The Five Basic Teachings of Travel

By Rytis Gedvilas

1. Minimalism

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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Rytis is an adventure junkie, a nomad, who loves to explore both himself and the world. He hitchhikes a lot, viewing it as an adventure, a sport and a beautiful way to interact with amazing people. Rytis is also keen on hiking – a simple act of walking while fully absorbing the environment. At the time of this article, he’s about to solo hike across the barren Iceland to meet the harsh nature on its own terms. You can follow this adventure and support him here.
Rytis isn’t stopping anytime soon – among his near future intentions are cycling around Europe and hitching a boat across the Atlantic.

9 comments

  1. Right on man, you know whats happening! Glad to see this.

  2. I’ve read a lot of similar articles. But somehow I was touched by this one. Maybe it’s because of me being sleepless for more than a day, a huge yellow half-moon that filled my heart with interesting vibes or the fact that I’m going to start my first big trip completely on my own soon, but I could almost shed a tear when reading about your experience in Norway. Ačiū!

  3. I do agree with you on some points, like 1, 3 and 5. I’d add on number 3 that travelling is sometimes over boring, people don’t ever imagine : planes, buses, weather, random places, etc. You quickly forget about these moments thanks to few amazing people, but still.

    However, I don’t feel the same about money, and you actually make a contradiction yourself starting point 3 with “Like everything, travel is not only fun but hard. More so when you don’t have money.” after point 2 where money is not a problem. Money is an issue anywhere on this planet sadly. And travelling broke is no fun for you, your family and the people you travel with. Like travelling on the budget or with a budget goal : “look at my blog, I go around the globe spending 3$ a day, I’m amazing !”.

    I’ve met too many people on the budget around the world, most of them are a pain. Sorry to say this, but I’m being honest. People on the budget, for diferent reasons, would never go out, always looking for the cheapest place in town, always talk and think about money, meet local people but share the bills with them… I mean, come one, face the truth : you are a freaking westerner, you earn in one month what other people make in a full year of labour. That’s not your fault, you can’t change it, but at least, assume it.

    So be smart : be on the budget while you’re at home, save a lot, and be generous away, forget about money when you travel. Oh my, how often I went out with guys converting everything, calculating, not buying a round, using Couch Surfing and not able to take their host to a special place, etc.

    • Hi Alex! Arwen here, head editor. Actually I really agree with you! And I don’t think you and Rytis are disagreeing – he says, ‘Money is less of an issue than most people think’ – NOT ‘money is not an issue’.
      Money makes everything easier, faster, and less scary. It’s a privilege and it helps a lot. But the question we see over and over again is – ‘how do you afford travelling?’ or, ‘I can’t go, I can’t afford it yet’. Cost seems to me to have become the #1 excuse people give themselves to avoid travelling, instead of in my opinion what it should be, which is just one more obstacle you have to find a way to deal with. Thanks for commenting 😀

  4. Reblogged this on akabelle and commented:
    quite accurate, I must say

  5. I mostly agree with you, but I have to add my two (or ten) cents…

    There are so many people on budgets that don’t fit their travel lifestyle. You know what happens? They turn into annoying freeloaders as Alex described above.

    However, I’ve also met people living on next to nothing and you would hardly ever know it. This is a rare breed of traveler who really knows what they are doing.

    For most of us wanderers out there, we need to be honest with ourselves about what we are willing to compromise while on the road. This will give you a ballpark idea of what you will need to spend in your desired destination. But you should probably double that amount because unforeseen costs always come up. Or things are more expensive than what your outdated Lonely Planet told you. Or you just want to indulge once in awhile — it’s easy to say you don’t want massages or a nice meal or air conditioning. But then you carry a backpack around for a month or so and your body aches. That suspect street meat gave you food poisoning and you want western food for a week. Or perhaps it’s 50 degrees (CELSIUS) outside and that fan just isn’t going to cut it.

    After traveling for two years I know that I am not going to be happy to sleep in a dorm room or on a couch more than once every few months. I want to eat street food AND fancy food (and find a kitchen of my own from time to time). If I’ve been spending a lot of time on trains and buses and I want to go somewhere that is a 30 hour journey, I’m probably going to book a flight. Believe me, I have less money than everyone I know (other than maybe the aforementioned freeloaders out there), but I never have to choose the cheapest option if it doesn’t suit me.

    As a petite 100 pound (45 kilo?) white girl, I wouldn’t be comfortable hitchhiking in a lot of places. I’ve done it before, but only in western countries where it’s the norm. There’s no way I would hitchhike alone in India. (Thankfully transportation, along with everything else, is about as cheap as you can find in that particular country.)

    You mention bringing a buddy, but what about people who prefer to travel alone? A travel buddy comes with a whole new set of annoyances. And really how many people do you know who are actually willing to take off traveling with you for X amount of time? Even if you do find someone, their budget/comfort level may be very different. My “adventure buddy” from home met me in SE Asia for two months. We ended up renting a car instead of motorbikes (3x the price) and staying in A/C rooms every night (2, 3, or 4 times the price). Hitchhiking was totally out of the question.

    Your travel buddy might be on a “honeymoon holiday” plan rather than the “dirtbag backpacker” option. Better make sure you’re on the same page before packing those backpacks. To be fair, accommodation and food can be cheaper when you travel with someone — you can always share and split the cost. I just don’t think a travel buddy is realistic for most travelers.

    My travel/money solution for the last few years has been to book a one way ticket, then put enough money for a return ticket home into savings. When the money is running out, book the flight home and go find a job. I haven’t yet had to book the flight home. The more I travel, the more I find ways to get creative with how I spend (and make) money. Travel is an education in itself in so many ways.

    If you’re going to be on the receiving end of free food and accommodation, how are you paying it forward? Is it enough for them to be in the presence of your unwashed adventurous spirit? To be part of your experience? I don’t think so.

    Yes, people are much more kind and giving than what the media make them out to be, but I don’t think that should be taken advantage of. I will gladly buy a coffee to sit and use wifi. Granted I choose to do this with small, local businesses. If everyone came into these places claiming they are traveling and can’t afford to buy anything, these people would have to close their doors. The corporate giants win again (although maybe you are doing this at Starbucks and in that case I applaud you).

    • Heyy! NOMADS.editor here 🙂 All good points! Like I said to Alex though I don’t think you and Rytis would be necessarily disagreeing. It’s something everyone has to work out for themselves. I’m fully with you on exploiting kindness though… give it back, people! Give it back! (Pay it forward?)

    • Totally. Nothing to add.

      Even though there’s a lot to say about the “travel buddy”… So many types : the one from home you leave with, the random backpacker one you meet in a hostel, the local guy willing to show you around, etc. I mostly leave my country alone, but sometimes regret it… On the road or back home, it feels good to spend time telling memories and adventures with someone. When you left alone, you’re often back alone, and you can’t spend too much time telling crazy stories that quickly annoy friends from home, living in their routine.
      However, you connect far more with others and learn languages faster travelling on your own. I guess it’s all very personal, depending on the events and countries you visit too (India seems to be very rough all alone for example)

  6. I love the pay it forward concept. I’m in a place where I am extremely comfortable and not ready to get back out on the road, so look after travellers whenever I can. We are very underrated and yet because we understand, do our best to make your life as best we can in a short time. It’s always a two way street, so never forget the people on the road who help you have an awesome time on pretty much nothing. Hopefully one day you will be there for us 🙂

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