Hitchhiking through continents – interview with Sebastian Chnelik

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The route

Sebastian Chnelik, 29, from Argentina, has started his impressive transcontinental hitchhiking journey about 20 month ago. He started this trip with 50 dollars in his pocket. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean while working on a sailing boat and right now he is hitchhiking around North of Europe. He hitchhiked police vehicles, a crane, an ambulance, sailboats and even trains. He visits local schools and communities to talk about his adventures and to spread the word about this kind of lifestyle and now we asked him to share a little bit about his story with you. 

Arctic Circle, Russia

What kind of life did you have before fully dedicating yourself to travelling? 

I was a guy who travelled every morning standing on a bus full of people to arrive to the office located in the center of Buenos Aires, where I was working as an engineer. After work I attended classes at the university until late in the evening, sometimes even till 11 pm. After my class, I hopped on a hopefully not full bus and arrived back home around midnight. I had been doing this for years, from Monday to Friday. And I found this life interesting. 

But everything changed when I spent my holidays hiking alone in the mountains of North-West Argentina, for the first time. I found a whole new world. I experienced different cultures and ways of living. I gained a lot of knowledge, I saw a lot of people smiling. And I found time for myself where I could leave behind the stress and overstimulation, which are many times caused by the modern way of living. That experience made me return to travelling, because I was convinced that if I had wanted to continue studying the world should have been my classroom. For me, life is there to discover and we have to refine ourselves again and again along the way to find our answers to the questions we raise. 

How did you prepare for this trip?

It has been 5 years since I started travelling. I returned to Argentina to meet my family and hometown, and for cultural nostalgia some times. It is 20 months now, that I am not in my beloved Latinamerica.

Usually, before travelling to a specific place, I gather information on various topics. I am interested in history, traditions, or others’ adventures. I like to connect with people! For example, I learn about what places to see in Portugal. I talk with someone from India and listen to their stories. Or, I read about someone who did plane-hitchhiking, etc. 

I tend to have a route, an idea in mind. But I also know that having an initial idea or information about a new place is not comparable to eventually be at that place and talk to locals or fellow travellers, or experience things personally. I am prepared to take these inputs in order to make the best decisions or to be able to improvise when it’s needed.

I started this particular trip with the idea in mind to reach another continent by working on a sailing boat or on a ship.  By that time I did not matter if I had sailed on the Pacific Ocean and or through the Atlantic Ocean. I just wanted to sail an ocean. 

How do you travel?

To move from place to place,  I mainly do hitchhiking or I work on sailing boats or ships when it is necessary . Sometimes, in big cities, I use public transport.

I sleep at friends’ houses, I couchsurf or I stay at people’s houses I meet on the way. I have slept at fire stations, hospitals, police stations, churches, train stations, airports, even at random people’s homes when they hosted me. I eventually can go to hostels/hotels and offer work in exchange for a place to sleep. Sometimes, if it is not so cold, and I have a tent and I want to, I camp somewhere.

For food, or anything else, I work or do exchange. I see what I can do in exchange for what I need. I have done photography, translations, cleaning, cooking, administering a dolls museum, to mention some cases.

Would you share some tips about hitchhiking?

There are general, logical methods which help in almost all cases. I choose places, like control zones, intersections where vehicles go slower and drivers have more time to see me and decide whether they want to take me or not. Or where cars usually stop, eg. gas stations, border controls, ports of ferries. Highways are generally good for hitchhiking (bear in mind that hitchhiking is prohibited in the Schengen Area), especially for long distance rides, but it can take more time and it can be more difficult, since the cars are passing very fast. It is always better if you can talk to the driver first so it is better if they have a good spot to stop. Although, your attitude is even more important than a strategy. Enjoy what you do. If you are waiting at a place and you get bored, do something different or change place. Walk, if you feel so. You can use a sign, but in my opinion, it does not make hitchhiking faster. 

For a great hitchhiking experience, it is very important to understand some basic principles: 

  • Nobody is obligated to give you a ride, so do not take it for granted. 
  • Always be humble and thankful. If someone is nice to you, try to do or give something in exchange. Share your food if you can or give a small gift. 
  • You decide who do you want to travel with. If someone stops it doesn’t mean you must hop in. If you don’t feel so for any reason, just do not go! 
  • Be presentable. I am not talking about looking trendy or fashionable. I mean, you are clean, you aren’t smelling (VERY IMPORTANT),  you wear appropriate clothes etc. 
  • Enjoy the rides! You will meet a lot of very different and nice people with an immense amount of interesting thoughts and stories.

How is your travel equipment look like? What is the one thing that could never miss from your backpack?

It depends. Where I plan to go and how I want to travel.

For example, In Patagonia (where it can be quite cold)  I didn’t want to carry a sleeping bag, so my backpack is lighter. So I had to find a warm places where I could stay overnight. I had to always ask fire stations, police stations, hospitals, random people, hostels in exchange of work…It was fairly exhausting but I got to know a lot of interesting people and learned a lot of new things. Or I do not carry cooking devices just to be alone in nature because one of the most interesting and important parts of travelling for me is meeting people.

However, there are a few rules of thumb to consider. If you go to a place where it rains a lot, it is a cool idea to have something to cover your backpack and yourself. But if you do not want to carry such gear, you can just be careful to move from one dry place to another one. Or, if you carry only a very few clothes, you will have to wash them more frequently. But you will carry less weight which is not so important if you are not walking a lot with your backpack, but if you do walk a lot, having a light backpack is beneficial. In any case, you can always get new clothes on the way, even for free! Every decision has its advantages and consequences. All depends on your goals and ideas. Everything is possible.

There is one thing that I would say is no exception. It is something you can not forget.  (And it is not a joke). Your heart. You always have to travel with your heart. It is your compass, giving you the wisest advice. Do not forget to follow your heart. 

How do you find jobs while travelling?

99% of the times I ask around the place I am visiting, and talk to the people I meet. They aren’t jobs with a contract or anything, sometimes they are not even real jobs. When someone is nice and invites me to eat something, or to sleep at his/her place, I try to do something in exchange. We always have something to offer. I may wash dishes after dinner, or teach something, to gift photos, to do origami, or whatever I see my hosts may like or find interesting. For me, this is the best kind of exchange.

There are also websites and Facebook groups for volunteering I am using to find new opportunities: Worldpackers, Workaway, Helpx, Goodsurfing are good sources.

What was the best job you had so far in exchange for free staying and/or food?

Working and sleeping in one of the oldest buildings in Tallin, Estonia, functioning as a dolls museum, with a ghost on first floor was quite an interesting experience. As it was sailing in the open sea. I also loved staying with a family and working on their coffee plantation in Colombia. It is impossible to choose one.

What is great about this kind of travelling?

For me, the great and magical thing about traveling is having found friends, see all those smiles, meet all those people who want to help, to share.  It doesn’t matter if I am in Latinamerica, South, East or West Europe or if I talk to a Gipsy, Muslim, Western European, Slavic, Nordic person, I experienced kindness everywhere. The world for me has become a friendly and nice place. So different from what I saw on TV in all my life.

And what is difficult?

The most difficult part of travelling, for me, is to say goodbye to the wonderful people I have met. It is not awful, but I will miss those people, and this is the price (a fair price), for having got the chance to live unforgettable moments together.

Is there anything you would do differently if you could go back to that point in your journey?

No. But i would love to live some things again, like for the first time.

What are your plans for the future?

I continue sharing the knowledge I have gained about travelling, about the world I know.  I think, knowledge is the most powerful tool in our lives. With the necessary knowledge, we can, maybe, find our own way, arrive to our own happiness.

What message you want to share with our readers?

Do what you love! You, only you, have the key of your life, and it is in your chest. It does not matter if it is about to travel or not. Do it with love. And trust. Trust in people because there are a lot of friends out there waiting to meet you for the first time. Believe in life that is infinite and so full of wonders everywhere.

Believe in yourself, that you are capable of solving any situations you may encounter. You are made to live your dreams. And to love.

You can follow Sebastian’s journey on Facebook and Instagram.

If you want to learn more about hitchhiking done right, check out our guide: The hitchhiker’s guide to hitchhiking

With this article we would like to start a new series of interviews “starring” budget travellers. Our goal is to share encouraging stories, knowledge, real life hints and tips and travel hacks from all kinds of people who have lived and traveled the world on a budget. If you have a story to share or you know somebody with an interesting travel lifestyle, please, contact us at info@travel-4-free.com. Safe travels!

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Dora is a translator, virtual assistant and social media manager from Hungary. She has traveled, worked and studied in Italy, Germany, Spain, Morocco and Portugal. She is the expert for platforms like Workaway or Upwork. Quote: "I am just a kook, but surfing is the best meditation. I also love riding shitty bikes, getting lost in big cities and sipping cold drinks on the beach while watching the sunset. I am also the official Sweet Disaster, making trouble or doing art for my own pleasure."

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