“You don’t have your ID?” the TSA agent asked, half incredulous, half irritated.
“No,” I said, fumbling with the iPhone in my hand. Credit cards, prescription medicines, anything, anything at all with my name on it? “No,” I said again, my heart starting to thump in my chest. “I have my smartphone and iPad. And Google Wallet.”
The agent sighed and got on her walkie-talkie to call a supervisor over. I was shunted to the side of the line while ID-wielding citizens behind me passed through security. After waiting what seemed an eternity (perhaps 15 minutes) for a pair of suits to walk up, I filled out a short form. One of the agents then made a phone call and began asking me a series of background-check questions — my phone number, previous address, father’s name, things like that. Though I was confident in my answers, I couldn’t help but wonder if I might say something wrong and be carted off to Guantanamo. But after just a few minutes, I was cleared and, with a gentle reminder not to leave my wallet at home again, sent through the nudie scanners to get to my airport gate.
After two weeks of using only apps and NFC to get by, I decided it was time to take my walletless experiment on the road with a vacation to Hawaii. San Francisco, being the tech hub that it is, offers a number of options for ordering groceries, eating at restaurants, and making other purchases without actually needing to handle cash or a credit card. Managing without flashing an ID has been noticeably more difficult, but still something I’ve been trying to stick to.
So I planned an impromptu budget vacation to Honolulu. I made plane reservations with Orbitz’s iPhone app, and later used it to reserve a rental car. Both were a cinch, and the app got me some great deals. As for accommodations, I would be renting out a friend’s abode and paying through PayPal.
But in order to push the boundaries of going walletless, I also had to make a few concessions. I was able to book the tickets sans-card and as I mentioned above, and I was even able to get through security without flashing card or ID. But physically renting a car was a solid no-go on the walletless front. The company wouldn’t issue contract or car without a driver’s license and a physical credit card. In order to proceed with my adventures on Oahu, I dug out the plastic from the bowels of my backpack and conceded.
Beyond that, though, I discovered being walletless in Hawaii was really quite doable, thanks entirely to Google Wallet. I used Wallet to get sandwich supplies, fruit and ample quantities of sunscreen from Whole Foods and Long’s Drugs (their version of CVS Pharmacy). I was also able to fill up on gas at area Chevron stations, a pleasant discovery after having initial trouble with that in San Francisco.
Using Google Wallet did garner some strange reactions from cashiers, though. Several of them looked at me like I was crazy when I tapped the Galaxy Nexus on their NFC readers. One exclaimed, “Wow! What kind of phone is that? I didn’t know you could do that!” I never mind showing off a phone or a new technology, so I was happy to explain.
As for activities, without cash or credit card use, my options were limited. But that was perfectly fine with me — again, this was planned as a budget vacation. I shunned the souvenir shops of Waikiki and other traditional tourist destinations and headed to the forests and mountains for daily hikes, and down to sandy beaches for afternoon swims. I drove around the island, stopping at scenic outlooks to populate my Instagram feed, and protected coves for tidepool gazing. You don’t need a wallet — or a smartphone — to enjoy nature.
Heading back through security in Honolulu, I was more nervous than I had been on my initial flight. When I told the already frowning agent I didn’t have ID, she stared me down for a good 30 seconds before informing me that it was not possible to get through security without ID. I informed her that I’d checked the TSA website and that I could get through without an ID, and that I had done so on my flight to Hawaii. Another 30-second stare and she begrudgingly called over a supervisor for another (successful) background check. At least I could use the Starbucks app to get a cool beverage and snack while I waited for my flight — something I couldn’t do in the terminal I’d departed from.
Although I don’t advise ditching your ID for traveling through airport security at this point in time, going walletless on vacation is totally doable … as long as you don’t mind venturing off the beaten path.
Homepage photos: pmocek/Flickr, Inha Leex Hale/Flickr