Uncoinventional: the Tour in Review
Last month, our family traveled the U.S. spending only bitcoins. We documented our travels for Bitcoin Magazine through a live blog. As we embarked on this journey, I had no idea what I had got myself into. Still, I felt compelled to try. For those of you who weren’t following our ups and downs in realtime, here are the highlights:
The trip took a total of 24 days and brought us to stops in 12 cities. We traveled a total of 4,600 miles and pumped gas 16 times. We stayed in eight hotels, crashed in three guest bedrooms and camped at one campground. We paid seven businesses directly with Bitcoin and used three gift card services to pay indirectly with Bitcoin. We stopped at three local MeetUps, attend one conference, one festival and conducted four screenings of Sovereign Living, the reality show about our lives. It was a whirlwind trip, but we learned a lot.
Bitcoin is still in the days of early adoption. This means a lot of research is needed to find Bitcoin-friendly venues for smooth travel. During our trip, places that accept Bitcoin directly were rare, so we supplemented with gift card services such as Gyft and E-Gifter.
There are actually many options for booking hotels with Bitcoin. We tried them all to see how they each worked. We had a very easy time using our Gyft app to purchase gift cards for GlobalHotelCard.com. we used this method twice with no issue. We also used CheapAir to book our hotel and pay directly with BTC. This was actually the most simple service we found. Quick, easy, no complications. We even paid a Holiday inn Express in Brooklyn directly with Bitcoin.
Our major complication was using Expedia. We had a rough enough time using their service that I published an article titled, Our Nightmarish Experience Using Bitcoin on Expedia. After publishing the article they contacted us and were able to make some immediate changes to their technology. Now you can pay with both a gift card and Bitcoin, whereas you could not when we tried from the road. They are also working with CoinBase, their Bitcoin payment processor, to develop a training program for their call center.
Wait, what about gas?
For gas, our family used CoinFueled, a website that allows you to order gasoline gift cards with Bitcoin. It takes about two weeks to process orders, so this avenue required a bit more forethought on our end than a traditional road trip.
After an hour of mapping out our journey, calculating our gasoline needs, and looking at what gas stations were in each city so we bought the right gift cards, we finally opted for $450 in Exxon Mobil and $300 in BP cards. This amount was actually short of we needed for the trip by around $300, as we forgot to account for the vendor items loaded in our trunk and roof.
When we arrived in D.C., we placed an order for another Exxon Mobil card that CoinFueled rush delivered to our campsite in Lancaster, NH. When we arrived in Kansas City my mother served as a proxy for us by purchasing a Shell gift card with her debit card that we replaced by ordering her a gift card with BTC.
A few times we had to drive slightly out of the way to get to a gas station we had a gift card for. Even though I planned out each stop, we decided to keep driving if the kids were asleep. This added an element of surprise to our gas purchases. Thankfully our in-car GPS helped us find appropriate stations on our route.
Gyft, a gift card services that takes bitcoins, had most of our food covered. I ordered cards to Amazon, where I ordered healthy snacks from before the trip. At Whole Foods, our favorite meal and grocery stop, we used Gyft’s app on our phone.
The process of buying a gift card was so simple and easy that we would wait to hear our total from the cashier, open the Gyft app, order the appropriate Whole Foods gift card, scan our Bitcoin QR code, then hand our phone or tablet displaying the electronic gift card to the cashier for payment. It took about the same amount of time required to dig your debit card out of a large purse. We were also able to use Bitcoin to eat at Applebee’s, T.G.I.Fridays, T. Rex, Papa Johns, Cracker Barrel and On the Border, again with the help of Gyft as well as EGifter.
When we hit D.C., New York City, Cleveland Heights, and the Porcupine Freedom Festival, we were able to buy meals directly with bitcoins. There is a wonderful website called CoinMap.org that allows you to search for brick-and-mortar merchants that accept Bitcoin.
However, being listed on Coinmap didn’t guarantee ease of use. Some businesses had a hard time figuring out how to take our payment, resulting in long conversations and phone calls to the owner. As Bitcoin is still fairly new, I suggest calling ahead to make sure they are ready for you before you arrive.
We were also tipped off on a Bitcoin business directory called AirBitz. I heard rave reviews, but their app was incompatible with my tablet. I tweeted them about it and they quickly made an update that allowed me to download it, but it still crashes. I tweeted them the crash error, hopefully it will be dealt with soon and I can try out their service.
Our trip was full of unexpected twists and turns, but we feel it was a major success. We did use Federal Reserve Notes to pay toll roads, something the Bitcoin community will hopefully have developed a work around before our next annual trip to PorcFest.
Our obstacles and challenges will help make the Bitcoin ecosystem stronger. Restaurants with little BTC experience got to practice with us and will be more equipped the next time a Bitcoin customer arrives. AirBitz discovered a flaw in their programming and will have a stronger product when they make their next app update. Expedia learned of the user-end difficulties with their website and call centers, and are actively working to become a better and stronger part of the Bitcoin ecosystem.
Hopefully, our successes have inspired other Bitcoin fans to use it more often in their daily lives. We have already been contacted by multiple people telling us how they purchased a hotel room or bought a meal with Bitcoin.
We hope to continue the experiment on at least four more road trips to Bitcoin conferences and events this year. You can keep following our Uncoinventional blog for the latest!