Paris, the city of dreams, romance, and luxury that would have been difficult for me to visit due to the exorbitant hotel prices. The minimum cost I could find on Airbnb for a day in Paris was 50€ (4000rs), and 30€ (2400rs) for a 8-shared dorm, which is mostly unavailable. Yet, I did visit Paris not just once but for several times and adding all those trips, it makes it around 20 days that I have spent in Paris for free. Moreover, I continued my journey in other European countries and that too for free accommodation every time. Is it possible though?
Absolutely yes! Where there’s a will, there’s always a way!
My way was to Hitchhike and Couchsurfing”. Just in case if you’re wondering what couchsurfing is then come aboard with me to the journey of 4000 Kms on which I had been embarked on for 17 days in Europe without spending a single penny on accommodation which in fact is considered the most expensive part of a voyage.
It has been five months in France as a student. I didn’t have work rights on my visa. My semester at the university of Rennes was about to finish and I was almost out of cash. However, the zeal to travel was in there. Being an admirer of Christopher McCandless and of his adventures in the book “Into The Wild” I learned a lot and not just about travelling; it also had an immense impact on my life regarding money and materialism.
I also watched the Ted talk of Tomislav Perko, a well-known traveller who travelled the world for free. I always wanted to try the same adventure but at that moment it felt like I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t really have any emergency money (money for the little surprises that a voyage plans for you which it always does). I have had my credit cards but no cash, so I decided to drop my travelling plans.
Just Kidding! I could never quit on my travelling plans and mentioning the word plan reminded me, I didn’t really make many plans for this journey except I bought a sleeping bag and decided the cities I was going to visit. Here are they :
- Rennes ~> Lille
- Lille ~> Brussels
- Brussels ~> Luxembourg
- Luxembourg ~> Strasbourg (and a little detour to Kehl, Germany)
- Strasbourg ~> Paris
- Paris ~> Geneva
- Geneva ~> Milan
- Milan ~> Paris (Via Lyon)
- Paris ~> Rennes
- And that is it.
The voyage started in Rennes where I was about to complete my language studies. Rennes is a vibrant city and has a bustling ambiance at some major spots. The secret of Rennes’ charm lies in the great diversity of the heritage. Over a relatively small area, a pleasant stroll spans the centuries, changing from one era to another with no significant rupture.
The metro and the bus service are quite good in Rennes even though only one metro line is available. The well-known Rue de la soif roughly translates as “Drinkers Alley” or “The Thirsty Road” is inspiriting to spend your weekend. It holds a record in France for having a bar every 7 metres. In other words, it is the Hauz Khas village of Delhi, India.
Another great part of the city is that you need to know a few people and every time you stroll in the city, you are going to encounter at least one familiar face. Moreover, les Bretons (people of Brittany) are super friendly so you won’t have any problem making new friends and it’s here, where I commenced my journey to this wabi-sabi world.
I have no clue where to begin about this amazing city where I had countless fun. I arrived in Lille on 31st of May. My host Greg came to pick me up at the bus station where I met him for the first time. He’s a forty three year old, well now a forty four year old man who loves to meet travellers around the world. He has already hosted more than six hundred couchsurfers from almost fifty countries.
By the way, I forgot to mention about Couchsurfing. It is an amazing platform for travellers to find an accommodation to stay for free. Yes, you read it right – Free it is. The application allows two strangers to connect and offer a diverse cultural experience to both users – The host and the guest. I dropped a request to stay in Lille on my couchsrufing application and Greg contacted me. I confirmed my arrival after getting the details and that’s how I found an amazing mate and a home I am always welcome to in Lille.
Greg lives in a 1BK apartment in vieux-Lille (Old Lille). We walked all the way to home from the bus station where a Brazilian couple (travellers), who were Greg’s guest just like me, were cooking Brazilian food which we all ate later and it looked healthy and tasted delicious. After a while, we were joined by a friend of Greg who came from Marseille, to participate in the Gay pride the following day. I didn’t know about this event when I made my “plans” for Lille but believe me I was lucky that I didn’t miss it. Moreover, I was staying at Greg’s and that made it much more fun but that’s all about the next day, that first night, we spent it in a club boozing and dancing. Here are some pictures.
The next day started with miss Amira (Greg’s cat) giving me a massage to wake me up.
We were ready to leave the apartment by 9:30. Greg and I took a stroll to see what was going on in the city. The city seemed more flamboyant than it usually would be. There were people playing beer pong. The city was out on the roads and that is what I like about festivals in France that the whole city celebrates it together. I have been a part of many festivals and it was every time a wonderful experience. We moved on to a near by place “Gay village” where the stage was set and live music was going on, one guy was dancing and a lot of colourful shops were omnipresent to give away free stuffs like condoms, badges etc. It was there, in that Gay village, where I had my best sandwich in France “poulet sandwich”. The fun was just getting started.
Later, we moved to the city centre to have our lunch. Mathieu was also with us now and another Indian guy joined us there who came from Romania for some work and was going to stay at Greg’s. So far, yesterday, It was the Brazilian couple, Greg, Mathieu and I. Today, the Brazilian couple moved to Paris, and so it was Greg, Mathieu, Gay couple from Brussels (Did I even mention them), Indian guy and I and all of us in one hall at Greg’s. Greg used to keep inflatable beds which were really useful as I was sleeping on one, however I was also carrying my sleeping bag. We finished our lunch and took a cab to home so that the Indian guy (I really don’t remember his name) could leave his luggage.
Now, the Gay pride means fun in Europe. It is celebrated in many European countries and on different dates in different cities. We went to the city centre again to join the parade. It was an awesome experience to see such a vibrant and huge celebration. People were dressed up differently and some just wore their exotic lingeries. In lieu of describing it thoroughly in words, going to share some videos so that you feel the vibes.
Next day, I left Greg’s place at 7 in the morning even though we spent the whole night at a bar having fun. Greg even paid for my drinks and entry fee for the bar as I was on a budget. My bus was scheduled for 8:30 and the bus station was a 20mins walk from Greg’s place that took me 30-35 mins as it was a but tricky to find the station. Earlier, before leaving, I discussed with Greg that I haven’t found a host in Brussels yet and I am still looking for one who can offer me something to crash on. Greg shared some contacts and I texted them asking for a free accommodation. I was in the bus to Brussels with not wanting to spend money on a hotel/hostel and I kept my sleeping bag for a similar situation. However, luckily before I arrived at Brussels bus station, I had not one but two hosts to choose from.
I chose Henri, a French language professor in a Belgian university who turned out to be a wonderful host and a very interesting person to talk to. He asked me to meet him at a language workshop at some bar around 4-5 O’clock.
I arrived in Brussels around 10 O’clock, so I used all the time to explore the city’s main touristic spots. I also wandered in every city which used to take me to different non touristic places. In Brussels, I visited Grand place, Manneken pis and I entered a few markets while roaming around the city. Usually, I am not up for clichés though when it comes to food, it must be respected, lmao. I savoured the famous Belgian waffles, Belgian fries and though the Brazilian couple at Greg’s had already offered me some Belgian chocolates, I did taste some in Belgium for free. I used to enter the chocolaterie and they always offer you some to taste, trust me nobody minds if you don’t buy. Moreover, when you’re travelling on a budget and you get free cultural flavours, Never Deny!
After having spent the day wandering around in the city, I met Henry at the bar. He put my rucksack in his car as we stayed for an hour to enjoy the workshop where I talked to some other locals and tourists who were the part of the workshop before heading for Henry’s. Unfortunately, I spent only one evening with him but it was an amazing evening. We talked over different topics and luckily I kept something for such an occasion, I gifted him the book “Khuswantnama”. For Greg and for my host in Strasbourg, I bought Calvados as a parting gift from an intermaché in Rennes. Henri made plenty of arrangements and cooked healthy food for dinner. I got to know more about Brussels from him and he also helped me to prepare for my next day’s 220kms hitchhiking journey from Brussels to Luxembourg. We made paper cards and a plan on where to start my first hitchhiking experience.
At first, I was supposed to take the couch in the hall and use my sleeping bag as there were two more travellers staying at Henri’s. A girl from US and a guy from India. The guy decided to stay out the whole night and I got the room luckily. I didn’t mention earlier that Henri has also hosted many couchsurfers. The number is even greater than that of Greg’s.
Next morning, I had no bus ticket but a destination to reach. I was all by my own to reach Luxembourg. I knew it would be good to start early, so I set off at 6 or 6:30 in the morning from Brussels after having said “good bye” to Henri.
You know what- bidding farewell is not easy when you make a connection with someone in no time. It was hard for me to say good bye to many people during my journey though I learnt this during my first voyage in Goa in 2017 that –
Parting is such a sweet sorrow if you know the pleasure of reunion.Anonymous Supertramp
It was pouring when I left Henry’s. I took a tram and a metro to reach my destination to commence my first hitchhiking journey. I read about two good spots on Hitchwiki. The first spot was a petrol pump and when I got there, I was frightened by the hustle and bustle as I was expecting less crowd so less people looking at me when I stand with the paper placard. I couldn’t do it there and started walking to the next location for next ten mins. Meanwhile I kept thinking if I can still catch a bus and just for the sake of an alternative, I checked the buses but either there was none or they were hell expensive. I arrived at the second preferred spot as per Hitchwiki and had no other option but to execute the experiment and it became the best experience of my life.
Read about my Hitchhiking experience here : Is Hitchhike in Europe Safe?
Four hours of Hitchhike journey was worth a lifetime experience and a few lessons. My third ride dropped me near to the Luxembourg city centre and it took me a few minutes of walk to appreciate this view.
I didn’t even spend 24 hours in Luxembourg but that’s okay I’ll visit it again. Also, Luxembourg is a small country and the capital city is walkable for a traveller. I walked 20kms or more in Luxembourg city and didn’t use any local transport. Pure Courage, isn’t it?
After having watched around all the spots and having had a Kebab and fries in my lunch, I went to a park around 5 in the evening and stayed there a while. It is the best park I have ever been to as it was a park but it seemed like I was in the woods. Some people were jogging and a few were walking. Unfortunately, I didn’t click pictures because I was completely worn out. I walked in the park for a while and then sat on a bench. I felt extremely worn out. My eyes ached and started to tear up. I decided to take a nap and used my rucksack as a pillow and put my phone under my pant for safety and dozed off. Perhaps the most satisfying nap I ever had.
Side note, you should try fries in Luxembourg, it was the ‘most satisfying’ fries I have ever had.
The reason for spending only one day in Luxembourg was that I didn’t get any host and I had no place to stay but the open sky. The option was either the sleeping bag at a bus station maybe or find a way. As I mentioned earlier, this journey was a trial for me to travel the world in a way only few people would dare to. I wasn’t ready for all the risks in the first journey itself (will sleep in it next time maybe) so after a few hours of my arrival in Luxembourg, I started to look for a solution.
Around at 2 O’clock, I knew it was already late to wait for a host anymore. I decided to take an overnight bus to Strasbourg to cope up with the situation of being stranded on the road at night. Also, so that I could sleep in the bus and it seemed a fair plan as I already had an offer from a host in Strasbourg.
I woke up from my nap and went to the city centre where I watched some people dressed as same and performing with a flag. I spent some more time and then headed to the same place for another Kebab and fries, this time I took those fries twice. The bus I booked was scheduled to depart at 1:30 a.m.
I arrived to the bus station around 10:30p.m. as I didn’t want to roam around the city at midnight. I walked to the station using GPS and still had to ask a guy in a restaurant for proper directions. Luxembourg, though a small city, gave me too much to remember and one best thing happened at the bus station as well.
I met an amazing and enthusiastic man at the Luxembourg bus station. I am good at making friends and new connections with people and I truly believe that you can learn many things from the surroundings – Human Animal, Animals, Trees, Birds – Nature has placed everything to learn from all around us. It is well said that “Not All Classrooms Have Four Walls”. I learned a lot this way.
His name is George, a Filipino American, 71 years old, I have been writing about him on my Instagram often. He gave me his wonderful perspective on life. Something he said and I would like to quote “I am not someone who will wait for death to come, my life is a gift and I am gonna make the best out of it. I travel to feel alive”.
His sense of humour and his zeal for life touched me. I told him about my trip and all the fun I had during my journey. He appreciated the way I was travelling especially the hitchhiking part as I was ready to take risks for something I loved. He always wanted to travel to Eastern Europe but wasn’t courageous enough because of its reputation. He offered me to travel to Eastern Europe with him in 2020 and that he would take care of everything. We still exchange emails once a month to stay in touch.
This post is still in construction and I’ll complete it soon by adding my experience in Strasbourg, Paris, Geneva and Milan.
So is it possible to travel for free?
I’d like to say that it is 100% possible for domestic travelling. People have done it but it is practicable only if you have the courage to make it practicable. Also, it is important to mention that for international travel, as you have to buy a flight and pay for a visa, it is not 100% percent free but everything else can be free.
Since I was already in France for my studies, I didn’t have to pay for a separate flight and visa. Luckily, French Student visa allows a person to travel to all Schengen countries in Europe. I made the best out of it that I could by travelling to six countries and I always used couchsurfing. I never paid for accommodation, the most expensive travel expense of all.
In Lille, I was with Greg and he was generous enough to pay for my bar entries and drinks as well. I did spend money on food in Lille but accommodation was free and commute from Paris to Lille was cheap, only 3€.
In Brussels, I didn’t have to pay for my food either as Henri was kind enough to offer me dinner and I had packed some snack for the day. I spent hardly 5€ in Brussels. I even got Belgian chocolates to taste for free 😉
In Luxembourg, I didn’t spend money on the travel commute as I hitchhiked all the way from Brussels. It was a wonderful experience and during my future journeys, I am going to do it pretty often. I spent money on food only around 10€ for buying Kebab twice in a day in Luxembourg.
One of the reason for spending money was also that it was my first trip and I didn’t want to miss out on something like having the famous Belgian waffles or fries. As I mentioned enough, it was a trial to something much bigger I am planning. It was a trial to see if travelling for free is actually possible and I found out my answer. It is.
In Strasbourg, I didn’t spend money on accommodation and I always used to walk anywhere and everywhere. I didn’t have extra money to spend nor I wanted to. I wanted to see how far I am willing to go to make my dream possible, dream of travelling the world without money. I even traversed the international border between France and Germany as it lies in Strasbourg. In 2018, I remember I gave a detailed exposé in my French class at Alliance Française de Delhi on the topic – “Travel without money” and I truly believed in it.
The biggest achievement to this quest was that I never paid for accommodation in all of those seven cities. I saved on commute by hitchhiking and at several occasions, I was offered free food and drinks. Like in Geneva, almost everything was free for me. I had an accommodation, my host Mohi was offering me food as well and I didn’t use to pay bus tickets (not recommended). I was ready to take all the risks to quench my wanderlust.
Finally, if you have a dream and you do believe in it, no one can stop you. Travelling without money is my dream and I am willing to pursue it at any cost, HeHa not literal cost. It is not like I can’t afford to travel but it is the way I want to travel and it allows me to travel further than I can afford. Plus, I don’t just want to see Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal but I want to live Paris and Agra. I want to make connections with people all around the world. I want to see if humanity is still alive. I want to find myself in this huge world. Therefore, wait for it until I make it 100% free.
Subscribe the blog for my next post on how to deal with the situation if you lose your Indian passport in a European country.