Traveling around Europe Without
Flying for 954 Days
By Davide Vadala
On August 2010 I took what would have been my last flight for a long period, going from India to Turkey. Little did I know that for the next three years this option was going to turn into a new traveling style for me.
Exactly 954 days passed, until I had no choice than flying again from Romania to Italy due to health problems. It was a long span of time in which I lived some of the most intense experiences of my life. But let’s go back in time to see how everything started.
Dreaming of the Hippie Trail
After 9 months passed in India and Nepal it was time to look for new experiences. I’ve never been able to harden myself to the “normal” flow of life and returning to my previous lifestyle was not an option. After you taste the idyllic aroma of traveling, you can’t stand anymore the insipid flavor of monotonous life; that’s why I’m always looking for new ways to complicate it and create new challenges.
Before going to Asia, I quit my job as a first step to have full control of my life. But it was only then that I decided to reach the next level of vagabonding: I wanted to go back from India to Italy exclusively by land.
Maybe because of the many inspiring travelers I met on my way, maybe because of the memories of the Hippie trail or most probably just because I wanted to feel alive every second of my journey.
Sustainability played a major role in my decision: in fact during my previous life I was working as an architect-engineer designing nice comfy houses that almost consume no energy.
Even if I decided to quit my job, I was not abandoning my ideals of sustainability and frugality. Right before leaving to India, I became vegetarian to decrease my carbon footprint, and next natural step was reducing my transportation impact: having decided to make of travel a permanent part of my life, I couldn’t afford to carry on my shoulders the moral weight of the production of a big quantity of carbon dioxide, moving by plane.
A Literary inspiration
I own part of this choice also to Tiziano Terzani, my favorite writer, an Italian journalist who passed away some years ago. His name says probably nothing to the most, but if you like genuine travel literature (I guess so if you are reading this article), I would suggest you familiarize yourself with him.
One of his books, “One More Ride on the Merry-go-round”, is what I always suggest as a first option when I’m asked for reading suggestions. In Italy he’s kind of an icon for alternative people and travelers: it’s not a coincidence that in his gravestone he wanted to engrave the word “traveler”.
After a premonition revealed by a Fortune-Teller almost 20 years before, he decided to take up the challenge, and not to travel by plane for that whole year. Not an easy choice when you work as a foreign correspondent for the press! The chronicles of his travel by land in Asia were later given immortality in the book “A Fortune-Teller told me” that inspired a lot of travelers like me.
Italian Embassy is like a caring mother
With his memory in my mind, I went in New Delhi to try to obtain a Visa to enter in Pakistan: not an easy job, considering that the two countries were never best friends. But it was an unusually quiet period in their relations, giving me hope of being able to obtain my desired piece of paper.
Soon this possibility turned out to be harder than I thought.
At the Pakistani Embassy everything went smoothly, I could obtain a Visa if I was bringing all the required documentation: I was just missing a sending letter from the Italian Embassy before completing the process.
Just a formality I thought, and even some British travelers I met in New Delhi confirmed that they were able to take it on the spot just paying a few pounds at their Embassy.
But in Italy we always like to be different and to protect our “children”; it’s no surprise that we are called “Mama boys” because of people that use to live with their parents even in their thirties. And when your mum is not around, it’s the State that is taking care of you: “Be careful! Don’t go there! It’s dangerous!”
If you didn’t get it, at the Italian Embassy there was no way to convince the Ambassador to give me the letter, he was able to emit only a firm series of no’s out of his mouth. According to them Pakistan wasn’t safe because of terrorist attacks against the population, and they wouldn’t have taken the responsibility to send me there.
I had a plan B, but also that one failed very soon: the road through Nepal, Tibet, China and Russia was too complicated for me.
Russian and Chinese visas were very expensive, but the main obstacle was the impossibility to travel in Tibet as an independent traveler: the only possibility was a guided tour that would have funded the oppressive Chinese regime. Not an option for me.
I had no choice than taking a flight and postpone my plan.
Learning how to hitchhike
I landed in Istanbul at the end of August 2010, eventually being able to start my travel without flying. I seriously had no plans about what to do, and where to go, but when you are traveling and you live day by day, usually things just happen, you don’t have to look for them. That’s how I ended up meeting Ümit, a very young but mature Turkish traveler, back from a hitchhiking trip in Malaysia.
I did hitchhike before, but just when I was stuck somewhere and I had no other choice than stopping a car. Now it was going to be a completely new experience, relying only on this possibility.
When I arrived in Turkey the only thing I knew is that I wanted to “learn” how to hitchhike, one of the cheapest ways to travel that would have enabled me to extend my trips.
Ümit was eager to leave again for a new adventure and to be my counselor. You actually don’t really need a teacher to hitchhike, since the real master is experience, but I needed somebody that while I was standing on the edge of the ravine, would push me down to learn how to fly. And that’s exactly what happened, because even if I traveled hitchhiking for 45 days in Turkey, Ümit had to leave just after a few days. I traveled a little bit longer with his friend Ozan, before I was left completely alone and ready to go by myself.
From that moment started my new life as a hitchhiker. Clearly at this point I wasn’t expecting that the spiral that I activated would extend to almost three years of traveling without flying, 954 days to be more precise, across 23 countries and covering a total of 34 000 km by land (21 000 miles).
It wasn’t actually a single trip, but rather the combination of 7 long trips with short vacations in between. Yes, when you are traveling constantly, holidays means to stop for a while and to go and visit your family!
Many people still think that hitchhiking is not safe. I was picked up by thousands of cars and never had a single problem. The main risk while hitchhiking might be a car accident, but drivers tend to be more prudent when they have a stranger on-board. If I wouldn’t have trusted people, these three years of experiences wouldn’t have been possible.
I wandered from Turkey, to Portugal to North Cape, I met my life partner, I was sick, I healed, I missed my family, I was able to see the Northern Lights, I slept under bridges and in fancy houses.
Davide Vadalà is a nomadic traveler always looking for new adventures. Continuously changing his lifestyle, he now dreams to become a full time travel photographer.
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