For Better Or For Worse: “Life On Bitcoin”

Life On BitcoinMost people start married life together taking stock of wedding gifts, maybe buying some extra household items with that seed money from generous wedding guests, or reminiscing about their honeymoon.

Austin and Beccy Craig obviously thought that sounded boring and way too predictable. So, instead, they formed an experiment and spent their first 101 post-honeymoon days buying things and traveling, but they did so using bitcoin and bitcoin only.

Welcome to “Life on Bitcoin,” the documentary that chronicles what it’s like to travel across the U.S. and abroad relying only on the digital currency to fuel the trip, along with the food, shelter and experience along the way.

It wasn’t easy, the couple said, and many of their friends and family were worried about them being able to meet their basic needs — but after 101 days on the bitcoin trail, the couple said they’d still do it all over again.

Of course, they probably won’t. As Austin put it, the end of the journey was like the end of a marathon when the runner wants to collapse on the ground.

“We were tired. We had really tested ourselves as much as we had tested bitcoin. Glad we did it, but also were glad when we were done doing it,” Austin said in an interview with PYMNTS.

That test involved living on bitcoin, but also making a documentary about the experience, speaking to people in the bitcoin community along the way, and gaining a better understanding of the world of bitcoin and how it’s perceived by the general public, and merchants who are supportive of  the digital currency. It also meant encountering many people and retailers who had no idea what bitcoin was or why they should embrace the concept. 

“The whole point in doing the documentary and doing the experience was to test bitcoin and see what its strengths and weaknesses were so we could get a better perspective on the future of this currency,” Austin said.

The Bitcoin Journey Begins

Through their experiment, encounters with local merchants and regional chains, the couple was able to see just where bitcoin was accepted and where it was going to be challenging to convince someone to accept the digital currency as a form of payment. Those who didn’t even know what bitcoin was could have thought it was a scam, but when it came to being warm to bitcoin, it wasn’t the bigger merchants saying yes more, it was actually quite the opposite.

“A lot of people when they found out we were going to do this questioned us if we were going to starve to death. Turns out food was one of the easiest things to get, but gas proved to be very challenging to get,” said Austin, explaining why it was easy to buy dinner, but not the fuel to get them to that dinner.

“It was the mom and pop shops — the local stores — that were able to say ‘yes, we will accept bitcoin,’ because the person behind the register is also the person who has decision-making authority for the business. But there aren’t any mom and pop gas stations — it’s old companies. …When we tried to talk to those folks they would say ‘that’s interesting but…you’ll have to talk to my district manager.'”

And so on and so on, all the way up the corporate chain.

Meanwhile, the car needed gas.

Buying With Bitcoin

Turns out, buying with bitcoin meant buying local. The same happened for any good or service that wasn’t localized. And when Austin and Beccy couldn’t meet their bitcoin needs, they’d find a third-party person in the bitcoin community to pay for the service, and then they would pay that person in bitcoin. Without that little loophole, getting things like gas or a cellphone would have been impossible.

But that was only when the couple had exhausted all their options and needed to buy something essential to survival, like food. But bringing in that third-party seemed archaic, and against the point of bitcoin. This meant the couple found people willing to meet them at a store to help them with their purchase.

Phone carriers, for example, were a tough market when it came to bitcoin acceptance, but without having a smartphone, they couldn’t show people how bitcoin worked, and it would have made the entire trip impossible. So they found a person to meet them at an AT&T store to purchase a smartphone.

“The whole point of bitcoin is to eliminate third-party transactions by a credit card or bank or something like that, but borrowing direct acceptance from the bitcoin community, that was our only option,” Austin explained.

Beccy explained that one surprising part of the experiment was at the Salt Lake City farmers market, where they actually got most of the merchants to accept bitcoin. Because those merchants run the whole show, like a local shop, they could make the decision about what currency to accept. Beccy and Austin, who had no other form of currency on them the entire trip (yes, no credit or debit cards, and no cash or mobile wallets that weren’t bitcoin based), often convinced the merchant why they should accept bitcoin. And more times than not, the merchant agreed — likely because they wanted to close the sale, but also out of curiosity.

“Their curiosity was higher than the risk involved,” Austin noted. The purchases they were making along the trip were small, so if a merchant got scammed by the couple, there wasn’t much to lose. Most merchants looked at Austin and Beccy’s bitcoin experiment as a lesson in acceptance of an alternative currency, too.

How Bitcoin Has Changed Since Day 1 Of the Trip

Because the start of their trip began in 2013, the bitcoin acceptance rate was somewhat different then than it is today, but seeing how bitcoin has evolved since the beginning of their 101-day journey has only made them more optimistic about the potential for bitcoin’s future.

And perhaps the two-man bitcoin merchant acquiring team of Austin and Beccy played a role in helping merchant acceptance of bitcoin grow.

“There were very few places that actually just took bitcoin. …A lot of the times we were going through intermediary means. The infrastructure wasn’t there. There weren’t enough places taking bitcoin,” Beccy said.

Austin jumped in to note that “very few merchants accepted bitcoin when they walked in,” but that didn’t mean those merchants didn’t accept bitcoin on the way out. They worked to convince retailers of the merit behind the digital currency and in many cases did so.

Although their trip was full of high points, and plenty of lows, the couple said they learned a lot about the bitcoin community and themselves along the journey. But those low points hit hard, and hit during times that would discourage anyone. They expressed their struggle in the documentary, during which Austin referenced “becoming a little disenchanted” with the concept. Beccy also showed the same exhaustion during points when they hit a wall on how to get to their next destination, or even just getting their next meal.

“The low point was when I was hungry, and it was frustrating because I didn’t have any control over when I could eat next,” Beccy explained.

The “Life On Bitcoin” Experience

But even some of their low points, like not being able to find transportation in some regions, came with high points when they encountered new places they could use their bitcoin instead. For example, an artist in Berlin sketched the couple and he agreed to accept bitcoin payment (his first bitcoin payment) in exchange for the artwork. That gave them an appreciation for the trip and the purpose of the experiment.

“It was a bit like we were missionaries evangelizing this new currency, and just like missionary work if one person says no, you move on and you just keep going. It was tough, but that was the whole idea — to test the limits,” Austin said.

And that’s what they did — tested bitcoin, tested what their marriage could withstand during the first 101 days and tested how the bitcoin community evolved as they worked to spread the good word of the digital currency.

“We need to have a connection that’s as reliable as having a coin in your pocket,” Austin said in the documentary preview. “People can ignore bitcoin, sure, but it’s a question of how long they can ignore it.”

“We’re a digital world now and our currency hasn’t been digital,” added Beccy.

“Life on Bitcoin” will soon come to the big screen, and those interested in catching a showing can visit the website

 Bitcoin Tracker Week 77: The Good, The Bad — The Top 10 Bitcoin Stories Of The Week

1. The Long And Winding (Silk) Road: (June 8, 2015)

While the judge that sentenced 31-year-old Ross Ulbricht to life in prison was trying to make an example of him for his bitcoin-ran online illegal drug bazaar, a new survey shows that drug sales across the dark Web have actually increased since the closure of Silk Road.

2. FinTech Goes Old School With Bitcoin-Funded Fax Service (June 9, 2015)

Bitcoins and faxes? Seems like quite the contradiction. But that hasn’t stopped a group of bitcoin enthusiasts from taking the best of bitcoin and translating it into the old-school fax machine. The bitcoin community was recently introduced to Bitcoin Fax, which does exactly what it sounds like: sends faxes with bitcoin. This new service allows consumers to send faxes around the world without having to worry about registering with a company.

3. Just Join Bitcoin (June 9, 2015)

A former Nike exec has made his ranks onto a bitcoin startup as the company’s first CISO. Anthony Watson, the former CIO at Nike (also currently in a lawsuit with his former employer MasterCard), has been brought on to the Bitreserve team to help “spearhead the company’s security and data protection infrastructure.”

4. MasterCard Says It’s Safer (And Faster) Than Bitcoin (June 10, 2015)

MasterCard is taking its case to the British authorities that bitcoin (and its digital currency brethren) needs additional regulation. In a letter, the company wrote: “We would argue that, when compared to MasterCard’s network, the claims pertaining to the speed and safety of digital currencies [do] not hold up, not least given that on average it takes 10 minutes for a block to be verified and that digital currencies are far more susceptible to hacking attacks.”

5. Who Actually Uses Bitcoin? (June 10, 2015)

As we’ve learned, it’s not just techies into the digital currency. A report from CoinDesk, which surveyed 3,515 respondents who said they use bitcoin, said that 60 percent of bitcoin users are under 35. Those ages 35-44 made up the next most popular age group (21.9 percent); and those age 19-24 made up the third most popular (16.5 percent).

6. California Eyes Pricey Bitcoin License (June 10, 2015)

As more U.S. states look to regulate bitcoin, California is among the biggest states to implement a virtual currency license that involves charging businesses fees. The fees being discussed include a $5,000 non-fundable fee (which has concerned the bitcoin community).

7. Bitcoin Gaining Popularity In Mexico (June 10, 2015)

Bitcoin has become an increasingly popular digital currency due to the ease of transfer and lack of fees, and one bitcoin exchange has taken it upon themselves to buy out the competition to help scale its growth. Bitso, the bitcoin exchange, has acquired competitor Unisend Mexico to help consolidate the Mexican bitcoin market.

8. Bitcoin Ban Overturned (June 11, 2015)

Rumors have been swirling that Russia is looking to lift the ban on bitcoin, and new reports suggest that the Central Bank of Russia are planning on meeting with financial leaders soon about how to manage bitcoin in Russia. This likely means overturning the ban officially, sources said.

9. Are Lawsky’s Bitcoin Rules Overreaching? (June 11, 2015)

When it comes to regulation, privacy always plays a major role in how consumers perceive the regulation. And now ShapeShift, a Switzerland-based exchange for digital currencies, says New York’s newest BitLicense collects too much personal information from users, and creates a security risk because of the data collected on the digital currency.

10. Taiwan Stores Say “Yes” To Bitcoin (June 11, 2015)

Bitcoin just got a little more popular in Taiwan now that 10,000 Taiwanese convenience stores are accepting bitcoin. A new system has been launched in Taiwan that allows users to buy bitcoin at 10,000 convenience stores in the country. The service was launched to help keep up with bitcoin’s growing popularity in the region because of the efficiency and ability to eliminate expensive remittance fees.