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]

Where To Sleep During A Long-Haul Road Trip: Putting A Price On Your Safety

As you may have gathered from my last few posts, I spent the second half of July and first week of August living out of my car during a relocation from Seattle to Boulder. En route, I had a family vacation on the Klamath River in Northern California, and business trips to the Bay Area and North Carolina, which is why I was in limbo.

I’ve road-tripped and relocated across the West many times, and love the time alone with my thoughts and enjoying the scenery. Now that I’m in my early 40s, however, I’ve become more wary about where I choose to spend the night. I’m still on a tight budget, but this increasing awareness is a direct result of life experience, and my obsession with TV shows like “Forensic Files.”

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, someone who is truly fearful wouldn’t travel or drive cross-country alone. They certainly wouldn’t elect to drive Nevada’s notorious Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest Road in America,” but that’s what I did last week (anything to avoid the mind-numbing hell that is Highway 80). Allegedly, less than 200 drivers a day pass on this route, so one needs to plan accordingly.

Highway 50 is mostly high desert landscape, broken up by a handful of historic mining towns like the curiously appealing Austin. Located seven hours east of the Bay Area, this is where I chose to spend the first night of the final leg of my journey, in the rustic but comfortable Cozy Mountain Motel.

Although I was desperate to save money (my room was $60, and of the three motels in town, it had the best reviews … I also use the term “town” loosely), I didn’t feel safe camping alone in such a desolate region. It’s a shame, because the nearby primitive Bob Scott Campground, in the sagebrush and Piñon pines of the Toiyabe National Forest, is a beauty. Yet, due to its isolation and handful of sites, it wasn’t the place for an exhausted, solo female to spend the night.The next day, I had a grueling ten hours on the road before I hit Green River, Utah. Green River isn’t the most savory place, but it’s a popular jumping-off point to Moab/Lake Powell/Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks.

I was so wiped out when I arrived that I chose the first campground I saw: a KOA, which is the type of place I usually go to great lengths to avoid. At that point, all I cared about was a shower and rest, and because it was a glorious, hot desert night, I planned to sleep under the stars. Expediency meant more to me than dealing with setting up a tent in a less generic campground.

I walked into the office and asked the very friendly girl behind the counter for a tent site. Upon driving to the location, I discovered several things that didn’t thrill me. It abutted a vacant lot separated only by some sparse vegetation. Next to the lot was a rundown Motel 6. To my right were a few unoccupied, dusty campsites and open highway. Um, no thank you.

I scouted the mostly empty campground (which was primarily RV, and not tent, sites) and chose a location between two motorhomes, which was backed by a chain-link fence. Then I returned to the office and explained that I didn’t feel safe in my assigned site, and could I please have X or X location?

No problem. The receptionist said she understood, and proceeded to tell me a horrifying story about a recent encounter her mother had had in the town park with a drug-addled freak. She didn’t even charge me the higher RV rate.

An hour later, I was sprawled happily on my sleeping bag, reading, when the receptionist and her employer, a crotchety old man, whizzed up in a golf cart. She looked uncomfortable as he sniped at me for being in an “unauthorized site” because I was in a car. I was ordered to come to the office to rectify the situation immediately. Sigh.

Back behind the counter, the poor receptionist apologized profusely, and I shrugged it off, saying I’d rather pay more to ensure my safety. A manager was needed to get into the system and charge me accordingly, and when he showed up at the office, she explained the situation. He was clearly more interested in returning to his happy hour, so I was permitted to remain in my present location, free of extra charge.

Needless to say, I remained unmolested during the night, and although I was embarrassed by the musical campsites, the entire experience reinforced that it’s best to listen to your gut. Always insist upon putting your safety first.

[Photo credits: tent, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; Arches NP, Flickr user Fikret Onal; Jason, Flickr user Stinkie Pinkie]

Video: One giant rope swing

As a kid, who hasn’t tossed a rope over a tree branch and swung through the air with wild abandon? Well, that is exactly what the folks in the video below tried to replicate, only on a much grander scale. The rope swing, in this case, was actually attached to the 140-foot tall Corona Arch, located not far from Moab, Utah, and the riders used a cliff as their launching pad. The result is one wild ride, all of which was caught on helmet cams for optimal effect.

Not for the faint of heart.

Raft for the Cure in Moab this June

This June, the Moab Adventure Center, located in Moab, Utah will play host to the fifth annual Raft for the Cure. This fun and unique event that will offer visitors a unique blend of outdoor adventure, live music, and great food, while also raising funds for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

The Raft for the Cure event begins with a full day of rafting along the famous Colorado River, one of the top whitewater destinations in the entire American west. Participants will get the opportunity to experience some of the most well known sections of that iconic waterway, including the popular Onion Creek, Cloudburst, Ida Gulch, and White’s Rapid. This is medium level whitewater (think Class II or III) that wanders through spectacular canyons and scenic bluffs, offering plenty of adrenaline rushes to go along with the natural wonders. The on-the-river activities will run from 8AM to 4PM and are followed by dinner and live music in town that evening.

Organizers for the event have noticed a sharp increase in interest for this year’s Raft for the Cure, which is why they are spreading the word a bit earlier. In 2010, there were 330 participants that helped raise $20,000 for beast cancer research. This year, that number is expected to climb to 500 with six local rafting companies joining forces to help accommodate everyone.
The cost of the event is $100 for adults and $85 for kids 5-15. That includes lunch and dinner, a full day of rafting, commemorative T-shirt, and more. For more details check out the Raft for the Cure website and to register click here.

A hundred bucks for a full day of rafting is an excellent deal to begin with. Throw in some food and a concert and this is a real bargain for a weekend’s worth of entertainment. The fact that the proceeds are going to a great cause is just icing on the cake if you ask me.

[Photo credit: Sascha Grabow via WikiMedia Commons]

A travel guide to the 2011 Oscar movies

The 83rd annual Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks and the Oscars race is on. This year’s nominations contained few surprises, with many nods for Brit period piece The King’s Speech, Facebook biopic The Social Network, and headtrip Inception. While 2010’s ultimate travel blockbuster Eat, Pray, Love failed to made the cut, there’s still plenty to inspire wanderlust among the Best Picture picks.

Read on for a travel guide to the best movies of 2010 and how to create your own Oscar-worthy trip.

127 HoursLocation: Danny Boyle’s nail-biter was shot on location in Utah’s Blue John Canyon near Moab and on a set in Salt Lake City. Go there: Should you want to explore Moab’s desert and canyons while keeping all limbs intact, check out Moab in fall for bike races and art festivals.

Black Swan
Location: Much of the ballet psychodrama was shot in New York City, though the performances were filmed upstate in Purchase, New York. Go there: To see the real “Swan Lake” on stage at Lincoln Center, you’ll have to hope tickets aren’t sold out for the New York City Ballet, performing this month February 11-26.

The FighterLocation: in the grand tradition of Oscar winners Good Will Hunting and The Departed, the Mark Wahlberg boxing flick was filmed in Massachusetts, in Micky Ward’s real hometown of Lowell, 30 miles north of Boston. Go there: For a map of locations in Lowell, check out this blog post and perhaps spot Micky Ward at the West End Gym.

InceptionLocation: The setting of this film depends on what dream level you’re in. The locations list includes Los Angeles, England, Paris, Japan, even Morocco. Go there: There are plenty of real locations to visit, including University College London and Tangier’s Grand Souk. Canada’s Fortress Mountain Resort where the snow scenes were shot is currently closed, but you can ski nearby in Banff.

The Kids Are All Right
Location: Director Lisa Cholodenko is a big fan of southern California, she also filmed the 2002 Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. Go there: Love it or hate it, L.A. is still a top travel destination in the US and perhaps this year you can combine with a trip to Vegas, if the X Train gets moving.

The King’s SpeechLocation: A prince and a commoner in the wedding of the century. Sound familiar? This historical drama was shot in and around London, though stand-ins were used for Buckingham Palace’s interiors. Go there: It might be hard to recreate the vintage look of the film, but London is full of atmospheric and historic architecture and palaces to visit. If you’re a sucker for English period films or places Colin Firth has graced, tour company P & P Tours can show you around many historic movie locations like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

The Social NetworkLocation: Another Massachusetts and California movie, this very academic film shot at many college and prep school campuses, but none of them Harvard, which hasn’t allowed film crews in decades. Go there: If you enjoyed the Winklevoss rowing scene, head to England this summer for the Henley Royal Regatta June 29 – July 3.

Toy Story 3 – Location: The latest in the Pixar animated trilogy is set at the Sunnyside Daycare. Go there: Reviews are mixed, but Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a new Pixar parade, to let fans see their favorite characters in “person.” Visit any Disney gift shop to make your own toy story.

True Grit – Location: The Coen brothers western remake may be set in 19th century Arkansas, but it was filmed in modern day Santa Fe, New Mexico and Texas, taking over much of towns like Granger. Go there: If you’re a film purist or big John Wayne fan, you can tour the locations of the original film in Ouray County, Colorado.

Winter’s Bone – Location: Many moviegoers hadn’t heard of this film when nominations were announced, set and shot in the Ozark Mountains in southern Missouri. Go there: The difficult film centers around the effects of methamphetamine on a rural family, but travel destinations don’t get much more wholesome than Branson, Missouri. Bring the family for riverboat shows and the best bathroom in the country.

[Photo by Flickr user Lisa Norman]