Here is the full transcript of Simon Dabbicco’s TEDx Talk: Travelling Without Spending Money at TEDxCrocettaSalon conference.
Have you ever thought about the way we travel today? You know, today we can get to a cheap airline and in no time, we can visit exotic locations, monuments, historical buildings or we can just relax with our friends on a beautiful sand of beach, which is great. However, I’ve noticed that sometimes even when we are far away we choose to go to the same restaurants that we have at home. So we eat the same food, we have the same comfort, we follow the same habit and routine.
But how can I authentically live the beauty of a foreign place if I keep the same comfort and routine? How can I get new ideas and inspiration if I hang out with the same people from my own country? In the past, traveling was about discovery and adventure while today is about going to places that have been discovered already or created on purpose by businessmen for the consumption of the tourists.
So, I have been thinking a lot about the way I want to travel. And I have come to a conclusion: to explore the world in an authentic way, I need time. I need time to embrace the culture of a place. I need time to get to know the local people. I need time to learn a new language. I need time to live a different lifestyle. I need time to live adventure. I need time to breathe and time to think about my own life.
But how do we use our time today? Well, mostly we’re busy working in order to make money. Each month, we earn just enough money so that we can return to work. Sometimes we use it to buy expensive gadgets or we pay for services that are supposed to save time. By these I mean computers, mobile phones, tablets, fax machines, automobiles, airplanes, microwaves, ovens and fast food. But, ironically it seems that they don’t save our time. It seems that they make us more addicted to work. There is this idea that people possess objects. But in my humble opinion it is the other way around: objects have started to possess people.
So today, we are frantically trying to stay afloat. Keeping on top of bills, making payments on cars, homes. Material possessions that enslave our body and our mind. Keeping us in a permanent state of debt and disillusion. But this doesn’t mean I am against technology, I am a fan of technology but we take less time to think about our own life. We take less time to enjoy or to notice the beauty that is all around us.
And at the end of the day, I believe that most of us lack a meaningful life. At least, this is what happened to me in 2007 when I was a managing director. I ran a company with my brother. We were working for 12 to 16 hours a day to earn enough money for our company to survive. But we didn’t like the job, it was boring and repetitive. What we liked instead was playing music. Our office was a music room but we didn’t have time to play and practice.
However I’ve learned a few things about our economy. Perhaps you know these things already. For example, that in today’s society we don’t produce to satisfy human needs. Today industry mainly motivation is profit. People’s happiness is secondary to profit. All problems, social and health problems that come from unemployment, competition, inequality, inflation and recession, they are secondary or even irrelevant as a result of the way our economy works. And you know all these problems, they are a normal part of the business and economy cycle.
So, when the recession came in 2008, many people lost their jobs. My brother and I sold our company. I was very disappointed and upset with my society, but at the same time I felt grateful. Because the recession gave me the possibility to find new ways to leave my comfort zone and travel. And, you know, nothing like traveling can change your point of view and your perspectives on life. And in fact, it was while I was traveling that I’ve made one of the greatest discoveries in my life. At least it worked very well for me, it may work as well for you.
So, I’ve discovered that the less capital I’ve used when I traveled, the richer and more meaningful my experiences, my journey were. There are many reasons why it’s good to avoid spending money but this is the best reason for me. It seems that my journey is so much better when I don’t use money. Money prevents me from having authentic experiences.
But how can somebody travel and live reasonably well without spending money in a society that is all about money? Well, from early childhood through into adulthood we’re raised with the mindset that money, profit, banks, credits, margins, loans are a natural part of a life. But on the other hand, money is just pieces of paper and virtual numbers. As a matter of fact, if all the money in the world disappeared right now, but water, air, sunlight, mineral, trees, animals and other resources were left intact, we would be still able to produce. As long as we have the physical resources, we can satisfy any human need, we can fulfill any human desire.
And to prove this, in 2011 I wanted to try an experiment. I wanted to travel within Europe without spending any money. I proposed my partner Roberto to join me in this crazy adventure. She was very enthusiastic about the whole idea so we did it. We didn’t have any plans, any schedules, any deadlines, we just knew that we wanted to reach the Atlantic ocean. That was our only goal, without spending money.
So how did we manage it? Well, to get around from place to place we learned from our parents the way they used to travel when they were younger: we hitchhiked. Hitchhiking is cheap, it’s ecological because instead of taking 4 cars we use just one, which means less pollution. But more importantly: it’s social. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for hitchhiking because it’s the way my mother and father met and fell in love. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this is your idea of hitchhiking. This is probably your idea of hitchhiking. Well it doesn’t surprise me that people don’t trust each other anymore the way they used to. This is because we are constantly exposed to mass media pressures, bad stories on television, horror movies, so we don’t trust each other.
However, if we really want to build a better society, we need to give trust. We need to rely on one another. And hitchhiking is a very good exercise in having faith in humanity. After all I’ve discovered that it’s safe, as safe as traveling on a plane. Statistically speaking, the most dangerous place is our home. And the most dangerous people are the ones closest to us.
Now some of you may question the morality of asking something free of charge. I’m asking for a free lift. But if we stop and think about it we get many things for free today. Education, many good values that we learn from family and friends, they are free. Most knowledge and information is free. There are many activists, volunteers trying to improve this society they do with no profit. Many discoveries and technologies that we inherited from the past and that improved the quality of our life we have them for free. If we have an accident on the road there is people willing to help us without asking anything in return. So we get many things for free today.
But if we are against this way of thinking, then we shouldn’t accept anything that is giving us for free. I believe that our life would be so much harder and it would be so much difficult to get our goals without the help of other people. It would be naive of me saying that hitchhiking is heaven. Because sometimes you have to wait for many hours before somebody pick you up. But when you meet these people, you know these guys, they give you a lift, sometimes they share food with you, they give you shelter, they invite you at their places, they treat you like a member of their family. So, when this happens I never regret waiting for so long.
Also, it is their decision to give you a help. You can keep them company, you can laugh with them, you can have interesting conversation. Sometimes you become friends, this is why I don’t feel bad when I ask for a lift. I’m actually ready to do the same when my help will be needed.
Now how did we get food and accommodation without money? Well, we knew that many people in the world need help in many activities such as farming or social works. But they may not have enough cash to pay for workers. So we thought, why not lend to these people a helping hand in exchange for food and accommodation. So we did it, and it worked. We washed dishes, we watered plants, we cooked, we helped gardening, harvesting, weeding. We did a variety of jobs, it was labor in exchange for staying there. Many of these jobs, they were physically demanding but it was a good way to keep ourselves fit instead of paying for a gym. And it was only for a few hours a day because we were not working for money.
But more importantly, this is the best way to feel part of a family, of a local family. This is the best way to have a cultural exchange. This is the best way to live a different lifestyle, to learn new skills, to learn a new language.
Now I can tell you, you can get whatever you want without money. As long as you’re flexible, as long as you adapt to different situations, as long as you rely on yourself and on the people, then you can get whatever you want. Money is just one way to get the things you need. There are many ways. And when you travel with a light backpack, when you don’t care too much about material things, then you can get a sense of freedom never experienced before.
Nobody can buy a beautiful shiny day away from you. Now, if you want it you could practically live in an endless dream vacation. I have friends asking me how do I feel about traveling with no money. I feel rich! I feel rich because of the many experiences I have, because of the many people I meet. “Poor” to me is a person that needs too much. It’s a person that always wants to have more because if we need too much, then we’ll be never satisfied. After all, freedom is about having time, not money. I could have all the money in the world, but what’s the point if I don’t have time to do the things I like, to stay with the people I love?
We all know that money can’t buy happiness. But the good news is that happiness is all around us. It’s in the beauty of nature, flowers, animals. It’s every time we meet new friends. Every time we help somebody without asking anything in return. Happiness is every time our dreams come true.
Here was when we reached the Atlantic ocean, it was one of the happiest day of my life. I know that we all seek for security, safety, comforts. But if we do this too much, we may lose the sense of the adventure and the discovery. If we live in fear, we may give up the possibility to discover new things, to get to new places, better places, where we could eventually live. Adventures, experiences, curiosity, love — those are the ingredients for a meaningful life.
So, if I could only give you one piece of advice today that would be: be more than just a tourist. Travel more, plan less, get lost. Take your time, not money, but time. To do the things that you like, to explore the world and see it from different perspectives. And, instead of getting on an airplane, use your own feet and walk towards new directions. And remember, whatever your dream is, whatever your goals are, money is just pieces of paper.