Traveling without money in developing countries – is it ethically right?
What does it mean to travel with no money in Africa?
I always say, traveling is for free. The only thing that costs money is hotels and restaurants. On my trip hitchhiking one year through Asia I experienced that the less developed a country is, and therefore the poorer the people are, usually the more hospitable they are.
But should we rely on hospitality and generosity while traveling? Should we travel with no money in third world countries, not being able to cover our own costs?
That’s the big questions going through my head while traveling without money in Africa – more or less without money. 😉
How much money do you really need when travelling in Africa?
Before I set off for my trip to Africa, people told me: “The only thing I really need to pay for on my trip hitchhiking through Africa is the visas. Everything else will be covered.” I couldn’t believe them. Not until I experienced it myself.
Of course for tourists most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are everything else than cheap travel destinations. If you visit other budget travel websites, you’ll see that they recommend a budget of 50 USD a day for travelling in Senegal for example.
But if you get away from the big cities and the tourist destinations and travel off the beaten path in Africa, you quickly get overwhelmed by the hospitality of the open-hearted people inviting you to their homes, sharing their food with you and treating you like a member of their family. At least that’s what I felt like travelling in Senegal.
As soon as I started living not only with the locals, but also like a local, I was able to live from less than a Euro per day (except when I was sick and needed a doctor). And all that while getting to know the local culture of Senegal.
So should we rely on the hospitality of the people?
When I was in Spain, I met a guy who was traveling without money in Africa, he went from Portugal to Guinea-Bissau with no money at all. So yes, it is possible to travel without any money at all. Especially in these countries, where the people give so much.
But this means you not only have to rely on the helpfulness of the people, you are also fully dependent on them. There is nothing you can treat yourself with. No coffee when you need one, no juicy mango and no hostel bed when you are tired of staying with people.
I for myself, I want to be able to come up for my expenses while travelling all by myself. Of course I don’t need much. I know I can sleep everywhere in the world for free without getting invited.
But I want to have the possibility to buy myself a sandwich when I’m hungry or some fruits when I feel so.
Also I don’t expect getting invited by locals. But if it happens, and it happens a lot over here, I am very thankful and appreciate it very much. I don’t have a lot of money that I can give, but I always try to cover my own costs – and a little more. Anyway, I always feel bad with giving money, so I prefer to go to the market, buy some vegetables or help with the shopping, or buy some new clothes for their kids.
Besides that there are many other ways to give back while travelling without money.
But the best I have to share is my endless happiness and the smiles, I’m infecting others with. Maybe that’s also why I get invited so often.
Since I set foot on Africa I’m constantly being asked for money. And I think, I can’t give money to everyone, but I can give everyone a smile coming from the bottom of my heart.
Teranga, the Senegalese word that describes the best how fabulous I got treated during my last weeks here in Senegal. The Wolof word Teranga would translate to hospitality, but Teranga is much more than that for the Senegalese people. It’s a core value in Senegal how others get treated. With much respect, compassion and an inviting hand.
Just like in Mauretania the Senegalese people drink green tea (with loads of sugar of course) several times a day. And they will always invite others to drink the tea with them. I always try to explain them that it’s not tea what they are drinking, but sugar-water with tea flavour. 😀
There is another Wolof word, that they use when taking the tea.
Nokoboko – it means, we take it together.
And that goes not only for the tea, but also for the food. They say, no one should have to eat alone. Food is alway taken together. So when a meal is taken, the big plate is being put on the floor and the whole family will gather around and share the meal. Some might use a spoon, some eat with the fingers.
Hitchhiking in Senegal
While I was back home in Austria, preparing myself for my trip hitchhiking through Africa (mostly mentally), I was wondering if hitchhiking will work in Africa. I thought people will see me as a white man, who obviously must have money, since I’m travelling in their country far away from home, and therefore I don’t need a ride. The first part may be the case.
Especially if I tell people, I’m travelling around Africa for one or two years, the typical reaction is “Wow! You must have so much money!”. And yes, I must have by far more money on my bank account than most of the people I come across over here.
But still hitchhiking in Senegal is so easy and fun!
As soon as I realised that the worst looking cars, the driving wrecks are taxis and took care to not wave them down, the fun began.
I hitchhiked with truck drivers, scientists, foreign residents, scooters, school ‘buses’, on the roof of a bus, and as a load inside a construction site truck.
A heart-touching hitchhiking experience
The best though was when I hitchhiked from Mbour to Joal-Fadiouth and a big estate car stopped for me. The driver asked for 500,- CFA and I told him that I don’t have any money. He was so kind to take me anyway and opened the back door for me to climb in. When I got in I realised that it’s a school bus full of high school students in their uniform. And as soon as I sat down in the car boot, one of the students passed me a few coins. Of course I kindly declined. But this experience deeply touched my heart!
Imagine this happening in Europe. A black man stops a school bus and the driver gives him a free ride after the black man says he has no money. And then one of the students offers him money. Never!
Is it right to say, I have no money when I actually mean I don’t want to pay for it? All students are paying for the bus, but I’m not. Of course, the idea of hitchhiking is that if someone is going your way and has a free seat, he can take you anyway and you both have a good experience getting to know each other. But in Africa a seat in a car never stays empty and you take the seat, somebody else would pay for.
My final conclusion
In the end I think people in Senegal work very hard to earn very little (the average salary lies around 50€ per month). And you should be at least able to cover your own costs. Anyway, it depends very much on the situation and with a profound understanding of human nature you can tell if an offer comes from the heart or is because people feel obliged.
For sure I’m very thankful for the great time I experienced, staying with families in Senegal! To get to know a tiny bit of their world and to share a little bit of mine with them.
The more you give, the more you got to give!