your life. They exist to make money; you have none.

Wild camp outside Whitchurch

I realised on Day One that gazing longingly through greengrocers’ windows was fruitless, and that I might as well ignore such things altogether, instead thinking more laterally about getting what I needed.

Embrace interdependence

Beyond the immature, individualistic notion of independence lies interdependence, the realisation that your fate is forever inextricably tied up with that of everyone else (and by proxy, and without wanting to sound too hippyish, every other living thing) – more important still, that you are better off that way.

Without the ability to divorce yourself from real human contact via the anonymising medium of cash, you will quickly realise that satisfying your needs will depend largely on the way you relate to other people. Whether that’s through random donations, in exchange for work or time, or simply someone sharing their surpluses with you, it’s people who you’ll come to rely upon as much as yourself.

Foraging for watercress in Lympstone

By all means disagree, and attempt to subsist on foraging and bin-diving alone, but I’d wager you’ll eventually find its best combined with connecting with people. ‘Independence’ is a selfish goal, and in turn there are no social rewards for achieving it.

Lose control; set yourself free

At the beginning of the trip, I made the mistake of thinking that my usual routine of planning a few days and nights ahead would continue to work as well as it always had.

What happened in reality was that the commitments I’d made to be in specific places by specific times hindered my ability to experiment and get to grips with this new way of life.

Money, in the most practical sense, gives you the ability to get exactly what you want, exactly when you want it. Absence of money, then, means that you can only get what’s available in a given time and place.

So while I knew there’d be a handful of ‘safe havens’ (i.e. friends of friends) further up the road, I had to be much more flexible in the route I used to get there and how long it would take.

In short, I had to release my notions of control, instead seeking out opportunities on the fly, trusting my instinct and seeing where it all would lead. There were parallels here with the haphazard mode of transport that is hitch-hiking, and the process by which I found places to sleep while cycle touring.

Reassess ‘enjoyment’

It’s common to treat travel as a time for pleasure and hedonism, which of course ties in very well with the consumerist concept of spending money on nice food, cold beer and novelty experiences.

These things being unavailable through the usual channels, I realised that it was important to ignore the things that simply weren’t available, and to look for… not pleasure, but fulfilment from other kinds of experience.

Luckily, and as is often said, the best things in life are free. Sharing food, good company and helping others are well-known ways to glean intrinsic satisfaction from things that need have nothing to do with spending. But there are also the moments of peace and joy that arise spontaneously on the road via the most insignificant-seeming encounters.

Various buzzwords are nowadays used to describe the state of being open to these things: mindfulness, presence, awareness, consciousness, and various other spiritual or Buddhist-sounding terms guaranteed to bring about an uneasy silence at a dinner party. But all it really means is accepting what’s in front of you right now, appreciating it when it’s particularly beautiful, and quitting the endless search for the next short-lived pleasurable sensation.

World's most relaxed sheep

Without money, here and now is all you’ve got. And it turns out that – with a bit of practice – it’s plenty. Recognising that is a skill and a half to have. Indeed, it might be the skill to end all skills.

Make peace with hunger (and other forms of misery)

Here’s another ingrained notion I quickly realised I’d taken for granted: three meals a day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I began investigating ways in which to feed myself without money, it largely revolved around satisfying the cultural preconception of what ‘feeding myself’ actually meant.

Scone break

There was a time when I read a lot of science books (I’m too busy writing to have the time any more), and so I know enough as a layperson about the evolution of the human species and society to know that three meals a day is a far cry from the kind of diet and lifestyle we’re biologically equipped to deal with. Our metabolism is designed to store energy when there’s a surplus and fall back on it when there’s a scarcity, building and burning body fat as necessary. It mirrors the supposed hunter-gatherer routine of frugal consumption on the hunt, interspersed with lavish feasting when a kill is made.

Hunger is a driving force, a compulsive urge to find food. But it’s connected with long-term survival rather than short-term: you will not die if you don’t eat for a few days. It’s an overwhelming sensation, and a deeply unpleasant one when you’re not used to it. Strangely, though, I found that hunger became more tolerable over time. This is echoed in any number of fasting accounts you might care to look up.

What’s liberating – and therefore what gives you options – is knowing that you can get by without food when you need to. You can do this for several days with no ill effects. It might not be particularly pleasant, but you can continue in your search knowing all is not lost, rather than panicking and curling up in a ball, screaming desperately for your mother’s milk.

Eat junk food

Entire libraries could be dedicated to the topic of food waste. It’s one of the civilized world’s unspoken absurdities: that the best thing to do with perfectly edible food that cannot be sold is to put it in a bin and send it to landfill.

The issue is big enough to support a number of its own subcultures, the most visible of which is tramp culture. There’s a reason tramps go through the bins in public places: people put food in them, rather than giving the food directly to tramps. Bins are repositories for what mainstream society considers worthless, but one man’s trash is another’s treasure. In other cultures, begging and poverty occupies a revered role as an outlet for daily acts of charity. In ours, tramps get the shit kicked out of them while normal people put edible food in bin bags and leave it outside to rot.

The middle class has its own version: freeganism. It’s more broad than bin-diving alone, but in the context of feeding yourself, this is the most relevant part of the practice. I found a box of eggs (in date) and a tin of fruit (out of date) in a bin outside a house in a Devon village, which made for a tasty lunch. Later, I found several bags of carrots in the skip behind Iceland in Whitchurch on a Sunday morning. Smaller convenience stores, I found, tended to have much more accessible bins, as well as generally being located in quieter areas.

Though I didn’t try this myself on the trip, several people have since suggested asking at markets as they’re packing up, and in small bakeries around closing time. Outside of the catering trade, baked goods have the fastest turnaround of all, and bakeries fully expect to dispose of a certain amount of their produce on a daily basis. A friend of mine feeds his pigs on unsold stock from the bakery of his local Budgens, and has oft been known to set aside a few perfectly good pain au chocolates for himself.

Volunteer your time

Rumour has it that it used to be relatively common to find journeymen (known in the USA as hobos) travelling the nation, offering themselves up for casual work in exchange for food and a place to sleep. This was something I wanted to try. And so, when my contacts ran dry, I found myself knocking on doors, asking whether the occupants could use another pair of hands for a few hours in exchange for a meal.

Fence painting in Topsham

This worked some of the time; it more often failed. I played the numbers game, simply trying again and again until I got lucky. My first gig obtained in this way was collecting asparagus bundles on a farm in Worcestershire, for which I was rewarded with a stupendous lunch and several hours of scintillating conversation while the rain came down outside.

There are some sensible ways to improve your odds. The first is to ask the right kind of people, and what that means in practice is finding people who are community-minded and who have sufficient authority to grant your request. A labourer on an industrial farm will fob you off, but the head of a family farm will be much more likely to engage. A slow-living resident of a small village will have a much better idea of who’s doing what in the immediate vicinity, and will be much more helpful than the zombies who inhabit the high streets of shit towns on weekdays. Village pubs are a great way to ingratiate yourself into communities as they are ready-made social hubs. Word gets around in small communities, and you’ll be able to follow a trail of breadcrumbs towards opportunities.

Likely-looking sign

The second way is to consider what kind of help is actually going to be useful to people in the short-term. In general, this is either work which requires no skill or training whatsoever, or work at which you are an expert. Offering to do a job which will require more time to explain than it’ll take you to actually do it is bad value. So I found myself picking vegetables, sanding wooden chairs and washing pots on one hand, and advising on laptop specifications and tweaking bicycle gear indexing on the other.

The third consideration is how long you’re available for. The mistake I made in the beginning was assuming people would have a use for me for a few hours, but I more often than not found that people wanted at least a day’s work for it to be worth their while. (Needless to say, a few people entertained my whim regardless, giving me a token task to do before feeding me disproportionately and sending me on my way with a smile.)

The trick is finding the right type of community in the first place. While heading for the back-roads is a good way to do this, if you’ve internet access (I borrowed a smartphone and a friend’s BT Wifi account details), your first port of call should be your immediate contacts, your friends and family. If these leads run dry, there are websites dedicated to making these kinds of connections, such as HelpX or WWOOF, or even local Couchsurfing, Gumtree or Craigslist groups and listings. You could even use Facebook or Twitter.

It doesn’t really matter how; the point is that getting an introduction to a community will help enormously, especially if you’re not particularly gregarious or outgoing.

Freely give, freely receive

At other times it’ll be inappropriate to start blabbing on about wanting to work in exchange for food. You might just see someone who needs a hand then and there – a broken-down car that needs pushing, or a bicycle that needs fixing.

Simply offering to help, unconditionally, is a way of putting something back into that mystical pot of good fortune (or karma). What you’ll probably find is that it comes back to help you when you need it most. These things have a way of working out.

Priddy Hurdles, Mendip Hills

Mysticism aside, if you make yourself a helpful kind of person, you’ll probably become more receptive to the helpfulness of others. Too often we assume that approaching strangers want one of two things: a handout, or to sell us something. This jaded and cynical view can be cured simply by approaching others in the spirit of altruism, expecting nothing in return. Sooner or later, this kind of thing will become normal and natural.

Catch up with friends and family

When I tell people I stayed at the homes of friends and family whenever the opportunity arose, a surprising proportion respond with something along the lines of “that’s cheating!”.

Exactly whose set of rules am I cheating? Yes, I was travelling money-free. No, it wasn’t a novelty mission with stupid rules attached to it. The fact of the matter of simple: I possessed no money, nor any means of accessing it. Aside from that, I could and would do as I pleased.

It feels like this should be obvious, but I’d have visited friends and family along my route if I did have money – so why would I cycle past their front doors because I didn’t? It’s that silly notion of ‘independence’ at work again, that notion that it’s you versus the world, that you must make your own way with no help whatsoever. Bullshit. I appreciated the trip all the more for the opportunities it created to spend time with old friends, make several new ones, and generally enjoy the kind of good company that we as social animals crave almost as much as food, water and shelter.

Happy host 2

What it also did was highlight how widespread our networks really are. I hadn’t the slightest idea that people I knew would have willing and helpful contacts scattered so broadly across the nation. Yes, there were massive gaps, but that was what everything else in this article was for.

I’d be willing to wager that if you announced today on Facebook that you were travelling the length of your home country and were looking for contacts along the way, you’d find just the same thing. What better opportunity to visit them and catch up?

Work out a (flexible) routine

After a couple of weeks, I found that the most practical model of living like this was to seek out a community where opportunities were ripe, make it known that I was working for food and that I’d be around for a few days, then see what emerged. Additionally, I stockpiled food that would keep so I could travel for longer between jobs.

Last of the supplies

Depending on your approach to travel, yours may well turn out different, but the point is that from all this experimenting and all these mistakes emerged a routine. The panic of being penniless had long since died away, replaced by a feeling that this way of life could be prolonged indefinitely. Who knew?

Get creative and embrace variety

I feel that what I’ve covered here is really only the tip of the iceberg. Money isn’t just coins and notes but a whole culture with all the rules and norms of any other. Once you step outside of that culture you’re free to roam as far and wide as your imagination takes you.

Will work for food: Burnley FC

I am sure that you’ll be able to come up with far more imaginative ideas than me, but some of the things I wanted to try doing but didn’t (for lack of time) included making and selling beer-can stoves at markets, running pop-up bicycle repair workshops, learning an instrument so I could busk, and learning a craft that would be in demand wherever I went.

This last point, for the money-free traveller, is possibly the most valuable asset you can possess, reminding me of the German travellers I’ve met in the past, diligently keeping the tradition of the Wanderjahre alive – a tradition that we have sadly lost. I guess we didn’t value it highly enough.

Really, really appreciate what you’ve got

There is nothing quite as satisfying in this world as a meal you’ve endured great hardship and hunger before eating.

My money-free journey was full of this: renewed appreciation for things that I’d taken for granted by virtue of them having been taken away. While my ‘great hardship’ pales into insignificance in comparison with other hardships endured in this world, joy and suffering are ultimately relative, meaningless to anyone other than the one feeling them.

Bicycle travel is a great way to remind yourself what matters in life, with or without money. Appreciation of the little things was all the more accentuated when I was forced to use all my initiative and creativity to find them, rather than simply handing over money I’d earned previously by sitting indoors in front of a computer.

In this way, you can begin to see that travelling without money is actually something very positive, rather than a constant battle against endless hardships.

Reconsider what money means to you

And so it is that, having lived entirely money-free and re-learned the value of things, you may consider revisiting that old relationship and seeing if it looks any different. For while money is a crutch, a hindrance, an obfuscator of values and an enormous waste of energy for the most part, there do come occasions when a common means of exchange is genuinely useful.

For instance, while I have a deep distaste for many aspects of consumer culture and the way in which our form of capitalism has cultivated it, I believe that communications technology – used well – is generally a force for good, and I’m not going to claim that the internet or mobile phones would be possible unless they were built on globalised principles and centralised networks.

Mass transport, too, is truly valuable to society, spans nations and continents, and it would be foolish to propose that public transport and the infrastructure that supports it could function effectively without some form of large-scale organisation.

Institutions like these can’t function unless they agree on a common denominator for the things they exchange with each other and with the people who use them.

So it’s not black and white, in my view. It’s not that ‘money is evil’, nor that ‘money makes the world go round’. It’s just that so much of our existences have become consumed by its use that the original point of money has been all but forgotten.

Potwash at work

Which made me immensely grateful when, after a long shift of pot-washing in the Lake District, the bar manager gave me £65 from the tip jar. I didn’t see £65; I saw only a train ticket to get me home at the end of this surprising and truly fascinating journey.

* * *

Selfie on the Royal Mile

This experience has not turned me into a freegan, Luddite, anti-capitalist, ruralist hippy. It has not made me want to live money-free for the rest of all time.

Rather, I think the biggest lesson I’ve taken away from this journey is an extension of the one I often cite in support of long, meandering bicycle adventures. It’s a feeling of confidence in yourself – not arrogance, just a level of self-knowledge that stands up under pressure because you’ve been there before. You’ve a yardstick by which to measure things. You can put things in proportion, and you can respond appropriately. You’re not fearless, but there are many common fears over which you have now exerted control.

It’s a feeling that if all you took for granted in modern life was suddenly whisked away, if all the institutions that support your existence and provide for your needs suddenly vanished and you were left with nothing but the clothes on your back, an empty landscape, no knowledge of where you were or which way to go… that you would be able to stand there, look around you, and say – and believe – “This is OK. Everything is going to be OK.”

This is the final post in the series about my #freeLEJOG experiment. Here’s the first post if you missed it. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along!

I’m planning to compile these articles into an e-book, telling the story of the trip and exploring the themes that emerged from it. If you’d like to hear when it’s ready, get on the mailing list and I’ll let you know. (You’ll also get a free monthly newsletter with the best bits from my blog.)

41 Responses to “How To Travel 100% Money-Free, Indefinitely”

  1. Oliver

    Holy moly, now that’s a post Tom!
    I find it pretty interesting to see how many lessons this rather short trip was able to compile. I mean in a way it might be a combination of recent situations and previous experiences, but I feel that the experiment quite impressed you! Don’t get me wrong, it takes guts to simply leave your all monetary security behind when setting off for a wee journey – no matter if you have the chance to stay with friends along the way. As you said, you are bound to time and place in terms of what’s available or better say accessible to you. I also really like the concept of “interdependence”. Probably also something one needs to learn.
    I quite like the balance of observations of your surroundings (i.e. in terms of freeganism and such) while observing yourself (re)acting in certain situations. I think this also would improve over time, meaning a potential “#freeLEJOG reloaded” would already be more “structured” in terms of your approach and mindset.

    Also good to hear you plan to turn this experiment into a wee “electronic compendium”. Not sure if you already have a title in mind, but how about “What I £earned while crossing a country” or “£essons from a penniless pedal pilgrimage” or something like that… 😀

    Reply
  2. Liz

    I like the second suggested title – ‘£essons from a penniless pedal pilgrimage’!

    Reply
  3. Donald

    Fruitlessly looking through greengrocer’s windows – love it!!!!

    Reply
  4. Ants BK

    Excellent post Tom. Very interesting, extremely brave and lots to think about…

    Reply
  5. Katja

    Thank you Tom for this inspiration and shared road wisdom!
    I really enjoy reading you and it has guided us to get on the road as of tomorrow…
    Yay, adventure!!
    Warm greetings from Montreal xo

    Reply
  6. jane

    Very thought provoking. Reminded me of a book i read by another Bristolite: The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle.

    Reply
  7. Leah

    I love to live vicariously through your posts. Really gives new meaning to the New Hampshire (US) slogan to “live free or die”. Keep up the amazing life!

    Reply
  8. Zeinab

    “Without the ability to divorce yourself from real human contact via the anonymising medium of cash, you will quickly realise that satisfying your needs will depend largely on the way you relate to other people. ”
    I like to think I’m nice to people purely for the sake of being nice to them, and not because “I might need them sometime somewhere somehow” but I wonder if that’s even humanly possible…hmmm

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      It’s absolutely humanly possible. I think it begins at the moment one stops thinking of oneself as more important than the whole…

      Reply
  9. ferruccio

    your post is thought provoking. it’s comforting – to me, at least – to see that more and more people are challenging beliefs which are superficially held as self evident by our society.
    well done!

    Reply
  10. Graeme

    Always interesting and thought provoking. I would have really liked to hear of all the different jobs you did en route though. One of the pictures looked lie you were repairing old wooden seats in an ancient football stadium! I’ve done two big possible life-changing things in the past 4 months. The first was to walk away from my marriage after 26 years and move in with my ageing fairly dependent dad. The second was to pack my job in at almost 55,with no other job lined up,just the grand notion of firstly caring for for my dad and getting something in place as regards his future care. Then the initial plan was to go back-packing to India,something which as gone by the wayside in recent months,to be superceded by the idea of doing something which I’ve enjoyed since my teens in the 1970s…just packing up my bike and going..somewhere/anywhere! The third big thing in recent months would be actually setting off. This is something I’m having trouble doing though at the moment! I just seem to be making excuses to myself about why ‘I can’t go just for the moment’. I guess it’s like gathering funds for a charity parachute jump,going up in the plane,and when the door opensm…just not being able to jump! I know its just fear and a lack of self-confidence and I’m wrestling with it on a daily basis at the moment. Each one of your articles though Tom(and this is another one)is gradually eroding that fear. One day soon I will be able to make that jump. Thanks Tom…

    Reply
  11. Diesel

    Tom, your best posts are the ones where you follow your own thoughts, not those of others. Many thanks for this one.

    Reply
  12. NZ Muse

    I certainly hear of people who volunteer as a lifestyle, going from one Helpx/WWOOF/Workaway etc assignment to the next. It’s definitely not for me – have done a couple of stints and enjoyed them for what they were – but a unique lifestyle for some 🙂

    Reply
  13. greg

    Great post tom!

    Reply
  14. Yury

    Excellent post Tom
    There are some who live their lives looking for the answers on the questions how to find their way in life – the right way, and others who suggest that they know all about and don’t leave place for doubts. What actually divides the peoples.
    Your thoughts about values of life touched me – because it’s the answers that I’m looking for and the people who read you are looking for them also. So do not hesitate to continue doing it – what you do – it’s something good.

    Reply
  15. Leif Harum

    Hey Tom, awesome post. I totally agree with you about all of this. When I was 16 I ran away from home and spent one year traveling Europe and the Middle East without any money. I learned a lot of these lessons. I love your point of the interdependence of our fates. I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but it’s so true. The biggest thing I took away from that year was compassion. Out of all the misery and suffering I grew more compassionate towards those who had less and have become more grateful for what I have today.

    Reply
  16. Starting Bike Touring (without needing to know if you like it) | H

    […] Tom Allen, who is always sharing his knowledge on how to tour and even how to tour for nothing! […]

    Reply
  17. Sam Vincente

    Hey, interesting adventure you had there. Mindset is so powerful. On my travels I’ve met all sorts of people traveling the world on a shoestring, sleeping on the beach, making jewelry, playing music and having an awesome time. Then I go back to Australia and listen to people tell me they could never travel the world because they only earn $2500 a month!

    Reply
  18. Let's have an adventure! - The BikepackerThe Bikepacker

    […] The weird thing might be that by doing this I’m hoping to make people realize that if I can do it, anyone can. You don’t have to be very athletic or have camped before in your life to  get on a bicycle and decide to ride it around the world. You don’t even need money, just look at this blogpost! […]

    Reply
  19. simon cox

    I absolutely love this article! What an amazing idea and what a creative way to bring new life to a very common bike ride. I salute your ingenuity!

    Reply
  20. Terri

    I’m thrilled to find your site. I’ve been planning my own adventure for a while (just waiting for the geriatric dog to pop his clogs!) and plan to start this time next year. I was wondering how I’d fare with a limited budget and this article is EXTREMELY REASSURING!
    So thanks. And bought the book (eschewed the chocs and tshirt) so when does the link arrive in my inbox as I’m itching to read it!

    Reply
  21. Sally Eathorne

    Hi Tom,
    I have often glanced at your jottings and now have signed up for your newsletters. I read this article fully with a keen eye as this has always been my train of thought too. I have also cycled a fair bit but always with our conventional currency of exchange in my pocket after working and saving. However, as I have now come to the conclusion that I’ve never really been motivated by money, hence a good simple lifestyle but not much cash, I am considering a long-term cycling life. A loose plan but also to travel where the wind takes me in a sense, spending time in places that I find interesting and like you, offering my services as a fairly practical kinda girl [perhaps a bit of busking also] along the way.
    Your article has been great. Useful, down to earth and level headed. I am tired of reading about so many so-called ‘digital nomads’ where life appears to be a constant Wow! Awesome! Such fun! Cool! I have traveled enough to know that the truth is a bit of everything, good, bad, highly memorable days, days of mundanity, days of joy and inspiration. and of course a few wows! and awesomes! thrown in for good measure
    So, anyway, just wanted to say ..Thank you.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hey Sally, glad the article was useful. I also tire of ‘wow/awesome’ lifestyle travel blogs. Though I understand why the authors craft an image that people will envy (it’s good for business), I also don’t buy it. Good luck with the loose plan; to keep things flexible sounds very wise!

      Reply
  22. Giles Gatrell

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for a thought provoking article.
    Reassess ‘enjoyment’ ~ I am often trying to instil this with my Scouts.
    When we are hiking into a headwind of driving rain with heavy packs and one of them says they could be on the sofa playing on their games console, I try to convince them that there are different ways to experience pleasure and one is taking part in and completing a hard physical activity. And besides think how much more delicious the hot chocolate will be back at camp having hiked in hard conditions 🙂
    Make peace with hunger (and other forms of misery) ~ I overcame a two year battle with insomnia by stopping expecting to sleep and realizing that I could function adequately without any sleep. Now I sleep like the damned!

    Reply
  23. Ina

    Great insight, thanks for all th information. Some really deep thinking.

    Reply
  24. Peter Dickerson

    Hi Tom. This is a really well-written blog piece. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful experiences with us. All the best always.

    Reply
  25. Carl

    Fantastic article Tom! Sat down and really enjoyed it. Inspiring and educational for me it was. Looking forward to more of your adventures!

    Reply
  26. James

    I love this post Tom. Just today (the day after I read the post) I was at the end of a long, hot day, Tbilisi to Telavi, hadn’t thought to eat much and found myself at the end of a quiet lane at the far side of town outside a large house, a couple of ladies at table in the garden invited me in. I stayed the evening, ate and drank generously, had a wonderful conversation, watched a band play in the adjacent park, then was put up for the night by a friend down the road (where we ate and drank some more). Personally, I think the best take away in this article is ‘attitude’; positive outlook, a generous spirit with a little flexibility in onwards plans makes for endless ‘no money’ possibilities. Thanks for sharing this so articulately, Tom. Hope the TransCaucasian stuff is going well.

    Reply
  27. James

    I was hoping to, to walk a bit of the trail, but my sister’s organised a ‘surprise’ for me in Athens. I’ll have to come back to Armenia in the near future. Good luck with it all, Tom!

    Reply
  28. Lulu

    This article is interesting, it is honest, and it is self-aware to a degree.
    But it also bothers me a lot. It largely sounded to me like a long blog post basically about being a broke, homeless hobo. Before I go on, I’ll say I have your website bookmarked and enjoy many of your articles. Which made this one disappointing to read.
    So many of the ‘tips’ are things that homeless people (by which I mean those who are homeless by circumstance and not adventurous choice) figure out and have to rely on very quickly – knocking on doors asking for food, relying on relatives, working jobs that sounds cool for now but would make your brain want something more stimulating in the end. I would think it’s mentally easier to do busking, stove-selling etc. when you know you have a completed college degree and several marketable skills in your back pocket.

    It also occurred to me that ‘working for food’ barely side-steps what money really is – a way to exchange goods and services. It just cuts out the ability to exchange one’s services for anything other than food – for example, health care. A biggie that wasn’t included here. Break your leg while going moneyless? Come down with appendicitis? Not many countries in the world are ready to hand you treatment without money in return.

    I understand that you’ve learned a lot. I admire the effort you put into this experiment – it takes guts and hard work. Seeing life from a new angle is rarely a bad thing, and if you gained lessons that can benefit you in life, good on you. But it seems that more of a step back is needed before posting these kinds of proclamations. If all the institutions that provided for you suddenly disappeared? No. You – and most of the rest of us, myself included – would not be okay. Living without money is different than learning survival skills or running your own farm. While I know those skills (growing food, building shelter not ordered from a gear company, searching for drinkable water in the wild, etc) must not be what you were referring to, and it was more for the sake of good writing and a dramatic finish than proving your zombie apocalypse skills, it’s a dangerous zone to get into.
    It’s easy to talk big about an issue we are not actually tied to in our lives (in this case, having no money) but it is demeaning to those actually dealing with it, and it’s hard to take advice from someone who only did these things for a couple weeks. I think this post could have been really great if a few sociopolitically sketchy bits had been left out. It’s a great learning experience but in the end it’s not really the area of expertise of this website. (P.S. I did click ‘notify me of follow-up comments’ and am interested in hearing what you have to say about this.)

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi Lulu, and thanks for your comments. It warrants a much longer response than I can deliver right now, but the main thing I should point out is that the assumptions you’ve made are incorrect. I have, in fact, lived below the poverty line for my entire adult life. I have never once earned enough money in a single year to pay income tax. I have been moneyless on many more occasions than this one, worked far more shit jobs than the ones described here, spent long periods of time living on handfuls of change and sleeping rough out of circumstance. I didn’t include any of that in the article, because it wasn’t directly tied to the experiment, and also because it’s nobody else’s business. Just please don’t assume that a lack of money isn’t an issue I’m deeply tied into – I can assure you that it is, and that my sociopolitical comments do have a basis in experience beyond this three-week zero-money experiment. Apologies for not including more context; I can see why the piece might have sounded demeaning without it.

      I’d love to write more on this topic when I have the time to do so, as it’s a staggeringly deep one.

      (FWIW, healthcare wasn’t included because the experiment took place in the UK, where you can walk into any hospital and receive free treatment. I appreciate this may not be the case elsewhere, and apologise for not acknowledging that.)

      Reply
  29. Pablo

    Great writing, entertaining and useful. I found this website while looking for information on bike travelling and all I can say is “Thank you Tom”. Your experiences and ideas are a good source of knowledge for me to learn from and I really appreciate you are sharing them for free. Hope to see you con the road!

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  30. Flo

    Thanks for all your posts Tom, especially this one on a pennyless journey, really inspiring!
    I just read a book on ‘the man who quit money’ and i really found many similarities in your story and experience.
    I will start my bike adventuring as soon as i am done with my studies and built a touring bike, in 2 months… although it doesnt fit with your first moto!
    Ohh and it is ‘pain au chocolat’ not ‘pain au chocolates’ 😉
    Ride, love and light

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  31. Steve

    Really enjoyed this Tom. I have spent most of the afternoon on your site, while my toddler has slept after tiring herself out after a swim in this Las Palmas heatwave. Fascinating way of looking at life and travel and our real needs, rather than the wants our consumer society has programmed into us. Man you have really made me want to get out and buy a touring bike. Living in Gran Canaria the mountains are literally the doorstep. I keep putting off getting out my old ex army body and getting out into the hills because I don’t have a car, perhaps pedal power will be the end of my ability to make excuses. Keep up the great work.

    Reply

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