I have a policy of always picking up hitchikers, and picked up Olly at a petrol station in Totnes. I was on my way to spend the weekend on Dartmoor and so was he, except he had already been there a few days, and had been backpacking around the world for the past 5 or 6 years, with some, then, little, then practically no money.
That day he’d been in Totnes dumpster diving and asking local shops for the food they were throwing out. He had a big box of carrots. “That’s a LOT of carrots!” I said. “Yes,” he replied, “unfortunately it was the same thing yesterday”.
On the drive back to his camp, which was secluded enough that it could be safely left, I questioned him about his way of life and he about mine. I was fascinated by how he got by with just a backpack and no money, and he was fascinated that I do things I love for a living.
It seemed that during his college years he had lost the will to continue, knowing it would only lead to a job he didn’t want, to pay for a house / life he didn’t want. Instead, he took all the money he had and went travelling around the world, eventually learning to live with barely any. The exception to this being his airfare home a month ago, which used up all the remaining cash he’d been saving for exactly that purpose. Whilst I’d gone to university, investing in skills that would allow me to make my living, he’d spent his savings on a different kind of education – learning to live without money as his ran out.
Now back in England, he backpacked, hitchhiked, camped, stayed with friends and moved fairly freely. When staying in one place for a while, he’d always try to gather 5kg of food so as to have plenty spare. Although he’d bought his camping kit with money initially, if something broke, he mostly knew how to repair it, how to make another, or as a last resort, to find a way to get one for free.
He explained how to mini rocket stove from a tin can and had an ideas for how to make a tent from a few discarded broken tents. He also knew something about wild food, and was sprouting sprouts in a cloth bag hung from a tree over the river. I was amazed when he crossed the river by stepping stones so quickly it was like he was walking on soft grass, even whilst holding the box of carrots in both hands. By contrast I crossed slowly, checking my footing at each stone, and still almost fell in.
Olly was truly a modern hunter-gatherer, ‘living off the land’, or more accurately living off his surroundings. Like ancient humans he took food, shelter and clothing from whatever was abundant around him. But whilst cavemen might have foraged for food, found shelter and worn animal skins, Olly would dumpster dive for food and go urban-foraging for everything else, using what other’s discarded. In this sense, he could be seen as living at not just carbon zero, but carbon plus, since everything he consumed would otherwise be thrown away and release greenhouse gases.
Yet, he was dissatisfied with his way of life, seeing no future in it. Olly told me of his dream: to build a group of self-sufficient communities all around the country. His years travelling had finally brought him to this conclusion. However, to do to this, he would need to find like-minded people and gain resources to buy land. It seemed that making documentary films about his lifestyle would be a good way to start, gaining interest on social media. For this he would need a waterproof camera, laptop, frequent Internet access, and ideally a van. He proposed either running a crowd-funding campaign or getting a job to gain the money for this kit.
Sound familiar? In case you hadn’t twigged, the guy was simply describing my life, except with making films from a van rather than records. Was he ripping off my idea? No, we just both came up with the same plan because it’s the logical thing to do
Olly had come to the same conclusions I had: it’s totally possible to live without money, but almost impossible to do any wider good in the world whilst off the radar in this way. Getting back on the radar meant owning technology and a vehicle, both of which cost money to buy and maintain.
Yet I can’t see Olly putting on a suit. I think it would genuinely be destructive for him and he’d probably become too depressed to keep sight of a dream he was no longer inhabiting. I can say the same for myself. This is probably why Olly was so fascinated with me as he saw me earning a living without hating my job.
It was extremely helpful for me to see in Olly what a lifestyle that truly boycotted everything looked like. As a Buddhist I strive to refrain from doing harm. Therefore I’d love to be able to say “I don’t contributing to the slave trade” or “I don’t support business that pollute the environment”. However, whilst Olly’s lifestyle does no harm, he’s now in a position where he can do no wider good either. I hope Olly gets his camera and realises his dreams, because it’s time for those who are living globally conscious values to be on the radar, to be visible and create a global force for good!