Business studies have taught me a few life lessons. One of them understood that nothing in this world is for free. Sounds like a truism. We all know that you have to pay for everything. We know that subsidized medicines will be covered by the government. That traveling by hitchhiking will be compensated by the driver. Or that sleeping in someone’s apartment will be covered by our host. On that account I will not write that my journey didn’t cost me anything. The only statement I can make with a clear conscience is that the travel costs incurred by me have been limited only to price of the airline tickets. How did this happen? Can everybody afford it? I will talk about this in this article.
Why South America?
From an early age, South America appeared to me as a unique destination. Although I did know little about it I could feel that I would find there everything I ever dreamed of. I was not wrong. The hospitality, the trust you are endowed with, the happiness that emanates from the local faces or the picturesqueness of the places surrounding you can be found only here. I will not praise South America – it’s a place that you either love or hate. And I will leave the judgment for you.
The reason why I could afford such a budget trip over there is the culture of hospitality. While we Europeans are quite distant and restrained (at least in the northeastern part of Europe), Latin Americans usually trust you unconditionally. After a few moments of chatting you feel like you’ve just met your Spanish-speaking family. In South America guests are well taken care of. Americans will host you, feed you, and at the end send you away with gifts. In my case, cultural diversity was a key element of travel.
I have no money but I want to travel. Can I?
Patagonia (southern part of Chile and Argentina – I will leave ignorants for further research) was my dream destination since I saw it for the first time at annual travel meetings called Kolosy. The land of glaciers and mountains immediately charmed me. It took years before I was ready to travel (meaning: learning Spanish, building independence and responsibility, planning the trip).
However, a very important thread was intertwined: how to cover all the places I want to visit without spending more money than necessary? We already know that there is nothing for free. Now it’s time for the second lesson:
You will always have to sacrifice something to get the privilege of budget travel.
What did I sacrifice? Time and comfort. As much and as little. I wanted to cover Patagonia fully by hitchhiking and using the kindness of people by sleeping in their apartments. I doubted my plan many times but I have never doubted that it would eventually work out. With all my faith I traveled 2,340 kilometers, spending 55 hours on the road (nevertheless it took me over a month to complete the journey). I have heard both amazing and quite ordinary stories. I met people who let me share with them their common. Throughout the journey I encountered people generous and caring. All I want to say is that it’s extremely difficult to be skeptical and distrustful when you meet only such people on your life path.
Not so black and white…
I remember swearing on God that I would not spend a penny on the trip. The journey itself quickly verified me. Patagonia, apart from its charm, is also famous for its high prices. Latin America is known for its social stratification and poverty (speaking about all the countries, not only Chile and Argentina). How does this relate to higher-than-average travel costs in Patagonia? In the south of South America, where the roads are in poor condition, where you can travel hundreds of kilometers without a living soul, where locals live only from tourism – it’s a common strategy of making the most you can on tourists. The same products cost more and more the further south you go. National park entrances and other fees also constituted significant amounts. For this reason, although I wanted to limit my budget to minimum, it was not always possible.
We must not forget that I went there on vacation. So sometimes you had to say “screw it” when the apple cost 5 bucks but you are in the mood for it since the morning. Or stop at the campsite when the only host offering you accommodation seems suspicious. Remember to be reasonable and be able to make the most out of the trip. Because this is our priority, isn’t it?
Let’s go! Alone or with a companion?
I must admit that the way I travel is best suited to my individual needs. There are people who travel together but I will aim to explain why I consider it not worth it. Well, an important part of such trips are people. Drivers who drive us; passengers we are having discussions with, and especially the hosts. Traveling alone gives comfort and independence, and at the same time does not condemn us to loneliness. After all, we’re surrounded by people all the time, aren’t we? When we set off with our best friend or the partner, chances of actually opening up to new people decrease. It still occurs, however, it is not so frequent and intense. But whatever I think or say, you are making decision for yourself. Whether you want to jump into deep water or maybe swim with inflatable arm rings. There is nothing wrong with any.
Independence pays off!
However, my case is a bit different. I decided to travel alone for a reason. That is because I am a loner – I like to have a moment of breath and the space I need. I also appreciate the flexibility that I is often lacking when traveling with another person. When my trip slipped a week due to a cold I caught at the airport I was angry at myself. But I can’t even imagine how furious I would be if I were travelling with somebody else. I would be extremely frustrated by being obliged to wait for the person. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. When I was waking up thinking “time to go further” and I did so.
I didn’t complain about loneliness though. My manner of traveling provided me with permanent company. I traveled daily on average with three different drivers. Sometimes I kept going on my further journey with newly encountered people. Or went on a trek with a driver who suddenly decided to join me. With some people I happened to get so along that I didn’t want to keep going. Or get out of the car. We shared our stories and thoughts. I talked with people with whom I wouldn’t exchange sentences on the street, and they turned out to have extremely interesting stories or lives. I learned how stereotypical thinking is wrong and once again confirmed my belief that truckers are the kindest people in the world. The journey of my life turned out to be a journey into myself and others, and not as I planned it, a landscape journey.
How to hitchhike effectively?
When it comes to hitchhiking it’s kind of self-explanatory. I consider speaking a language to be necessary condition. Drivers will not pick you up, because you look gorgeous and they want to look at you while driving. They want to meet you. Hitchhiking is not always an easy matter. It’s not a bus ride where you get on, put on your headphones and hit the road. Drivers want to know where you are going and why, what you are studying, what your mother is doing professionally and what language they speak in your country. Can you blame them? On my journey, I would often wake up in the morning after a long night full of alcohol and dances. Despite this, I have always tried with all possible effort to be an interesting passenger. Insteoad of a hangover, sleeping pain in the ass.
When traveling hitchhiking, it is also important to know the route (drivers do not always go directly to the destination) and clear marking of our destination (stock up with markers and collect cartons from grocery stores – the chance for a ride, when the driver knows where we are going, there is a lot higher).
So everybody can do it?
Nevertheless, you will need some character qualities to be a good hitchhiker. Above all – patience. And a bit of humility. Before starting my trip, I had some experience with hitchhiking, but I was never forced to wait too long. Even more so when I traveled alone. I was hoping for the same in Patagonia. I am young, pretty, I travel without a companion – why wouldn’t the driver pick me up? Well, he doesn’t have to. And there is nothing I can do about it. Traveling such a distance, completely relying on strangers, taught me humbleness. Because it’s not easy to wait for hours in the cold and rain. Or wait when the drivers won’t even let you make an eye contact. And even harder is waiting half a day and have to let go when it begins to get dark.
Throughout my journey, I told myself a mantra that allowed me to remain calm and patient:
“Remember. Drivers owe you nothing. They are only doing you a favor. And don’t get mad when dozens of cars pass by and no stops stop. It’s not their duty; it’s a nice gesture they CAN offer you. “
But how come accommodation for free?
The second issue is accommodation. Planning the trip from the beginning I decided that I could not give up that much of my comfort to sleep in a tent. This is by far the cheapest option (accommodation at a camping site does not cost more than 5 USD), unless we have know about a website called Couchsurfing. For those who are hearing this word for the first time: Couchsurfing is a platform that allows you to find anywhere in the world a person who will host you, without charging a single penny for it! Sound’s great? Yes it does.
This is a relatively secure option. There are profiles verified by the website itself (this is listed next to the profiles) and it’s trusted by millions of travelers. You can also read references from people who have already stayed with the host or the references from people who have had some kind of contact with the person. My assumption was to look for young, preferably female, hosts. However a quick clash with reality confirmed that women constitute a small percentage of users. Not having much choice, I used mainly male offers. These people, however, had numerous references (sufficient to make me feel safe) and were always verified by my “internal intuition” (case of subconsciousness telling me that they are decent people).
Even though Couchsurfing serves perfectly, it is not always possible to find a host. As I mentioned, Patagonia is a fairly remote and touristic place. A popular phenomenon is the cities where tourists constitute 90% of the entire community. It might also happen that you cannot reach the destination with awaiting accommodation. Then you have no other choice then sleep in the place where you are stuck. At such times, you can look for the emergency plan and try to find a hostel. However, I know from experience how functional it is to travel with a tent. You can crash anywhere at any time. This gives you partial independence and flexibility.
What price will I pay for it?
As I mentioned – there is nothing for free. The price is not always expressed in dollars or pesos. The price I had to pay was the above-mentioned comfort. Making a good first impression is important when meeting new people. This is of course not necessary, but we all want to do our best. This leads to a situation in which we want to be our best version all the time. For me, as an introvert, this is a huge challenge.
There is also the process of meeting people. When it comes to Couchsurfing, it is less burdensome than getting to know the drivers. At one stage of the journey, I was making fun of the answers to frequently asked questions, and I would just play them. I think that on a longer route it would be worth thinking about. However, it was a problem that completely disappeared with many hours of waiting for any ride. To this day, I remember all the emotions that accompanied me when I was racing against time trying to catch a plane. When traveling, it so happens that sometimes we put our plans aside in order to be able to enjoy the moment. However, I strongly advise against hitchhiking more than 1000 km the day before the scheduled departure. You may not always be so lucky!
We got to the point when I deprived you of your most common excuse: “I don’t have money.” I hear it practically as often as “I don’t have time”. With the latter it is a bit harder. When it comes to the money issue though I am convinced that our capitalist society gives us many opportunities to save the budget. I know that a journey in which we don’t sleep in hotels or eat in restaurants is different type of travel. Nevertheless, no one says it’s bad type of travel. It’s just a different experience. It’s worth trying and finding out for yourself if it’s something you fancy!