Why don’t you write anymore?
I still write, but I have woven a cocoon around myself of notebooks and inkstained pages and I am busy metamorphosizing inside. Several years ago it was very important to me to share my work; lately I have felt the need to develop quietly and in a solitary way, at least for a while. When I write publicly again, I hope I’ll have more to offer than before.
Where are you now?
As of August 2014, I am in the midst of the Broken Ankle Renaissance. I do not know how long it will last.
FAQ from 2010-2012:
Why do you travel?
I long for a raw experience of the world, of alpine meadow and rock-ribbed coastline, mountain village and urban humanity, and I seek a deeper understanding of who I am and what matters to me and where I fit into the world. I want to grow my soul, explore what it means to be human, become a better writer, practice radical honesty, ask tough questions, pray, seek, love, laugh, cry, feel deeply. I travel with no route, no plan, and no destination. I travel not in order to get anywhere but just to go, to move; the travels are a physical manifestation of the inner journey.
Travel helps me cultivate resourcefulness, confidence, courage, faith, creativity, resilience, trust, simplicity, acceptance, and gratitude, among other things, and I travel because I choose to follow the dreams and longings in my heart. My intention is to learn and grow and give and create, so I wander aimfully, adrift in the world and rooted within myself.
“People say that what we are all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”
How do you make money?
I don’t really. Most of us unquestioningly accept the idea that we have no choice in this matter—spending large amounts of time making money is a nonnegotiable obligation, and the way we live our lives must be dictated by how much money we have. I reject this idea. There’s nothing wrong with money, but there is a problem with the idea that not having it must necessarily be a limitation. Having money and not having money is not the difference between being able to travel and not being able to travel—it’s the difference between traveling on resources and traveling on resourcefulness.
Furthermore, money provides us with an artificial feeling of safety. It helps us maintain the illusion that we have control over what happens to us, and the false comfort it gives us cushions us from uncomfortable and often highly powerful growth experiences. Non-dependence on money helps to cultivate resourcefulness, self-reliance, creativity, and self-confidence. Dependence on money keeps us from deepening our experiences of faith and human generosity. Most of the religious, political, and moral figures who have helped shape our civilization urged us towards a lifestyle of simplicity and non-accumulation of resources. And, more than anything else, money—or the perceived lack thereof—holds us back from following our dreams more than anything else I know.
The point is that making money is not a priority for me. With that being said, whenever I do want to have a few bucks in my pocket, I play music on the street. This is also one of the best ways to meet new people in a new city. Odd jobs are also very easy to find on the road. I’ve worked as a painter, office assistant, warehouse laborer, mover, audio transcriber, freelance writer, focus group participant, and research assistant, and once I was a temporary laborer in a mop factory. I know other travelers who make and sell wire wraps, jewelry, carvings, weavings, paintings, and other crafts. Some people set up tables and compose typewritten poems on the fly.
Money can be made when necessary, but beyond anything else, I really just try not to focus on it. When we let go, the things we need come to us. When I’m hitchhiking, drivers often practically force money on me when I get out of their cars. One guy actually stopped to go to an ATM and take out $80 for me (he didn’t tell me what he was doing…). Frequently, people I meet in cafes insist on giving me a few dollars. Once in Boise a man walked up to me and said, “God is telling me to give you 20 bucks.” There have been times that I’ve hit the road with a few crumpled dollars in my pocket and a week later I’ve had over a hundred. Other times, I’ve gone weeks at a time on less than $5. The bottom line is that it’s always ok.
“This notion—that material investment is somehow more important to life than personal investment—is exactly what leads so many of us to believe that we could never afford to go vagabonding.”
So then how do you eat?
I try to trust that the things I need will come to me, especially if I’m living in alignment with what my heart is saying. When we let go of a little control, we allow the universe the opportunity to provide. As Paulo Coelho writes in The Alchemist, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Food comes in different ways each day. We live in an incredibly wasteful society, and it is not just possible to survive off the blatant excess, it’s actually very easy. Nearly every restaurant, grocery store, bakery, gas station, and coffee shop throws away a significant amount of good unsold food at the end of the day. I’ve walked into pizza places and asked for burned pizzas or messed up orders. In cafes, I ask for extra pastries that are going to be thrown out. In local independent restaurants, I offer to wash the dishes in exchange for a meal. Usually the offer is turned down and they are happy to provide a meal. Buffets are the best, as any unconsumed food will be trashed at closing time.
Dumpster diving. There’s a lot of stigma here, but the reality is that dumpster diving does not mean eating (or even necessarily touching) garbage. Dumpsters often contain perfectly good food that has been needlessly thrown away because a bruise or a touch of staleness has rendered it unprofitable, or simply because it hasn’t sold quickly enough and newer, fresher stuff has come in. I know a couple who lives in NYC; they are both students, live in an apartment, and have jobs, but they do the bulk of their grocery shopping at the Trader Joe’s dumpsters. Grocery stores are best—you’ll find fresh fruits and veggies, meat that’s still frozen, staples. If a bag of flour or sugar or rice has a small hole in it, it gets trashed. I’ve found everything from 12 packs of soda to maple syrup to refrigerated packages of cookie dough. Bagel and donut stores often have huge paper bags of product just sitting out back next to the dumpster. After hours at pizza places, throwaway pizzas are actually put into boxes and stacked either next to or just inside the dumpsters. Starbucks throws out sandwiches and salads still sealed in plastic containers, yogurt parfaits, and all the day’s unsold pastries and bagels and cookies. It is actually preposterous how much food goes to waste every day in this country. Every time I take somebody dumpster diving for the first time, first they are shocked by the sheer quantity of food. Second, they are amazed at the quality and cleanliness of what we find, often still sealed in original packaging. Then amazement quickly shifts to anger and indignation; how can this all just be thrown out while there are people going hungry?
White boxes. Free food can be found on every main downtown street in any city around 5 pm. Tourists go out to restaurants, get their leftovers wrapped up to go, get tired of carrying them around, and throw them away. In some cities like Portland and Boulder, it’s actually common to leave these white boxes near trashcans rather than throwing them away.
Foraging. I’m not terribly knowledgeable, but I pick fruit—I’ve eaten apples, blackberries, raspberries, and huckleberries, and once I slept in a pear orchard. Certain plants can be made into teas, and some edibles are extremely widespread and easy to identify.
This is all not even to mention resources like soup kitchens and food banks. Every city has shelters that give out meals at least once and often multiple times a day. I don’t particularly like to stay in shelters or to eat there, but it’s always a viable resource if need be. I visited a few food banks towards the beginning of the journey as I was learning how to live this way. They provide large amounts of food for free, including rice and pasta, canned goods, bread, dairy products, and produce. I normally prefer not to use those limited resources that I could get for free elsewhere, but food banks also receive perishable items like French bread and veggies; these are sometimes placed in a box outside the actual food bank, and there is often a surplus of these things that actually will go bad if they not immediately consumed.
Continental breakfasts. This is another more controversial option that I’ve only utilized twice, but it’s always possible to walk into a hotel in the morning and pretend to be a guest.
Street people. Whenever I hang with other traveling kids or with homeless people, there is usually food, and if there isn’t, they’ll know where to find some. Once in Oregon I approached a couple street guys to ask about good sleeping spots, and they gave me a bag full of rotisserie chicken, still hot.
Giveaways and free samples. Most grocery stores offer samples. If you hit Whole Foods at the right time of day, you can literally get a full (and relatively balanced) meal out of it. Food not Bombs holds regular vegan feedings in many cities throughout the country. Farmers’ Markets always have free samples. At street fairs there are usually lesser known companies giving away their burritos or chocolate milk or ice cream or whatever.
Just ask. The simplest method of all. When I’m in a store/restaurant/market/etc, I’ll usually chat with whoever is working there for a few moments. I’ll explain a little bit about who I am and what I’m doing, and if they seem interested or fascinated, especially if they’re my age, I’ll just ask if they have any extra food they might be able to spare. Sometimes they can’t do it, but often they are happy to kick something down.
Not free, but cheap food. Many local coffee shops sell day-old pastries for 50 cents or a dollar. Panda Express sells Chinese at half price if you go through the drive through after hours. Some grocery stores sell bakery items in bulk or at a discount around closing time. Once again, it never hurts to ask.
Hitchhiking. Many people who pick me up have some kind of snacks in the car, and they almost always offer something to me. I’ve been given cookies, fruit, chips, sandwiches, pizza slices, water, soda, juice, tea, beer, the list is endless. Sometimes if it’s a longer ride and we make any stops, the driver will buy me some food (without my asking). Once, I got a ride from a guy who insisted on going to a gas station before dropping me off. He told me to wait in the car, and he came back out a few minutes later carrying a huge bag full of beef jerky, sausages, trail mix, pretzels, and water bottles. I thanked him profusely but I couldn’t even carry it all, and I ended up giving a lot of it away. I’ve even gotten hooked up with food while just standing on the ramp with my thumb. Once, a passing car threw a banana out the window at me. One time a Hostess delivery truck pulled up and the driver loaded me up with Twinkies. Another time, after a long wait on a small rural highway, a family in a minivan who had seen me earlier pulled up and handed me a huge burrito they’d gotten for me.
There is always enough food.
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on…. Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet God feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
For more on eating without money, see Tribe.
Where do you sleep?
Usually outside when I’m on the road, and on couches when I’m in cities with friends. I’ve slept in forests, near rivers, under bridges, on beaches, and in gazebos. I’ve spent the night in a truck cab, redwood grove, pear orchard, New York subway car, Wal-Mart parking lot, and one time in a hidden alcove on the top floor of an apartment building. Other nights have been in churches, on park benches, near hot springs, truck stops, fields, mountainsides, and once, I slept on the eighteenth hole of a golf course.
It’s also not uncommon for people to invite me back to their homes and offer me a place to stay. Sometimes these are people who pick me up hitchhiking. Other times it’ll be people I meet in coffee shops. Once, the employees of a grocery store thought I was stealing, and the woman sent to intercept me ended up inviting me home.
Hitchhiking is dangerous.
There are many people who will tell you this. How many of those people have ever actually hitchhiked or picked up a hitchhiker? Hitchhikers will almost uniformly report that as long as you trust your instincts, it’s actually not a particularly dangerous thing to do—at least no more so than surfing, driving a car, eating greasy food, or rock climbing. Is the world actually a more dangerous place now than it was during Kerouac’s Beat Generation era of glorified footloose vagabonding, or has mass media just ratcheted up the level of fear in this country? We are constantly bombarded with messages pressing us not to trust each other. Yet the people who stop for hitchhikers aren’t serial killers; they are usually friendly soccer moms, college kids on road trips, snow boarders and skiers and mountain bikers, guys on their way home from work. As solo world hitchhiker Alyssa writes, “The world is not as dangerous as CNN would have you believe.”
“This world of ours… must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.”
—Dwight D. Eisenhower
Isn’t hitchhiking illegal?
Actually, no. The laws vary state-by-state, but in general, it’s just important to use common sense and to be polite and cooperative. It’s illegal in most states (but not all) to walk on the side of an interstate, but state highways are fine, as are interstate onramps. I’ve had many, many cops drive by and see me hitchhiking—I always wave, and they usually wave back. On occasion they will ask to check an ID just to make sure I’m not a felon on the run, but I’ve never had a problem. Some travelers I know have even gotten rides from the police!
Do you have any horror stories?
Everybody wants horror stories, and it almost feels like people grow more distressed when I say that I don’t have any. I’ve never been robbed at gunpoint (or robbed, period). I’ve never met or gotten a ride from somebody who wanted to harm me. I have occasionally turned down rides because something didn’t feel quite right, or because the driver was drinking, and I’ve learned to trust my instincts. I’ve never been threatened. Actually, I was threatened once in Edmonton, Alberta by a guy who thought I stole his phone, until he realized I was somebody else. I was also threatened once by a large moose while hiking alone in a remote region of Alaska, which was probably the scariest thing that’s happened on this journey.
Once I ended up in a car with some kids who were on heavy drugs. It was scary, but—unfortunate as this is—doesn’t the average college student wind up in a situation like that more frequently than once in two years? Another time I got a ride from two runaway teenagers. It was a sixteen-year-old girl and a seventeen-year-old guy, and they eventually disclosed that we were driving in a stolen car and that there were guns in the glove box. But far from being a horror story, this actually turned into a beautiful experience; we pulled over at a truck stop and we all talked about the situation, and I waited with them for hours until the girl’s dad arrived to pick her up.
Stories of radical generosity, however, I could tell all day. Once I lost my jacket and the next guy who picked me up brought me home and gave me a coat out of his closet. A woman who picked me up early on in the journey has kept in touch over the last two years and had me out to visit her and her family multiple times. When I broke my guitar, a guy in a music shop traded me the broken instrument for a new ukulele. One guy took me home, fed me, took me to a gas station to buy more food, gave me $80, and took me 40 miles out of his way to drop me off. Stories like this are endless.
“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Aren’t you afraid?
Absolutely. But isn’t travel about facing our fears and stepping out of our comfort zones? Confronting fear makes us stronger. And as positive experiences continue to accumulate, the fear loses its sharp edge pretty quickly. Most of it is simply fear of the unknown. As any traveler will tell you, the reality isn’t actually that scary.
Do you travel alone?
I do prefer to travel alone. Being by myself helps me get into my own rhythm and make sure that I am letting nothing but my intuition guide me. It can be tough to be on the same page as someone else, especially if you have no itinerary or destination and you’re both trying to follow your own often irrational hearts.
This is misleading though; I’m rarely actually alone. I’m in cars with people while hitchhiking, I hang with people on the street, I chat with people in coffee shops. I’m usually with people unless I’m traveling through a remote region on foot or purposefully taking some time for solitude.
With that being said, I have occasionally traveled with companions for a few days or a week at a time. I made the two thousand mile trip from Alaska to Vancouver with three other vagabonds. I spent a week and a half living with some European and North African travelers in a gazebo on the banks of the Yukon River, and I picked up hitchhikers when I had a car, some of with whom I ended up traveling long distances. These are some of my fondest memories.
Does it ever get lonely?
Yes. It does. But I will say, the loneliest part isn’t not being with anyone. It has taken a lot of work, but it’s gotten wonderfully easy for me to strike up conversations and make new friends. The loneliest part is not being around people who really know me. And in that sense, doesn’t it get lonely for everyone sometimes?
Where are you going next?
That I don’t know. I have no route, no plans, and no destination; this journey is about listening to my heart, embracing what I feel, and going wherever I’m pulled.
Do you have a favorite place you’ve been?
I’m pretty sure that’s like asking a parent if they have a favorite child.
Will you ever stop traveling?
Probably one day. But even when the travels come to an end, the journey will continue.
Have you ever traveled out of the U.S.?
Yes. This journey has taken me to Canada and Haiti. And in the years prior to this journey, I had the opportunity to do some other international traveling; I’ve explored roughly two dozen countries throughout Central America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, the highlight of which was probably a two month expedition to Nepal, India, and Tibet. One day there may be some writing about those experiences somewhere.
Other questions I’ve missed? Send them to me and I’ll get them posted up here.