This is part of the series I'm doing for abitsky.com – where bitcoins meet traveling (and can purchase cheap flights).
It's been nearly five years since Laszlo bought two pizzas for 10,000 bitcoin – the first time anyone paid for a physical item using bitcoins. Since then, we have seen the currency's value jump to nearly $1,200 per coin before coming back to the $200 range in the beginning of 2015. In hindsight, we can only hope that the pizza was really, really good.
The number of ways you can spend bitcoin has also been growing over the years. You can tip your favorite bloggers, pay for a taxi, have a drink, or get yourself a new computer without using any fiat currency.
But what about traveling? Can you survive a lengthy trip without paying for some of your needs in dollars, euros, rupees, or bahts?
Well, it turns out it’s not only possible, but can result in a whole lot of advantages for you, the traveler.
Just like the purchase of the most expensive pizza in the world, it all had to start somewhere. So who were the first people who decided to live on bitcoin during their travels? What were their reasons and what did they experience along the way?
The Bitcoin Travel Pioneers
The first-ever road trip using only bitcoin to survive was conducted by Plato, a member of the Bitcoin Talk forum. Back in 2011, there were not many advantages to bitcoin travel, as the number of businesses accepting cryptocurrency was close to zero.
But comfort and safety weren’t the things which motivated Plato to go on this trip. In his own words, the main motives to set off from Hartford, CT to Seattle, WA were “an overdeveloped sense of adventure” and a mission to “evangelize Bitcoins”, explaining the currency and its advantages to anyone met on the road.
According to Plato, “it was pretty wild,” especially considering the rise in bitcoin price during his journey. While he didn’t use bitcoin to pay for gas or food directly (it simply wasn’t possible), he exchanged bitcoins into physical goods all along the way.
The Bitcoin Honeymoon
Another well-documented bitcoin travel happened in 2013, when newlyweds Beccy Bingham and Austin Craig went on a 100-day trip around the world using only bitcoin to see if it’s possible to survive solely on virtual currency.
The couple described the journey as an experience of “feast and famine”. They did visit some places, such as the Kreuzberg neighborhood in Berlin, where they had loads of different options to spend their bitcoins.
On the other hand, they also had to spend a whole day without food in Stockholm. The couple couldn’t find a single place willing to accept bitcoin, so they had to wait for the next morning’s hotel breakfast.
Beccy and Austin were also very surprised at the willingness of people and businesses without prior knowledge of bitcoin to set up wallets and accept payments.
For instance, they were walking around a market and a woman asked Beccy if she wanted a henna tattoo. Although the artist wasn’t willing to accept a payment in bitcoin at first, Beccy sat her down, explained the situation, and offered to pay a bit extra. In just a few minutes, the artist set up a wallet on her smartphone and started accepting payments in bitcoin.
So it’s evident that traveling on bitcoin wasn’t a piece of cake just a few years back. Either way, there are quite a few things we can learn from the people who opened up the “bitcoin borders” for all of us.
Bitcoin Travel Tips:
Plan ahead. This one is important. In plenty of cases, you won’t be able to go downstairs to a corner store to grab a snack or a bottle of water – use Coinmap, Cointerest, and Bitcoin Restaurants to find merchants which accept bitcoin or Coin ATM Radar to locate ATM’s that allow exchange into local currency.
Don’t be afraid to ask. If someone doesn’t accept bitcoin, it doesn’t mean that you can’t change their mind. The competition in places with plenty of tourists is huge, so business owners will usually do everything to entice you to choose them over their rivals. More often than not, you can use that to your advantage.
Approach the community. There are plenty of close-knit Bitcoin communities all over the world. More often than not, the locals will get out of their way to help a fellow Bitcoiner. So if you need advice before setting off to a certain destination or run out of road once you’re already there, be sure to Google for local forums or check out Bitcoin Talk and LocalBitcoins.
Capitalize on the savings. Paying with bitcoin directly will pretty much always be cheaper than exchanging it into local currency. Some purchases (such as airline tickets) from specialized websites can even be less expensive than buying them from a traditional provider.
Don’t give up. If you can’t find any merchants that accept bitcoin on Coinmap or other similar websites, it doesn’t mean you should skip the place altogether. Sometimes all you have to do is take a walk around the neighborhood and look for the bitcoin sign. For instance, you can use the cryptocurrency in more than 5,000 convenience stores in Taiwan, but they don’t seem to appear anywhere on the available bitcoin maps.
Be ready to make exceptions. Unless you made a pledge to spend no fiat currency on your trip, it’s necessary to understand that you probably won’t be able to pay with bitcoin in each and every instance. So if you really want that scarf from the souk in Marrakech, there are no reasons to limit yourself!
Get ready to educate. Sometimes, the only difference between a successful bitcoin transaction and you having to go to bed hungry is your ability to introduce all the benefits of bitcoin to a merchant who’s never used it before. You won’t need killer presentation skills for that, since the advantages of accepting bitcoin are listed by BitPay and Coinbase.
Check the exchange rate. You don’t need to pay more than you owe, even if you’re paying in bitcoin. Therefore, you should consider both the fluctuating exchange rate and the possibility of a conversion error – it can happen to both you and the merchant.
Have a budget in mind. While setting a clear bitcoin budget for your trip might be difficult because of the currency’s volatility, it would still be great to have a ballpark figure in your mind. Overspending is as easy on bitcoin as it is on a fiat currency – if not easier.
Where to Spend Your Bitcoin
The first people who decided to use bitcoin as the only currency for their trips faced difficulties finding places which would welcome them with open arms.
Has the situation changed though? It’s 2015 already, so if giant companies such as Microsoft, Dell, Overstock, and Newegg already accept bitcoin, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a place to stay and a few different options for dinner, should it?
Well, it depends on where exactly you decide to travel. Either way, the situation is way better now than it was just a few years ago. Right now, you can use bitcoin to pay for:
Airline tickets. There are quite a lot of different providers which accept bitcoin for flight tickets, including CheapAir if you’re traveling in North America, BTCTrip for South America, and our own aBitSky for Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Hotels. You can always check with any individual hotel if they would be willing to accept bitcoin when you find your dream place online. However, major providers such as Expedia can make the experience much more straightforward.
Other accommodations. Short-term rent is really popular among travelers who want to feel like locals in a foreign country. If you’re one of them, check out 9flats for more than 150,000 options around the world, all of which accept bitcoin.
Local transportation. CheapAir also offers Amtrak tickets for traveling around the US, while Gift Off allows you to exchange bitcoin into UK National Rail vouchers. If you’re traveling to other countries, you can look up the options for inter-city and local travel on Airbitz, useBitcoins, and other location-based bitcoin directories.
Restaurants. While you can find a map of places to eat which accept bitcoin at Bitcoin Restaurants, sometimes all you have to do is ask – especially in smaller places where the owner meets you at the door.
Entertainment. If you’re traveling to London, UK, you can purchase tickets to some iconic West End performances over at Theatre Tickets Direct. Otherwise, you can find a list of clubs, bars, and other venues at Coinmap and similar services.
Overall, it’s clear that there are loads of options available for the bitcoin traveler. You might still need some local cash for points of interest which are slower to adapt (such as museums, historical places, churches, etc.), but there are already hundreds of bitcoin ATMs all over the world created precisely for that purpose.
Why More and More People Travel on Bitcoin
New businesses join the bitcoin community on a daily basis because of the demand created by both locals and foreign visitors. Either way, it’s certainly one of the main reasons why more people choose to spend bitcoin instead of fiat currency during their travels.
There have been quite a few articles about new cases of bitcoin travel (including those written by TheBitMom and Felix the Bitcoin Traveler), but there are even more people who choose to pay with bitcoin during their journeys without making it public.
But why do people do it? Looking for places which would accept your bitcoins can cause quite a headache during your trips, especially if you’re visiting some of the less bitcoin-friendly destinations.
I asked TheBitMom the same question. She told that the initial reason to choose bitcoin over the usual currency was “to move toward ethical money”. Her family felt that “the US dollar is used for aggressive wars and is heavily manipulated by central banks and government”, so “moving toward bitcoin was a big step . . . in the right direction”.
However, TheBitMom also told that when she started the first trip with her family, “the practicality of bitcoin travel became immediately apparent”. She named the ability to “quickly send and receive money with little to no fees or wait time” as bitcoin’s top advantage over the usual banks.
In addition to that, there are several other reasons why bitcoin can make your travels easier and more enjoyable:
You can use bitcoin for more of your needs. According to TheBitMom, “many things have changed” in the six months between two long road trips around the United States she took with her family. There are more restaurants that accept bitcoin, more business directories, and new ways of converting the cryptocurrency into commodities.
More people have heard about bitcoin. Felix the Bitcoin Traveler who just recently set off on a year-long bitcoin trip around the world told that a cafe owner in Prague knew that his competitors across the street accepted bitcoin, so it wasn’t difficult to convince him to set up a wallet for himself. Once a person already has some knowledge of the currency, all it takes is to show them all the ropes.
It can’t be taken from you. Some places in the world are sketchier than others, but you can become a victim of theft or credit card fraud pretty much anywhere. Bitcoins, on the other hand, simply don’t have a physical form. Sure, you can still lose your phone, but your funds will stay safe under a password. Most thieves won’t know what to do with bitcoins anyway.
No currency exchange. As Jeffrey Tucker beautifully puts it, “there is no New Zealand vs. U.S. vs. Canadian vs. Brazilian Bitcoin. . . . There is just Bitcoin and no other.” This not only results in some extra comfort of not having to convert back and forth between currencies during your trips, but also means you won’t have to pay any exchange fees for using ATMs or purchasing something with a credit card.
No additional fees. The fact that bitcoin is a decentralized international currency allows you to pay for goods or services without any fees for both you and the merchant. It can serve as a deal breaker when you’re trying to talk someone into accepting bitcoin for the first time as well.
There are already plenty of people who choose to buy plane tickets and book their hotels with bitcoin, then switch to local currency once they get to their destination. However, it’s clear that traveling solely on bitcoins is already a great option as well. Sure, you might need some extra time to plan your trip, but it’s certainly worth it when you consider all the advantages.
What Should We Expect in the Future?
Places like Kreuzberg in Berlin, the world’s first “Bitcoin Beach” in Madeira Beach, FL, or the self-proclaimed “most bitcoin-friendly city in the world” Arnhem in The Netherlands are already willing to accept your bitcoins for anything ranging from a bitcoin-themed hotel room to the best cherry cake in the area.
If you decided to travel there just a few years ago, you would have found an entirely different situation. In July 2013, there were just over a hundred businesses listed on Coinmap. In 2015, this number increased to more than 6,200 – that’s a growth of nearly 4900% in just 1.5 years!
Right now, you can already pay with bitcoin in places like Ushuaia at the southernmost point of South America or Norilsk in the middle of Siberia. If that doesn’t illustrate the extreme pace that bitcoin has been gaining as a payment method, we don’t know what does.
It’s quite simple when you think about it: as more people try to spend their bitcoins all around the world, more businesses are willing to accept the currency, gaining an edge over the competition. It’s evident that traveling on bitcoin is getting more popular due to all of the previously listed advantages, so you can expect your bitcoin travels to become even easier and more enjoyable in the future.
Either way, a great adventure using only bitcoin to survive is already a very viable option. So when are you planning to set off on your first bitcoin travel?