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The Permanent Tourist: A Minimalist Approach to Getting Started

Tom Spooner

These days in the US, one of the best ways of doing freedom is to unsubscribe from a coercive government, depriving the State of your financial support. And for me, the easiest way to unsubscribe was to go permanent tourist.

I'm new to the lifestyle, so I still have a fresh perspective on what was involved in hitting the road. While I don't recommend my choices for everyone, I'll share some thoughts in hope that they may help someone else find their best way out from under.


I have always enjoyed travel, and been prone to go where the winds blow. I've also been camping since I was a kid. So my personal version of PT meant traveling pretty light. I am equipped to pitch camp in the woods, or rent a small affordable apartment, if the season dictates. My life fits in a pickup truck. And when it suits my needs to go where the truck won't... I can strip down to a checked bag and a carry on.

Right off, I know this isn't for everyone. I'm single, responsible for no one but myself. No wife, no girl friend, no prospects for such. This gives me a certain amount of latitude that someone in a relationship may not have. You've seen the retirees running down the interstates in oversize RVs, towing small cars, sometimes doubled up with a boat trailer, too.

That isn't me. I'm the guy in the old truck that you never noticed.

A couple, or especially a family, probably will need something more elaborate. I can sleep in a tent, but a family may want a travel trailer or motorhome. In addition, I have spartan tastes; a minimalist lifestyle suits me quite well, but probably won't be for everyone by any stretch of the imagination.

However you go about it, there are areas that you need to think out in advance. Here goes.


Yep, this is the biggie for everyone. Being a permanent tourist means you probably don't have a permanent job of the conventional sort. So you have to find something a bit less conventional.

I like to pretend I'm a writer. Since various publications have actually paid for my writing skills over the years, I may not be too far off the mark. And writing is hardly dependent on geographical location; I've been writing all over the world. This might work for you, too.

Or, if you have good handyman skills, you can get by on those. Early on in my travels, I paid rent on a small place for a few weeks by doing some off-the-books electrical work. There has also been some occasional telephone installation, plumbing, minor repairs... I can also do the odd bit of glazing, masonry, fix TVs and computers.... Get the idea? If you have any such skill, it's marketable. Some people get by as full-time being caretakers and housesitters, too. Check out the Caretaker's Gazette.

Say, since you're going to be traveling anyway, perhaps you could handle small shipments for freedom-minded clients.


If you opt to live on the road, your immediate expenses are going to revolve around your vehicle: Gas, oil, maintenance, insurance perhaps. And.... Vehicle registration.

Seems an odd thing for a dropout to worry about, eh? Vehicle taxes and the like? I look at it this way: I am willing to pay for services that I actually use. If I'm using the roads.... Well, roads do need maintenance. I'll pay a reasonable fee to whomever is maintaining the roads. The flip side of that, of course, is that I don't title my vehicle in a state that practices the more extreme forms of vehicle tax piracy.

Registering your vehicle is also a good way to avoid unwelcome (is there any other sort?) police attention. I used to know a guy who stuck to his philosophical guns and refused to register his vehicle; drove on expired tags for years. I imagine luck had something to do with his ability to stay out of trouble, but he's a fairly conservative driver; at any rate, he claims to have never been pulled over. Maybe it's a cop-out (pun intended), but given my lifestyle, I'd rather not take the chance. Registration can provide a form of bureaucratic invisibility that can make the type of informal teamster work mentioned above much easier, too.

Other expenses for me involve occasional rent, campground fees, food, and other basics. Electrical bills I handled a little differently.

Early in my travels, I noticed a tendency to use restaurants rather more than I should have. I spent a lot of money on single meals that would have been better spent shopping at a supermarket. Concentrate on foodstuffs that don't require refrigeration. A little rice goes a long way. [Editors' note: See Sunni Maravillosa's article The Well-Equipped PT Kitchen, Part 2 for more information on this topic.]


This includes postal mail, e-mail, telephone, fax.... All those little irritants/conveniences that someone living in a fixed location takes for granted.

Depending on how much privacy you need, a good PCS phone may handle all your electronic comm needs. These often require contracts and the attendant need for identity documents, but there's a growing pre-paid phone market; so long as you send in enough cash to keep the phone running, the company doesn't care who you are. Nice. But... If you plan to be a serious pro-freedom activist, you might not want to carry your own personal tracking device around. Even now, while your phone is turned on, your location can be determined to within at least a service cell of maybe 100 square miles, and possibly much closer (if they can triangulate you with multiple cell stations....). And now the FCC has granted one more of the FBI's wishes and ruled that future phones must be traceable, even when not in use, to within a few meters. Creepy. If you do opt for a PCS phone, get one now that doesn't have the tracking equipment (most likely to be a form of GPS) built in. And when you aren't using it, turn the damned thing off. Maybe even pull the battery. I do.

If you don't go with cell/PCS.... Pay phones and prepaid calling cards.

Calling cards are great. You might even want to take cards in trade for work you do. Think of them as electronic currency, backed by phone service (as opposed to the wishful thinking that backs US FRNs). And when making calls, those cards can have an extra privacy-enhancing effect: Some calling cards services strip off your originating caller ID data, so that the called party can't get your number and determine your location (readers of John Ross' s Unintended Consequences may remember this). I've tested some services, and my ID data was stripped off. Something to think about. As for identity... I buy my cards for cash from vending machines scattered across the country and trade them with other people; a practice that probably annoys snooping federales.

Of course, right about now, some of you may be wondering how pay phones are going to help with e-mail. Two words: Acoustic coupler.

There's a fair chance that younger people reading this have never seen an acoustically coupled modem, but us old farts remember when that was the only way to hook a modem to a phone line. An acoustic coupler is a gadget which connects your fancy modem to a telephone via the handset. Connex makes a unit which hooks up to your modem in the line jack. It has a microphone and a speaker, which get strapped to the earpiece and mouthpiece respectively on a telephone handset. Signal quality with a coupler is lower than with a phone jack connection, so data rates suck. Don't expect to see V.90 56k speeds. You'll be lucky to get 14,400, and less than 9600 is more reasonable. Web surfing is out of the question, but this is fine for e-mail (unless you know some clown who routinely sends you 20MB joke files... I knew such a person once).

If you do need the occasional high speed connection... Well, borrow a friend's phone, get a motel room for the night, check if the campground office has a line you can pay to use, whatever. Use your imagination. And maybe someday, it will generally occur to phone companies to put data jacks on pay phones. I can dream, can't I?

But this is only half the game; making calls or sending messages. What about receiving faxes and phone calls? How can you have a phone on the road without using PCS or cellular?

These days... real easily. Happily, there are companies offering free dedicated telephone numbers with voicemail and fax reception. They are free because, like the familiar Hotmail or Hushmail (hint: Get a Hushmail--https://www.hushmail.com--account: encryption is your friend), they are advertiser supported. Typically, when you sign up (giving pretty minimal personal data which isn't subject to verification anyway, hint, hint), you are assigned your own personal telephone number. It might be in an exchange almost anywhere in the country, or even in the world. You can personalize the message that callers hear, so it seems just like any usual number. And you don't care where the exchange is, because you don't have to call it to check your messages. Voicemail and faxes are automatically routed to whatever e-mail address you specify. The only requirement is that the e-mail service be able to handle attachments (i.e., POP service. Hushmail also handles attachments) . A couple of these services are eFax and uReach. A search with any of the major engines such as AltaVista or Google should turn up plenty more.

This advertiser-supported concept shows up in another area that you may find useful. Internet accounts. The fact is, if you are currently holding down a steady full time job, you're almost certainly going to see a drop in dollar income when you hit the road. Your budget may be tight. I used to maintain a Compuserve account, not because I loved their wonderful customer service department (never, ever admit to me that you worked CSi Customer Disservice; it constitutes an initiation of force), but because they have local dial ups all over the world. I could travel anywhere and still be able to access the Internet. The downside to Compuserve (besides customer service) is the cost; they run a little higher than the typical local ISP.

Fortunately, we now have advertiser-supported ISPs. Outfits like dotNow, Juno, NetZero, BlueLight, and BootBox offer free Internet accounts, with local dialups across the US. All you do is answer a few marketing-type questions (just like the free phone service). At least one such service doesn't even ask any questions that can identify you at all; I liked that. [Editors' note: See our previous issue for a review of some of these free ISPs.]

One more thing in electronic comm: Voice Over IP (VOIP), using the Internet to talk, instead of using a telephone or typing messages. No big deal, and a waste of time, for local calls. But if you have a good high speed modem connection you can use the Internet to talk to friends around the world, instead of burning up minutes on your calling cards. This can work in a couple of different ways. There are Internet outfits like DialPad which allow you to make free long distance calls from their website. Neat trick; you subscribe to this free (advertising supported--sound familiar?) service, then dial the desired phone number. Your digitized voice is routed over the Internet to a local phone company in the target area, and your call is completed. Pretty cool. You can call any normal phone number in the US this way. You'll need a sound card in your computer (basically standard equipment anymore) and a Java-enabled browser.

The other VOIP trick is slightly different. This allows you to speak person to person to another person also on the Internet; in a way, it's like old CB radio on the Web. Again, you'll need a sound card. You'll need some special software, too. And whoever you wish to speak with also needs the same stuff. Software is readily available and free. I use PGPfone and Speak Freely, which have the additional benefit of letting me encrypt my calls so no one can listen in. Great stuff. Yahoo.com has voice chat software, but is not encrypted. Guess which I rarely use.

Postal service (snail mail) can be more of a problem on the road. What looks like the simplest method would be to have the Postal Disservice forward your mail. Me, I dislike registering with the feds, letting them know my every location. But if you were inclined to use the feds to confuse themselves, you might consider giving out a mailing address where you've never actually resided, and file a change of address so your mail automatically gets routed to another location... For which you've also filed a CofA. Ad infinitum. There are also mail drop companies that promise privacy. I much prefer to work mail drops with people known to me personally, or vouched for by someone I trust. Networking is important.

But generally, once on the road, my need for hardcopy snail mail is almost nil. If more magazines would accept my manuscripts via e-mail, I could almost blow off snail mail completely.

Power and other Utilities

Being mobile and off the grid can be troublesome for utilities other than communications. If you've pitched camp for the summer in the woods, power can be an issue. It was for me, and is for many people. Fortunately, RVers and campers solved this long ago. You could opt for a small generator; but the darned thing needs to be kept fueled. I'm on a budget. And generators are noisy, distracting me when I'm writing.

So I went solar. Photovoltaic panels are finally getting downright affordable. I invested some FRNs in a panel, charge controller, and batteries. I also purchased a PV AA battery charger, a pile of NiMH AA cells, and a small inverter for my few AC power requirements. Almost all of my electrical equipment operates on DC; even my computer is a laptop that can run off the battery plant. Appliances that don't run off the battery plant all use AA batteries, which I can recharge direct solar or off the battery plant. Check out The Sportsman's Guide for PV panels and chargers. All Electronics usually has a variety of rechargeable batteries at good prices.

For heat and cooking, I have conventional base camp gear: Wood stove, small dual fuel gas stove, and some improvised (I have to improvise something; it's what I do :^)) cookware that I enjoy playing with. Lighting is dual fuel lantern, DC lighting (AC lighting installed for when AC is available), and the sun. I don't feel deprived.

I stock up on water at service stations, rest stops, camp grounds, or wherever. I'm also equipped to gather rain or river water, filter and treat it, and store it in five-gallon containers. The latter is fine when you're in a forest in the middle of nowhere, but don't bother trying to render Mississippi River water potable. Jerry cans are rugged, and last forever; avoid the cheap collapsible bags except for short term needs, or unless you are extremely space-limited.

Banking and Credit Cards

And here we come to the bane of the unsubscriber. Not.

Banking can be a serious problem. Even with the "Know Your Customer" proposal shot down, still too few people realize that KYC was only an elaboration of rules already in place. Your banking transactions are subject to monitoring. A bad thing. But a permanent tourist doesn't live in a vacuum; FRNs are still the most commonly accepted currency in the US. So what to do?

Well, you could live strictly cash only. But it's tough, especially if you expect a publisher to mail you payment for an article. And occasionally I like to be able to write a check for the sake of accountability.

Yeah, yeah. You can live on cash; using money orders for occasions when checks are appropriate. You can use one of those check cashing services when you get paid with a check. But the problem with that is the expense. Money orders are expensive compared to a check drawn on a regular account. Some of those check cashers want a nice percentage of your money. And they want to see an ID that matches the name on the check. Look, you're already on a budget, right? Why make it worse? Banks have their place if you use them correctly.

Correctly means sparingly. Don't funnel all your funds through your First Federal-Monitored National(ized) Bank account. Only put in what you need there. How much is that? That's up to you, but don't put more in the account than you can afford to lose if the IRS decides to seize your assets.

And here's an big advantage of a bank account: Visa and Mastercard. Not credit cards, but debit cards that work exactly the same except that your checking account is debited directly. This is good, because it means you don't need to go to the trouble of arranging a mail drop for a credit card statement. These banks simplify that further by letting you access your account online using SSL encryption for privacy.

And why might you want a Visa or Mastercard? Not everyone will. Activists should avoid those and traditional banks. But if you simply want to maintain a low profile it can work. Did you get a contract PCS or cell phone? Arrange to have the monthly bill charged to your debit card. Same with your ISP, if you opt for a paid Internet account. And you can use that card to draw cash from ATMs on occasion (hint: Never draw cash when arriving in town; do it when you leave, or en route. Consider detouring from your actual route just for the purpose; the travel's no problem- you're a tourist, right? Why tell anyone where you are?).

So if you're using a bank and debit card sparingly, if at all, what to do with your money.... If you plan to keep a fair bit of cash on hand, install a safe in your trailer or vehicle. And then there's e-gold.

This is a great tool for anyone interested in privacy and freedom, not just PTs. Go to http://www.e-gold.com and check them out. Now. What they are isn't quite a bank. They are a depository for precious metals including gold, silver, and platinum. You can purchase a metal from them and they hold it in your name. Or whatever name you give them. On the Internet there are companies that also have e-gold accounts, and will allow you to make purchases with e-gold; you simply transfer the appropriate mass of precious metal from your account to theirs. They never need to know your real name. I accept e-gold payments myself.

If you decide that you'd really like to hang on to your gold personally, you can "cash out" and have some or all of your metals sent to an address you specify. Or you can have them cut a check for a fiat currency such as US FRNs. Interestingly, that check doesn't have to be made out to you. You might opt to have it sent to your campground management (and made out to them, naturally), to cover your lot charges. Or a PCS phone bill, ISP bill... You get the idea.

I recommend you primarily rely on cash/barter and digital currency such as e-gold, but depending on your circumstances, don't automatically rule out a conventional bank account.


I have no idea how many permanent tourists there are out there. But I've run into them all around the world; ex-pats in Greece even. Some are just retirees, and some are financially or politically motivated. But either way, they represent a knowledge resource for new PTs. If you intend to hit the road, try to get in touch with a current PT. Pick his brains. And work with him. If you help him interface to the subscribed world (mail drop, check cashing, et cetera), he may be inclined to help you get out when your time comes. But don't do this casually. Trust is important. Get to know the guy and let him get to know you. Wouldn't you like to know the good places to camp where officialdom won't come snooping after you?

Once on the road, this networking should continue. If Joe Blow caretaking in Kansas needs a package picked up and hauled to Knoxville, and you happen to be headed in that direction, do it. You might make a couple of bucks, or be set up for a return favor sometime when you're in a jam.


Taking a permanent vacation is a rewarding way of life. You're able to avoid many of the daily headaches that statist sheeple tend accept as normal. I crawl out of bed when I damned well feel like it. And often have some pretty views out the window when I do roll out of the sack. I'm a heck of a lot more relaxed than before. I'm enjoying life these days. Plus, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I've removed another resource (myself) from the State's grasp.

My way isn't for everyone. It more than likely isn't for most people. But my intent isn't necessarily to tempt you into a perpetual camping trip. Instead, I wanted to give you things to think about, so you could determine what is right for you. Perhaps you like boating and can adapt my experiences to a liveaboard life (which appeals to me, but I lack boating experience). Or you might strip down further, and spend the rest of your life bouncing from place to place in the Caribbean. And there's always the anonymous, cash-only caretaker.

Find something you like, and drop out.

(c) 2000


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