“During July and August we’re hitchhiking to Greece. Then we’ll make our way back to Berlin and start working”.
That’s the elevator pitch. I’ve said it too many times to remember each instance. But every time as the words drift out of my mouth I watch the reaction of the person I’m speaking to – because I think the idea is nuts.
Often though, I’m surprised. Most people, including the usual suspects for casting doubt, reacted well. Instead of strong comments weighed with caution and trepidation. Suggestions that are making a bad choice, or criticism in other forms, we hear: “Wow what an adventure!” and “You guys are going to have a great time”. It’s reassuring and delightful. In fact the reaction has been so positive, I’m surprised our plan is so out of the norm.
At this point in the conversation, that is, once the ideas I’ve spoken have set in – the questions follow:
How will you do it?
Where can you camp?
Is it possible to hitchhike in Europe still?
But no one has asked why. And to me that is the most important of all the reasons.
Why take rides from strangers for over 4,000 kilometers (3,000 miles). Camp in less ideal conditions when its still relatively cheap to take busses, and stay in accommodations with hot water, beds, wifi, etc?
Time, money, and life are limited
Yes, it started as budget thing. We didn’t have much money to spend. But we also loved the idea of being able to do something that would have costed hundreds, even thousands of euros. And, it sounded exciting! It seemed impossible, scary even. A test of our limits and willingness to live further than others dare to without being irrational.
- A huge part of it is, that I want to see the entire planet – plain and simple, but my time here is short.
- I want to go to Greece! I’ve wanted to forever but it’s always been beyond the bounds of my European travel plans.
- Normal travel is expensive and limiting. I don’t have a lot of money. And if I had a job that earned lots of money, I wouldn’t have a lot of free time to travel.
Time and Money (and Greece). There you go, pretty much explains the reasons behind a lot of stuff huh…?
More money is not the answer
Maybe if I had a job that allowed me to pay for a lot of travel, at least enough to go a lot of places, that would solve the money issue right? In reality, no one with a full time job can travel 60 days in a year. And that’s almost 2x what many europeans will take, and 4-5x what the average American can do.
Taking time off while working is hard! But let’s say somehow my employer would allow 6-7 weeks off straight (snowballs chance in hell, but still let’s pretend). Factor in airports, check in and out of hotels, etc. Trying to fit it all in, with reservations, trains or drives between destinations…
The romance fades for me, it makes the travel feel like another job. It’s taking home on the road and making selfies at restaurants and famous landmarks. It by no means unlocks the potential of seeing as much as is possible to see – that only happens when money is no longer a limiting factor. And since time is money for 99% of the world, when [we] need money to travel, we naturally are limiting the time we have to travel.
Seeking unusual solutions
So I thought how I could have a awesome travel experiences, and thus looked for unusual solutions. I brainstormed, pulling from ideas that seemed impossible, but weren’t all so impossible. It didn’t take long to see that if the cost of travel could be lower, the amount of travel time could increase.
Also I wasn’t alone. Having Zuzanna as a partner who was as interested in making all these things work was a huge motivator. My craziest ideas could be checked for sanity. And when the plan looked nuts, having a 2nd opinion added stability.
Camping instead of hostels
After traveling in Thailand in February, we started talking about the summer. I wanted to explore Europe in the warm weather. She brought up the concern of money. So I mentioned my dream of camping instead of staying in hostels. Once you’re not paying for a bed each night, the costs go way down.
Cooking instead of prepared food
Food was a concern too, but we’d already thought that through. During our time in Thailand, usually while we were having breakfast at a street vendor stand. We analyzed the cost of the coffee, eggs, and vegetables we were paying to have each morning. It was pretty obvious that we could save. If we cooked those meals and bought the supplies at local markets, we’d spend less. So we knew we’d need a backpackers cooking kit and could get the cost of our meals down to a few euros a day at most.
Hitchhiking instead of busses
For transportation, when the bus tickets were too expensive we assumed hitchhiking was better. It wasn’t an obvious solution, but it allowed us to float the dream. We’d already hitchhiked a few kilometers in Thailand. I’d hitchhiked at least 20 miles in Brazil one time. And in other trips I’d hitchhiked in France and Italy. Both of our parents had hitchhiked in their 20’s. All those breadcrumbs led to hint that it seemed doable. To go so far was a huge assumption, but we were willing to try it.
As the method for extreme low cost travel came together, the possibilities started to fly off the page. Why visit 2-4 cities paying top dollar when you could go to any city or country on the map, with no previous arrangements? The whole map of Europe came alive, we could even head into the Middle East, or Siberia. The possibilities were endless.
Once we left the fear of what could go wrong behind. When we allowed ourselves to be freed from needing thousands of dollars. The world truly was our oyster, and I felt so alive.
Some might say there are unknown costs. Of course, we’ll pay for some beds along the way. We may hit a bad spot where we can’t get a ride and waste a day finding a bus to a better spot. But it will be part of the adventure, and we have plenty of time, along with no reservations to worry about missing. We also treat ourselves to a nice meal when we want to, we saved money, why not?!?! And we’re not brewing beer in our sacks so you can bet we’ll be forking out a few euros for a pricey cold brews when we’re sitting on the Aegean Sea.
It’s not where, it’s the way
The reason why is not because of the joy of going to Greece. It isn’t about going anywhere. We could go to Madrid, or Morocco, or the Amalfi Coast. We no longer had our available funds as a limit. We could just step out to the road, and in 3-15 minutes (far less of a wait than for an airplane or tour bus) catch a ride in whatever direction we choose.
We will stop in at least 7 other countries before we even get to Greece. We’ll talk with people from all over. They’ll share stories and recommendations we won’t find otherwise. Some might even invite us to their home for a home cooked meal. You cannot buy that kind of experience with a plane ticket or a hotel reservation.
Throwing a coin into the Trevy Fountain might be on your bucket list, but in the end it’s kind of empty. A side street in Rome is more likely to offer a magical experience. Doing what 300 other people are doing, waving around their selfie sticks is not fulfilling.
When we decided to travel this way, money was no longer an object. We weren’t afraid of the means for getting there. Each day we enable ourselves by flagging down a car. We hop in and talk with some stranger about our adventure. As they carry us closer to our next destination, we’ll be fueling this fire of freedom.
So that’s why, when you spend less money, you get more time. By taking away transactions that make travel cost the most, we get to travel for the least. We’ll challenge fear, since fear in the end, is just a demon encouraging us to spend more money and have less time.