Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The art of cheap travelling

I grew up wanting to travel, though my family 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 often read a about other countries and landscapes within Sweden, but nothing of it seemed to 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 xeroxed 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 I hoped so. 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 spend the night. As much of my bumming around 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 often made new friends and have slept on many a living room sofa for a day or two. Some of these people 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, partly 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 close 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. Today his company has a number of employees and 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 I carry with me in my two shoes follows me all over the planet.

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