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No Money Challenge

Updated on August 16, 2018
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Stefan is a trained carpenter in Germany. Inspired by the journeymen tradition he's travelling the world for three years.

Living on the street - a dream came true

For three weeks I traveled the Islands of Hawaii without any money. Before I tell you how I managed to survive and why I actually enjoyed this adventure a lot I'd like to give you a brief description of how I ended up really doing it. Why would I have done this to myself? First of all, it's super expensive in Hawaii and I'm a backpacker on a low budget. But that's just one reason for me to put myself in such a challenging situation. Let's go back a little. Few years ago during my economics studies I followed this guy ET (Eric Thomas) the Hip Hop Preacher, a motivational speaker, on YouTube. He really knows how to get you back on track! But what I found even more fascinating is that he got himself back up, off the streets! In that moment I asked myself: "What if I ended up on the street - Could I get myself out of there?" This questions stayed with me ever since. Dormant, until I read John Francis' book "Planetwalker - 17 years of silence. 22 years of walking." Again I found myself being curious if I could handle such objective inconvenience and remembered the questions above. "I'll try it in Hawaii! I won't freeze and shouldn't starve. I've got nothing to loose." I convinced myself. 4 weeks later I'm so grateful for taking this leap, because the experiences I've made and the lessons I've learned will stay with me forever. And the answer to my initial question is a clear "Yes, I can!" Here's how I did it.

First fresh fruits on Hawaii - thank you David
First fresh fruits on Hawaii - thank you David


Not only is it a free way to get around, but also it's the best opportunity to meet people. Hitch-hiking in Hawaii felt super safe. For a free traveler without any schedule or precise destination it's the way to go. Not only do you get from A to B for free, but what is more important is you get to meet so many different people. Every single time a car stops you don't know who's sitting inside and what potential there may be in meeting this particular person. For example Steven and Ayumi, a elder couple who had me for a good week at their place on Big Island. Not only did we have an awesome time together, but through Ayumi, who is originally from Japan, I also had friends to stay with in Japan, where I traveled to after Hawaii. Of course I meet funky people every now and then. This reminds me not to judge as much, because they are being helpful to a stranger. And it also makes you enjoy the next rides even more. Be open, be curious and trust in life. I like and agree with Tomislav Perko's insight: No matter how long you wait, the right ride will come.

Give and you will be given

Getting food is priority number one. I started walking into restaurant offering them to wash dishes in exchange for a meal. I never ended up actually washing dishes, because it wouldn't be legal. But often they would offer me some food anyway. Also just asking for leftovers did get me free meals. I say "just" now, but in the beginning it was so scary to ask for help and admit that I am in need. But it turned out that there's no reason to fear what other people think of me doing this. To be fair, it helped to be a foreign backpacker with the story of living without money by choice. But this wasn't the reason it worked, it just made things easier. And in this particular case the story can be seen as a giving back. One time I ended up catching a golden ride. I offered my help for whatever the driver could think of, and ended up on his cacao farm for 2 nights, helped picking fruits and got fed in exchange. So what I'm saying is: If you show commitment and genuinely offer your best in that moment you awaken people's generosity. No one likes bums!

Helping out where ever I can
Helping out where ever I can

Be a bum!

In little Paia I ran across Jack. Jack is a bum, has lived on the street for several years now. For some reason I asked him if I could sit with him in the corner of a busy intersection he placed himself. I ended up spending 4 afternoons and evening with him, learning how to entertain people passing by, how to get food and what it means to actually be homeless. He was good fun and like every homeless I met, he has a very sad story. What I realised during my time spent on the street is: Having nothing & no one but yourself is extremely difficult. Jack accepted his situation and doesn't really want to change it - for now. It's not easy to change it, but if he really wanted to, he could find some work, make little money, pay rent and become a "responsible" citizen. And guess what: Most of us are just like him. We accept the life we find ourselves in and resign, find it hard to change for "the better". Because it would mean hard work, effort and giving up laziness and comfort. Sounds familiar, right? The homeless community is just another realm of reality. Not better, nor worse than a "normal life". And to be honest, I can really understand why he's not desperately trying to get a job and make money. He's not any less happy than people with a home and a job. Be a bum for at least a day and expand your reality. But then come back and be serious and work, do you hear me?! We can't all be bums ;-)

Gratitude - a magnet for goodness

Seriously, the first few times I got given some food for asking, it felt much better than receiving birthday and Christmas presents all at once! To be given what I really needed - freely, with no obligation to pay it back - was a profound experience of gratitude. It didn't matter what I was given, it was nourishing food with the sweet flavour of gratitude. Of course, like with everything, the intensity of that feeling fades with time and I can see that people who have lived on the streets might take generosity for granted. One can feel this, thus is less happy to give. However, if gratitude is felt and expressed, the person giving will be so much more happy, too. By expressing your gratitude for the gifts of life it will keep supporting you. Be good and you will receive good.

Taking a break from the streets
Taking a break from the streets

A lesson for life

In Honolulu I stopped my experiment. I was devastated by the contrast of misery and wasteful luxury. Yet in that moment I needed to accept both sides for existing the way they do. Finding myself somewhere in between, knowing both sides. What I learned from my time is:

  • Don't judge: everyone's got their story and reasons
  • Moderation is gold
  • Humans are naturally good
  • You are never alone
  • There's no need to stress about money

Thanks for your interest! I hope this article opened your perspective on life a little more :-)

Note: While this was an enriching experience for me I want to point out that this might not be for everyone. There are potential dangers involved with hitch-hiking, eating leftover food, etc. But as long as you feel confident and safe enough facing these challenges you'll be fine. Maybe a first step could be talking to homeless people - if you've never done it before. All you need is some time and openness.

It's just money

Life will provide what you need,

which is not always money


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