On a chilly December evening last year, as I sat in my cozy hostel in Gangtok, sipping on a piping hot cup of green tea, I met an 18 year-old boy, fresh out of school. Absolutely by himself, the young boy was travelling solo around the country without money. When I say no money, I mean none at all – not even a meagre amount for food or accommodation. The day I met him, he had already been travelling for 92 days. The hostel owner had very kindly invited him over to stay the night, and everyone around him was narrating remedies for his deteriorating health. He had been hungry for days on end and was terribly sick.
While my initial reaction was that of awe and respect, when I stopped and thought about it, I wondered whether going through so much torture was worth it. So for all of you on social media who have romanticised travelling without money, here are a few things I want to say to you.
I understand that travelling without any money is an interesting way to challenge yourself. However, when you choose to not touch your own money at all, you're signing up for getting by on the expense of someone else's comfort. While you are sure to find kind people who will open their homes to you and share meals with you, is it really okay to exploit their resources just for an experience that you want to have? You hail from a city where you live a much more convenient life than families who toil hard to survive in remote, high-altitude regions; and yet, during your visit, you shamelessly live off them and don't even pay for the goods and services you use.
You put your life in jeopardy by diving into "exciting" experiences such as sleeping on a bench in freezing temperatures or hitchhiking with a driver who turned out to be drunk, and then you show off to your followers. Glorifying such behaviour and inspiring others to do the same needs to be stopped because situations are not the same everywhere for everyone. In addition, when you take pride in mistakes, mishaps and even near-death experiences, you are influencing people to take a risk. Living life to the fullest does not equal to putting yourself in dangerous situations, and if you have an influence over the people you follow, you are responsible about the stories you put out and the manner in which you tell them.
Travelling without money means that the meals you get everyday (if at all) are dependent on what others offer you. This means surviving on a lot of Maggi, chips and other quick bites. Naturally, your nutritional needs are thrown out the window, which is definitely not a great idea especially if you're travelling for a long period of time. Whether you are heading to high-altitude regions or sultry coastal beaches, how do you plan to survive if you aren't in the pink of health?
You also need to stop with stories of your perfect and magical adventures. I have travelled too, and I know for a fact that not everyday turns out to be so beautiful. I can only imagine how stressful it must be with the added torture of travelling without money. Some days are difficult, uneventful, depressing and never seem to end. It's great to see people who choose to see the silver lining to every grey cloud, however, let's not brush bad days under the carpet and pretend that they don't exist.
If you're travelling, don't just do it for yourself, I can guarantee you a happier experience if you also benefit others on the way.