No Money, No Problem: Traveling the World with Zero Money

April 16, 2012 by

Meet Michael Wigge: journalist, comedian, documentarian, and world traveler. In 2010, Wigge zigzagged across 4 continents and 11 countries in 150 days without a cent to his name, but resourcefulness to spare.

His adventures are chronicled in the upcoming television series “How to Travel the World For Free”, which starts airing in late April on public and local access television stations in 70 markets across the United States. His accompanying book by the same name (Pichu Productions, May 2012, $11.95) releases in May, complete with colorful tales and tips on dashing across the world by his coattails.

From coaxing a dollar out of passerby on a corner in San Francisco and engaging them in a street pillow fight (which paid for a flight to Costa Rica), to earning money as a “Human Sofa”, Wigge’s creativity and chutzpah seem limitless. One plan saw him become “The Hill Helper” in California: The extreme slopes of hilly San Francisco equaled weary tourists, so Wigge strapped on a sign proclaiming that he would push individuals up the hill, all for one dollar. Tired travelers leaned all their weight into his hands as he marched them up a hill.

By the end of the day, he earned enough to buy groceries.

Wigge’s modus operandi in this kind of travel is two-fold: 1. Avoid regular work and focus on unusual services in exchange for accommodation, travel, and food; and 2. Engage people. Wigge certainly wasn’t afraid of getting knee-deep in physical labor as long as it was out of the ordinary. He was also highly aware that people enjoy being let in on an ambitious plan and contributing to making things happen. A German ambassador in Panama City offered Wigge the role of “butler for a day” to help him earn a flight to Colombia.

A quick peek at Wigge with penguins…

We here at ChicTraveler had the opportunity to ask this zany traveler a few questions:

1. Where did you get your start? As in the idea for doing odd jobs, not being a travel writer.

I planned to travel the world for free and recognized that I needed some sort of job to secure my travels. So I thought about my talents – and my non-existent talents as well: I cannot sing, I cannot dance and I cannot play the guitar. It was a bit of a difficult start to get money from passerby. So, what was left to get a few bucks on my way to Antarctica? I reminded myself of my childhood passions: pillow fighting was always fun, pushing my parents through the garden was one great passion and having other kids sit on my back to ride through the house was a common practice as well. So nothing better than offering pillow fighting, hill helping and the human sofa service to people on the street.
It worked out and I got money for bus and plane tickets. So reminding oneself of his or her own childhood can be very helpful for the present success.

2. What’s the most unusual experience you had?

I crossed the state of Ohio by foot and met the Amish communities who invited me to their homes and barns. It was great to experience the lifestyle of this conservative group. They don’t use electricity, they move only with horse buggies and reject all sorts of modern entertainment, like the Internet or having a good cold beer. So I stayed with them a couple of days, discovering that they are open and friendly. They showed me how to make a living without our modern achievements, how to be happy without entertainment, and how to support each other in a large community. I showed them how to use a computer and my video camera. It was an excellent exchange between two cultures.

3. Have you ever had the thought, “what am I doing right now?”

Actually, always. On my way to Antarctica I had endless situations where things just didn’t work out as expected. I found myself hitchhiking for hours without one car stopping, I found myself sleeping on the beach and being woken up by a huge beach truck about to drive me over. I have also worked as a porter in the Andes to carry the luggage of tourists to Machu Picchu. At the altitude of 14,000 feet without much air and 60 pounds of weight on my back, I seriously did think ‘What am I actually doing here?’

4. What’s the most polite or impolite way someone has reacted to your services?

The reactions have pretty much positive. People had a good time sitting on “the human sofa” in the heat of Las Vegas or fighting each other with my pillows in Montreal and San Francisco. I think my services have made people laugh, so they reacted positively to me. There was only one difficult situation: Offering the “hill helper” in San Francisco (pushing people up the steep hills) was a bit too touchy for some people. My hands were on their sweaty backs. One lady stopped my service immediately since she felt uncomfortable with my professional hill helping hands.

5. Can you finish this sentence…”If only I’d have known….”

If only I’d known that “how to travel the world for free!” was so exciting with so many great people on my way, I would have done it much earlier in my life.

So there you have it: traveling for free. Now, you might want to read the book before you venture out on your own.

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4 Comments so far

  1. John says:

    Wow – so inspirational! Hats off to Michael Wigge. He show that there’s never an excuse not to see the world.

  2. SF Johhny says:

    Who knew you could make money pushing tourists up the hills of San Francisco?

  3. Lauren Salman says:

    A great story for all of us would-be world travelers

  4. Joquena says:

    It looks like a fun show, but with 3 little ones I think I’ll have to stick to watching, not replicating. Our version of a budget vacation is to shove everyone in the smaller car so we get better gas mileage!

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