I specifically wrote my How to Afford to Travel post to enable readers how to finance the expensive hobby that is travel. But what about abandoning financial plans and travelling anyway? Is travelling with no money possible? Adventurer and Keynote Speaker Henk van der Klok proved it is, travelling from his native Netherlands to Jerusalem without a cent in his pocket. I caught up with Henk to find out more.
An experienced adventurer, Henk travels noteworthy routes but in a novel way while adding a random element. His trip from the Netherlands to Jerusalem incorporated part of the ancient Templar Trail pilgrimage route. Walking the route without money was the unique twist Henk put on the journey. But this wasn’t a beg-packer endeavour. Henk had something to prove and someone to prove it to.
TRAVELLING WITH NO MONEY: THE EXPERIENCE
Having completed the two other major pilgrimage routes in Europe – the Santiago de Compostela and the Via Francigena – Henk wanted to experience the wide range of countries and cultures that the Templar Trail presented. He had a strong desire to visit Jerusalem, a city I rate highly. But he had another reason for completing the route in the manner that he did: to prove to his father that the world is a kind and hospitable place. Having already experienced the positive side of humanity on his extensive travels, Henk wanted to show a world rarely reflected in news bulletins.
Research for the trip involved reading several books on cash-free adventures. The route was planned on Google Maps, ensuring that restaurants/supermarkets were featured in each day’s section of the walk. As for basic survival strategies, Henk was well practised. “My 7 years of adventure gave me all the skills I needed to deal with wild animals, sleeping outdoors, and communicating with people if I don’t speak the language.”
Henk admits to nerves prior to departure when handing over his wallet to his father. This was to be a journey with no Plan B. To overcome the anxiety, he managed to coach his mind into survival mode. “By leaving myself no way out I forced myself to find a way and forced myself to find the creativity within myself…By burning my ships, I had only one option: Die, or succeed. And so, I succeeded.”
The challenges Henk encountered were many. Food-free days, blisters, vitamin deficiency, insect infestations, heatwaves, getting lost, highway traffic, and a few incidents where he felt unsafe. The food-free days and blisters would stop most of us in our tracks but not Henk. “By finding the hidden blessing inside your problem, challenge, or pain; you become unstoppable.”
Unable to walk through Syria due to war and a closed Lebanon-Israel border meant Henk had to travel via Cyprus. Stranded when the last ferry of the season had already departed, Henk continued to stay positive in his quest to prove that travelling with no money is possible. His ability to connect with locals found him on a cheap flight to Cyprus.
During his journey, he learned to ask for what he wanted rather than hint. At the end of the working day, he would simply ask at restaurants and supermarkets if they had any food left over. They usually had. He learned to give people space and time to think about his predicament. By allowing such, people were more willing to help him. Surmounting the challenges led Henk to believe that the re-framing of a problem is a huge asset in solving that problem, a belief that is at the heart of his keynote speaking work.
Travelling with no money left Henk richly rewarded with memories and experiences. Even his regret of walking along the lonely highways of Turkey has been reframed as an opportunity to meet locals at gas stations rather than in village environments.
Henk believes that the skills required for such a trip are more mental than physical. The body adjusts and Google Maps is the navigator. “What you need is the right mindset; being able to reframe an event from bad to good” says Henk. He also says giving back instead of taking is important as is a faith in humanity.
Other than having the ability to sleep in uncomfortable places, Henk believes the skills which make him a good traveller, in general, are all rooted in the psychological. As well as the re-framing mindset, he is not afraid of the unknown, he accepts others for who they are and the difference in opinion they may bring, likes seeing the world differently, and laughs easily. In general, he describes himself as a novelty-nut, a life-enthusiast and someone who is growth-minded; a perfect combination for the travels he undertakes.
He prefers to travel solo for a variety of reasons. “If you’re surrounded by familiar friends and family, it’s harder to truly be free because they are unintentionally invested in maintaining you as you are.” He also believes that the strangers we surround ourselves during solo travel make it easier to open up faster. Interacting with locals is his must-do activity at a destination, particularly locals who are unaccustomed to tourists.
Henk doesn’t have an essential travel item or gadget. In fact, Henk believes that no travel item is absolutely essential and pretty much anything can be picked up on the road. The lost and found section of a hotel is a great source of travel items, it seems. Connecting with the staff is the key.
There a downside to Henk’s travel. While every trip he undertakes is different, he describes his post-trip feelings as a type of short-term depression. Knowing that his baseline happiness returns in a month or so, he ignores it and does not act on these feelings. He believes goal-setting and purpose is key to overcoming this.
For future adventures, he wants to break the world record for the longest barefoot walk. Also considered is walking the 1,400km distance between the two coldest inhabited towns in the world, both in Siberia. This he plans to do with an Irish author.
Out of all of his travels, he has chosen Ireland as his home for a variety of reasons. Proximity to his family in Netherlands is important and he loves the openness of Irish people. He says Ireland has a strong adventure community, and a culture of storytelling which aligns with his speaking activities.
My Benefits of Travelling post discusses the numerous personal rewards of hitting the road.