Imagine that you’re young and have a dream to see the world but don’t have a lot of money. Most people would put the thought aside and leave it as a daydream at best. Not my three friends from Portugal- they found a way.
In order to make your dreams of travel a reality would you consider extreme budget traveling? Sleeping in stranger’s houses. Hitchhiking everywhere you go. Traveling on an average of $10 USD a day– some days spending nothing at all. Even hitchhiking on a garbage truck.
Relying on Couchsurfing, hitchhiking, and the kindness of strangers these guys have managed to see more than a dozen countries as they’ve spent the last seven months traveling the world. Usually traveling together the guys will also sometimes separate to pursue individual trips and interests before meeting back up again.
Below is an interview with the guys from The Longest Way to Alaska.
Tell us your names, ages, where you’re from, how you guys know one another and how long you’ve been traveling for.
Alex: Alexandre Bissell, 23, Portugal but for the past two years I’ve been living in Glasgow, Scotland before starting to travel and have been on the road for the past 6 months.
Fernando: My name is Fernando, 22 years old, from Portugal and I’ve known my fellow travel friends João and Alex for the last 13 years. We met in middle school and have been friends ever since.
João: Joao Carvalho, 23, also from Portugal. I’ve been on the road for 6 months.
What was the motivation for your trip? How long did you plan or save to prepare?
Fernando: The biggest motivation was to make sure I would take this chance to get to know the world before entering a work life.
Alex: My main motivation for the trip has been my father. He hitchhiked around Europe for 3 years during 1983-1986. I saved for a total of two years technically but six months before actually going to travel I really put my back into it!
João: Since I was young I have been used to traveling with my parents, which fueled me to be the person I am today. This opportunity arose when I finished university, as I was uncertain what I wanted to actually do with my life.
What was your initial plan when you left as far as the route you would take? Have you stuck to that initial plan or how has the plan changed?
Alex: Our initial plan was to hitchhike from South America to North America; it has changed a bit since then.
João: After deciding on a trip around the world with all your flights pre-booked it is difficult to change your route. This is the disadvantage of traveling like this but in the end I am glad we did it this way.
Between flights in some countries we had some months with nothing planned where we would hitchhike and go with the flow. For example, it was not in the plans to do trekking in Laos or scuba diving in Koh Tao and Moorea.
Fernando: I took some unplanned trips over the initial plan; these being my solo trip around Myanmar as well as a weeklong trip to Easter Island/Santiago do Chile.
I know that you guys frequently use Couchsurfing. How have your Couchsurfing experiences been? What are your best and worst experiences using the service?
Fernando: So far we’ve had zero bad experiences with Couchsurfing. As for the best, I would say our host in South Australia, a farmer named Jimmy Parker. We had an amazing time with him, helped him out on his farm, and met the local community that made us feel right at home.
João: Our couchsurfing experiences have all been great. We’ve never had any troubles with any of our hosts. On the contrary all have opened their homes to us with open arms and usually a meal!
Alex: The best CS experience I had was the first time I did it together with Joao and Fernando. We stayed in Bangkok with a guy named Um, he was awesome. We requested two days but ended up staying eight the first time and five the next when I came back from Cambodia.
What has been the highlight of the trip so far- something you have been amazed by or couldn’t believe that you were actually seeing or experiencing in person?
Fernando: The most amazing thing I’ve seen in this trip was the Northern Lights in Haines, Alaska. I can’t remember anything that has amazed as much during my lifetime.
Alex: The highlight for the trip so far in my opinion was reaching the Magic Bus in Alaska. Doing the hike took us 4 days and crossing the second river was very challenging. So when we finally saw the bus a feeling of conquest definitely sunk in!
João: The place that surprised me the most was French Polynesia. It was outstandingly beautiful with an incredible energy from the locals- always smiling with a positive attitude and willing to give everything they have.
Defining the highlight of the trip is never easy but I might say learning to scuba dive. The feeling of being underwater for fifty minutes while floating smoothly in a totally different ecosystem is hard to beat.
What has been the lowlight, or the worst part of the trip? Have you ever considered giving up and going home early?
João: I had some scary moments with some precious material objects being lost but it’s part of traveling and one’s growth as a person. The only time I ever thought to go home was when my mother and a dear friend needed me there due to some personal problems.
Fernando: I’ve never considered giving up nor have I had any bad experiences. I was somewhat ill with the flu in Laos and during my last days in Myanmar but it was nothing that a good night of sleep couldn’t solve.
Alex: The lowest point of my trip was when Stephan, who I met while hitchhiking the East Coast of Australia, passed away. I received the news while boarding my flight to the French Polynesian Islands from New Zealand. Although I only spent 4 days with him, helping build his new house, we truly shared a real connection. I could even go as far as to consider him a grandfather while there. It made me consider what I could be missing back home as well but I eventually carried on.
What is your approximate average daily budget? What areas have you found to be the most affordable and the most expensive? Is there an area that is known to be very expensive that you have been able to make affordable given how you travel?
João: When traveling you have 4 main expenses: transportation, food, accommodation, and alcohol. The way we’ve made it possible to spend on average 15 euros a day was by removing three of the four main expenses, keeping only a budget for food.
Defining how expensive a country depends largely on the way you travel. In my case, Australia would be the cheapest country at $250 for 3 weeks, despite the fact that it is regarded as a very expensive country to travel. On the other hand, in 3 days in NYC, I spent $165, almost as much as during the whole Australian trip!
Fernando: On average, I’ve been spending $10 a day. The cheapest area was Myanmar where I was traveling on $4 a day wherein the most expensive was the Yukon and northern Alaska (Barrow). In March I only spent $300 the entire month having traveled New Zealand, French Polynesia, and Easter Island. These are traditionally expensive destinations but since I spent $0 on transportation and accommodation $300 was enough for the month.
Alex: The average budget is $25, sometimes as little as $0.
The most affordable place for me was Australia only spending $27 for accommodation during the time I was there. For 3 weeks of traveling, I spent around $350 including the plane ticket.
The most expensive by far was New York, starting with staying in a hostel there quickly blew $52. Eating out can be very expensive as well as well as activities. We spent $200 in three days there.
What are your best and worst hitchhiking experiences? Also, generally speaking, what are the best/worst areas for hitchhiking?
Fernando: Personally, zero bad experiences hitchhiking. Best prize award must go to our stay in Milford Sound. João and I were picked up by a garbage truck that was making his way to the fjord. After the traditional driver/hitchhiker conversation I asked him if he knew anyone in the fjord that could give us a tour. It was pouring rain like hell, and we had nowhere to stay so he dropped us off in the garbage shelter where we spent the night. In the morning, he showed up with his friend that told us he would get us two free tickets to the fjord tours (worth $50 each), pick us up at the garbage shelter and drove us to the harbor. He had also already sorted out a ride back once our tour was over. Just amazing.
Easiest country to hitchhike was Myanmar, most interesting was the United Sates, and least easy was British Columbia.
Alex: Best: In New Zealand, a guy picked me up, and after we started to drive he gets a phone call from the hospital telling him his wife just went into labor, I ask him if he wanted to drop me off, he replied “Nah man, you coming with me!” After we arrive there, he went and checked on his wife and less than an hour later, and he shows me his baby girl through the glass on the doors!
Worst: In Australia a woman picked me and said she was going down the East Coast to her ex-boyfriends house and taking her stuff back. She stopped at a marina, handed over the car keys and told me to drive around, have fun and see you in a couple of hours. An hour and a half later I get a phone call from her warning me to be careful as there are a lot of police on the road. I reassured her all my paperwork was in order and she had nothing to worry about. She then informs me that the license plates don’t match the car and the car is not really hers. At this point my mind is racing thinking I’m in a stolen vehicle and good luck explaining this to the police! Nothing bad happened but if I had seen any police I would have just grabbed my stuff and walk out!
Best place to hitchhike was Thailand, going from Chang Mai to the border of Laos. We all went up together, more often than not on the back of pickups.
Worst place was the north of Laos; it was very difficult to catch rides. We spent three hours walking in the sun for only one of us to be picked up.
The east coast of the U.S. as the hardest averaging only 100-150 kilometers a day. Even after we discovered the best way to do it was going to rest stops along the highways and asking people directly. We averaged 2-3 hours waiting to only go few kilometers down the road.
João: Best- During the Australian Outback I got a ride with an Austrian guy named Joe who was doing the same trip, same dates as we were! At first, his car was completely packed so we reorganized his car so Fernando could join us, even putting his mattress on the roof. During the next week we drove together for over 3000 kilometers.
Worst: I didn’t have any bad experiences, just different ones. People that believed they had discovered the cure for immortality, some were criminals, and others didn’t like to talk. But at the end of the day, those people were the ones who were willing to help you.
Best place: West coast of North America, not because was easy to hitchhike but because people wanted to spend time with you and give everything they have. That could be money, a house, or a day on a lake wakeboarding.
Worst: East coast of North America. It could be freezing or pouring and people didn’t care!
I know traveling with others can be difficult. How do you guys get along? How do you handle disagreements?
Alex: We get along great we have known each other for a very long time before beginning the trip. If one wants to go left and the others right, that’s what we do and then share the stories afterwards. It’s always fun when we meet back up.
For who does what, we use a highly effective method called Rock-Paper-Scissors. An example: today in Iceland someone walked up and gave us two tickets to see the main cathedral of Reykjavik. So we used our method and it was resolved. I stayed and they went, no hard feelings
João: As Alex said we know each other for a long time and always when somebody wants to do something he goes for it. Another thing is that we have very different personalities and normally goes very well together.
What areas have you found to have the friendliest locals? Best story about an experience with a local person?
Alex: The areas with the friendliest locals are pretty much outside the cities. For example: Moorea and the west coast of America. There are always exceptions like Fairbanks, Alaska. It was probably the nicest city I have seen in all my travels. The people there are so helpful.
Fernando: It has to be French Polynesia. Sebastian, from Tahiti, picked us up on our way to the airport where we were about to crash for the night. He took us to his place where we jammed to music all night long, met his family, and tried some Tahitian food. When we returned to Tahiti, after our visit to Moorea, they drove João and Alex around, gave them a place to stay and showed some unbeaten tracks around the island (I was in Easter Island by this time).
João: French Polynesia and the USA overall were the friendliest locals. We had amazing experiences with locals.
Is there an area that you’ve traveled that is thought of to be unsafe or dangerous that you found that the media is completely wrong about? For example, I recently visited Egypt while it’s under a travel advisory and never felt unsafe.
Fernando: The United States, absolutely. People thought we were crazy to hitchhike in the U.S., that we would get raped and murdered etc. but they couldn’t be more wrong. Americans are super friendly and generous and for me it was the best place to be on the road.
Alex: I was quite unsure about hitching rides in America since you hear about all the stories of problems from fellow travelers. I would like to say hitchhiking in America is awesome. People there are some of the most giving we have met on the entire trip! We got told by a few drivers that they had guns and for us not to try anything funny. Usually, within ten minutes we became good friends.
What next? Your page is called The Longest Way to Alaska. What happens now that you’ve made it to Alaska? Where do you go next? How long do you plan to travel for?
João: After Alaska it’s time to slowly head home and restart my studies and real life. In between, I’ll hitchhike from London to Lisbon, visit Scotland and Ireland, and for sure enjoy the last month of traveling!
Fernando: Now it all about getting to New York City. We’ll make use of some airplanes though and then hitchhike from London to Lisbon, after first visiting Iceland.
Alex: I’m currently writing this paragraph in the airport, 1 month after Alaska. Next I’m going Iceland. Traveling this much has made me aware of how little I’ve traveled in my own country. I want to arrive home at the beginning of August so around a month and a half more of traveling!
And lastly and probably the most important question for me- what’s the best meal you’ve had on the road. Best region for food? Craziest thing you’ve tried?
Alex: Best meal we have had on the road was with you my friend, and I am not saying this because it is your blog. It really truly was amazing.
Thailand is the best country to eat, very inexpensive and has a wide variety of choices even for low budget travelers like ourselves. It was incredible!
The craziest food I have eaten on this trip was worms in Bangkok, during the Loy Krathong festival in Bangkok with our Couchsurfing host.
João: Best country for food was Thailand of course, cheap and delicious food. The best plate has to be Portuguese duck that Alex and I ate in a Portuguese restaurant in Montreal.
Fernando: Best country was Thailand, easy. And actually, Chiang Mai is pretty high up there in terms of food. I guess deep-fried snakeskin and deep fried worms were the craziest things I’ve tried.
You can follow the guys on their journey as they wind down their adventures and head home through their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/longestwayalaska/