Special thanks to August Lovegren for translating the interview.
Èlia worked in a bank for six years. Joan, a civil engineer, worked in a consulting firm. They left it all behind to travel around the world and they’ve been on the road now for 482 days.
What have you been doing the last 482 days of your life?
Joan. Basically, we’ve been living in the world. There are a lot of people that see it as a trip or as a long vacation. For us it’s a way of living outside our country while learning a bit about new cultures, meeting people, and living thousands of amazing experiences.
Èlia. You can’t be a tourist for 482 days. You can’t keep up that rhythm. That’s why in the end, it’s living. You arrive at a city and it’s your city; your house, your day-to-day life happens there.
You’ve come back home. Is your journey over?
Joan. No, no, we’re going to keep going… We’ve come back for a few months to see family and friends. This is our vacation. We have everything planned out here.
What did you spend your time doing before the trip around the world began?
Joan. I’m a civil engineer and I worked in a consulting firm in Barcelona.
Èlia. I studied business administration and worked in a bank for six years.
“…if at twenty-six you’re not happy about something, it doesn’t have to stay that way.”
We might say that you had it made for the coming years. Or, at least, your work situation was stable. What brought you to change that?
Èlia. What is stability these days? Because we both had a permanent contract, but tomorrow they could change their mind and we’d be in the street. I have a lot of friends who are unemployed now for that same reason. That’s why nowadays stability for a twenty-six year old doesn’t mean anything.
Joan. As for me, things were quite stable because the consultancy I worked at had no shortage of work… But I was not comfortable with what I was doing; I didn’t like it. I felt exploited and I decided I didn’t want them making a fool of me. So I just quit.
Èlia. But if at twenty-six you’re not happy about something, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Why not live a little and then afterwards you’ll grit your teeth and be at a job that you don’t like, if it turns out that way. We have to work to pay the bills, have a family, and other things. However, at present, I preferred – we preferred, Joan and I – to be happy doing something else.
“We’ve eaten in the street at public barbecue pits, buying the cheapest thing at the supermarket, we’ve done car sharing with a car we rented in Australia, slept in the car…”
It’s a journey in search of happiness…
Èlia. Yes. And if we hadn’t gone on a journey, we would have looked for another change to make in our lives.
Joan. A way out.
They say that if you don’t live these kinds of experiences now, you won’t do it later, but you have met older people on the road…
Èlia. We’ve been sharing the same travel route for almost seven months now with a young man fifty years of age. He was traveling alone and had the most energy of any of us. We also meet people through blogs that have children or mortgages and have rented out their apartment. In the end, traveling has to become your priority.
Joan. Obviously, it’s simpler without a mortgage or children. One of the strangest cases we came across was a couple that was going to get married and had practically everything already laid out. But when they were picking their honeymoon destination, there were so many things they wanted to see that they canceled the wedding and with the money they would have spent on it they went traveling.
Like the “Mamma mia” story.
Joan. Exactly. (laughter)
Èlia. In this case, it was traumatic for the family…
And how does the story of this couple end?
Èlia. Well, they traveled around the world, got married in Las Vegas, and then, when they got back, had a civil marriage.
Joan, you went from calculating structures to calculating your travel budget… How did you two organize it?
Joan. She plans the times and I manage the money.
“We put up an ad on a car sharing website in Australia and offered a fixed price per trip. Meaning, if the bus from Sydney to Brisbane was 100 dollars, we’d offer to do it for 80 dollars per person. We were able to pay off 110% of the cost of the vehicle.”
Where did you start?
Joan. From Barcelona we flew to Saint Petersburg and from there we started.
How many countries have you been to?
Joan. Up to now, sixteen countries. Cities, many more.
Had you estimated what the budget would be for the journey?
Èlia. Initially we had a route planned out for 18 months and an average of a thousand euros per month. It’s what we had seen on other traveler’s blogs.
And keeping in mind that in India you spend less than in Australia, right?
Èlia. Paradoxically, Australia has been where we’ve spent the least because we had already gotten used to surviving during all the miles we had traveled beforehand, and so you just sort out your life. We’ve eaten in the street at public barbecue pits, buying the cheapest thing at the supermarket, we’ve done car sharing with a car we rented in Australia, slept in the car…
We put up an ad on a car sharing website in Australia and offered a fixed price per trip. Meaning, if the bus from Sydney to Brisbane was 100 dollars, we’d offer to do it for 80 dollars per person. We were able to pay off 110% of the cost of the vehicle. It was a win-win situation because the trip with us was cheaper for them than the bus.
And the average of 1,000 euros per month…
Joan. Right now we’re at 16 months and an average of 630 per month per person. But we aren’t done yet. We still have America to go. When all is said and done, you adapt your budget as you go along.
Èlia. We’ve saved the most on eating and sleeping. Eating, one-course meals; and sleeping, at first we had higher standards, and then we slept in places that I never imagined I’d sleep in my life.
Even on the deck of a ship…
Joan. Yes… that was in the Philippines on a 16-hour trip. We got the “economy” pass which is “every man for himself.” We were 5,000 people getting comfortable however and wherever we could. Yet another experience.
Èlia. And that’s what it is in the end. Saving on whatever you can to make the journey go on longer.
Keeping a tight watch on all your expenses…
Joan. I had my Excel sheet and every day I’d enter in everything we spent, sorted by transport, food, lodging, extras…
A balance sheet…
Joan. Yes. I would calculate a daily average that would get updated every day, and then you try to lower that daily expense. If there were four days left until we had to leave a country and we had an average of 12.63€, we’d try to bring it down to 12€.
Like a business…
Joan. Exactly. I’m the one that crunches the numbers. If we went over our budget one day, we compensate the next.
Èlia. The next day, we only eat rice, for example. (laughter)
What baggage do you have?
Joan. About 28 lbs each. Two bags: a big backpack and a handbag. You can actually get by with very little. What’s more, we would wash our clothes by hand in our room and would take along a rope that we’d hang from the door to the window. In Asia clothes dry in five minutes.
Èlia. If we wash our own clothes, it’s one expense less. With these little things you can save a lot. Of the people we know, we’re some of the ones who’ve spent the least, counting the fact that we were in Australia for two months.
Joan. In Australia we did a lot of car sharing, couchsurfing…
“We did couchsurfing in Indonesia too… We were in the airport waiting to catch a flight to the island of Sulawesi and we were arriving in two hours. We sent a request to a couchsurfer, he responded right away and came to get us at the airport.”
And that’s also what you’ve been doing in Spain these days…
Joan. Yes, we’ve been making use of couchsurfing here. You always end up finding incredible people and having really good experiences.
Èlia. We did couchsurfing in Indonesia too, to experience living in a local’s home. In fact, we were in the airport waiting to catch a flight to the island of Sulawesi and we were arriving in two hours. We sent a request to a couchsurfer, he responded right away and came to get us at the airport. We’ve generally had a lot of luck too.
Joan. In Indonesia they don’t have anything but they give you everything.
Èlia. At one point our computer charger broke. It was a MacBook Air and, naturally, you have to go to your neighborhood Apple store.
You were relatively close to Apple’s factories…
Èlia. Luckily, there were four Apple resellers and the guys there took us in their car to each one of them to find the charger. In the end we found it and visited all the city’s shopping centers.
There are good people everywhere, but here we’re less trusting…
Èlia. If you lodge strangers here, they won’t go in your house without you. Which is normal and I would probably do the same. But in other places… I remember in Melbourne that we went to a house and we didn’t know what to do because they were leaving at 7 A.M. and we were getting in a little later.
Èlia. They sent us a message: “No problem. We’ll leave you the keys in the mailbox. See you this evening.” We didn’t know each other at all and everything was done via email, WhatsApp… Everything works through a system of references and guests as well as hosts give each other votes. You always look for people with good references.
“We had one of the best experiences of my life there when we climbed up to Thorong La Pass, the highest mountain pass in the world at 17,769 feet.”
Of everything you’ve seen, what’s your top pick?
If we’re basing it on landscape, people and money, we’ll take Nepal. It’s a cheap country with incredible landscapes and wonderful people. It was a crazy personal growth experience because I am not the least bit the mountain-climbing type. I was on top of the world.
You couldn’t have said it better.
Èlia. Right, hahaha. We’d also take the less touristy countries too, like Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Laos… and their hospitality; they’ll give you their bed and go sleep in a hammock. And when you make trips like that you also value being by yourself somewhere; somewhere off the beaten path, not so touristically exploited.
Joan. People are more genuine and they don’t try to con you with tourist prices either.
It allows you to have more authentic experiences.
Èlia. On the Trans-Siberian Railway we met some people from Madrid who were also going to Mongolia so we stuck together. We went to a village six hours from the capital, in the middle of nowhere. In all, we were eight travelers who happened to be there at the same time: a Chinese girl with her American boyfriend, a Polish girl, the couple from Madrid we met on the Trans-Siberian… We slept in a yurt, which is a Mongolian tent, we met an American stationed there working for the United States Peace Corps, we went on a tour around the desert with a Mongolian guide…
…In the desert, there were nomadic people who lived off of products from goats and camels, and bartering. They gave us coffee, milk, cheese, pastries, they invited us to their tent… That’s Mongolian hospitality; they give you everything. That type of experience would be very hard to come by in Thailand, for example.
“We still need certain commodities that we’re already used to having, starting with a hot shower. Yet we do value those things more.”
Tell me one virtue and one defect that you’ve seen in the societies and cultures you’ve come to know.
Èlia. A virtue, Mongolian hospitality and that of other countries, for example. A defect, Chinese culture. If you ask us, they’re rude and gross. Spitting, burping, smoking in trains when you’re not supposed to, not very hospitable, etc. On the other hand, it’s a country with some amazing parts, and the Chinese people who speak English and have traveled are very different from the rest of the population.
Has the way you see the world changed?
Yes. But honestly, we still need certain commodities that we’re already used to having, starting with a hot shower. Yet we do value those things more.
And your life objectives?
Èlia. The final objective is still the same as before: establish ourselves someplace and at a certain living standard. But as for the “someplace” aspect. It’s no longer just here in Spain, but in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada…
Joan. What I’m quite sure about is that I do not want to go back to what I had here in Spain, which was a job that started at eight in the morning, I would get home at nine at night, and that was my life. My salary was garbage. I mean, with a bad salary I didn’t have a life. Now I value much more the time I spend doing the things I do.
And as for that standard of living, which country will you take?
Joan. Australia has an impressive standard of living compared with similar countries.
And lastly, how about an anecdote…
Joan. We were in Myanmar and we rented some bikes to ride to Inle Lake on our own. We started pedaling on a road that ran parallel to the lake, but we kept getting further and further away. So we decided to take a path inland and we came across a four-house village whose residents had hardly seen a tourist in their life…
Èlia. The last ones were a couple of French people a month before.
Joan. Obviously, they didn’t speak English and we tried to ask them if we were on the right track. They more or less understood that we wanted to check out the lake and they offered to take us on their boats – they were fishermen – to see it. We were a bit mistrustful at first, but there were two other travelers with us and we decided to go for it.
We had an amazing time. We swam, we fished with them… and when we got back to the village they invited us to a house. It was the biggest one there. After a while, the whole village started to come.
We shared with them a watermelon, papayas and some crackers we had on us, we got out the laptop and uploaded the pictures we had just taken and showed the pictures to them. They were shocked at how fast the pictures had gotten onto the computer. Nobody spoke English, but we made ourselves understood and we shared this wonderful experience. The next day, we had the pictures developed and came back give them to them.
Èlia. In Mongolia we ran into Frank of the Jungle. He’s exactly the way he is on TV.
Joan. Èlia had to go back fifteen days before and I stayed in Australia, sleeping in the trunk of the car that we rented. And in the outskirts of the city, because it’s prohibited there.
“At that point, fear got ahold of us, because you’re in a country where you don’t know what’s going to happen. I broke down out of powerlessness, started crying and wanted to go home.”
And one to forget…
Èlia. On my birthday in India. We got into Jodhpur at night. The past few days we had already had a series of problems and unforeseen circumstances. At that point we were a group of five and we reached an agreement at a hotel to pay 500 rupees for a room for five people. The next day they raised the price to 1,600 rupees and we told them we weren’t going to pay that.
Joan. They threatened to call the police, said they had our passport numbers, that they’d report us, etc. And then some guy got there who said he was a policeman. It seemed like they had set it all up.
Èlia. At that point, fear got ahold of us, because you’re in a country where you don’t know what’s going to happen. I broke down out of powerlessness, started crying and wanted to go home. In the end we paid them 1,000 rupees and in our new hotel they told us that wasn’t the first time that had happened.
Joan. That’s how the bad experiences are. They try to trick you, they lie to you about how long a bus ride is...
Recommend me a song… Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen.
A craving… After such a long time, a pizza or a hamburger.
A website… http://www.uncambiodeaires.com
A place… Nepal.
In another life you would have been… Joan would be a Koala and I’d be his caretaker.
We believe in… People.
A piece of advice you’ve been given... Get out of Spain.
A failure... Èlia. My previous relationship.
You learned… To value myself more.
Joan. The word failure is not in my vocabulary. I always switch it out for learning experience.
A saying or a quote… “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”