In late August 2017, R.R. Hauxley, an architect from Portland, Ore., purchased one bitcoin for just north of $4,700. On September 1, he began a year-long journey that would take him to 20 nations total—from China to Ethiopia to Denmark—on that single bitcoin. Now he’s working on a documentary film, or perhaps even a series, about his travels, which coincided with bitcoin’s dizzying late-2017/early-2018 bull run (and subsequent bust). He’s also got a book about his adventures, entitled Stolen Wallets and Where to Buy Them, coming out this summer. (It’s available for preorder here.)
We recently spoke to Hauxley, 31, about everything from his encounters with Vitalik Buterin and John McAfee to his (off-camera) visit to a bitcoin-friendly strip club in Bangkok.
You were a relative newcomer to bitcoin and the blockchain when you started your travels. What got you so excited that you upended your life like this?
I kept discounting bitcoin, I kept denying it, every single time that I heard about it, until 2017. I first heard about it back in 2010, with the whole pizza fiasco, and I thought it would die away because of government regulation and government crackdowns. Especially after the Silk Road debacle. And then with Mt. Gox later on, I thought, “Well, of course, this is the way that it’s going to go. I’m surprised that it didn’t die before.”
And it wasn’t until 2017 that I heard about it once again, in the news and from a friend, and thought to myself, “It’s still not dead. There must be a reason why it isn’t dead. I need to investigate this.” I went to a meet-up in Portland, to talk to the people who were actually in the space. And not only did I find experts, but I found one of the most genuinely interesting groups of people that I’ve ever come across, and they truly challenged my worldview in many ways. I was engrossed from the start. And that’s part of what inspired me to go around the world. I wanted to see if the atmosphere that I found at the meetup was just due to the Pacific Northwest and their ideas or if it was something that was around the world.
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And I’m absolutely happy to report that in every meet-up that I went to, from Hong Kong to Myanmar to India to Ethiopia, there were always one or two people who were intelligent, insightful, and had challenging ideas.
So your one bitcoin lasted you for an entire year?
Almost. Towards the end, I was running out and quite exhausted by my travels. I was truly not on my guard, and my stuff was stolen at a hostel. So I ran out about five days before the official 365-day mark. It was one of those moments that I was tempted to call it quits or give up—there were many of those moments along that year-long journey. I said, “I can rationalize it. I can just say, ‘Yeah, I made it for one year.'” But instead I decided to quote-unquote fast for the last few days and just crash on a couch until the 365-day mark came and went.
Did you have specific rules? Were you only allowed to spend bitcoin?
I know there have been other people who have traveled and tried to live off of just bitcoin, and they find places that accept the cryptocurrency. However, I found that to be unrealistic. Wherever I could spend it directly, I would. In Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China, that was the easiest. I found places like Bionic Brew or hostels that accepted cryptocurrencies, and I actively searched for places to spend it directly. The second line of defense was to use a BitPay Visa, which crumbled in the first few months of using it. The third thing was to use local bitcoin and trade it for local fiat wherever I was. Part of this whole experiment was testing its volatility. I knew that if I traveled around the world on just one bitcoin, it would be a tremendous journey in terms of drama and adventure, as the price went up and down.
"My friends and family called me crazy."
You started traveling in September 2017, so you ended up hitting the peak of the market. That must have improved your travels quite a bit.
It improved things considerably. My friends and family called me crazy for trying to travel around the world on about 5,000 bucks, and the majority of them thought that bitcoin was a bubble and it would soon pop. And then what would happen? No one would really have my back. It’s not like my parents are wallowing in money—they couldn’t bail me out. So I’d be stranded somewhere, and that was a scary thought, to be sure. But also a fascinating experiment to embark on.
But as the price kept sailing up, I was treating myself to good burgers and beer. At that time, John McAfee was hitting the social media hard, saying that bitcoin would go up to $500,000 per coin [by 2020] or else he’d eat his own dick. So of course, I thought to myself, “Well, if he’s putting his family jewels out on the line, it must keep going up.” And there were certainly thoughts about it just forever going up and me traveling for much more than a year on that one bitcoin.
And then it just crashed down, and I went back to the travel hacking that I’ve been used throughout my whole life, which means couch surfing and hitchhiking and those types of things.
You met both John McAfee and Vitalik Buterin on your journeys. Those two are diametrically opposed.
Very much. They both opened my eyes in different ways. Vitalik, I met him in Shenzen. He was the keynote speaker at a conference, and he was talking about Casper and how that works. Later on, I was able to finagle an interview with him. And he just opened my eyes in a couple of ways.
One of them is how incredibly smart he is, because he was answering my questions with perfect eloquence, but at the same time, I could tell that he was thinking about a dozen different things all far more important than me. And then also just how he combines his intelligence with his passion to work on his project, which is Ethereum, and that opened my eyes to the lasting momentum of Ethereum and of cryptocurrencies. I can’t see him leaving that project, no matter if the price goes up, down, or sideways, he just doesn’t care about the price.
Was McAfee as outrageous as you would have expected?
Certainly. I had a whiskey and Coke with him. The hot topic of the time was bitcoin mining, and how it’s affecting the environment. The media was saying that it should be banned. And I asked him what his thoughts about that were. I believe he was heading up a large bitcoin-mining farm somewhere in the Northwest. And what he told me is that he will keep his bitcoin-mining rigs going until the last polar bear drowns. So that’s certainly outrageous.
He opened up my eyes from a different angle. And that’s the angle of the promoter, of the evangelist. John McAfee is is sharp dude, but he’s also someone who very much loves media, loves that attention, and has a great way of being a spin doctor, and saying outrageous things in order to garner that attention.
What is the status of your film? How far along are you, and when can we expect to see it?
At the moment, I’m still going through all of the footage. I have about 178 hours to pick through, and I’m actually at this point wondering whether it won’t be a standalone film but rather a series, simply because of how much footage I have. The donations for it are still trickling in, but I am having to delay the release date as I work on side gigs and other things to put bread and butter on the table. And beer in the fridge.
What’s the craziest thing that happened to you on your adventure that’s going to be in the film?
Some of the things that happened were pretty crazy and outrageous, but I wasn’t allowed to use my camcorder. For example, in Bangkok, I found a bar that accepted bitcoin for payments, and only when I went in there I found out that it was a strip joint, full-nude and all that stuff, like the ping-pong show. The most outrageous thing to me was that when I was looking around for how exactly I’d be paying with bitcoin, I found out that the strippers had these temporary tattoos of QR codes on their thighs. So you could tip them like that, one with bitcoin and one with Bitcoin Cash.
Say I have a bitcoin and I wanted to travel the world. What would be your advice to me? How do I optimize my bitcoin?
That’s getting into travel hacking. I would say have fun with it and experiment with it, because that’s what I was doing. I enjoyed experimenting with the local bitcoins and finding the people to trade with and wondering if it would go through or whether I’d get mugged. That was an adrenaline rush sometimes. And then, of course, just couch surfing. I use Couchsurfing.com a lot. Hitchhiking was a little scary from time to time, but it provided for good material for the book.
Would you travel the world on one bitcoin again?
I don’t think so. To be honest, it was incredibly taxing. Because I can count the number of times I slept in a proper hotel on one hand. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible to travel through Southeast Asia and India, and certainly everyone should do it. But when you’re on as limited a budget as me, the risk of various illnesses and bugs just goes through the roof. And I certainly battled through my fair share.
I mean, if one bitcoin hit, like John McAfee is saying, $500,000? Well then, sure, why not? That’s an entirely different type of travel. That’s an entirely different game.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Photos courtesy of R.R. Hauxley.