By Rytis Gedvilas
I’m fascinated by how little I need to make myself happy on the road. Some food (even if it’s just plain rice), water, a place to sleep, genuine human contact now and then. Okay, wifi and a socket for the phone. Things that we take for granted become so precious. It could seem that putting so much energy into basic list necessities is shallow and meaningless, somehow. Aren’t there more meaningful activities than looking for food or shelter? Instead I find joy and meaning; my senses sharpen, I’m more alert, I can feel the environment around me. It comes from constantly interacting with strangers, reading their faces when you’re asking them for a lift at a gas station, scanning areas for a spot to sleep or hitchhike, a socket, a toilet etc. On the road I have most of what I own, minus my laptop. And I don’t miss anything. The less you have, the less you need; the less you need, the less you have.
2. Money is less of an issue than most people think
This needs a separate post, hell, even a book – but here’s my quick summary. “You must have a lot of money”, people sometimes tell me. The funny thing is that it’s precisely the other way round – I have much less than they do. The attitude comes from the tourism industry, where travel agents, hotels, and transport companies make it seem you need to spend a lot to travel. Travel is marketed as a product to buy and consume. People go on the internet, order “all inclusive” and voila – they have bought themselves an experience.
I believe that spending a lot of money spoils the experience. Meeting people via hospitality networks or being invited home by a stranger is more rewarding than blank hotel walls. It’s more rewarding to hitchhike, interact with locals and feel connected; trust in each other, than take a bus. Human relationships feel more genuine when I interact outside money and transaction. When I just buy, people don’t give a shit about me. Plus, the less money I have, the more creative and proactive I need to be. It’s a challenge, and that’s important.
I’m not painting things in black and white, though. Some money is useful and there are things which are difficult to get for free/cheap – visas, sea travel, etc. But the importance of money is overrated. For everyday needs it’s possible and easy to operate with very little. You can hitchhike, hike, cycle, sleep outside, buy cheap food, dumpster dive, or ask for leftovers (offering to wash the dishes in return), walk instead of taking a bus. There are a million ways not to spend money.
3. Travel is not only fun
Like everything, travel is not only fun but hard. More so when you don’t have money. I get this “wtf am I doing here” moment on a regular basis: it’s dark, it’s raining, I’ve no idea where I’m going to sleep, I’m alone, tired, maybe hungry and, worst of all, I can’t see what good all this leads to. Then I wake up in the morning and the daylight brings me fresh energy. I start all over – until the next night. Sometimes I get badly stuck by the roadside, sometimes people are rude, sometimes I feel lonely.
Travel isn’t rainbows and unicorns, it’s (also) hard work –physical, mental, and emotional. Again, it’s a challenge, a quest for freedom, independence and meaning. Nothing comes without effort.
4. People’s travel fears are ridiculously unfounded
Especially when it comes to hitchhiking. There’s a terrible stigma attached to it that it’s super dangerous; drivers are murderers and rapists, like you see in the movies. Ironically people who never hitchhike know way more about its safety than people who do! I’ve hitched hundreds of rides in nearly 20 countries and only remember one case when the driver was somewhat rude and driving unsafely, but even that could’ve been easily avoided. If you’re afraid to hitchhike, just cherry-pick your drivers or take a friend.
There is a notion in society and especially the media, that all the people “out there” are mean. They kill, they rape, they steal. What nonsense. Some criminals are unavoidable whatever you do, but most people are nice, willing to help, they WANT to help, they want to be a part of your experience, they are excited that you visit their land, speak their language and share your good energy with them.
5. One will always meet good people
I forget the landscapes quickly but always remember the great people I meet. There’s so many examples I could give. In a small town in Norway, I walked into a restaurant, and asked the waitress:
“Could I sit here and charge my phone?”
“You have to buy some coffee or something. You know, my boss will see you sitting around and stuff.”
“Thank you, but I can’t afford to pay every time I need to charge my phone” (hell, not in Norway!!).
So she winked, “you go sit there, I’ll bring you some coffee.”
She passed from time to time, exchanging a few words. Eventually she started offering food:
“Are you hungry? Don’t worry, it’s on me, it’s on me” (winks).
I thanked her and politely declined. I was full. I had just come from another restaurant where I asked for food and was given loads. A day filled with kindness! After a while she makes the offer again which I also decline. She keeps insisting, and when she offers me food for the third time, I realize it’s not about me, it’s about her, and accept the offer. Immediately I can see her face brighten up. She brings me a menu, I point to a random meal and she shortly brings me a huge dish. Mamma Mia! How will I eat all this? It’d be a bit rude to leave some so I concentrate all my stomach powers and eat everything, without exploding. The waitress then goes on offering me beer but I have to leave soon – it’s getting dark. I express my thankfulness for such a kind gesture to what she responds:
“If you were me, you’d do the same, I’m sure.”
My travels would hardly be possible, and certainly less enjoyable, if not for the good people I meet. Perhaps they recognize a part of themselves in me, in all travellers, and want to be a part of the experience, however they express it. Maybe they just want to help. They support emotionally, telling me how they admire what I do, sometimes give food, invite me home to their families, show me around, some even give money or buy bus tickets, with some we become good friends. Some have done what I do now, so they know how it feels.
I recently started a hitchhiking journal, so I can keep track of the drivers I met. Only a tiny fraction of drivers put their trust into me, a complete stranger in the midst of this culture of fear, to give me a ride, share stories and good vibes. They are my heroes. If you’re one of them, know that you’re awesome!