The ‘Stans Why traveling poor is awesome

Article by João Pedro Fernandes

The ‘Stans is a series of articles about one man’s journey through Central Asia by motorbike

Finding yourself overseas with an almost empty bank account is commonplace for most who laboured under the myth that five hundred Euros would support a one-month romp around Europe. Maybe you shared a meal with bums in a soup kitchen, ate out of dumpsters or slept in a park for a couple of nights. The point is that these experiences were probably more poignant than the rest of your trip and formed the best stories that you continue to rehash today.

These brief brushes with the other side of the poverty line force a solitary desperation which, when allowed to gestate, grows into self-reliance, disregard for inhibition and spontaneous creativity. So why restrict these experiences to the result of accident or oversight; why not seek them out? Shed the cushion of hostels and restaurant meals, banish your plan B and turn away from the path most traveled, not because you’re ashamed of becoming another “tourist” and not necessarily because you can’t afford it, but because you learn so much more from it.

These soirees are the most direct route into the bowels of a place. Some might argue that to seek out poverty is disrespectful to those truly impoverished, but I think the real disrespect comes from flippant, unrestricted spending without acknowledgement of inherent privilege.

The more money you have, the more you can hide behind it. A passing whim like “I could really just be alone and watch videos on YouTube right now” or “I’d love some pizza” forms into a necessity or ambition, not because you need these things, but because you have the opportunity to fulfill them. If you have no cash, these options cease to exist, and all you are left with is what you actually need, not a desire or want or wish, but a need. When you reduce the world into necessity, it simplifies a lot and lets you appreciate the rest.

My trip from Portugal to Kyrgyzstan wasn’t as pervaded by poverty as some thought it was though. I paid for petrol, sometimes at $2/L and ate. I bought wine and beer and indulged in the occasional night in a hotel. Despite what some of you may think, I acknowledge and appreciate my privilege and luck, and sometimes, I exercise it too.

But there were certain glorious moments where desperation cooked up some creativity and self-reliance. Sharing a campsite gourmet leftover bazaar meal with a group of hungry new friends – most unaware that the tomatoes had blemishes or the bread was slightly stale – bred a primal form of social cohesion from hunger, freedom and unconventional living.

João Pedro Fernandes is a traveler whose journeys have taken him to Xi’an but are not yet finished