Making a buck on the road
May 21, 2011 11:13 PM   Subscribe

What is a good way to make money while completely homeless?

I'm planning on talking a trip with a friend of mine for about a month on $100. I know, doesn't sound nice. In any event, I'm completely willing to work during that time, but what do I do to make a quick buck? We are going to attempt a trial run for about 3-5 days working with very little. This is the first time we are trying this, we chickened out for the past 3 years and are finally going to do it (I hope). As a small note, we are leaving from Long Island New York and will be heading.... somewhere, maybe to some crystal caves in PA. We have alreadly looked into couch surfing and it is on the list. I've looked into some survival guides if we have to crash outside, but my knowledge is limited. So any information for surviving outdoors as well as around more populated areas is highly appreciated, so thank you in advance. Yes, we have already thought about hitch hiking, any obvious answers have already been thought about, just putting that out there.
posted by Nighthawk3729 to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Look into jobs that involve some kind of couriering or travel for pay? I have heard of (although am doubtful of the existence of) jobs driving people's cars from one end of the country to the other, couriering documents or paxkages on flights, etc.

Also, how about house-sitting jobs?
posted by Joh at 11:37 PM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Collecting scrap metal, especially aluminum, copper and tin.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:47 PM on May 21, 2011

Just curious, are you traveling this way because you have to or you want to?

Other than that, uh, read Into The Wild?

20lbs of rice is about $17 (the good stuff!), bring a cooking pot. That'll last a good month. Beans/Lentils can't be much more.

So that's surviving for a month on around $50.

Do you know how to play any music? Can you busk? Juggle? Magic Tricks? Mind eating throwaways? Any connections to anarchist houses? Can you cook? Have you dumpster dived before? Ever washed dishes? (usually under the table). Is it easy for you to talk to strangers? Not afraid to ask about odd jobs? Are you strong?
posted by alex_skazat at 11:57 PM on May 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also bring a sleeping bag and a tarp, too and learn how to make a human burrito, if you need to bivvy out. Survival books you can get at an army/navy store can show you how (or, I'm sure the Internet, too)
posted by alex_skazat at 11:59 PM on May 21, 2011

NY has a returnable container law, five cents per. Other states here. Sadly, not NJ or Pennsylvania.
posted by Marky at 12:41 AM on May 22, 2011

Another clarification question: What supplies are you currently planning to start out with? Are you imagning this as a you + friend + duffle bag with some basic clothes and toiletries gig, or a you + tent, sleeping bag and cooking gear type of gig? In short, are you looking at this as a sort of fully stocked backpacking trip through the urban jungle and beyond, or are you thinking of just seeing what happens when you leave the house and head west with very little in pocket or hand?
posted by involution at 1:01 AM on May 22, 2011

This site might provide some useful tricks and tips to tuck into your noodle before you hit the road:

Make a list of soup kitchens and any place you could get free meals on your possible routes.

Also: your trek will vary a great deal depending on where you are - in urban environments, you'll have access to plenty of soup kitchens and places to get free chow, but trouble finding a place to sleep where you won't be at risk for all kinds of unpleasantness. In suburban environments, you will become completely invisible as your existence simply will not compute with that paradigm (work, rides & help will be hard to come by here). In rural environments, you can pretty safely camp or squat anywhere you want as long as you keep it inconspicuous. You'll be able to shower in fantastical woodland waterfalls if you want. But you'll also have a hell of a time finding food resources or help if you're in need, though people might be a bit more likely to be open-minded about you, your trek, and helping you out with whatever you might need.

Lastly, and I don't mean to be your mother about this, as I actually think this could be an enlightening experience, but think hard before you go about how you are going to keep yourself safe in tricky situations that might arise. If you're going to be looking for transient work, you're also announcing *yourself* as transients, and that can get the interest of some people you really don't want interested in you, particularly if you're obviously green about being out on your own with little to no money.
posted by involution at 1:47 AM on May 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

Almost any large school/research hospital has studies that you can do for money. If you stop by the psychology department you will see the flyers. They usually pay $10-20 for an hour or two of your time, and are easy pickup work when you are without a place to crash. I think university campus areas in general tend to be good areas to hang around in if you don't have a home to call your own. Always an audience for busking, liberal populace, plenty of food, easy access to bathrooms, and a population that it is easy to fit in with. Still, it can be hard to find a safe, warm place to sleep in the city. In shelters people will steal your stuff, on the street it will be cold, hard, loud and you will often be hassled out by locals or police. You need to have a certain knack for going unnoticed and finding spots that others aren't around.
posted by sophist at 2:04 AM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The soup kitchen is not a bad idea, but if you've got money and this is some sort of "roughin' it because you want to" (not because you need to) vacation of yours, perhaps that should be off limits, as you're taking resources away from someone that may actually need those types of resources. Just sayin' - no one likes a tourist, although I applaud your curiosity and willingness to try without.

You've already kind of framed this as a sort of experiment (going for 3-5 first), so set some parameters (like your $100 idea - which is fairly arbitrary to be honest) and stick to them. Another example: Camping OK, camping in a campsite that has showers, a general store, a mini golf course and a pool: probably not the same. Another example: couchsurfing: OK, couchsurfing, without giving something back (cooking, cleaning, skillsharing) kinda shady.
posted by alex_skazat at 2:06 AM on May 22, 2011 [8 favorites]

While the US does not have the extensive network that exists in Europe, there are quite a few hostels in any big city. You can usually grab a bed there for $20-30 a night, which sometimes includes breakfast. Also, I agree that eating at a soup kitchen or staying in a shelter is a bit messed up when you are there of your own free will.
posted by sophist at 2:11 AM on May 22, 2011

Washing windscreens at traffic lights? The guys I see doing this at a major intersection (e.g. long light cycles) seem to do ok. Of course, where I am, I believe it is actually illegal, but they are there often enough that the police must not care too much.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:50 AM on May 22, 2011

For free food that is not taking it from sources designed for those with no other options, look around for the Hare Krishnas who often do free meals at their temples (may be similar for other religious groups).
posted by AnnaRat at 3:52 AM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

How's your driving record? I know a couple of guys who've earned their transportation up and down the east coast by delivering single cars from dealerships to out of area purchasers. Usually smaller, individually owned dealerships. Not much pay; basically you're making a one-way trip with the gas and insurance paid for.
posted by theplotchickens at 4:36 AM on May 22, 2011

You could read The Kindness of Strangers before you go. The author traveled across the country with no money at all.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:30 AM on May 22, 2011

If you're healthy, consider donating plasma.
posted by Sublimity at 6:31 AM on May 22, 2011

Totally agree with everything sophist said.

Get in touch with a nationwide temp agency (or several). Impress them with how awesome you are (the best way to do this is to do a job or two for your local branch before you go, and do well so they get some positive feedback from the employer), and once they like you and know you're not a flake, explain what you're planning. Then, as you travel across the country, check in with them by phone from time to time to see if they have any jobs near where you are. May mean periodically altering your route a bit or stopping for a couple days or a week in odd places, but that'll give you some money to keep going.

Also, naturally, check craigslist - which will tend to have a lot of the studies/gigs other people are recommending and the occasional other odd job as well.

No guarantees on either of those things, of course, but the more urban centers your route involves the better of you probably are, as far as making money. Of course, as far as "going without money" is concerned, you're best off well away from plan accordingly.
posted by mstokes650 at 7:36 AM on May 22, 2011

*better off
posted by mstokes650 at 7:38 AM on May 22, 2011

For quick cash without panhandling in a major city, see if you can get to the airport via public transportation. A few hours wandering around the parking areas and returning the carts to their storage racks will get you some money, one quarter at a time.
posted by carmicha at 8:18 AM on May 22, 2011

Hang out around college campuses - students are not only pros at making an extra buck and saving, but the employers that are ok with them will likely be ok with you as well.

Nthing craigslist - use the libraries as you go.

Pass on the plasma - with respect to Sublimity, the $30-$40 requires a trip there, a couple hours of time, and a hole in your arm. Having done it a number of times myself, I now have a permanent divot in that exact spot on the inside of my right arm. It's fine in a pinch, or if you can work it in with other stuff, but your time is probably better spent.
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:21 AM on May 22, 2011

I wouldn't try to mix Couchsurfing with scavenging bottles and cans, soup kitchens, or otherwise being visibly penniless. It would be really annoying to host someone who arrived stinking to high heaven after a few days sleeping on park benches with an empty belly and no money to do anything in the area. Couchsurfing is not your mom.

On the other hand, if you can keep yourself reasonably clean and afford to spring for groceries to cook your host dinner, I'd definitely go that route.

Have you looked into this site? If you're willing to travel slowly, you could travel from Long Island to at least the edges of rural PA on public transit. You could probably do LI to Philly in a day, couch surf your first night there, then just get greyhound to your final destination. For under $100 if you pack a day's worth of food for that epic public transit slog.
posted by Sara C. at 9:31 AM on May 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Okay first, get a sleeping bag and foam ground pad, and a tarp. Don't read "survival guides" (for god sakes, man) -- you're not going to be lost in the wilderness! The two things you need to know about free sleeping outdoors when car(?) camping are (1) how to find a spot -- things like "national forests almost always work; national parks never do," and (2) that if it rains, you can wrap you and your sleeping bag in the tarp, but you cannot half-ass this: think about water pouring over top of you, water streaming under you, where can it get in? If you only make a show of wrapping yourself in the tarp, like a loosely rolled enchilada, you are hosed (literally). It will only take you getting soaked once or twice for you to become quite smart and vigilant about closing every single opening so carefully that not a single drop of water can wriggle its way in.

Making money. The idea of playing guitar or harmonica, or like juggling fire, on the streets of big cities is a good one. Also, if you can do internet, look on the gigs section of Craigsist for one-day conference setup-type work.

Last, there are lots of big hippie coop houses. Sometimes you have to pay in to their food fund to crash and eat there, but if you can get hooked in, you may find place to stay in the next town through that network.
posted by salvia at 10:42 AM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could WWOOF.
posted by instamatic at 11:48 AM on May 22, 2011

Just want to chime in that while I completely get, generally agree with and commend the "don't eat the free food someone else desperately needs" brigade, I think trying it at least once would be an enlightening experience here. 'Playing at homelessness' can sound like an interesting experiment/challenge to the never-actually-been-homeless and the in-zero-danger-of-ever-actually-BEING-homeless crowd. Going to a soup kitchen as a client can sometimes be an eye-opener, particularly if your 'playing homeless' has led you to the point of actually NEEDING to be there.
posted by involution at 1:48 PM on May 22, 2011

Go to a library, get on the internet, and find craigslist jobs looking for manual labor. Moving, raking leaves, etc. will usually pay $20-50 per.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:58 PM on May 22, 2011

Oh, that would be craigslist "gigs," not jobs.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:58 PM on May 22, 2011

The jobs you can get are exponentially better if you learn the fine art of TRAVELING LIGHT and STAYING CLEAN: you can get away with infinitely more if you don't look gross and aren't lugging a bunch of shit around.

One summer, I was homeless in DC (yes, really!) and got a Capitol Hill staffing temp job doing database work by day-- and "fit in" enough that I could get away with sleeping on the Georgetown campus by night. I saved up for a membership at a local gym, and had a locker, workout, clean clothes, and free shower every single night. Oh yeah, I even got a mailbox at the Georgetown Mailboxes Etc. for a local address. My "luggage"? One Longchamps tote. I never went out of the yuppie areas, dressed to blend in, and never had a problem. I kept myself entertained by going to all the museums, free public policy lectures and studying at the library...nothing new, really.

Since I was employed, food wasn't an issue-- but as an "insurance policy", I did fill up several Georgetown academic department kitchen cabinets with boxed and canned food students put out by the curb at end of the semester. I had more unopened boxes of cereal, jars of peanut butter, protein powder, and ramen noodles than I knew what to do with! For what it's worth, this is how I came to know that putting peanut butter, nutella and marshmallow fluff on top of caramel rice cakes is AWESOME.

So anyway, that's one way to be homeless in DC.
posted by aquafortis at 4:31 PM on May 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Just want to chime in that while I completely get, generally agree with and commend the "don't eat the free food someone else desperately needs" brigade, I think trying it at least once would be an enlightening experience here.
@involution Most places will accept a cash donation. Eat there, mingle, get the feel of what's up and then donate around how much you think the meal would have cost if you bought it at a restaurant. They can prepare it for far less, so you just got the experience and paid for a few of the meals for the people you talked to. Everyone wins.
posted by alex_skazat at 11:09 AM on May 23, 2011

Alex-skazat - all true. But O.P. is looking at a $100 on a month-long journey from Long Island to PA. I don't think donating what s/he would spend for the chow at a restaurant is on the menu here. O.P also does not sound terribly thrilled about this prospect, so I am also not assuming that s/he has scads of cash or resources to work with. I think the money's gonna run out really, really fast, and lead to scraping big-time in unfamiliar environs where O.P might not be able to get help, get home, or anything else. Just to be 100% clear: I am in no way recommending that everyone skip right out and partake at a soup kitchen just for the awesome free chow and existential experience. I most definitely am recommending that the O.P. makes a list of soup kitchens on the way for if/when no money & no food & no income becomes a major issue. Because I think if the O.P doesn't plan this out tremendously well, that there's a pretty good chance of winding up in that exact position: i.e., with no other option. I also definitely agree with the posters who advocate putting a limit on, or even outright barring this useage since this journey is (apparently) the O.P's unenthusiastic choice, and not an issue of absolute necessity. It's all food for the O.P's thought.

Also: can't second Aquafortis on the keep clean, pack light approach any more heartily. People will be far more likely to both help you out and/or leave you alone if you look like [relatively] clean-cut youngsters just out and about, doing your thing. This gets harder when you don't have access to showers, etc, but can really, really smooth your path. Maintaining an entirely normal appearance, carrying nothing but a backpack, and dressing just like every other kid got me [relatively] safely through a year-long stint as a homeless teenage girl in a suburban town with flying colors. If you're sneaky and diligent, you can keep this appearance up without access to gyms, lockers, or the like (I personally took icy dips in the lake in the park where I frequently had to hide at night - not pleasant, but functional). It will be much, much harder to do in urban environments where there are no lovely secluded lakes or pretty, private waterfalls for you to plunge your stinkiness into.

As a personal anecdote on this point: people I now know, who have never been homeless and live in perfectly nice apartments here on the Upper East Side, but who nonetheless have that certain 'homeless look' older folks can sometimes get, often tell me about their adventures in getting hassled just for standing outside a bodega sipping a soda, taking a sitting-up-on-the parkbench nap, etc. And I have had people ask me why I (homeless twice, both pretty long-term, but still an exceedingly yuppie-looking woman) am talking to 'that homeless person'. Appearances and snap judgements are awesome things. If you play your cards right, this can really work in your favor.
posted by involution at 8:59 PM on May 24, 2011

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