Social Slow Travel: Lowcost&Zerowaste

Technology and especially internet platforms allow us to connect to each other and make slow travel much reacher in its social aspect while significantly cutting-down costs and negative environmental impact.

Mountains in Albania, just 20 km from Tirana

Here I describe the experience that I’ve got from my self-funded field trips to study back-to-the-land initiatives in Europe.

Navigation and Communication without Personal Internet Connection

I don’t buy local SIM cards and don’t use roaming. Railway and bus stations have wi-fi. I also ask people on trains, buses, and at bus stops to share their internet via personal hotspots. This simple request could lead to a new contact.

I also don’t support cafes in their ‘sitting with laptop time’ sales. I go to libraries instead — it works perfectly especially in small towns (on my way I usually skip big cities, but for sure I highly recommend visiting a new Central Library in Helsinki ‘Oodi’ — Finns know how to create such spaces).

Oodi Helsinki Central Library

Librarians are glad to meet international guests, so in most cases, you can have a place to sit in silence with wi-fi and charge your devices. It works better if you have a real interest in the town that you’ve dropped in — its past, present, and social dynamics. I usually ask for a book devoted to the town, that could describe more details about the region than giveaway prospects in tourist info centres.

The books in the library of Gračanica town (Bosnia and Herzegovina). ‘Rasput’ by Atif Kujundžić who was born in Gračanica and the region’s overview in English.

By the way, info-centres also have wi-fi, and it’s OK to ask to charge your mobile phone there. Instead of taking giveaway stuff there, I make photos of maps and contacts that I need to save more trees. Sometimes, if I feel that contact with a library or info centre worker looks safe for both of us I ask if I can leave my backpack there to walk around with less weight. Another bonus of visiting libraries is to see the small exhibitions of local art that they have quite often — and this is also free of charge.

The only drawback with this approach is that libraries and info centres have limited working hours, so it’s better to know its schedule a bit in advance.

Thanks to my technology and educational background, I also had on my way community places like FabLabs and hackerspaces. Such places could be found on OpenStreetMaps and just walking along the streets with open eyes.

On the go, it’s harder to get free wi-fi, but still, thanks to gas stations and shopping malls you can stay online as well as touristic downtowns are also equipped with free hotspots.

In all the other places I use Maps.Me mobile app. It really helps with navigation by providing free offline maps with pedestrian and car routes. The app is private but built on top of crowd-sourced OpenStreetMap data. Now I’m in the migration process from it to an indie community-driven open-source project Organic Maps as Maps.Me becomes more and more business oriented. I use the Organic Map desktop app for Ubuntu Linux.

From A to B

Hitchhiking works nowadays, although experienced travellers say that 20 years ago car drivers were much more in the mood to give you a lift. The default resource about this approach to travel is Hitchwiki: the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Hitchhiking. To see the situation in a particular country see the spots on their map.

To get from big cities to their outskirts I used to search for rides by Blablacar. It’s social and convenient and you share the cost with a driver and other passengers. The only thing that annoys me a bit is that to find rides in a particular country you have to create an account for each country to see all rides posted by locals.

If you have some local contacts in a country/region you want to travel to, you can ask them if there are any WhatsUp/Telegram chats about ride-sharing. I’ve been using this approach a few times.

In case there is a choice between trains and buses I always choose trains. Less pollution, usually cheaper and more social.

Bikes. I meet bike travellers more and more. Some of them do very long travel, e.g. from Switzerland to India. But, hmm it’s still far from my skills.

Food&Water

In Northern Europe almost in any public place, the water from taps is drinkable. In the Balkans where it’s hot, there are a lot of outside public water sources. While in the countryside I just ask people to refill my thermos and bottles when I see somebody in the garden from the path I go. OpenStreetMaps is a great source of information to find public water sources.

Organic Map desktop app for Ubuntu Linux (Turku, Finland). Two public water sources are marked with blue water drops in the bottom-left corner.

Farmer’s food markets usually have water sources to drink and to wash fruits and vegetables. That is my main source of food. Almost all the products are without packaging and I have my own containers to put cheese and yoghurt in it as well as other stuff to store. Quite often there is an option to buy damaged, but fresh veggies. At the end of the market’s working hours, it’s also possible to hunt some leftovers and stuff that has fallen on the ground. This kind of local food market has a special sign on the OpenStreetMap. These markets are cash territory — in my case, it also helps to have smaller expenses as I feel the money in my hands and spend it less easily when it’s a plastic card.

Gardens — public city gardens could be an option (if the air is not polluted) — trees with apples and plums are your food supplier. Not often but sometimes as I ask for water (for free) I also ask to buy some fruits from a garden’s owner e.g. a few corns. Usually, it just works that people share some fruits with you.

Dumpster diving

I have a little experience as it’s not easy to discover places to dumpster dive when you travel, as it requires a bit more time that is not ok if you are not staying at one place for a few days. Anyhow, I had some perfect findings in North Europe, such as melons, tomatoes, and bread. The main guide to the topic is Trashwiki:

Nightstays and showers

If the weather is warm and dry, I just sleep under the trees (sometimes it were even places like a university campus’s park or the green bank of a city river). It’s better to check national laws related to free camping in the wilderness —e.g. in Sweden it’s allowed to camp on private land for two days, in Serbia, you have to register with the Police and only with a particular address (so no wild camping is allowed), in Albania — they just don’t care.

The default web platform to find people who host travellers is CouchSurfing.com. Initially created as a non-profit organisation, now it’s a subscription-based commercial service (during this transformation its founder had been kicked off — the whole story is mentioned on the service’s Wikipedia page). I’ve been lucky to find great hosts in Belarus, Finland, and Albania. Now, these people are my friends. But meanwhile, I see a lot of abandoned profiles and it’s harder and harder to find hosts there.

As a promising alternative to CouchSurfing, I see the Trustroots Foundation. It is the same team that created Hitchwiki, Nomadwiki, and Trashwiki. Here is a quotation from their Manifesto:

We want a world that encourages trust, adventure and intercultural connections. Our willingness to help each other is universal. Trustroots is completely free to use and will remain so forever.

The main page of Trustroot.org

A similar story of attempts to turn community-based non-profits into private money machines is WarmShowers.org — a community of bicycle tourists and those who support them. Here you can read a message from the former Warmshowers Android developers, that states how it has happened in this case. Alternatives are: WelcomeToMyGarden.org (a network of citizens offering free camping spots in their gardens to slow travellers) and Germany-initiated 1NITE TENT because according to the local law:

In Germany it is forbidden to raise your tent outside of campsites. You might be fined by up to 500€

In the warm season, I use showers on public beaches (including that one on lakes and rivers). Public beaches are marked on the OpenStreetMaps. In North Europe, at camping sites, I’ve negotiated to pay for a ‘sauna only’ service.

A pedestrian route from the museum to the riverside beach in Serbia onMaps.me

Another ‘social platform’ that works mostly offline and that is usually out of travellers’ scope is… monasteries. I had experience only with Orthodox Christian ones, in return for a night and a warm shower usually you can donate what you think is affordable for you and/or help with everyday work that they do there. I’m sure it should work similarly with monasteries of other confessions. Most probably it also works with ashrams (but as I didn’t go to India I don’t have personal experience).

And don’t forget your own contacts. If you have quite a broad network, it’s worth checking Facebook, just type in its search line something like: ‘friends in Spain’ or ‘friends in Copenhagen’. I also check my LinkedIn contacts.

Type something like friends in Copenhagen’friends in Copenhagen’

The last option, if any others don’t fit the circumstances is to use paid services. The low-cost solution is hostels, check the common web platforms and Hostel World. I prefer to contact hostels directly —so they don’t pay commissions to platforms, while for my feedback I use TripAdvisor. I look for hostels with a garden and ask if I can sleep outside with my sleeping bag, if they answer that it’s possible, I ask for discount.

The eco alternative to Airbnb is Ecobnb —its founders do care about the environment while doing this slow business funded mostly by no-profit funds and government organizations.

Long stays

Long stays in exchange for help are a topic for a dedicated article. Usually, it’s about one month and more, but there could be exceptions. So here is just a list of platforms that I am aware of

Workaway, WWOOF, HelpX, Worldpackers. And there are more. I browse these sites to find countryside places like organic farms and back-to-the-land initiatives. To look for ecovillages I use Global Ecovillage Network and Foundation for Intentional Community.

Travel Insurance

My national insurance companies allow me to travel only for a month or 3 months as a maximum so I have to go back to my country of residence each month. When I’ve decided to have longer trips, I ask my friends who already travel as digital nomads for years to know what they use during their 3–12+ months stays. The most popular answer was SafetyWing tech company. It has Norwegian-US roots. The team is aiming to create the ‘country on the internet’ with healthcare, pensions, visa pass, and other services — this long-term story (see the roadmap) has a different name — Plumia.

I like this vision and how SafetyWing works to create community, e.g. they have BORDERLESS project — a map, updates and email alerts on travel restrictions, containment measures and vaccination information around the globe.

The map of BORDERLESS project by SafetyWing

So I signed up for insurance about half a year ago and later started to contribute to their ambassador program. If you sign up and/or buy one of the SafetyWing products, I’ll get profit for myself (the ambassador program is also open for new members, here is my referral link to join it).

Travel insurance is the only commercial service that I pay for regularly. There should be a niche for peer-2-peer very basic medical care — social, donation based — it could be an option for retired professionals to contribute from time to time and for medicine students to gain more real experience. For sure it is controversial and risky as it could attract self-proclaimed doctors, nevertheless, I believe such a trust network could be created.

I shared here only those hints, tools, and approaches that I discover useful for me over the last 7 years. This experience has shown me that alternatives to fast and expensive ways to see the World are not just possible, but it’s a growing culture and infrastructure.

Let’s connect. Here is my trustroots profile. Now I’m very interested in hitchhiking on seas and oceans. If you are experienced in it or have seen good reviews about this type of travel, let me know — here in the comments or by direct message. And here is how to support my research on the simple life, ecovillages, and ecosystem restoration.

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