It is perfectly possible to travel with absolutely no money.
You won’t be drinking many Mojitos or staying in any sweet hotels. You will be hungry some days, and exhausted. You will also push yourself to new limits, discovering how capable and resourceful you really are.
Florian Roquais is a full time traveller and outdoor photographer.
Before setting up his photography business and converting a van to live in, he spent many years hitchhiking and wild camping around Europe. He also spent a year living in a rented van in New Zealand and enjoyed a brief fling with Canada.
At one stage of his travels, Florian decided to give up using money altogether. He travelled around Europe for 3 straight months without spending a single cent.
After 5 years of travel, he had more money in his bank account than when he set off.
As well as a brilliant photographer and alternative traveller, Florian also just happens to be the man I wake up next to every morning. I’m pleased to announce that his money experiment has come to an end, and he can even be convinced to take me out for a beer from time to time.
In this very serious interview conducted whilst he was cooking me my dinner, I grilled him about how he managed to travel for so long without losing any money.
First things first, where on earth did you sleep?
Mostly I slept in my tent.
It was very small and discreet. In the countryside, I would just find a quiet piece of land and pitch up late in the evening. If I left early enough, noone even noticed I was there.
If I was in a busy city, I would find a park to sleep in, or I’d stay with local people via the Courchsurfing website.
Did you smell really bad then?
I don’t think I smelled bad.
It’s easy to find water. You can wash in a stream or a river. When I stayed at people’s houses, they would often let me take a shower. Sometimes I used their washing machine to clean my clothes.
I make pretty good French crepes, so I would make them for my hosts as a way to say to thank you.
Did you pay for the ingredients though? Wouldn’t it annoy people on Couchsurfing if you just turned up without any food?
The kind of people that hosted me were the kind of people that understood the value in my idea. They wanted to support my project, and in return I cooked for them, taught them French or looked after their kids.
I spent 3 straight months travelling without spending a single cent.
It was really hard. Sometimes I had to walk for 5 hours with my heavy bag when the metro would have been less than a euro. Sometimes I went for a day without eating, and sometimes I had to walk around all night without sleeping because it was too dangerous to try and sleep there.
After the 3 months was up, I decided to be more relaxed. I still kept a small budget, but for the next few years I didn’t mind spending a couple of euros here and there to make my life a lot more safe and comfortable.
Occasionally, I would be paid for some casual bits of work like helping out a farm. So, I still ended up saving more money than I spent in the long run.
Ok, but how did you eat and drink when you weren’t making crepes for people?
I got water from public toilets or from rivers. I had some sterilisation tablets with me in my bag. Another good place to find water is in graveyards, where they have a tap for people to water their flowers. So long as you’re just filling up a couple of bottles, no-one really minds.
I would get food out of the supermarket bins.
*Interviewer pulls a face*
The bins at the back of the supermarket are filled with perfectly good food! Hundreds of loaves of bread that didn’t get sold that day, or fruit and vegetables that they didn’t sell before the next delivery came in.
You can even find things like brand new clothes and bicycles that the supermarkets wanted to clear out.
Didn’t you get in trouble raiding the bins?!
In Northern Europe I never had a problem with it. In Spain and Italy there is a lot more poverty, so the supermarkets have started locking up the bins.
They get tired of finding a great big mess all over the floor with all the people searching for food. They don’t want to put it out on a table where someone can take it for free, because they will make less money if people know they can just wait for the end of the day.
If the bins were locked I would go to the supermarket at the end of the day and speak with the supervisor. I would ask if they could please give me any food that was going to be thrown in the bin. Normally, they would be happy to bring me a bag of fruits and pastries.
Occasionally they just told me to f*ck off.
Do you think it was a lot easier to travel like this because you are a man? You’re less likely to a victim of violence than I would be, surely?
I think being a man travelling alone actually made it harder.
I know women who have travelled in the same way, and they are full of anecdotes about how people would run out into the street to ask them if they were hungry or needed somewhere to stay.
Being a muscly guy with tattoos, people were more likely to see me as a threat.
Of course, sexism is still a problem. Women are more likely to be a target of violence than hetero guys, particularly sexual violence. On one hand this can make some aspects of solo travel more risky, but it also means that the average person is more willing to go out on a limb to make sure a woman has a safe place to sleep.
Did you ever find yourself in a situation where your safety was at risk?
I had a couple of close calls.
Walking through the wrong place in the city at the wrong time, or being hosted by a guy who turned out to be quite aggressive and looking for sex.
I think it helps that I know how to handle myself. Having experience with karate gives me confidence that I could protect myself. It is never the victims fault for being attacked, but I found that by feeling and looking confident, people were less likely to try anything with me.
The most danger I was ever in was in the desert in Spain.
To be honest, hitchhiking in Southern Spain is an absolute nightmare. I spent 2 full days stood at the same point trying to get a lift. Hundreds of cars passed, but people were slowing down just to point at me or even put their middle finger up.
I wasn’t a beginner hitchhiker either. I’d been doing it for years and I knew the best kind of places to stand. I had just been to a Couchsurfing so I was totally clean and shaved. Even my clothes were clean!
I had never seen anything like this.
Anyway, I had never been stuck in one place for so long – so I didn’t bring enough food or water with me.
During the day the temperature was touching 40 degrees centigrade, so I didn’t really understand how cold it would be at night. It was pretty scary. If it wasn’t for the emergency blanket that I always carry in my pack, I’m sure that I would have had hypothermia.
None of this sounds particularly fun.
That’s because you keep asking me about the difficult things!
Of course there were some wonderful things about travelling like this or I wouldn’t have done it for so long.
I set out to push my limits. It gives me a lot of happiness and confidence to know that I have the skills and experience I need to survive with nothing.
I also met lots of very kind and interesting people. Before I started travelling I was very introverted and unsociable. I just wanted to get home from work and play video games. This experience forced me to open my mind and learn to connect with people more deeply.
I also spent lots of time hiking in beautiful National Parks, and discovered my passion for photography.
Of course, I had some funny experiences too.
Like when I was desperate for a place to sleep and the only person that answered me on Couchsurfing was a guy who had a ‘no clothes rule’ in his house. I was sat around naked with my host and another Couchsurfer thinking ‘this isn’t how I planned for the evening to go.’
Do you miss travelling like that?
Sometimes, yeah I do.
I miss the sense of freedom and meeting crazy people. I miss the challenge as well.
My life is much easier now that we live in the van. For me, there is no challenge at all. You are always warm and dry, you always have a safe place to sleep. You don’t have to spend time every day searching for food and water. I can just drive to the supermarket and buy food.
People think that living in a van is difficult. But compared to how I lived before it is really easy.
So why not go back and travel like that?
It’s difficult to evolve and make progress towards your dreams when you are living like I was.
It’s great that you don’t use much money, so you can keep travelling forever if you want to. But if you want more from life, then eventually you have to find a way to live when you aren’t using all your time and energy searching for food and water.
I think we met at the right time. I wasn’t sure where my next move would take me, but as soon as I met you I was prepared to make changes for our future together.
Instead of focusing on survival, I can now focus on growing my photography business. In a few years I would like to have our own place, a dog, maybe a family.
As much as I miss my old way of life, it wasn’t bringing me any closer to the future that I envision for myself.
If you are thinking about travelling the world with no money, it’s worth buying a few simple things to keep you safe and well before you set off.
I KNOW you are hoping to travel outside of the financial system, but Florian swears these simple things will make the experience so much safer and more comfortable.
I’ve put some amazon links below to help you choose your kit, but remember second hand is always better for the planet. If possible, it’s a great idea to support local producers too.
- First aid (just pick up some cheap bandages, blister tablets and hydration sachets at your chemist)
- A water filter or water purification tablets (personally I hate the taste of the water tablets, but they are much more convenient to pack)
- A battery pack for your phone (the pocket solar ones are a nice idea. In practice they are pretty rubbish. You want a quality mains powered battery pack like this)
- A 3 season tent (lightweight and discreet like this one)
- Alternatively a hammock with built in bug net is such a nice way to get close to nature
- An emergency blanket (saved Florian’s life on multiple occasional!)
- A sleeping bag (plus a sleeping bag liner will stop your sleeping bag from stinking, because it can be easily chucked in the laundry. Essential if you want to hitchhike without upsetting your driver)
- A sleeping pad (this foldable foam type is better than inflatable for long term travel because it won’t pick up a puncture. You can of course get cheaper ones, but I would prioritise a comfy night sleep if you are going to be on the road for a long time.)
And that’s it! Everything else can be worked out along the way!
If you enjoyed this article, you may want to check out the Highly Sensitive Nomad book.
Alternatively, you could try reading some more of my blogs:
- The Future of the Vanlife Movement
- A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Wild Camping
- The Inconvenient Truth About A Life Of Travel
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