My name is Calen.
My Story: How I Travel with No Money and Eat Plants
Just like Wendy, The Nomadic Vegan, travel lights my heart on fire. But, that’s not the only thing we have in common. You guessed it—I’m vegan as well. Although we are very similar in many ways, a large factor being our compassion for all beings, our travel styles are a little bit different. Let me explain.
When most people hit the road for an adventure, they are planned, booked, funded, and ready to go. I think this is awesome, and I will for sure be traveling like this in the future. But, for now, my path is a little bit rockier. I start out my travels with no money.
Yes, you read that right. I'm not talking about traveling cheaply on a shoestring budget. I'm talking about hitting the road with zero money in my pocket.
Travel with no money can be a little intimidating, and it can also be hard work. I first decided to travel with no money when I was 19 years old, cycling and making my away along the Trans America Trail. This is not an actual trail, just a set of maps on normal roads that guide you from coast to coast of the U.S.
This summer, I’ve decided to continue my travels this way, minus the bike. Sadly, my first inspiration to travel with no money came when I was tired of everything going on the world and had to make a change in my own life.
I didn’t want to spend a large chunk of time working numerous jobs to save up for a short trip. I also had a strong desire to see if I could do anything that I put in my focus-- in my intention-- and if the world around me would shift and assist me along the way.
What I’ve learned: people can amaze you when given the chance, and the universe is ready to assist you with your plans.
Here’s one other thing that I find is important to share:
During my travels from place to place, I work in exchange for what I need.
Food for the day? I walk into a restaurant and ask to work for a few hours in exchange for a meal.
Housing? I come prepared with my tent, find a couch to crash on, or work in exchange for a safe room.
Transportation? I use my bike, catch a ride with people I meet, or ask for rides on Craigslist.
Sometimes, when I decide to make things easier for myself, I make money as I go. I am always looking to cover the basic necessities first when I earn money. It always goes straight to food, and whatever is left over after that usually goes to other things like transportation.
Although it can sound intimidating to travel with no money, it isn’t always as tricky as it seems. The key, for me, has been to just ask for what I need—and also be ready to receive it.
VEGANISM = EXPENSIVE, RIGHT?
As you can see, there is one thing that is a constant necessity for me: plant-based foods. Like I mentioned above, I’ve done a lot of direct work exchanges for food. I’ve worked at restaurants, earned food through WWOOFing, been given food by hosts and fellow travelers, and I’ve even gone dumpster diving.
Throughout all of these different experiences and methods, I’ve easily stayed plant-based. I’ve found that if I don’t go for all of the more expensive plant-based replacements when I am picking out my foods, eating plant-based is no more expensive than a “standard American diet.”
I’ve been all over the States, and I’ll admit—sometimes it is hard being vegan.
Eating plant based? No.
Being vegan? Yes.
The hardest part of vegan travel for me has been seeing the suffering all over the country, or interacting with people who choose to turn a blind eye to the violence and cruelty.
I’ve spent time in many places where the folks living there hadn’t even heard the word “vegan” before. So, when I would eat in their homes or go out to eat with them, I would have to make sure that I could honor my values and find a way to vocally express those needs.
The Other Hard Part
I have to admit—there have been some times where I’ve been ready to throw in the towel on this lifestyle of travel with no money. It isn’t always picking daisies and chasing waterfalls.
Sometimes, your host falls through and you’re suddenly cold, alone, and feeling extremely lost. Sometimes, people turn you down when you’re looking to work in exchange for a meal, and you suddenly let a bit of panic take over. Sometimes, you’re in a new place and you can’t seem to make any connections that will help you continue on.
It's all a part of the moneyless travel lifestyle. The more I do it, the better I get at it. Every day that I travel and live this way, I learn how to find more ease and craft this travel magic a little bit more.
On my most recent trip across the U.S., starting in California and ending in Ohio, I found more odd jobs to do for cash, and did less working in direct exchange for things.
When I reflect back, it made things easier at times and more challenging at others. You have to learn how to mold your experiences in the best way possible for your own self.
If you’re ready for a new sort of adventure, and are looking to stay kind to the world along the way, traveling vegan + moneyless may be your thing.
Take it from me, it may not always be easy. But in the end, maybe you’ll be able to sit back, reflect on your transformations, and share your new self with the world… just as you have given me the honor of doing.
About the Author
Calen Otto is a queer, vegan travel blogger and podcaster. They are passionate about exploring, learning and animal liberation, and combine the two by doing activism on the road. Calen has crossed the U.S. twice, starting with little to no money, and plans to write a guide to teach others how to do the same. Check out wanderwoman.online to wander with Calen!
You can also listen to their podcast and follow them on Instagram.