Bitcoin road trip: This family of four is on a vacation for the digital age

“It’s more activism than it is a vacation."

Mar 2, 2020, 2:28 am*

IRL

Fran Berkman 

Fran Berkman

Husband and wife John Bush and Catherine Bleish are not ashamed to admit that they have unconventional values. In fact, that’s the exact reason the young couple decided to take a month-long road trip with their two young children and pay for the entire thing with Bitcoin.

“It’s more activism than it is a vacation,” Bush tells the Daily Dot. “We try to use our daily lives as a way to inspire people.”

The trip has already taken the family from their home in San Marcos, Texas, to a Bitcoin conference in Washington, D.C., where they screened a new episode of their online Bitcoin reality show, Sovereign Living. Along the way, Bush has been uploading Bitcoin-themed podcasts to his company’s website and Bleish has been blogging the trip for Bitcoin Magazine.

We caught up with the family Monday, the eighth day of their voyage, as they shared a breakfast with Bitcoin entrepreneur and evangelist Charlie Shrem at the Holiday Inn Express in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Despite facing up to 30 years in prison for money laundering charges, the 24-year-old Shrem is using the time before his trial, scheduled to start in September, as an opportunity to continue his Bitcoin entrepreneurship.

Shrem’s current project involves convincing hotels to accept Bitcoin as payment, and his first client was Brooklyn Holiday Inn Express, where we sat. As it turns out, the hotel’s first Bitcoin customers was none other than Bush and Bleish.

It’s not surprising that Bush and Bleish crossed paths with Shrem at a time when both parties—one on a Bitcoin road trip and the other bringing Bitcoin to hotels—could benefit from being involved in each others’ projects. Despite its anonymity-loving reputation, the Bitcoin community has grown close over the past few years in a concerted effort to extol the cryptocurrency’s virtues.

With his 18-month-old son William tearing up a gluten-free muffin on his lap, Bush describes how it’s possible to pay for an entire road trip with Bitcoin, a digital currency that remains at the fringes of mainstream acceptance. It’s not really the complicated: They have a mobile app that shows them nearby vendors that accept Bitcoin, which is their number one option.

Of course, those are still few and far between, so the family has resorted to several workarounds, such as using Bitcoin to purchase gift cards and using what they call “proxies,” which is when one of their friends pays for something and they pay the person back with Bitcoin.

Bush uses terms like “revolutionary market anarchy” and “coercive hierarchical structures” to describe the libertarian values he hoped to spread with the family trip, pausing at times to nuzzle his golden-haired, chubby-cheeked son.

“There’s this new open-sourced, peer-to-peer, decentralized way of doing all different things,” Bush says. “That’s really the future. We’re in this weird transition period where, unfortunately, the people that are pioneers are getting locked up and have to wear ankle bracelets.”

It’s well-known in the Bitcoin community that after spending several months confined to his parents’ house in Brooklyn following his arrest, Shrem, now free to roam New York City, has been forced to wear a GPS-monitoring ankle bracelet as part of his bail agreement.

Shrem, who is certainly not known to be apologetic, casually shrugs off any discussion about his impending prosecution.

“It is what it is,” Shrem says.

After about 40 minutes go by, Bleish enters with a plate of food in one hand and the couple’s daughter Aliana under the other arm. Aliana is nearly 3 years old, and when asked if she likes Bitcoin, the young girl shakes her head emphatically while grinning.

Why not? Maybe it’s because mommy and daddy spend so much time talking about it. Or maybe it’s because daddy used to call her “Professor Bitcoin,” her parents suggest in turn. Aliana, seemingly unconcerned with the details, goes to work on a gluten-free muffin of her own.

“Other than the exhaustion part, it’s been pretty good,” Bleish responds with a smile, when asked how she’s been enjoying the road trip.

Bleish spent the weeks leading up to the trip working out all the logistics. To get an idea of her task, imagine how much planning would go into a normal month-long road trip that involves two young children, then add the Bitcoin element.

Thus far, the only flaw in the plan was what can perhaps be described as a bit of midwestern naivete. If you’ve never driven in the New York metro area, you might not know that it’s basically impossible to enter and leave New York City from the West without paying a toll.

When the family’s minivan pulled up to the Holland Tunnel after midnight on Monday morning, they were disappointingly forced to use what Bleish calls “Federal Reserve notes,” also known as U.S. dollars.

“It’s just this crazy thing that popped into my head,” Bleish says, when asked why she went to such great pains to plan a Bitcoin road trip.

Well before Bleish joined the breakfast, her husband used the same word, “crazy,” to describe their trip, but it was obvious neither meant it to be taken literally. Rather, they seem to mean that, by mainstream America’s perspective, their trip could be viewed as crazy. On her Bitcoin Magazine blog, Bleish has dubbed it the “uncoinventional” road trip.

For people like Bush, Bleish, and Shrem, Bitcoin or something similar is undoubtedly the currency of the future. Independent of one another, Shrem tells me that one bitcoin will be worth a million dollars within a few years, and Bush says the currency’s value will eventually surpass $100,000.

That might not be so easy, however, as in the last year alone, Bitcoin has showed incredible volatility, increasing in value from around $100 to more than $1,100, before diving back down to under $400.

Not to mention the former largest and most prominent Bitcoin exchange on the planet, Mt. Gox, spectacularly crumbled, losing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of customers’ funds in the process. Oh yeah, and the U.S. government is sitting on about $100 million worth of Bitcoin that it said it seized from cybercriminals.

When I ask the road trippers if they plan to visit the newly opened “Bitcoin Boulevard” in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, they say that it was not in their plan, but they immediately decide they will take a detour to go there on the way home.

Bitcoin itself has displayed similar flexibility and opportunism in past months, seeking partnerships and inroads into the mainstream. The cryptocurrency has attracted prominent companies such as ExpediaOverstock.com, and Dish Network to start accepting it as payment. Bitcoin has even attached its name to one of NCAA football’s 39 bowl games.

Whether Bitcoin ultimately takes the high road to widespread adoption or the low road to failure is anyone’s guess. But, like Bush-Bleish family’s “uncoinventional” vacation, it’s sure to be one hell of a trip.

Photo by Fran Berkman/The Daily Dot

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*First Published: Jun 23, 2014, 7:28 pm