Bitcoin. Litecoin. Ethereum.
Cryptocurrency. What was once seen as a tech fad is now being considered one of the top investment vehicles in the world. Kim Kardashian is even getting into BTC now.
But as speculation drives prices high and low, a small group of enthusiasts are still dedicated to using these currencies for actual monetary exchanges. Call them the crypto nomads.
The Rise of Traveling with Crypto
The advent of “greater accessibility in the crypto financial system… helps travelers,” says Laura Shin, the host of crypto podcasts Unchained and Unconfirmed and former Forbes staffer. Shin has been covering the rise of cryptocurrencies for over three years.
There’s a “network effect,” agrees RockItCoin CEO and Founder Michael Dalesandro. The 50-year-old first got into crypto in 2015. Since then, he estimates that he’s seen 60% year-over-year growth of Bitcoin ATM machine installations.
“There are so many benefits of holding crypto over bank accounts and traditional financing,” said Gili Gershonok, a 34-year-old digital nomad who calls the world her home. The Israeli believes that people who are familiar with traveling and living internationally are more accustomed to setting up new bank accounts and might be more attuned to the advantages of having borderless money.
Since 2016, Gershonok trades currencies and sometimes takes freelance gigs in exchange for crypto. Although she generally exchanges it into fiat for day-to-day spending, she tries to use crypto whenever possible, and once even bought a coffee with Litecoin in Prague, the Czech Republic.
Balancing the Nomad Lifestyle with Crypto Trading
For folks using crypto as an investment vehicle, experts recommend buying local SIM cards and paying for data so that you can stay up-to-date on the volatile markets.
Blake Sandall, a digital nomad who trades crypto while traveling the world, opts for his daily crypto updates as SMS messages, rather than emails so that he doesn’t have to worry about connectivity in spotty locations. He purchases local SIM cards on arrival so that he doesn’t have to rely on internet at cafes or in hostels.
One of Sandall’s most exciting trades was when he sold an ethereum coin in early 2018. He made $960 in profit which he used to finance a trek to Everest Base Camp.
Pending third-party solutions, litecoin and ethereum enthusiasts have found workarounds like buying fiat directly or spending at locations, similar to Gershonok’s purchase in Prague.
An Around-The-World Trip Using Only Bitcoin
The poster boy for this kind of travel is Felix Weis, a crypto enthusiast who is originally from Luxemburg. In 2015, he spent 18 months traveling the world using only bitcoin, hitting 27 countries all over the globe. His journey featured a mix of hotbeds like Tokyo, Japan as well as less-inclined countries like Cuba, where the lack of high-speed internet makes traveling with crypto a headache.
“Everybody was doing the ice bucket challenge at the time,” recalls Weis.
It was 2015 and not one to be deterred, the then-27-year-old transferred all of his savings into Bitcoin (something he doesn’t personally advise), packed a backpack and made three rules.
- He couldn’t use a bank account or credit card.
- He couldn’t exchange one national currency into another one.
- Most importantly, he needed to pay with bitcoin as often as possible. If he couldn’t pay with Bitcoin, he could use cash that he acquired with a peer-to-peer trade.
His first purchase was an Interrail Pass for one month, so that if the experiment didn’t work, at least he could get back to Germany, where he was based. He used the website AllForBTC to purchase the ticket. The then-27-year-old also had a backup credit card in case of emergencies, but cut it up after three months when he decided to go all in on bitcoin travel.
“The hard part once I was already in a location was finding groceries or food or restaurants that accept bitcoin,” says Weis, who is now 30 years old. In some countries like Turkey, where bitcoin penetration was moderate, he had to convince people to accept BTC. Weis relished this challenge and even convinced a Turkish paragliding company to accept cryptocurrency.
“At the time it was a small, very small but vibrant community around bitcoin,” recalls Weis. “It was only in 2017 that it grew to a much larger audience.”
Prepare for the Unexpected
All the digital nomads I spoke with had one peice of advice: if you want to travel with crypto, expect the unexpected.
“One bright day in January, I got disconnected from all my financial means in one minute,” says Gershonok. She was at a resort in Thailand, trying to book a flight out or her next day’s accommodation when all of a sudden she was unable to use any of her accounts. “ This is not for someone who would freak out about not having access to money.”
“The crypto world makes [being a digital nomad] easier,” says Gershonok. “It sets your mind to this idea of being decentralized.”
This is the first in a series on crypto travel. The next post will focus on how to travel using cryptocurrency. The third will highlight the best bitcoin cities in the world.