Travels with 3 Euros a day?

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In October 2013 we left home with a little cash and a long road ahead . Our aim was to reach India over land or sea. As conscious hitchhikers and travelling pirates, we had quite some experience with low-budget adventures and had taken our first steps into simple living – we were baking bread, foraging wild food and moving slow within the boundaries of a city. We had a short history of failed squatting attempts and a more or less successful dumpster diving career. But this time we decided to go a bit further and thought of travelling the whole way to India with a small budget of 3 Euros per person per day.

Why? First of all, because it was time to leave Bulgaria before getting trapped in its net of wonders forever, secondly because we wanted to get as far as possible with our travel savings and we wanted to travel in a way as simple as possible, leaving behind unnecessary comforts. And last but not least because we believed and claimed that travel is a right and not a privilege, voluntarily participating in an experimental travel to simplicity. Also because of Taylor (RIP), a traveller who posted in CS that he had been all over Central Asia for a year with 800 dollars – we thought that if he had made it, we could probably also find our recipe to what we now jokingly call “miserable travels”.

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Roving piggy bank – we stored notes in a classic lutenitza jar for year and a half

After a year of many happy experiences and some disturbing episodes, with a lot of adaptation, we can claim to have graduated a Master of Minimal Travel Economics, with subjects ranging from Reasons why Turkish beer is cheaper in Georgia to The post agricultural state and the price of tomatoes in the steppe or The key to successful hostel negotiation in China. In this pseudo-academic journey we have come to a few essential conclusions that are worth being shared for the benefit of future “miserable travellers”. First of all, Asia is not so cheap; we have not gotten to Thailand or India yet, but so far we have been surprised by the standard of living and aspirations of people in many of the countries of this vast and diverse continent. The costs of living are often not much different from those on the Balkans – certainly a tragic revelation for a native Bulgarian and somebody who’s been earning a wage there for a while. A second discouraging discovery was that most of the people we meet do not want to travel like us. Although we planned to tell to each and every one “you can do this too”, we soon realized that our target group has already been reached by another bullet and prefers a plane and a hotel than a backpack and a tent; they often do not believe we have no Iphone but a map and most of the time are greatly worried about our future career and curious about family planning. Gradually we reached the conclusion that we had looked at the travels in Asia through the pink spectacles of a post-graduate novice, with our preconceptions influencing a misconception of reality. But we are not the only ones. We are just one couple of travellers among the thousands that flood the roads, all of us armed with suitcases and backpacks stuffed with delusional constructions of the world.

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Good morning Marta! What could money buy?

Only when we totally freed ourselves from the self-imposed responsibility of recruiting unwilling travellers for the roving caravan, we started properly enjoying the road and the peculiarities of local idiosyncrasies, completely immersing ourselves in everyday life wherever we went. In family gatherings or religious celebrations, while feeding camels or milking cows – life was a joy for the passing observants. However, we now know that we were only happy due to our idle ignorance. In fact we were milking more cows than we supposed…Have you ever heard of sponging? A traveller we met in Kashgar poured an ice water bucket over our astonished heads: ‘Hitchhikers and even worst cyclists, are a gang of self-centered extruders, only getting but never willing to give back’. Identified this way, as thirsty vampires roaming the world and maliciously sucking the limited resources of good-willed humanity we felt a heavy judging look upon us and although we fastly stroke back with the basic defensive argument that “not everyone is lucky enough to have a job in Germany or the UK and pay for an expensive holiday”, we actually took the baton and dedicated some time to reconsidering our whole philosophy.

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1 Yuan origami. Someone gave us change with love in Qinghai (China).

 

Money definitely matters. Money stinks, its pretty pictures printed in the cellars of infamous institutions, it passes from hand to hand gathering the grease of our greed and, essentially, is a filthy matter that we can’t do without.  Some accumulate it, some waste it, others ration it, and a few try to completely avoid it. But in any case, we are all “worried about money”, no matter in which box each of us falls. It is a means to finding our way when we can’t provide for ourselves, it’s a way to get anything we cannot produce, to food to water or a roof, it’s a way to little or big luxuries, to anything we want. When it comes to travelling, money seems to be considered absolutely paramount, since the elusive dream of complete self-sufficiency is incompatible with the nature of moving and exposing oneself to the vulnerabilities of the unknown. Some travellers say that money is not just the easiest means to finding their way through but also a form of contributing to the local economies of the places and communities they visit.  The obsession with “giving back” follows each of us on our idle days on the road, but we believe that every traveller looks for a different way to share whatever s/he can. Money is a tool to sort our basic needs, maybe including the need to give, but we want to remember, it is not the only and universal way.  We think that to meaningfully engage with people on the road, we do not need to have a stack of dollars in the pocket, that the time spent, the skills shared and the friendships made might be just as important, of even more, than a few pennies spent in finding our cheapest way to comfort. In the end, all of them might just be excuses for our own inability to truly contribute to the local issues we observe while passing by. But in any case, we can only advice, give what you have, and go beyond the money paradigm.

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A grandfather told us in Russian that “money is a very important thing, but by far not the most important of all”.

How can one travel with 3 Euros a day?

Travelling with 3 Euros a day is more of a hurdle race than a holiday. It is about getting to one’s basic needs and finding out what is truly essential. In other words, it is about eating ice-cream on special days instead of every afternoon. It is a way of putting oneself in unknown hands, of trusting the stranger and of finding creative solutions to the issue of giving back. But anyway, we do not really know what it is. We failed. After counting and adding numbers in twelve currencies, using our excel skills for the benefit of truth, we can only openly state that we have actually failed the challenge. Our average budget has been 3.30 Euros per person per day, including all food, accommodation, teas, beers and internet. To travel this way has not been easy, and we often tell people that 4 or 5 Euros would be a wiser amount, that ten or twenty would mean comfort, that more might be splurging but in the end, it is an individual choice. There is no perfect way to travel, but for those poor “supertramps” who want to see the world and travel towards simplicity, here is our 3.3 recipee:

365 days of 3.3 Euros per day. This is the chart of our simple travels. *Note*
365 days of 3.3 Euros per day. This is the chart of our simple travels.
*Note* “Others” include random stuff that does not fall into any other category (from toothpaste, to gifts, to postcards or chopsticks)

 

Additional costs during our first year of travel:

– Visas: 240 Euros p.p. We keep visa budget separate from everyday life on the road, because they vary according to where we are. In Georgia, Armenia, Turkey we stayed for almost half a year with minimal (or zero) visa expenses, while in Central Asia these costs raised to their heights.

– Travel Insurance: 140 Euros p.p. for one year. A gift from Boris grandpa for us. Our insurance is very very basic, covering only health emergencies (no robbery, no flights cancelling, no fancy stuff). It helped us out in a couple of occasions, but it’s a whole new post to discuss whether it’s needed and for what.

– A laptop: 200 Euros. This is an extra (and big expense) which luckily you will probably not have. But we got stolen our old netbook right at the time when we were starting to write travel articles for magazines, so we invested our combined birthday gifts in that.

1. Food is all that matters

Food is the main reason we decided to travel with money, instead of surfing bravely the world with empty wallets. When we planned our long journey we thought we did not want to depend on the fridges of our potential hosts, or fall into the trap of taking from those who may offer more than they can afford. We also wanted to be able to bring a meal to any table.

In the quest of not carving new dents to our belts we are always happy to try the delicacies of local street food (provided it has no flesh or bones), and enjoy exploring all the labels in foreign supermarkets finding new flavours and learning from the mistakes of our curiosity. However, it is in markets that we feel like children in an attraction park. We jump among the stalls of fresh vegetables and dry fruits, gather tiny packages of tea, and eventually, as we leave the markets behind, we always find out that our backpacks are well overweight. Dumpster diving has not been an option in Asia for us (due to the hygienic state of the trash bins), but we did some community food gathering in Tbilisi, collecting disposed vegetables from market stalls for group meals in a cultural center and the response from the sellers was amazing.

In the course of our travel, we were happy to discover, that 3 Euros per day is enough to feed more than only two people and that beyond simply ‘belly stuffing’, satisfying the whims of our gastronomic palates, proved to be also perfectly doable with a little dose of creativity. We forage in the forest, we buy in town, gathering flavours from everywhere around. And just like at home, we cook every day. Either on our stove, on fire, or at somebody’s kitchen. Vegetarian meals are what we offer to our hosts. We eat as local as possible, which means stuffing ourselves with oranges in Turkey all over November, with beetroot and cabbage during the Caucasian winter, with rice in Iran and bread in Central Asia. Food is the way we often participate in family life. And an occasional visit to a local restaurant is what gives names to the recipes we try in any home.

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We discovered that carrots are yellow in market in Osh (Kyrgyzstan)
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Food for all (from disposed market boxes to community meals in Tbilisi)
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Raspberries – fruits and leaf tea.
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Tibetan breakfast in Qinghai (China). Tsampa and bread.

2. Transport is something else than a way of moving from A to B to C to A

India has become an excuse more than a destination and we have learnt that every spot on the map could be a station. We hitchhike all the way, no matter the season, and have discovered that this is a universally recognized way of moving, even in countries when it is claimed to be uncommon. For us transport is rather about ‘stuffing’ gaps, in trucks, cars or caravans, than simply moving fast. Hitchhiking is our way to fill the map with the most interesting stories and encounters.

Walking is how we discover any city, the tourist centers, the marginal neighbourhoods and the hidden tracks to nearby hills. It is also the way we get out of most cities, suffering and enjoying every step of the way out of town in equal terms.There is something special in treading out of a city, in letting it unveil its ugliest corners, the roads to the highway, the train lines. We walk for miles on dust or asphalt, hiking in nature whenever we have the chance has been the way to the scent of herbs and forest fruits, to natural hot springs, to forgotten ruins, to the rough kindness of the mountain dwellers.

That does not mean though, we have decided to completely turn back to public transport. Although we are not big fans of long bus drives, sometimes we ride around town on trams, trolleys, buses or underground. And we like catching a train from time to time, to rest from the hitchhiking dynamic and watch the landscapes pass like in a trotting movie. We love trains.

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Two days and one night through Gobi in a truck (China)
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A window to Pamir in the back of a pick-up (Kyrgyzstan)
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Bus characters in Turkmenistan.
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Walking roads and landscapes (Kazakhstan)

3. A roof if a roof when the rain is coming

Most of the evenings, our work starts when the sun sets, and we need to get clever at least for a couple of minutes – find a flat and clean spot hidden from the road, be careful not to step on people’s fields, calculate where the sun rises from, make sure we will won’t freeze and wake up with a toe or two out of order, cross our fingers, combined with a passionate pray to the clouds just in case, that it does not rain inside the tent again.

We sleep under the stars or sheltered by an old tent (the best gift we could have received when ours got lost), at the end of villages, in meadows, by rivers, in forests and mountains. And although we love urban camping, and sneaking into abandoned places, we must confess that Couchsurfing and BeWelcome have spared us many sleepless nights in big cities or dusty towns and has brought us some of the best company. But the hospitality of people is boundless, and doesn not thrive only in social networks. While hitchhiking, drivers are often brilliant hosts, that take us home showing proudly around what they found by the roadside. Also while walking around villages we are invited into yards, verandas or homes, and in the mountain we have fallen asleep around the boiling stove of simple shepherd’s huts. Entering somebody’s home is a gift for the travellers, that never ceases to surprise, it is a micro-universe of interior landscapes to be re-discovered every day.

Of course, we sometimes sleep in guesthouses or hostels too (although we do not like talking about it, hehe!). Dormitories, pilgrims shelters, simple rooms, gardens and rooftops. The only thing we need is a window and a place to cook. And we have to confess that a couple of days of foreign travellers talks and fresh air makes us feel accompanied along the way. 

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A cop suggested us to camp between the roses (Almaty, Kazakhstan)
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At home in a rooftop (Kashgar, China)
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Squatting a cabin by the train tracks (Novi Afon, Abkhazia)
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A birthday present – we treat ourserselves to a night in a yurt (Tash Rabat, Kyrgyzstan)

4. Culture is everywhere

One of us loves museums, it’s something she can’t deny, and suffers with the astronomic prices of some entrance tickets, and saves on drinks to visit art. But there are many times when free stuff is the best stuff, when discounts apply, or when a blog can be a visit card to some pricey location. We have learnt that there are no “must sees” (ok, just a few) , and that cheaper alternatives to the tourist hot spots often hide unknown surprises.

Culture is music on the streets and in scented gardens, is art that tattoos the skin of the cities – its architecture, sculptures, frescoes, murals or grafitties. Culture is the story that an archeologist tells you over bread and tea, or a student lets you guess, it is history written on each wall and every cracked tile. We believe that learning about a place is way more than collecting beautiful entrance tickets.

We have discovered that artists and artisans live in the most unexpected towns and villages, their creations completing the beauty of what is around. To appreciate and support their work, we like buying what they make, but our backpacks are too heavy to become a roving gallery  and we keep nothing for ourselves,  sending treasures to some of our readers instead (and thus getting the chance to explore the shadowy world of post offices in every country! uff! visiting them over and over has not helped us unraveling the puzzling riddle of how on Earth do they work – we are still surprised most parcels reach Europe safe).

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Waking up on the rooftop of a caravanserai, with a view towards Mileto’s ruins (this time nvited by the owner!)
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There are places we don’t want to miss (Persepolis, Iran)
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The director of a petroglyphs site refused charging a penny to low budget travellers (Cholpon Ata, Kyrgyzstan)

5. Drinks

Water is a human right and should cost no more than the air, do not stay thirsty. Cold with lemon or mint, warm with tea, with ginger and honey, with powder chocolate. There is always an affordable drink in every country. Turkish tea in every petrol station, Iranian tea in every park, in Central Asia the same fermented leaves served with milk and in the Tibetan mountains in a peculiar combination of salt and butter. In China, littres and littres of hot water stored in plastic-thermos.  

But, what about beer? – here comes the tricky question. We wished we had carried Bulgarian bottles for three months in Turkey, the weight we saved in our backs got heavy on our pockets. Georgia was a blessing for our drinking half – morning cha cha (vodka) in the villages, evenings of home-made wine, the post-soviet version of homeopathy. In Iran we stepped into underground wineries, in Iraq walked the Christian neighbourhoods and later on met the spirits loving version of Muslims in Central Asia. We are not the best clubbers, but can enjoy an afternoon under the sun, a drink in a park or some sort of party, specially in the countries where it is part of the official culture, or the hidden one. And if you happen to have some time and the right herbs at hand, why not brew yourself some drinks on the way?

‏Iraq_Hawrawman_Good spot for a beer
Beer over Mesopotamia (Halabja, Kurdistan, Iraq)
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Beer or kompot… a tough choice in Turkmenistan

6. Wifi comes served with a cup of tea

We have found free internet in an Armenian park, in Chinese hostels or Kyrgyz caffes. If you carry your own device, there are better ways to update Facebook than sitting on a loud and hectic internet caffee. For emergencies, we have sometimes asked in the lobby of fancy hotels. And, for us, there is no better place than a cozy teahouse to catch up with reading, writing and Skype.

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Chinese traditional tea ceremony
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Sugar with tea in Iraq

7. Showers are your only concern

Well, this is what you may think at the beginning of your travel, when one day of dirty hair is a nightmare in the photo album. Although in a few places, maybe only in Iran, shower is offered as often as tea, it’s not the case in the rest of destinations. On sunny days one can get hot water in Turkey, once a week is bath day in Kyrgyzstan (and their hot “banya” are worth the waiting!), and we are still to discover the shower pattern in Tibet. Our advice: dip into river and lakes whenever you can, and never ever say no to a shower invitation. You never know when it is gonna be the next time!

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Bathing in Issyk Kul…did Boris get shower pass his knees? We let you guess!
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“Shower” is a flexible concept (Yushu, Tibet – Qinghai)
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In the name of bath. Hot (warm) spring in Borjomi, Georgia

8. And back to giving back

Everybody has something that someone else may need, and we do not speak only of materials things. Languages, knowledge, tips and random skills. Share what you know and be generous with your time. And whatever you give, a coffee to your drivers, some hours of work, meals, gifts, hugs or smiles, do so with joy.

Nuo and the fist ovenless pizza
Nuo really wanted to learn how to bake pizza. There was no oven to be found or bought in town. But there is always a solution!
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Boris, Marta and Burma roam the world at a speed of a snail. Two humans and one cat that found their way to India overland.

21 Responses

  1. annathrax
    | Reply

    Thanks for an amazing read.

  2. Nomads At Heart
    | Reply

    I can see that you put a lot of effort into writing this post…. and it’s great. You wrote it really well.

    I like your approach to giving back to the community. It seems to be so much healthier, while at the same time probably hard to achieve and requiring lots of effort which not all people are willing to do. Giving or spending money is almost effortless, therefore preferable by many.

    Keep up what you’re doing and please continue to create good karma for all people and travelers around the world. :)

    • rovingsnails
      | Reply

      Our dear Nomads at Heart, precisely you know what sharing means. With our without money it is sometimes hard to find the balance between giving and taking, but let’s all try in our own way.
      Hope to the road meets us again :)

  3. Grant
    | Reply

    Hey Marta and Boris – We traveled the Chola Pass together earlier in September with the help of my brother-in-law. I wasn’t able to access your website while in China but I checked it out now that I am home in Boston. Good to see you guys are doing well. Enjoy the rest of the Middle Kingdom!

    – Grant

    • rovingsnails
      | Reply

      Hey Grant! We are so happy to hear from you! The story about Dege is on the way. We hope you had a nice holiday in China and the West Coast. We will be waiting for your book….

  4. madsquidd
    | Reply

    Definitely THE BEST blog post I’ve seen in months! You got so many brilliant point of views.. I love it! I am going away soon, too and you got me thinking with this one.. Gonna read more.. Good luck and spread the love 😉
    Alen

  5. Antonio Aguilar
    | Reply

    Great as usual! Congrats on your first year of inspiring adventure, proving once again that traveling is by far cheaper than staying at home! All the best in what is there to come!

    • rovingsnails
      | Reply

      Thanks Antonio! We should concratulate you too, if we remember well! Travelling is in the end, one more way of spending our everyday life. Happy travels to you too!

  6. Eduardo
    | Reply

    Once again it’s a real pleasure to read to you, Boris & Marta. As astonishing as your special way of life and travel is your incredible capacity of transmitting your experiences to all of us, in such a wonderful way than we can almost visit the same places as you.
    I suppose this will not be the first time that you both heard this, but you have to seriously consider the possibility of writing a book after all this great trip. It would be a best seller sure! “xúrooscho” This is for Marta’s Galician roots.
    Keep on your magic way and my best regards.

  7. Hitch-Hikers Handbook
    | Reply

    Great article, guys! I love the way you travel and we also hope to show during our forthcoming trip with our chain of learning teaching and gift-giving that hitchhikers are not a bunch of stinky leeches! 😉

    • rovingsnails
      | Reply

      Definitely, you will! And share and tell us how to make simple travels easier to understand :)

  8. francaangloitalian
    | Reply

    I’m so glad I stumbled on your blog, great post guys! I though we (me and Dale) were quite good as budget travellers but it’s clearly not the case. I’m so impressed about how you guys travel and the interesting experiences you get from your travel style too. What you do is very inspiring :)

  9. […] yo hago X € a la hora y tengo un niño”, pero familias como estas o viajeros como Boris y Marta nos demuestran cada día que es posible. Cuanto menor sean tus ingreso, más tiempo se tardará en […]

  10. Alex
    | Reply

    Love and respect, great story and amazing adventures.
    After few years of travelling, I’ve decided I would not do it ever again though.
    Coming from a country where money is actually not too hard to save, I find it very frustrating to visit others, and CS host, with very low budget. What I love when I meet awesome lovely people, is to make sure they spend a special day/night, not thinking about money. And there’s no secret for that ; you need savings. That’s always a problem for me, when I have a bit of savings, I’m paying rounds in bar all the time…
    I’m writing this from north Brazil, completely broke, and don’t find this a funny adventure anymore. But I’m not travelling as a couple either, maybe sharing this project is different than struggling alone.

    I mean when you get to meet beautiful people in a country already pretty cheap, where people can’t save and travel much, I just want to make their lives a bit easier for them for few days, I don’t want to think about my budget and their budget all the time anymore. I’m not talking about Champagne everyday, but if we can go to the restaurant they never go because it’s a bit too expensive, or the bar they usually don’t like to go because cocktails are too pricy, I’d love to be able to bring them there coming from the Euros zone…

    • rovingsnails
      | Reply

      Hey Alex! That’s a very good point, we totally understand you and agree that if you have a comfortable budget is great to share with your hosts something special. It’s very encouraging to see comments like yours.

      But when we wrote this post, and in general when we try to share tips about budget travelling, we would not like to encourage in any way a lack of sharing, but much the opposite. It’s more to tell those who come from countries where it’s not so easy to save a big bunch of euros, that travel is also possible for them, that sharing is possible no matter what you own. If you can afford the restaurant, it’s great, if you can afford homemade bread, why should that be worse? For those who search for a simple way of living, sharing simple things is just like everything else in life.

      About the exhaustion of travelling, it affects lonely travellers and couples too, sometimes we wish we could sleep for a few days and then go back to the road. But the travel goes on and on in its exhausting but surprising manners. We send you our best wishes, hoping you will find what you need at this moment, or to go on, or to go home, whether financial means or simple company or a rest from adventure.

      Thanks for writing! And happy days wherever you are (in Brazil or somehwere else).

      :)

  11. Katie Featherstone
    | Reply

    I’ve been so interested to read your updates about this monster journey! You’re right about travelling on a very small budget being hard work. Dan and I spent 8 months in Trinidad & Tobago and South America for an average of an average of about 4.50 a day, but Tobago was so expensive that I think we spent about a third of our money there in one month. Wifi became impossible near the end when we were in Bolivia and I had to abandon the blog for about 5 weeks because we just couldn’t afford to use an internet cafe (and we were living in the woods).

    Although hitchhiking is more or less universal, it can be pretty difficult getting a free ride as two blonde people some places in South America. We didn’t try in Colombia as our Spanish was terrible and we were a bit scared of kidnapping stories, Ecuador was easy and Peru wasn’t too bad, but it just became infeasibly slow. We gave up one day in the desert when we’d only managed 40km in about 12 hours and were charged for our last ride.

    Anyway, your journey was a lot more adventurous than ours and I’m jealous in a way. I hope you have many more adventures!

    • rovingsnails
      | Reply

      Wow Katie! That looks like a pretty big adventure to us! For a month, a year or a lifetime, all travel travel is worth the trouble. But you are totally right that sometimes we need to give up for a while, take a rest, enjoy some extra pleasures like muffins, chocolate or internet. And catch up with ourselves to be able to enjoy the journey. Thanks for reading and commenting. And happy journeys to come!

  12. Pragya
    | Reply

    Amazing is an understatement for you guys! I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve started to idolise the three of you. How I wish I’m done with college and take a year off.. Such a life is far from reality as of now, I have three more years to go. Anyway, kudos to you guys! 😀

    • Roving Snails
      | Reply

      It took us three years to start the journey from the day that we said out loud “we are going to India overland”. Enjoy the time in between, for dreams are part of the magic. And happy travels in the meantime!

  13. Shadow
    | Reply

    Hi I’m a new follower recently discovering your Facebook page. Thank you for a really interesting and encouraging blog. At the moment I’m enjoying living vicariously through others but maybe one day I will experience this for myself.

    • Roving Snails
      | Reply

      Hi Shadow! We did the same as yu while dreaming of a long travel, reading stories of old and current travellers, and planning the way. And it was part of it, anyway. Happy travels!

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