Holidays almost always come with the headache of expenses. But for budget backpacker Animesh Rawal, travelling is all about maximum fun at minimum cost. He tells Shikha Kumar how he travelled four continents in just 'do peti'.
Visitors to Animesh Rawal’s blog are greeted with the tagline, “The travel blog of a kanjoos Indian backpacker”. In 2008 that he undertook his first round-the-world trip. It lasted 10 months. When he came back and tried to fit into the corporate rat race, he realised, as he writes on his blog, “travel had struck a fatal blow to his career.” He decided to quit his job. His reasoning was simple: “A job might take me to the USA or Europe but it definitely won’t take me to Guatemala.”
Last year, Rawal took up the ‘Do peti’ challenge – a trip around the world, completed on two lakh rupees and in six months. He explains, “Two lakh rupees is the difference between the prices of an entry level and mid-level car. I had colleagues who owned these cars and complained to me that they could never afford a trip like mine.” After elaborate planning, Rawal zeroed in on his route – India, Middle East, Europe, North America, South America, North America, Asia, India.
East to West
In the beginning, there was a cheap, one-way ticket. A ticket for Rs10,000 brought him to Damascus, Syria. “I wanted to go overland as much as possible so from Syria, it was overland to Turkey, then Greece, followed by Italy, Spain and Germany,” he said. His budget was about 10 Euros a day. He hardly spent on accommodation, choosing to make use of hospitality exchange websites like couchsurfing.org or staying in inexpensive hostels. For food, he relied on local street food and supermarkets. “I only chose hostels that had a kitchen,” he said. “I also tried to cook at least one meal each for my hosts.”
From Syria, he travelled to Turkey by road. In Turkey, he realised the cheapest way to reach Greece was by flight (50 Euros). Greece to Italy was completed by boat. Since this was less a conventional holiday and more of a challenge, he went where the cheapest route took him. “I found popular places like the Colosseum in Rome or Hagia Sofia in Istanbul very dull and gave up after standing in line for 30 minutes,” he said. “I loved cities ancient Roman cities like Pompeii. It’s a fantastic view into what Roman life was like in the first century.” The travel expenses of this leg cost around Rs25,000.
The Great American Road Trip
From Frankfurt, Germany, Rawal flew to New York (ticket cost: Rs 13,000). In New York, he stayed with a friend. In Pennsylvania, WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), which puts volunteers upon in farms, took care of three weeks of Rawal’s accomodation. “It’s a great opportunity to connect with people and get an insight into the kind of life they have,” he said. When travelling within the US, he usually travelled with others and split the fuel cost. So a trip from Washington DC to Texas cost him around Rs 4,000. From Texas, he took a bus to Mexico (Indians don’t need a visa if they have a valid American visa and are staying for less than a month).
Mexico was one of the places which was cheap on most counts. “The buses that traverse in Southern Mexico are very cheap,” said Rawal. He makes a special mention of the yummy yet inexpensive food with its tangy and spicy flavours. “Every province had their own way of making the tacos, burritos and the tortillas. Plus, I was brave enough to try the street food,” he said. In touristy terms, Pulum, with its many ruins, was the highlight for Rawal of the Mexican leg of his trip.
From Mexico, he went to Guatemala and Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, he stayed in a beautiful beach resort for no charge because he did some website work for them. From Nicaragua, he flew back to New York and from there, he returned to Mumbai by air. The trip had begun in March 2011 and ended in October, and he had exceeded his budget by just about Rs 20,000.
While on the trip, Rawal realised certain places, like Turkey, were more expensive than he’d anticipated. Bus journeys in Turkey cost no less than Rs1,500 rupees, which was more than he’d budgeted for. There were pleasant discoveries too. Hostels and food in Germany, for instance, were surprisingly cheap.
The trip was not devoid of troubles. While in Barcelona, Rawal’s passport and laptop were stolen and he had to cough up approximately Rs14,000 for a new passport. However, this did not deter his enthusiasm. The travel bug is still in his blood and currently, Rawal is working in Greece.
“By taking on this challenge, I just wanted people to know that it’s all a matter of priorities. One can travel on as little or as much as they want,” he said.
Rawal’s tips for the the aspiring backpacker
1. Always travel with a one-way ticket. That way you are not forced to return on a set date.
2. Research. Don’t plan. Know all there is to know about the place: visa requirements, cheap hotels but don’t make any bookings. The more flexible you are, the less stressful your trip will be. Except in very rare circumstances, there are always rooms available.
3. Mingle with the locals. Learn a few words in the local language, find local contacts and get yourself invited to their homes if possible. Memories with people linger much longer than memories of monuments.
4. Travel alone. It’s a lot more challenging and a lot more fun than travelling with someone else. It’s also easier to meet new people when you’re alone.