Stories of Penniless Travel, Hitchhiking, Minimalism, and Cultural Exchange
I have generally traveled penniless to many places over the last 13+ months of my travel. In the last ten months, I didn’t pay for my stay but I always kept money with me. But in November 2017, I explored while completely penniless. I did not exchange currency when I reached Vanuatu and didn’t keep any money at all.
I used a barter system to survive. I asked for lifts (hitchhiking), shared my henna art and cooking skills, and tried wall painting in exchange for food and shelter—even for getting an SIM card and credit on it!
At the start of my travel I used to sometimes stay in hostels in Asian countries, and opted for selected free or inexpensive sightseeing. Gradually, my travel perceptions changed, and I was more focused on people and experiences I enjoyed. I was happy to offer henna, cooking, etc., for people I met. It was a good way to connect with people, and I even got a chance to cook in big restaurants. And I received unlimited kindness from people.
I did hitchhiking and stayed with random people whom I met. I stayed in typhoon-affected areas where people stayed in completely broken houses and found it difficult to maintain personal hygiene. I also stayed a few times in slum areas. While I eventually moved on, I was impressed with their love and bond with me. At all these places, people didn’t speak English; still, they wanted to help me or interact with me.
I stayed at temples (ISKON and Sikh temples), and I stayed on mountains and ate roots, flowers, and leaves. I also got the chance to stay with people who believed in alternative lifestyles. They were trying to live in a totally self-sufficient way, growing their own food (tobacco and weed, too!). I stayed with modern tribe people who didn’t use any chemicals, sunscreen, shampoo, soap, detergent, etc. They used vinegar or fresh water from the creek for cleaning.
One of the people I stayed with was in a wheelchair and couldn’t use his hands to hold things properly. He was completely paralyzed below the chest. He was in his fifties, and he was very happy. He did many things by himself during the day; helpers came in the morning and night to put him in bed and wake him up and do routine work for him. He went to work in his ultra-modified car, which he designed. He made awesome paintings (in spite of having difficulty holding a pencil or brush).
I also stayed with people who were well to do, with enough money to spend and live semi-luxurious lives buying multiple things. All these people somehow inspired me . I got the opportunity to see life through their perspective. I also stayed at airports and camped many times in Asian countries.
Other places I stayed included a small houseboat made on three floats, as it was this man’s childhood dream to stay at sea; and bushes, where I camped next to a ghost house. Everyone was so amazing and respectful to me. I never felt scared. I met amazing, unique travelers who inspired my journey.
I connected with people without using the Internet/mobile phone or any other resources. I developed good bonds with people although we didn’t communicate in the same verbal language. I came to understand that you don’t need language to communicate with people.
I tried humanitarian work when I got the chance. I felt blessed for what I had, and many people told me that I was very fortunate or lucky that nothing bad happened to me during my travels, and that I got to travel so much.
I was never confident to speak or write English, but traveling helped me become more confident to speak English and write (with lots of mistakes). I am not perfect and still not good. But I know I communicate well and people understand me—and that’s enough for me.
Twice, I even fell in love. I accepted and respected my feelings, cherished the experience, and then moved on.
I never wore sunglasses on this journey of more than 13 months. I rarely used sunscreen and I didn’t wax or go to a salon or use soaps. Very rarely I used deodorant. I did not buy new clothes; instead, I asked for clothes from people when I traveled to cold areas. I didn’t do any shopping, only trading and bartering.
I truly enjoyed minimalist living. Now that I am back with my family in Mumbai, I am not sure what I will do. How will I carry all those memories and changes in my life? In the long run, I am sure I will find something to make me happy. Let’s see.
Check out Sheetal’s experiences here on Instagram: @sheetalkpasad