Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The art of cheap travelling

When I grew up I always wanted to travel, but in my family we hardly ever did. I remember the excitement I felt as a young teenager on my first trip abroad, i.e. outside Sweden and Denmark, when the coastline of Rügen appeared on the ferry trip from Trelleborg to Sassnitz in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. I read a lot about other countries and landscapes within Sweden, but nothing of it would satisfy my need for adventures. A need which I nurtured good.

When I was around fifteen-sixteen I stumbled across an obscure advert in a fanzine of sorts for the "Interrailer/Hitchhikers/Bum/Tramp Guide to the Galaxy". As I have lost track of it at the moment I cannot record its correct title. In any way did it consist of paper copied pages of addresses all over, where one could sleep for free or almost for free: the well known book store in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris, ultra cheap hostels, private homes or artist collectives where the sofa was offered as a crashpad for travellers, squats, advices on which parts of beaches that are safe, you name it. I guess it was the fanzine version of how the Coachsurfing forum works these days, as this was the time of phone numbers and snail-mail addresses.

I always had that guide in my backpack when bumming around. Even if I did not use it all that much it always came with a "backup plan", or at least one would hope it did. That is the way when travelling on an extremely low budget, you are thrown out there and in the end you will have to find a way to crash. As much of the bumming around I did came with an interrail ticket in my pocket I often ended up getting on the night train to wake up to a new city the next morning. Needless to say, I, or the company I was travelling with if I did not journey on my own, often made new friends and for this reason ended up sleeping on the sofa in their living room for a day or two. Many of these friends are friends to this day.

When I flew into Canada for my first time in North America I had only 4000 SEK (circa 600 USD) on my pocket, but an address where I could sleep a few weeks and a vague idea of how to get around using the dead cheap pre-ordered Greyhound bus tickets I had purchased. On that trip, in Canada and the US, I ended up WWOOFing (willing workers on organic farms) a month, hitch-hike Vancouver Island, see six Canadian Provinces and a whole lot of American States. I crossed the continent twice, and I did not take off until I flew back to Sweden.

A good friend of mine whom today has a company selling used machine tools started out hitch-hiking his way through South America. With him he carried a prospectus of a machine he had purchased from a discontinued factory in Sweden. When he sold it he had made a profit and had funds to buy more machines. These days his company has a few employees and it does not only engender tax revenues to the welfare state.

Neither such entrepreneurship nor cheap travelling is possible if the expectations and demands of a person are set too high. It is about daring and learning to rely on yourself, about initiative and enterprise. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. These days however, I am a family father and with it comes a completely different type of responsibility. When I travel today my requirements are obviously higher, but the sense of security in my two shoes I tend to carry with me all over the planet.

Tomorrow I will fly into Portugal for a week of road-tripping, and for the first night I have a room waiting for me in the Pensão Londres.