Daniel Suelo, The Man Who Quit Money, On Living And Traveling For Free

Daniel Suelo is easily the most famous homeless person in America. His story has been featured in Details, ABC News, BBC, The Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Oregonian, and a host of other publications. And last year, a division of Penguin Books published a book about Suelo’s life, “The Man Who Quit Money.”

Suelo, 51, who changed his given name from Shellabarger, (Suelo means “soil” in Spanish) spends most of his time sleeping in a cave but he’s not your ordinary homeless person. He’s a college graduate (University of Colorado Boulder) who served in the Peace Corps and once held regular 9-5 jobs before completely swearing off money in the Fall of 2000. In fact, society might view him as homeless, but in fact, he has two homes – one inside a small cave near Arches National Park and a small tent site on private property within the city limits of Moab, Utah.

Since he gave up using money, people from around the world have made the pilgrimage to Moab to seek Suelo’s advice on how to live for free. He runs his website from the public library in Moab and is happy to share his living without money survival skills with anyone who cares to listen.

Suelo and I were supposed to meet up while I was in Moab last week but since he has no phone, he isn’t the easiest person to reach. I caught up with him on the phone while he was house sitting for a friend to ask him about living and traveling without money and how his life has changed since “The Man Who Quit Money” was published.

It was freezing at night in Moab last week. I know you do some house sitting for people in the winter, but are you still sleeping outdoors even in this weather?

Right now I’m house sitting but I was living out just a few weeks ago. It’s not that bad when I’m in my sleeping bag and tent; it’s not as bad as people think it is.

What kind of sleeping bag and tent do you have?

I’ve had different sleeping bags. I find them in dumpsters or just lying around. I double up sleeping bags in the winter.

I imagine you have to sleep with quite a few layers of clothing?

Not really. I take my pants off and just sleep with a shirt and underwear.

So when you have a house-sitting gig, you don’t dread going back to your cave when it’s over?

No, not at all. I feel more liberated when I sleep outside. This is the first year I’ve used a tent. I used to just use a tarp. I found two tents – and I put the small one inside the larger one and it’s actually quite insulated in there. I light two or three candles and I’m amazed how warm it is. I’m warmer in there than in a house.

Has your life changed since the book came out?

In a lot of ways, it has. I went on half of the book tour with the author and I’ve had a lot more visitors.

How was the book tour?

We didn’t stay in any hotels. Penguin Books gave Mark a very low budget for the tour. He wanted me to come along so we crashed with friends and strangers. Sometimes we didn’t know where we were going to sleep that night and someone would always offer us a place and we camped out a few times. It was really fun. It’s fun not knowing where you’re going to sleep at night.

Do you think he envies your lifestyle?

In some ways, I think he does. He used to kind of live this way himself, so it’s nostalgic for him.

You both worked at a restaurant in Moab together, right?

Right – we worked at a natural foods restaurant together that isn’t here any more.

Have you had to move to a different cave since the book came out?

No. People still can’t find that place. Over the past decade, I’m always camping in different places, but I have this one cave that’s been pretty stable for me.

In the book, there’s a scene where a ranger evicted you from a cave. So after you were evicted did you move to a new cave?

Yeah, I switched caves. I found a much more stealth one.


Tell me about your cave?

It’s way back in one of the canyons here. It’s way up on a ledge. It’s quite stealth. I’d say it’s about an hour walk from the nearest road.

But you also have a crash pad set up outside on someone’s private property in Moab, right?

Right. I have a tent there too.

What’s your cave like?

It goes back about 15-20 feet. It’s like a crevice in a cliff. It’s about 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide, 15 feet back. I have a few buckets of food in there, plus my sleeping bag, some books, and I built a little wood stove from a cookie tin. And I have candles and oil lamps too.

What percentage of what you eat comes from garbage bins?

When I’m here in Moab, 80% of my food is castoffs, stuff from dumpsters. The rest I forage – wild edibles and people give me things, though I discourage people from buying me anything.

So if I bought you some muffins you wouldn’t eat them?

I do it but I discourage people from doing that.

Is the stuff you find in garbage bins mostly expired?

Most of it is past the sell-by date but not the eat-by date. I don’t think I eat more expired food than anyone else. A lot of the food I find in dumpsters isn’t even expired.

I know you love to travel. What kind of travel tips can you offer?

Traveling is easy. I travel more now than I did when I had money. I just go out and hitchhike.

Is it hard to get rides?

It’s harder than it used to be but it depends on where you’re going.

How long do you usually wait for rides?

I would say it’s usually half hour to an hour. My hair is gray now and when you’re hitchhiking at this age, people wonder why. Why you aren’t settled down with a job and a car? A young person is out for adventure but when you’re older people think you might be mentally ill. Sometimes people will say, ‘You’re not an ax murderer are you?’

But if you were, you probably wouldn’t admit it, would you?

That’s what I tell them.

And they still let you in the car?

Yeah. It’s just a release of tension. A joke.

So how does one avoid looking like an ax murderer while hitchhiking?

Just be yourself. Smiling is good if it’s genuine. Be clean. A couple years ago, I found a guitar in a dumpster, and I’ve found that people are more likely to pick you up if you’re carrying a guitar.

You can’t be an ax murderer if you’re carrying a guitar, right?


Do you travel with a tent and a sleeping bag?

I don’t carry a tent – that’s too bulky. I just bring a tarp and a sleeping bag usually. There are so many places to sleep. I usually just find a grove of trees somewhere, or in abandoned houses, or the roof of a building, places like that. Someone gave me a hammock and one time, the people I was with, we strung hammocks up in a park in San Diego between trees about 20-30 feet high and no one thinks to look up, so you’re stealth sleeping up there.

Most of the reviews of the book were positive, but some people said you were a mooch or a parasite.

We braced ourselves before the book tour for that because there’s been so many nasty comments about me on the Internet but people were positive on the book tour. It’s easier to be nasty when you’re anonymous on the Internet.

In a lot of ways, the negativity feels confirming though. I’m glad I’m riling people up, making them think. People aren’t going to think unless they’re upset.

I read in the book that people are sometimes hostile toward you when they encounter you dumpster diving?

Sometimes I ignore people, other times I challenge them. Why is it that throwing away food is fine but retrieving it in a world where people are starving is bad?

Will you have to retire from this lifestyle when you get too old?

I don’t want to go back to using money. Worrying about the future is the worst thing you can do. The Peace Pilgrim was my hero – she walked the country for almost 30 years and she was like 80 and was still healthy. She was in an auto accident; otherwise she could have kept going.

When you follow your heart and don’t baby your body too much, you’re healthier than someone who’s sitting in a nursing home. I’m a strong believer in natural selection though. When it’s my time to go, I’ll go.

I know you do some volunteer work but how do you spend your time when you’re not on the road?

I do a lot of reading and writing. I hike.

I’m sure Mark Sundeen didn’t get rich writing this book, but he did make money off of your story. Does that make you uncomfortable?

Not really. Most authors don’t make much. He’s struggling like everyone else. I feel good about helping him make a living. People say you aren’t contributing to society, well what is contributing to society? Why does there have to have a monetary value for it to be considered a contribution?

How do you contribute to society?

I guess I would ask somebody, ‘What does a tree or a dog or a bird contribute to society? Is stopping to talk to someone in the street contributing to society?’ Or if they don’t have time to stop and talk because they have to get to work, are they contributing to society?

Have you been tempted to use money over the last 10-12 years?

I’ve taken things people bought for me – more for their sake than mine. People want to be generous and they like to give. Most of the time, I get too much and I want less.

You don’t ever walk by a bakery, for example, and see something in the window and think – that looks delicious; I wish I could go inside and buy that?

Honestly, I don’t feel that way. There’s a grand feeling of gratitude when things come on their own time. In the money culture, we spoil that sense of fun and gratitude. I like the feeling of hunger when I experience it, but I don’t experience it that often.

Do you hope that people will follow our example in living without money?

Deep down, I like the idea that my example might inspire people but I won’t worry about it if people don’t want to do it. I do like to proselyte though.

Why do you love to travel?

This is why I live the way I do – I don’t like to be tied down. I feel more free to travel now than when I had money even though it’s harder to get places. I just get up and go when I want to. I like the sense of freedom that travel offers. Especially when the travel is random. Sometimes I don’t know where I’m going. I have no idea what’s around the next corner. And I like that.

[Photo credits: Daniel Suelo, GQ]

Travel Smarter 2012: Take these tips for a better road trip

With temperatures hovering near the 70 degree mark on the East Coast this week, many of us can already feel spring in the air, and that means that road trip season is nearly upon us. I grew up as the youngest child in a family of six boys and road trips were an annual event for us. We used to pile into a big, old station wagon and spend the bulk of our trips arguing over who was taking up too much space, who smelled bad, and who got to sit next to the window.

Once, when I was five, I wandered off at a roadside rest stop and was left behind. An exit or two later, someone noticed that I wasn’t in the car and they turned back to find me. My mother expected me to be upset, but maintains that I was completely unconcerned. I don’t remember the incident, but nearly 35 years later, I still love to wander off and explore.

In the 80’s, we had a radar detector and a CB radio and felt like we were on the cutting edge of technology. There were no apps and the concept of watching movies in the car was still many years away, but we amused ourselves by playing memory games, trying to decipher all of the dirty jokes we heard from truckers with thick Southern accents on the CB, and annoying the living hell out of my parents. These days, I have two little boys, ages 2 and 4, and the tables are turned.

Below you’ll find some apps and tips that might be useful on your next road trip.Free Apps

GasBuddy. With gas prices in the U.S. now at a national average of $3.79 a gallon and rising, saving a few bucks at the pump is a priority for many. This app allows you to comparison shop for the best price based on your location.

RoadAhead. This terrific app provides useful information about what you’ll find near highway exits all across America. Listings include gas stations with the price of gas listed, and restaurants and cafés, some with links to user reviews on Yelp. The app can also tell you what’s nearby even if you aren’t on a highway.

Where. This app is similar to RoadAhead but isn’t focused on highway exits. It does offer listings of places to eat, things to do, and local coupons. If you just need a bathroom, Sit or Squat can help.

WiFi Finder. This app allows you to find WiFi hotspots and also has a worldwide hotspot database you can download (for free) and access while offline.

RepairPal and iWrecked. Some people love these apps, but they don’t suit my personality at all. RepairPal helps you get roadside assistance, find a repair shop or get a range of estimates for fixing common problems. For example, the app says that in my zip code an oil change costs between $27-62, and a power lock problem I have with my Toyota will cost somewhere between $192-$338 to fix.

iWrecked helps travelers prepare accident reports and find taxi and towing companies. I suppose both of these apps could be helpful, but I just don’t see myself standing by the smoldering ruins of my vehicle, fumbling around with apps. If you’re a very bad driver, have an unreliable car, or are simply a very practical person who likes to prepare for the worst, these apps might be useful for you. But I think they just invite bad luck. The only contingency planning I’m into is AAA, which offers unbeatable roadside assistance with membership plans that start at just $66 a year.


Use a GPS but don’t be a slave to it. I finally broke down and bought a GPS last year and now I don’t know how I lived without it for so long. That said, it’s always good to cross-check the GPS’s suggested route on Google maps or another site, because Garmin and other brands don’t always provide the best routes. There’s also the danger of turning into a GPS zombie who will literally follow their device right into a body of water. In June, three women from Mexico did just that – submerging a rented Mercedes Benz S.U.V. with a Hertz “Never Lost” GPS unit in a slough near Seattle (see video below). Invest in a GPS but don’t believe everything it tells you to do. And I wouldn’t bother paying for the traffic function – I have it on my Garmin and it’s virtually worthless.

Hit the library before you go. Before any long trip, I go to my local library and take out a few audio books. This is a great way to kill time while enriching your listening skills.

Don’t strap your dog (or dead grandmother) to the top of your car. This is particularly important if you plan to run for public office someday.

Contest speeding tickets. In a recent poll, Gadling readers indicated that they think it’s best to admit guilt when pulled over for speeding. I’m not sure I agree with that strategy. Don’t construe this as legal advice, but based upon my personal experience, it is nearly always more advantageous to contest speeding tickets in court. Even if it involves a long drive from where you live, you still might save money.

Mix tapes really do help combat road rage. Let’s face it – the roads are filled with bad drivers these days. Some like to tailgate, others stubbornly putter along below the speed limit in the left lane, and plenty are distracted by mobile devices, unruly children, or that sandwich they’re shoving in their face. Make a playlist of some of your favorite tunes; it’ll help put all the annoyances in perspective.

But listen to some A.M. radio as well. You’ll hear all kinds of doomsday and conspiracy theories, revolting political ideologies, and God knows what else. You might not like it, but it’ll be an education of sorts.

Indulge your children – to a point. A long road trip isn’t the time to be a task master. Stop for ice cream, seek out playgrounds, and help them improve their powers of observation with games. Let them watch a movie or check out this list of apps if you’d rather have them focus on something more educational. If you prefer more old-school games, this site offers ideas for kids, toddlers and babies.

Get more miles to the gallon. To improve your car’s fuel efficiency, use motor oil that is “energy conserving,” take out any dead weight from your car you don’t need, and keep your tires inflated to the proper pressure.

Venture off the highway. This is common sense, but it’s easy to forget that the shortest distance between two points doesn’t always make for the most interesting journey.

Brake for historic districts. Have you noticed that nearly every town in America is billing itself as a historic district these days? You really have to use your imagination to feel the history in some cases, but if you don’t check them out, you might miss some legitimately interesting places. And even the bogus ones are good for a laugh.

Carpool. Paying to carpool is a common way to get from one city to another in some European countries and, according to a story on NPR last week, the company that runs the biggest carpool site in Europe is about to expand their operation into the United States.

Pick up a hitchhiker – preferably one who isn’t a serial killer. This might sound like a crazy idea but, according to a recent Freakonomics podcast, it isn’t nearly as dangerous as you might think. Full disclosure: I only pick up hitchhikers in certain foreign countries where hitchhiking is more common than it is here. If I tried to do it in the U.S., with our two children in the car, my wife would insist that I undergo a full psychiatric evaluation.

[Images via Dave Seminara and Albertopveiga on Flickr]

In the United States? Catch a free ride with the Kindness Cab

From now up until November 13, 2011, anyone located in between Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, California, can catch a free ride in a 1985 London Sterling taxi. CouchSurfer Leon Logothetis started driving the Kindness Cab in a an effort to give back to the community as well as raise money for charity. If you’re interested in hitching a ride with him, you can click here to follow his whereabouts and connect.

Years ago, Logothetis hitchhiked from New York to L.A., relying on the kindness of strangers to get around. Now, as he re-traces his original route, he is repaying the favor. On his first day in New York, he drove thirteen hours and picked up thirty passengers. The entire journey will end on November 13, 2011, World Kindness Day.

Here is a list of where and when you can catch the Kindness Cab next:

October 31- Chicago
November 3- St. Louis
November 7- Denver
November 9- Santa Fe
November 10- Phoenix
November 11- Las Vegas
November 13- Los Angeles

Photo of the day: Rosendal, Norway

Norway is a place I’d like to go. To be fair, I’m a travel writer. I’d like to go most places. Scratch that. I want to go everywhere. But Norway seems particularly enchanting to me.

When photographer, Ben Britz, first began traveling, he traveled in the most frugal ways possible. While in Norway back in 2005, he traveled only with a backpack. With a small tent for sleeping and a thumb in good shape for hitching rides, he explored Norway. As a note for those looking to camp in Norway, here’s a tip: in Norway it’s legal to camp anywhere you want (except for farmland or cities), even private property, as long as property owners cannot see you.

Thankfully, he managed to find room to pack his camera and took this shot.

Want us to feature one of your photos for Photo of The Day? Go ahead and submit your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool.

Ten real budget travel tips

Do you continually feel wanderlust’s pull but fear that you don’t have enough money to see the world?

Your fears, thankfully, are misplaced. Despite the mainstream travel media’s concerted, ongoing effort to make you think that travel is solely the domain of the rich, it is actually possible to travel well for surprisingly little money–and not just in those places where good deals are plentiful.

If saving money is your first goal, always do advance research by perusing published articles and guidebooks covering your intended destinations. Also be sure to take a look around the budget-oriented travel media. The Guardian’s budget travel guide is very likely the best English-language newspaper for budget travel advice. The Guardian does an especially great job of focusing on budget travel itineraries and showing readers, step-by-step, how to travel well while remaining on a tight budget.

Following are ten general tips to help you travel for far less than you think you’ll need to spend. Later this week I’ll look at some local budget travel techniques that are little-known outside of their home territories, which will provide a useful supplement to this post.

1. Hostels and low-price hotel chains. Increasingly these days, hostels boast individual rooms, some with their own toilets and showers. So even if you’re no longer interested in early morning dance parties, don’t write off hostels. Many of these new hostels are also quite stylish, which means that in many locales ratty, filthy hostels are finally facing price point competition. Also of note are the newish budget hotel chains, like Tune Hotels (Indonesia, Malaysia, UK) and easyHotel (UK, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates). With advance booking, these no-frills hotels can be huge money-savers.

2. Empty university dorm rooms. Many universities offer their rooms for very affordable rates during those stretches of time when there are no students around. Some of these rooms show up on booking sites and others can only be reserved through the universities themselves. During the summer of 2007, I stayed in a university dorm in Vienna for €19. My private room was clean and spacious, with appealing modernist touches.

3. Private home stays. Airbnb is the newest and slickest arrival on the scene, a well organized and very attractive listings site that allows proprietors and guests alike to comment on each other’s performance as hosts and guests. This social media function makes Airbnb especially useful for quality control. In many destinations, tourist boards organize private home stays; in some others, guest rooms are advertised by locals. Guidebooks should help you figure out the best way to go about securing reservations in private rooms. As always, use common sense.

4. Volunteer tourism, or Voluntourism. This tourism/volunteering hybrid has taken off in the past decade. To give but one example, Andaman Discoveries’ volunteer gigs in southern Thailand charge around $210 for a week of on-the-ground volunteering. That charge includes accommodation, many meals, and airport transfer. Check out VolunTourism.org for more information.

5. Couchsurfing. This free accommodation option is the ideal recession-era budget travel trick. It’s a free and very popular way to bed down. Though there are a number of couchsurfing sites, CouchSurfing is the granddaddy of the movement. Couchsurfing fans get starry-eyed when discussing the practice, which depends on peer review and typically prompts guests to contribute something (like meals or a service) to their temporary hosts.6. WWOOF. This strange acronym stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. This is a fantastic organization that pairs up farm hands with work opportunities on farms, providing room and board in exchange for labor. WWOOF currently lists farms in 100 countries and territories around the world. Many people get involved with WWOOF in a kind of quasi-apprenticeship manner, though the organization is open to travelers.

7. Social media. Travel bloggers are notoriously friendly and forthcoming with their tips and their time. Reach out to travel writers whose articles you’ve liked and strike up a friendly rapport. Approach them respectfully and you’ll usually find that travel writers love to share their knowledge. Scour Twitter for interesting people in the destinations on your itinerary. Be friendly and make contact. The likelihood that you’ll meet someone who will give you some tips for interesting local action is high. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone who will show you around, treat you to a meal, and drink a cheap bottle of something or other with you.

8. Supermarkets and street food. You don’t have to eat in restaurants while you’re on the road. Supermarkets, public food markets, and street food can all help you save money while traveling. In many places, you will find fresher produce in markets than in restaurants. Public food markets and street food provide a route into local culture and are usually quite inexpensive. Follow the crowds for the freshest and tastiest grub.

9. Hitchhiking. All the caveats apply. Be prepared, be careful, use your judgment, and embark on your hitchhiking adventure with a friend. Beyond the shared cost of fuel, hitchhiking is more or less free. It is a great way to meet locals and learn about the places you’re visiting.

10. Home exchange. Swapping your residence with another is far easier than it sounds. Home exchange networks charge an annual membership fee, which allows a place of residence to be listed. Once a listing is in place, members organize exchanges with each other. The net result? Free accommodation. And sometimes intercontinental friendships. Home exchange networks include HomeExchange.com, INTERVac, and International Home Exchange Network. See this article (written, to be fully forthcoming, by my first cousin!) for one family’s experience with home exchange.

[Image: Flickr / ArchiM]