Negotiating foreign currencies can be a headache for any traveller. Persuading someone to accept payment in a currency they’ve never even heard of presents a new challenge altogether. But after 100 days on the road, newlyweds Austin Craig and Beccy Bingham have proved that it is possible to travel the world using nothing but bitcoin, the online cryptocurrency that is taking over the world! They are the real Bitcoin Travellers…and this is their virtual currency global oddysey..
The Bitcoin Travellers roam the world
The bitcoin currency – commonly known as BTC – is a new kind of money that was the first of a new breed of crytocurrencies that use peer-to-peer technology (similar to torrent sites) to operate with no central authority or banks; managing transactions and the issuing of bitcoins is carried out collectively by the network. Bitcoin is open-source; its design is public and nobody owns or controls Bitcoin. Everyone can take part. The original Bitcoin software was launched in 2008 by a mysterious person (or group of people) under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. No one knows his/their true identity.
To use the currency you first need to create a “wallet” on your computer (or online), which allows you to transfer payments to others using your computer or smartphone. Recently, the currency has been making news as its value increases and it is being rapidly adopted by mainstream businesses. In October 2013, a coffee shop in Vancouver unveiled the first bitcoin ATM, allowing customers to exchange the virtual money for cash almost instantly.
It is this currency that Craig and Bingham used for their ‘online currency’ travel experiment.
Craig and Bingham began their adventure this July, when they set out to see if it was possible to survive solely on the virtual currency. After proving they could live on bitcoin at home in Provo, Utah, they embarked on a trip that has taken them across America, through Europe and finally into Asia. Originally a 90-day challenge, they extended it to 100 in order to incorporate more travel abroad.
The Guardian reports:
Speaking from their Singapore hotel on the final day of the challenge, the couple describe their experience as a case of “feast and famine.”
“When we first arrived in Stockholm, we were exhausted from our flight and just went to sleep,” says Craig. “We woke up really hungry but couldn’t find anywhere to accept bitcoin. We ended up having to wait until the hotel breakfast the next day.”
But although it hasn’t been easy, the couple, who are making a documentary about the project, have been surprised at the willingness of so many individuals to agree to accept Bitcoin for the first time. “Today we were walking through a market for the Divali festival and a woman asked me if I wanted a hennah tattoo,” says Bingham. “I really did. So I sat down and said to her, look I really want this but this is the situation. She was quite hesitant at first but we offered to pay a bit extra and she said OK. She had a smartphone so we were able to set her up and do the payment right away.”
While in Berlin, Craig and Bingham visited the Kreuzberg neighbourhood, which currently boasts the highest density of business that accept bitcoin in the world. “We sat down in a restaurant and asked before the meal if they accepted bitcoin,” says Bingham. “And they said yes so nonchalantly. It was such a change from the usual battle we’d got used to having. But in Singapore it’s been hard because we’re in a city with amazing food and there are only three restaurants we can eat in.”
It is unlikely that Craig and Bingham’s journey would have been possible without the help of online travel agency Simply Travel. In mid-September the site became one of the first of its kind to accept bitcoin, meaning it is now possible to make reservations in over 300,000 hotels worldwide using the currency. If contacted directly, the company will also help travellers book their flights and car rentals with bitcoin, and over the next month they plan to offer this service directly through the website.
Gregor Amon, CEO for Simply Travel, had already been planning to accept bitcoin, but when he heard about Craig and Bingham’s challenge he quickly decided to make it a reality, helping them book all of the travel for their trip. Since then 2-3% of Simply Travel’s bookings have been made using bitcoin – about 12 bookings a day. “It took us half a year from when we launched before we could accept credit cards,” says Amon. “But when we decided to accept bitcoins it took us half a day with a developer to set it up and then we were good to go.”
Compared to traditional payment methods, bitcoin is an attractive prospect for business owners like Amon. “Bitcoin has no risk of credit card fraud or credit card chargebacks,” he explains. “This is a huge problem for the travel industry because the payments are often large.”
Independent hostels and hotels are also slowly beginning to accept the currency. Bitcoin is now accepted in locations as far afield as Hainan Island in the South China Sea and the town of Lanquin in the Guatemalan rainforest. Pacific Tradewinds San Francisco Backpacker Hostel offers a 10% discount on all bitcoin payments.
Bitcoin remains a high-risk currency, with a volatile value – although this poses a bigger threat to those looking to invest large sums of money. And before travellers cut up their credit cards they should be aware that bitcoin does not have the same security and insurance mechanisms associated with conventional banking; if you are tricked into parting with your bitcoins by a scammer, there’s no higher authority to turn to.
Craig and Bingham have found the currency quite conducive to travel. “We haven’t had to deal with exchanging money once and we haven’t had to deal with foreign transaction fees either,” says Bingham. “And it’s a good way to save money. You can’t just run to the store every time you need something, you have to think a little more than if you’re using a debit card.”
But to really make the most of travelling by bitcoin, you need to do some research. Looking at where existing clusters of bitcoin businesses exist led Craig and Bingham to Kreuzberg in Berlin, as well as Stockholm and Singapore where the currency is taking off.
Their advice to travellers considering following in their footsteps? “Do your homework,” says Craig. “Everywhere we’ve been there’s been some kind of bitcoin community. The success comes from reaching out to these communities. And they’ve been reaching out to us too.”
It’s rising popularity has made clear that BTC is there to stay and it is definitely going to change travel in the next couple of years!
If you want to get your hands on some bitcoins for your own travels have a look at the biggest BTC exchanges Mt. Gox, BTC-e and Bitstamp.
If you already own some BTC’s you might be interested in letting your bitcoins generate even more bitcoins through CEX.io