Two Girls, 48 States & Zero Money

It may sound like the next viral reaction video, but this is in fact a triumph for the free travel movement!

Two Girls, 48 States Of America & Zero Money

This guest post is brought to you by Sarah and Lilly of Pretenniless, 2 ladies from the UK who just finished an adventure travelling all 48 mainland US states without spending a single cent. Not a penny. Spending 20 weeks on this major challenge, they are here today to answer their most asked questions!

So what was your trip all about?

We called the trip Pretenniless: meaning Pretend Penniless.

The challenge? To step foot in all 48 mainland US states without spending a single cent (on anything – food, travel, accommodation, ANYTHING!) along the way.

Did it work as you planned?

In terms of a route, that’s gone swimmingly as we’ve completed all 48 and made it back to Boston in time for our flight home. Food wise? That worked out a little differently. We were expecting mostly to be dumpster diving for our food, but as it turned out there are far more resources available than we realized, and plenty of opportunities to volunteer, ask for and scavenge leftovers *before* they hit the dumpster!

Expectation versus reality?

To be honest, we had no idea what to expect. It could easily have gone either way – five months of fun or five months of starvation. We had nightmares about both.

We’ve definitely found that when we first started, and definitely in the planning stages, we’d looked at the trip as a big picture, rather than drilling down to the day by day, hour by hour stuff. Reality hit us pretty hard when day one came around and we were starving with no idea where to even begin finding food! Luckily we’re quick learners.

What were the biggest Challenges?

The F word again…FOOD. Not having it, not being able to choose it, having to ration it… We’re definitely looking forward to food not being the number one thing on our mind. We really underestimated the power of a good meal when we started, and it’s crazy how quickly you get hungry again, even when it feels like you just ate a few hours ago…

Another challenge was us, and our ability to work as a team. Especially when hungry, or tired, or just plain in a bad mood, we had to keep the challenge in focus and not let the little things get in the way. Luckily we are both fairly patient, flexible people, and equally determined to succeed, so we found it easier with each other. Neither of us know anyone else we would have been able to do the trip with!

Best Experience?

We get asked this a lot and the answer has always ended up being the same…South Dakota! We were lugging our bags up a road – not even hitch hiking yet – in Rapid City when a woman pulled over in front of us. “What are you doing in this heat? You can’t be walking with those bags!” We explained our story, and that we were walking to the main road in order to hitch hike to Mount Rushmore. “Okay well if you come help me unload my shopping – I’ve hurt my neck – I’ll take you over to Mount Rushmore. I live in that direction.” Yes!

In the car we learnt her name was Angie, and she was one of the most loving, kind and open-hearted people either of us had ever met. Arriving at her ranch in the foothills of the Black Hills of South Dakota she explained that she had hand built it with her late husband: a beautiful wooden building with huge windows and a porch that overlooked an immense view of the hills and valley below. She asked if we would like to stay the night with her and, reluctantly, we said we were on a mission to go to the open day of an eco-village the next day, and would miss it if we stayed over. She dropped us at Mount Rushmore with all of our belongings and we sadly said goodbye and watched her drive away.

WHAT ARE WE DOING?! We looked at each other and instantly knew we were thinking the same thing – we HAVE to stay with this amazing woman! Screw the eco-village! Here we were with the offer to stay with and get to know this amazing woman in her beautiful home, and we were passing it off to see an eco-village that we might not even hitch hike to in time for the 1pm deadline. We text her to say we’d changed our mind, and she text back “YAY!”.

Back in her car, after we got over our excitement, she asked us the one thing we would do in the area if we were able to spend money. We explained that on the way to Rapid City we had driven along the edge of the Badlands, and, being the kind of people who like nature over anything urban, we had been longing to see them. Without a second thought she then outlined the plan for the day: she would drive to the gas station and fill her car, we would drop her at home and pick up snacks and drinks, and Lilly and I would take her car to the Badlands for the rest of the day to explore. We couldn’t believe our luck, and her generosity. She even told us to text her when we were on our way home and she would put dinner on. That evening, after an incredible day, we ate dinner and drank hard lemonade on the porch, watching lightning roll in through the clouds.

What made this our favourite experience was only partly the generosity shown from Angie – the rest came from her. We talked a lot throughout the day and evening and what struck us was a woman who had been through a lot, yet had come out the other side with a belief in love and life and people. Through everything that had happened she would be totally forgiven for being bitter or resentful or resigned to feeling like a victim, but instead it truly seemed to have brought out her strength, and ability to step back and recognize the good things over the bad. She was really an inspiration to us both.

Share an anecdote that isn’t on your blog…

When we were in Kansas City we stayed with a couchsurfing host, Brett, and his housemate Hunter. They had a lovely dog called Sasha. This lovely dog called Sasha was one of those dogs who would eat anything left out, so we made sure to close the door to our bedroom – where our food was stored – when we went out for the day. Unfortunately Sasha also seems to have opposable thumbs…

Whilst out, Sasha opened our door and helped herself to our – by this point in the journey – ample food supply, eating an entire jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread and around 10 protein bars. It was a little hard not to shed a tear when we thought of that hard work that had gone into getting that food and rationing it, whilst Sasha grinned and wagged her tail amidst the wrappers. Hunter felt awful and gave us $20 to replace the food, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to spend it (was it cheating?! Could we live without it?) so we didn’t. Suffice to say we received a text from Brett the next day that Sasha had seen the error of her ways after a night of shitting and vomiting out protein-y chocolate.

(NB: This wasn’t the first, or the last, time we were given money on our trip and we will be donating all to suitable US charities on our return to England!)

How would someone go about doing it themself?

We’ve put this in a bullet point list, as there’s a lot of important things to remember should you want to do this trip yourself:


Put it this way – Lilly started out this trip as a vegetarian before she realized she might starve to death. Beggars can’t be choosers. We’ve slept on benches, eaten half munched wraps off the floor and been able to quickly accept when a plan or a chosen route isn’t going to work out. You have to be able to adapt to whatever is thrown at you. On this note…


When the plan changes last minute, you don’t always much time to find accommodation or a meal. Know where to look for things – like Craigslist, Couchsurfing, Starbucks for free internet, Urban Outfitters for free dry shampoo – and keep them in mind for quick use. That said…


There’s lots of things out there designed to help on this type of trip, but there’s also lots of things that help accidentally. Be creative in how you look at things and use things. We used the cloakroom at Macy’s to store our big bags when we wanted to explore New York City, and Tinder came massively in handy when we needed a place to stay in Santa Barbara…!


Don’t give up. There is always another option, and no that option is not to send nudes to a trucker on Craigslist in return for a ride. There is ALWAYS another option, even if it means changing your plan, or your route, or your destination.

We’ve got a resources list on our blog that goes into more detail, so check it out ✌

nomadic minimalists

Thanks for reading!

Hannah and Taran here. We hail from Southern England, where we met online and are now realizing our mutual passion for travel here at Nomad'erHowFar. We discuss Nomadic Living, Simplifying your Life and Long-term Travel, to empower, motivate and inspire our readers. Get to know us here!

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