Payments

What criss-crossing North America using bitcoin taught Amelie Arras

  • Amélie Arras, a 25-year-old marketing director, travelled across North America spending only bitcoin.
  • Through social media outreach, Arras was able to connect with bitcoin communities that helped her purchase food, tickets and other necessities.
What criss-crossing North America using bitcoin taught Amelie Arras

Sometimes, having enough money isn’t enough to survive — especially if it’s a wildly volatile digital currency that few businesses accept.

When London-based marketing director Amélie Arras began an east-west journey across North America using only bitcoin, she unsurprisingly got a less than enthusiastic response from locals when asking them how to pay for things with it.

“At the Chicago airport tourist office, someone said to me, ‘Madam, this is a dollar-based economy; no one’s going to accept your bitcoin,'” said Arras, 25, who was sponsored by technology company iGTB. “I was thinking, ‘Oh god, this doesn’t look good — I tried to talk to people about bitcoin and their response was, ‘Bit what’? Is it Apple Pay?'”

Arras eventually found a ride to her hotel, but making it to the finish line depended on how connect with as many holders of the digital asset as possible. She was part of a cross-continental race between two of North America’s largest fintech events — the Swift International Banking Operations Seminar (SIBOS) in Toronto the third week of October, and Money2020, which was held in Las Vegas a week later. Participants in the challenge had to criss-cross the continent from Toronto to Las Vegas and pay for transportation, food, accommodation and incidental costs using assigned payment method. Arras had bitcoin, while her competitors had gold, chip and pin, contactless, and old-fashioned cash and coins.

Arras raced between October 19 and October 23, and while she came in first, it took some strategizing. She was able to find an online travel agent that accepted bitcoin, but even doing prior research on sites like coinmap.org to find merchants who would accept bitcoin would prove to be unreliable, as was the case when she arrived in Columbus, Ohio.

“I read online that Starbucks [in Columbus] accepted bitcoin, but no one knew what it was,” she said. What saved her was using social media to connect with bitcoin communities in her destinations. “I went on Reddit and Facebook in Columbus, and there were some communities talking about bitcoin; I put up a post about what I was doing, and people responded to it,” she said.

She used the same strategy to pay for food and other staples while on the road, finding community members who held bitcoin, letting them buy things for her in dollars and them reimbursing them in bitcoin. Arras used a mobile bitcoin wallet called Blockchain, from which it was easy to send funds.

The experience also opened her up to random acts of kindness from community members. “I reached out to the community in Denver a long time before, and the Denver bitcoin community picked me up from the airport and drove me to the hotel.” From Denver, Arras made it to Las Vegas, with a small pitstop at the Grand Canyon to take a selfie — an assigned challenge from race organizers.

Arras said she thinks digital currencies are the future of money and that they’re backed by loyal constituencies.

“What I’ve learned is that bitcoin is by the people for the people,” she said. “Bitcoin communities are amazing — there’s a strong sense of community and there’s a feeling of ownership.”

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