A Minimalist Hitchhiking Kit for Self-Supported Long-Term Travel

What i might leave home with on an open ended backpacking journey.


UPDATED March 30th, 2019 — i reprocessed the photos, added some new ones, and also a brief note to female travelers — courtesy of my friend, and fellow globetrotter Jen!

I plan to continue experimenting and update this article whenever any significant changes or insights develop. Sign up for the mailing list if you’d like to be notified when that happens 😉

If you’d like to send me any gear to play with and review, i’d be gratefully delighted! Send me a message, and we’ll work out the details 😀


When i first started traveling long-term, i was cycle touring — weight and volume were, therefore, not much of an issue.

That was one of my biggest challenges when i started assimilating the practice of hitchhiking a little over a year ago — how could i possibly fit all that shit into my 32-liter backpack!?

After hitchhiking over 19000km across 17 countries and given a fair amount of consideration to what to carry along each of those kilometers, i have now developed a pretty sweet minimalist setup — it does eventually fit into my 32-liter backpack without compromising on luxury and self-sufficiency, including camping gear, a kitchen, and enough food for about half a week!

It even contains my (also minimalist) tree-climbing gear 😀 I added that as a nontrivial note at the end to suggest that you may, of course, replace it with the paraphernalia for your idiosyncratic hobby of choice 😉

The kit basics

  1. Papers — passport, residence permit, vaccination card; wallet, house keys;
  2. On me — pair of pants, long sleeves, underwear, pair of socks, sandals;
  3. Bedroom — 0°C-rated sleeping bag, sleeping mat, hammock, tarp-poncho (plus 4 lengths of accessory cord and 4 pegs); earplugs;
  4. Thermal comfort — wool pants and long sleeves, wool gloves and socks, balaclava;
  5. Washroom — toothbrush, toothpaste, travel towel, soap, nail clippers, moisturizer; toilet paper, shovel, trash bags; first aid kit (tick removal tool, Vietnamese star, sports tape and plasters, an assortment of over-the-counter medicine, wet wipes, bandages, water tablets, and eye drops);
  6. Gadgets — phone, action camera and selfie stick, DSLR camera and bag, earphones; power bank, respective chargers and cables;
  7. Hitchhiking gear — water bottle, reflective vest and straps; hat, sunglasses, hoodie, marker; souvenirs (foreign coins, Not Mad Yet postcards, whatever . . .);
  8. Extra — long sleeves, pair of socks, 2 pieces of underwear;
  9. Kitchen — stove, fuel, lighter; spork, knife, mug, pot; headlamp, sponge, tissues; food (detailed below);
  10. Optional — paper maps, book, fast carbs tube, emergency warm bag.

A quick note to female travelers

Females traveling long-term might also want to consider taking a stand-to-pee device and a menstrual cup.

As a male, i cannot comment much further — my friend, and fellow globetrotter Jen recommends GoGirl and DivaCup. Thank you for bringing this to my awareness, Jen!

If you have any further experience or advice as a female, please comment below, and i will add them to future edits of this article 🙂

The food

The following list is more a typical example of what i might leave home with than what i would religiously seek to maintain along the way. I hope that’s implicitly understood — i will further discuss it in the remarks below, and also try to remember to snap some pictures next time i pack.

  • 300g of cornmeal
  • 200g of dehydrated soy
  • 300g of oatmeal
  • 150g of powdered milk
  • 500g of trail mix
  • 350g of peanut butter
  • loaf of bread
  • instant coffee
  • salt, pepper, broth (tablets or powder), and oil

Remarks

The above is what i left home with on my last solo, freestyle hitchhiking trip — meaning, what i might have taken on an open-ended hitchhiking journey.

I often hitchhike to run errands in L’viv one city over, and occasionally on a there-and-back mission to apply for a visa in Poland, or whatever — sometimes i also travel with my partner. What i’d take on those trips would vary according to the context and duration of the stay. For example if i know i’ll reach my destination within a single day on the road and have a place to stay upon my arrival, i might replace some of my autonomy items such as the kitchen or the hammock by comfort and etiquette ones such as extra clothes, a laptop to do work, gifts, orders, etc.

More about the kitchen

If you’re traveling on a larger budget that allows you to eat out, or if you just don’t mind eating canned food or bread with peanut butter every single meal, you might as well ditch the kitchen. Besides the fact that i just enjoy a hot meal at the end of the day and the underlying ritual in the morning, it’s just a lot cheaper to cook my own food and make my own coffee.

. . . the food

Your circumstances, dietary needs and preferences will dictate what and how much of it to bring.

I like to carry food that is high in calories and easy to prepare — meaning, pour some boiling water over it, cover, and let it sit for a few minutes — it saves fuel!

I also like to have enough food on me for at least a couple of days without restocking — grocery shops are often a long walk from the road, or i might want to go hiking for a couple of days without an opportunity to visit one of them.

In practice, you’ll likely be offered food from some of your drivers and other folks along the way, and your supplies will last longer than you planned them to. Some drivers will also be gladly willing to swing by the groceries or anywhere else you might need — just ask 😉

. . . the thermal comfort

If you know where you’re going will definitely be warm enough, you might also do fine with a lighter sleeping bag or without the thermal layers — they were a necessity in my trip to Estonia last Summer.

. . . the optional items

My point here is, you’ll have some space for things people will make fun of you for carrying :p I got the fast carbs tube and emergency warm bag as a gift from a party of Polish paramedics returning from a course they were ministering at the border and figured i might as well keep them.

. . . the paper maps

Although i do carry offline maps on my phone as well, i like paper maps because it is much easier to get the big picture from them and discuss the route with drivers.

Moreover, paper maps never run out of battery!

. . . the books

I like passing my books on and picking new ones up along my way, so the moment i might invest in an e-reader hasn’t yet come either.

Sleeping on a hammock

Naturally, you should double check that you can find trees or something to that effect where you’re going — a hammock would have been useless to me in Iceland or the Faroe Islands!

Although i felt far more exposed than i do in a tent, and i believe this will take a little while to get used to, sleeping on a hammock turned out quite alright. Most sleeping bag models have inside pockets where you can keep your phone, wallet, and passport. If you have other valuables you don’t feel comfortable leaving hanging in your backpack outside, another option is to tuck them at bottom of your sleeping bag, which comes with the added benefit of keeping your feet warmer.

I made one serious beginner mistake. Before i left, i wasn’t expecting to feel so cold on my back. Of course, the underlying thermodynamics became obvious the second i experienced it — while i was used to having a layer of insulation between my back and the ground from my inflatable mat when sleeping in a tent, i was now floating in space with wind stealing heat from all around me. Your back will be especially vulnerable to that on a hammock, as the insulation in your sleeping bag depends largely on its fluffiness, which disappears under pressure. Don’t neglect this problem!

I still don’t know how i’ll address it. Some people recommend an under quilt — i think i’ll first try the inflatable mat i already have.

If you search for hammock camping on the Internet, you’ll find a plethora of good videos and advice from seasoned hammock campers such as this one or this other one (skip the first 6 minutes, and don’t pay too much attention to what he says about the costs — my hammock cost $15 and weights less than 16oz, with the straps).

Tree-climbing gear

I like to climb trees — tall trees:

I also like to do it safely, which requires a fair amount of gear:

Given how often people find it so strange that an adult is recreationally climbing trees, i want to clarify that i’m not sharing this assuming that you will be specifically interested in doing that yourself — my point here is, if the equipment needed for your quirky avocation of choice weights less than 5kg, you can probably bring it along as well.

In case you are indeed interested in the details, here it goes:

  • 25m of 11mm, semi-static rope;
  • climbing harness;
  • (2x) pear-shaped locking carabiners, tubular belay/rappel device, length of 6mm accessory cord;
  • (2x) daisy chains, (2x) D-shape locking carabiners, (2x) bent-gate non-locking carabiners, (2x) lengths of 6mm accessory cord; 120cm sling, small, wire-gate non-locking carabiner;
  • (2x) 60cm slings, (2x) 120cm slings, (1x) 180cm sling, (4x) small wire-gate non-locking carabiners, (1x) pear-shaped locking carabiner;
  • SAR insurance tracker, water bottle, (2x) small wire-gate non-locking carabiner;
  • tight ballerina shorts, tight t-shirt.

I’ve been working on a new climbing technique that should allow me to drop a fair chunk of that and also be safer — i will update this section after i test it in the field.

TREEfool, perhaps my favorite tree-climber on the Internet, has extensively experimented with minimalist tree-climbing gear for traveling/tree-camping, and i’ve gotten many good ideas from his videos. Many online shops for tree-climbing gear have minimalist kits for recreational climbers as well, and the Tree Buzz forums are a great place to ask questions about the topic.

Remarks

If you rock-climb instead, you may probably replace the semi-static rope and some of the other items by a longer length of thinner dynamic rope plus a handful of quick-draws for the sport routes along your way, while remaining at about the same weight and volume.

If you don’t even metaphorically climb trees and don’t have any unique items you need to bring along, you probably don’t need a 32–40-liter backpack either — your day pack might do, as long as it’s comfortable and has good back support. Mine is horrible, and i would never travel with it. But just for the sake of reference, this is what it looks like with all the gear listed above packed into it, except for the food and the tree-climbing equipment:

Closing thoughts

Alright, thank you for reading this far!

Of course, i could have just told you what to pack and made this piece a lot shorter. Rather than telling you what to do, i prefer to help you think about what you need or want to do, and i hope i’ve accomplished some of that. Furthermore, this is work in progress, and a great excuse for me to reflect on what i carry on my back as well — at the end of the day, those are personal choices that will depend largely on your preferences and circumstances, and mine are bound to evolve as well.

I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have about packing for long-term, self-supported backpacking — comment below or send me a message. If you’ve hitchhiked or backpacked long-term before, i’ll also be curious to learn what you carry — especially the non-essential essentials — what’s your metaphorical tree-climbing gear?


Join my weekly newsletter for more travel experiments, impressions,
and advice delivered straight into your inbox!

What May a Full-Time Traveler’s Vacation Look Like?

My wife and i had just returned from our honeymoon, which was implemented in the course of four months hitchhiking together across Europe and around Brazil.

After such an extended period of time so close together, we both agreed each deserved a couple of weeks on their own. I decided that hanging out with my friend Fuji at his annual midsommar getaway was the perfect opportunity for that 😀

I’d joined him and his friends in Sweden both Summers before — the first time in 2016, after a 13km walk from the nearest train station, and the second time by bicycle, during my latest cycle tour last Summer.

What would be my dramatic arrival this time?

Circumstances favored hitchhiking — they decided to rent a cabin in Estonian countryside, some 1,300km away from my current abode in L’viv, Ukraine but not requiring any ferry crossings — i didn’t have the time to cycle tour or the money (or desire) to travel by other means 🙂

Still apprehensive about leaving

The prospect of leaving was no doubt exciting, as it is always the case — i was going to visit a friend i love spending time with, and somewhere i’d never been to before and had been curious about since putting it on my map a couple of years before. I would also be traveling solo for the first time in a while, calling all the shots, and having nobody else but the crazy people inside my head to argue with about my decisions!

On the other hand, those four months hitchhiking with my wife throughout Europe and Brazil left me feeling worn down by the process. I consider myself an introvert, and the amount of socializing hitchhiking demanded from me was something i wanted some distance from — especially in contrast with the amount of alone time i get while cycle touring.

I was also apprehensive about the unknown — i felt i could deal with it much better when i was cycle touring, which gives me a little more flexibility with regards to what and how much to carry, as well as where to go in order to address my problems along the way.

Despite having a place to stay in Estonia, i’d surely have to spend at least one night on the road to cover those 1,300km plus one controlled border crossing separating me from my destination — that would still have been likely the case even if i activated one of my connections in Lublin.

It might have been easy to find hosts along my way in Poland, Lithuania or Latvia through hospitality networks such as Couchsurfing or Trustroots. But having such a goal for the day was one of the greatest sources of social stress during my honeymoon with my wife — more often than not, that required us to hitchhike nonstop to a late arrival at our host’s, followed by an early departure next day in the morning, for yet another whole day hitchhiking, thus reiterating the vicious cycle.

I don’t wanna travel like that

No — if i’m going to hitchhike to Estonia, then i’ll go cycle touring style: self-sufficient, process over product, and in real need for help only to find a place to set camp for the night — whenever and wherever i decide to call it a day!

With a little bit of creativity and not so many concessions at all, i somehow managed to fit everything i needed, including my hammock-camping gear, a stove and enough food for half a week (plus my tree-climbing gear!) into my 32-liter backpack, and off i went!

I have so much confidence in this minimalistic setup that i’m sharing the details in a forthcoming blog post — seriously, i believe it would have been sufficient for me to remain on the road indefinitely — perhaps one day i’ll try some sort of around the world in 80 days stunt, even if just for the fun of it.

The rides

Indeed, having a complete camping/cooking set, and not having a pre-determined goal for the day did make the process a lot easier to accept.

I didn’t linger, but nevertheless took my time eating my meals and snacking — i stopped to look for a place to sleep when i felt like it, and where it was most convenient, not where i had to — even the occasional 2-hour wait was handled without much despair, joyfully surrendering to music, dancing, and air guitar — the long walks were welcome breaks for introspection in between socializing with drivers, and i sometimes gladly took them even if they were avoidable.

With some drivers, the language barrier didn’t allow for the conversation to go very deep, even though i’m still impressed with how much i can already communicate not only in Ukrainian but also in Polish (a language that had always read and sounded ferociously cryptic to me) and Russian!

It seems like most drivers help for the mere pleasure and/or duty of helping, just because they can — wouldn’t you? — don’t we all? A few others thank me for the company, and seem to enjoy the stimulus from the occasional unpredictable conversation with an interesting stranger — many used to hitchhike when they were younger.

One driver picked me up because his wife saw me when she drove by and called him on the phone, “your car is empty, take him.” Another guy gave me a ride because that’s what he always does, even if it’s for just another 10 Km.

Filip, who had already traveled and explored some of the World in other ways, had always wanted to hitchhike — he has now just returned from his first hitchhiking trip, with a friend from Athens, Greece back to their homes in Lublin, Poland. I was the first hitchhiker he ever picked up — to inspire and help someone to take their last step to do something they had already wanted to is the core of what i’m pursuing with Not Mad Yet!

Special thanks to Agnieszka, Andrzej, and Marcin, who turned back to pick me up!

These three jolly paramedics were returning, full of energy, from a course they were ministering at the border — they gave me not only a ride but also about a liter of beer, traditional Polish food, an emergency blanket, and a tube of fast carbs — the last two have become part of my hitchhiking kit.

My first creep!

Pro-tip: beware rides that feel too eagerly offered — especially when you’re tired!

I’ve taken more than 200 rides across over 17,000 Km in 17 countries in this life, and i was probably pretty close to the point where it seemed like nothing bad could ever happen to me — and nothing bad has ever happened to me yet — it was just uncomfortable this time — a friendly reminder to remain alert and not to get cocky nonetheless.

After several hours trying to unsuccessfully hitchhike northward from Białystok, about 5 Km of walking, and climbing over a fence with my heavy backpack, i found myself very tired somewhere, where my prospects of finding a ride seemed no better. It was close to dawn, and i was debating whether i should simply call it a day and start looking for a place to get water and set camp, thus postponing the problem of finding a ride out of there to the day after, when a car pulled over on the opposite side of the road and asked me where i was going.

I said, “to Estonia.” The driver then told me he was going to Augustów, which was in my desired direction — although i thought that was a bit strange, i hopped in — maybe that was simply the first opportunity for him to take a u-turn? He did indeed turn back north towards Augustów — after swinging by a gas station to fill up his tank and buy a pack of condoms!

You must now be wondering how the hell i know he’d bought condoms — i first thought that bright purple box he took out of his pocket and placed on the dashboard, clearly wanting me to witness the event, was bubble gum — i was a tad sleepy and even considered asking him for some. He then started telling me about the prostitutes along the road, and asking me if i like sex — “excuse me?” — “sex” — “wait, what, why do you want to know!?” — “you don’t like sex?” His impertinence was accompanied by suggestive gestures, which at one point included picking up the box of condoms and shaking it at me — no need for bubble gum, i’m wide awake now!

The language barrier made it difficult to parse his exact intentions, but none of the possibilities in my model stood out as better than the others — how to deal with this?

I referred to the women hitchhiking solo i’d heard and read sharing such experiences, which seem to be an unfortunate component of the process for many (if not all) of them, including my wife — not every unpleasant situation carries the immediate danger of physical harm. Keeping my calm while trying not to let it fade into weakness, i continued talking to the guy while carefully scanning and sensing the environment.

I eventually judged his advances as in fact far more naïve and socially inept than ill-intentioned. While my first few indirect dismissals in broken Ukrainian/Polish/Russian didn’t seem to have a lingering effect, he did stop after i typed into the translator on my phone, “PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT THAT. NOW!!” and showed it to him — he then switched to much less controversial topics such as the monument marking the alleged geographical center of Europe in the town of Suchowola.

Upon dropping me off at the next gas station, he noticed the car right next to us had Estonian license plates implying that’s where they might be headed, and kindly suggested that i go talk to them.

Although he told me he lives in Augustów, which was another few kilometers further down the road, he pulled back towards where we’d come from — presumably looking for a prostitute to satisfy his needs, which he might be unable to negotiate otherwise?

Honestly, i feel a bit sorry for the guy.

Truck drivers are my favorite

People often ask me about them — in Brazil, we grow up exposed to a fair amount of prejudice towards truck drivers. I’d started shifting that perspective while cycle touring already, when i noticed truck drivers seemed to give me far more space when overtaking than most private car drivers — on occasion they even came to a full stop behind me if the road was too narrow. I didn’t need much more of their help other than their awareness of me while i was on the bicycle, but the friendly and hospitable encounters at rest stops and gas stations gradually added up as well.

I’ve only had to find a place to set up my hammock in two of the four nights i spent on the road on my way from L’viv to Estonia and back — the other two nights i was offered the bunk in their cabin, where i slept safely and comfortably — not to mention the food some of them treated me with!

Where else did i sleep?

So, i had a place to stay with my friends in Estonia, and i spent two of my four nights on the road in my truck driver’s cabin.

The other two nights i slept on my hammock — once wild camping in Tallinn somewhere i learned next morning seems to be a place where drug addicts hang out, and the other time on the backyard of Grzegorz and his uncle, whose name i didn’t write and now escapes me:

In particular, i was positively surprised to find out that something i’d gotten used to while cycle touring seems still quite possible while hitchhiking — skinny dips! Indeed, i had an option to bathe every single night on the road, whether it was a lake, a river, the Baltic Sea, or the shower for truckers at a rest stop.

And how was Estonia?

Oh, yeah, right — that’s where i was going! I almost forgot :p

We probably hear as much about the Baltic states growing up in Brazil as people growing up in Europe hear about the Guianas. As far as Estonia itself goes, i didn’t have many expectations about the country — a place with not many people, somewhat remote, perhaps with a few Russian sprinkles?

As i said before, i was curious about it — but without feeling much of the need to experience Estonia in any particular way other than whatever came my way. And although any trip is for me yet another opportunity to experiment with travel methods and practices, push the boundaries of my comfort zone further out, and do some budget travel research, this was vacation with friendsi didn’t look for anything special to do there, or anybody else to meet.

Walking with my friend and his dog Zelda, i got to see a bit of the Estonian countryside, where there’s more intense and reckless traffic than i would have expected, and i also got a tour of a big chunk of Tallinn, where my attention was especially drawn to how the various generations of ancient and modern coexist in the city’s architecture.

Other than that, playing it by ear was the way to go — drinking beer, cooking, watching the world cup, playing board games, sauna, sharing online videos from the quintessential to the awe-inspiring, climbing trees, busking, helping my friends with my driving skills, watching a rehearsal of my friend Fuji’s visual spa, attending a performance of Omeulmad 2 (in which his partner worked as a producer), riding a bicycle in Tallinn, hiding a geocache, taking photos, writing on my journal, recording 20+ minutes of video logs, picking up trash from my campsite in Tallinn — that was quite enough 🙂

With the exception of finishing reading a book, which took me an extra few days after coming back, i did everything i had planned to do in Estonia — plus and a lot and unexpected more.

Everybody should know what they travel for — for someone who essentially lives on the road, traveling might as well mean having a place to relax in peace 🙂

What’s next?

After what could be construed as roughly two uninterrupted years on the road since i left by bicycle from Copenhagen to Istanbul in Fall ’16, it’s time to settle a little longer before my next epic enterprise.

Three other articles of a more tutorial nature are also coming out as a result of those couple of weeks on the road to Estonia and back — one describing my minimalist hitchhiking (and tree-climbing) kit, another one sharing my approach to finding a ride, and a third one contrasting the process to cycle touring.

Going forward i plan to write and share more such how-to pieces for cycle touring and hitchhiking, as well as life in general, in addition to the more emotional accounts of my experience on the road such as this one.

There is also still a lot to be processed from my previous projects — i first wanted to say a few words about what i’ve been up to during those four or five months the blog was silent, but i plan to resume writing about the North Cape Hypothesis and All Roads Lead to Rom…ania, as well as my three months in Brazil with my wife and our journey hitchhiking across Europe, tree-climbing, and whatever else comes up!

Stay tuned!



Vacation: hitchhiking, solo travel;
Eastern Europe, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine

TNCH #4 — Nothing much Sinister about Transnistria

Country #4 of the North Cape Hypothesis and #17 on a bicycle — which country is it though? — my passport now has an exit stamp from Ukraine, but no entry stamp — what does any of that even mean?

Transnistria might have been the first place i’ve ever visited just a couple of weeks after first hearing about it.

When i was still in Bucharest, preparing to leave on my bicycle towards Odessa and beginning to think about my route back to Ukraine through Moldova afterward, my host Paul warned me, pointing to a map on their wall, “there has been some tension around this area.” A couple of days later, in Galați, i learned from my host Dan, who had been to Transnistria about ten years before, that the issues i might face had a somewhat different nature — i was not so much to expect the danger from an ongoing civil war as the unwritten rules of a breakaway state in an administrative limbo. It was another couple of days until my next host Yuriy, in Izmail sent even those concerns largely away — “What, Transnistria? No problem! — I have some friends there and visit often myself.”

In Odessa, i then met Nastasia — “where are you from?” — “Tiraspol” — “Transnistria!?” — “oh, you know about it!” — “i’m going there in a couple of days!!” My initial reservation about what and how much to ask her wound up being totally uncalled for — she was delighted to share her experience growing up in Transnistria, and i was fascinated by her astute observations.

Still a bit apprehensive, but as prepared for what may develop as one could possibly be (and now also rightfully excited) i left Odessa loving my life like few times before.

Very first impressions

On the border, they first offered me only a 10-hour transit visa, as expected. But then i told them that i would like to stay longer — “do you have a hotel reservation?” — “i’m going to stay with a friend” — i gave them the address of my host in Tiraspol, and i now had a 24-hour visa, which i thought would be more than enough for me to figure out what to do next. The customs officer was friendly and polite, and it went just like it does most of the time, with all the standard questions about my overarching objective and what they might find in my luggage — “personal items and camping gear” — “OK, safe travels.”

The first thing i noticed upon entering Transnistria were the roads, which were impeccable — quite a blessing after about a month in Romania and Ukraine, where road quality oscillates between bad and worse. It was the first place where i noticed the three-lane system, which i thought to be a rather clever concept — drivers in either direction use their respective right lanes, and the middle one is just for overtaking.

Traffic was very mild throughout the whole of Transnistria in general and Tiraspol in particular, which certainly helps a lot to keep the roads in good condition. Either way, i was grateful for the blessing — Tiraspol was by far the most pleasant city arrival of my entire cycle touring career to date — it felt much like arriving in a typical countryside village, except perhaps for the buildings and underlying infrastructure.

My host was in the other end of town, and it was close to dawn, so i slowed down but didn’t stop — we’ll do more sightseeing before leaving tomorrow. Two guys in a car paired up with me, slowing me further down — it gets harder and harder to keep my balance while talking to them, so we eventually all stop. It takes a little while until another car stops behind them and becomes impatient enough to start honking their horn. They start moving again and pull into a small lot further down the road. I don’t remember whether or not it was clear that they did so with the expectation that i would stop also and resume our conversation, but so i did — i needed help contacting my host anyways, and hadn’t yet been able to find an open Wi-Fi connection. They lent me their phone, then offered to lead the way to my host’s place, and i agreed to follow.

A rather warm welcome so far — diligent border officers, good roads, and friendly locals!

The most interesting boring place on Earth

My host Vitaly in Tiraspol was a rather chilled guy, and we seemed to have quite a lot in common despite our diametrically opposed political leanings. I believe the best way to summarize it is that we seem to share a strong desire for the most uneventful possible existence — if i understand it correctly, he grew up in the capital of his home country (like me), was educated in the US (like me), set up a reasonable source of passive income and retirement security (working on that), then wound up in Tiraspol, where he figured he would be able to live a good enough life without too much of a hassle (precisely what i believe i found in L’viv). We parted ways on his apparent nostalgic feelings for Soviet times — though i’ll acknowledge our conversations have at least made me revisit some questions for which i had thought i already had the best answers — what is/should be the role of government in our self-actualization? — to what extent do conducive circumstances for that hinge upon the underlying political context? — might Western democracies have simply created the illusion of freedom for their citizens at the expense of the reality of limitation for those outside their borders? — it doesn’t seem like many people under even the best-functioning representative democracies around the world have fully bought into such illusion anyways.

Vitaly helped me register so i could stay longer in Tiraspol, an opportunity i gladly welcomed. The procedure takes a bit of time from you and your host, but it’s otherwise quite straightforward — there were no lines, and i don’t believe the clerk ever even looked at me — she just seemed a bit irked from having to fill out (by hand) yet another handful of forms with the relevant pieces of information from our respective passports. They didn’t seem to care about how long i stayed, so long as that amounted to a number of days smaller than or equal to 45 — i asked for three days, they gave me a week — word has it that one could in principle keep re-registering for rows of 45 days indefinitely, and the only institution that could potentially have a problem with that is the government of Moldova — i heard in turn they rarely make a big deal out of it anymore.

That was a great opportunity to experience more of the place — meet more chilled, friendly people, and engage with them in innocent activities ranging from having a weekday picnic in the park to attending a screening of Latvian cartoons,

venturing (by bicycle) out of Tiraspol, sampling the first layer of villages away from the city, only to experience the same flavor of countryside hospitality as anywhere else i’d been, and also across the Dniester River and into the nearby city of Bendery,

play with my recently acquired action camera,

and drink a fair amount of kvas, to which i got hopelessly hooked, and hoped i’d be able to continue finding throughout the former Soviet world.

They have their own money (Transnistrian Rubles), which at present can only be bought and sold in Transnistria. It has some of the most interesting features of any currency i’d ever seen — this includes but is not limited to plastic coins (in different geometric shapes, not just the round one shown in the picture), and an actual photograph (not a drawing) of a random denizen on the back of their 5 Transnistrian Rubles bill!

I’m surprised nobody has found the person on the photo and made them a celebrity-for-15-minutes yet.

No red flags at all?

Sure — you’ll find notable symbols of Soviet pride in Transnistria, such as well kept statues of Lenin and Gagarin.

In hindsight, i honestly have no idea what to make out of that.

A friend of mine reacted, seemingly upset, that they still use the hammer and sickle on their flag when i shared a photo of my arrival in Tiraspol on my FB wall — it turns out she’s from Denmark, which is ironically one of the many countries to still have a cross on their flag!

Apparently, symbols can be quite robust. Ideologies, on the other hand, i’m not so sure anymore — while the church in Denmark has gradually become a cultural relic, with their buildings hosting an ever increasing proportion of avant-garde jazz recitals over religious services, Transnistria seemed to be, for better or worse, a free market society where it would not be difficult for a foreigner to come in and start their own business, as my host in Tiraspol had just done.

I don’t travel to discuss politics.

Very first expressions

Incidentally, Tiraspol was where i started feeling an urge to stay longer than just a few days at the same place. Was it their quiet that i needed? Perhaps that urge was a reaction to the initial institutional restriction on how long i could stay? Or did the restriction simply draw my attention to something that in practice had already been the case all along?

I travel following and relying largely on the hospitality of locals. So, at least practically, my stay just about anywhere has also been constrained to the few nights my hosts have agreed to have me in their home — with a few notable exceptions, longer stays usually come with the expectation that you’ll work for them in return — may we call that a working visa? There’s no free will in this Universe — just manifolds of conservation laws — we’re all stuck in a metaphorical elevator.

Walking down the street with my host Vitaly and his friend Ol’a, i noticed a language center — what if i found a place to teach English for a few months somewhere in the world? I figured walking in to ask wouldn’t hurt, and was encouraged by their openness to having someone from outside teaching English there — they heard my English, found my story interesting, and it seems like it would have been mostly a matter of working out the underlying paperwork — to my surprise, the possibility of just doing it as a visitor and getting paid under the table was never implied.

It was the cordial Natal’ja, from the Tourist Information Center in Tiraspol, who connected me with the folks at the language center.

I don’t remember whether i understood them to be connected with each other, or if i simply first walked into the tourist information center by mistake. I told Natal’ja that i’d stop by when i came back for my appointment at the language center, and we ended up talking for quite a while. I was impressed with their resourcefulness, especially after hearing that they had only opened one week before. There was a variety of pamphlets and brochures describing suggested activities in and outside of Tiraspol, about most of which Natal’ja was prepared to talk at length. Their postcards and fridge magnets were simple and tasteful. They clearly want people from outside to visit.

Go for it!

The gist of this is that my time in Tiraspol was about as uneventful as it could have possibly been — whether or not you consider that to be a good thing, nothing much happened there. To be sure, i have not tried dancing naked in front of the statue of Suvorov, or else tested the boundaries of Transnistrian authorities’ agreability in any other stupid way — i minded my own, sincere business, and they minded theirs — whatever it may be.

In contrast, just before the beginning of this cycle tour, i was briefly stopped and interviewed by the police right in front of the house where i’d lived for the previous two years in Copenhagen, Denmark — presumably for walking back from the train station at a leisurely pace while checking my phone? This goes to show that authorities may feel threatened and react accordingly just about anywhere in the world.

So, are you nearby and considering whether or not to visit Transnistria? My only regret is not staying longer and exploring more of their countryside — next time!


Read the previous article in the series: But Would That still Work in Ukraine?
Start from the first article: The North Cape Hypothesis


The North Cape Hypothesis: cycle touring, solo travel; Eastern Europe, Transnistria

TNCH #3 — Would That Still Work in Ukraine?

Unless you want to count the fifteen minutes or so i spent in Moldova crossing from Galați (Romania) to Reni (Рені, Ukraine) through the Giurgiulești checkpoint, Ukraine was the third country i visited during the North Cape Hypothesis. There were no direct crossings between Romania and the Odessa Region along the Danube Delta.

I spent nine days riding along the Ukrainian side of the Danube River and the Black Sea until reaching Odessa, then northwest towards Tiraspol.

When i first entered Ukraine, i had already spent a total of 100+ largely heartwarming and energizing cycle touring days throughout much of the European Union (both inside and outside Schengen), Serbia and Turkey. But i had somehow put the former Soviet world in a whole different compartment. My excitement about the coming few months in Ukraine, Transnistria, Moldova, Belarus, and Russia was mixed with a fair amount of apprehension about how different it might be from the world i knew so far — would what i’d been doing still work there?

This is the third in a series of articles on how my prejudices and expectations about each country i visited during the North Cape Hypothesis were challenged by my actual experience in them. It is especially difficult to write clearly about my first prejudices and expectations about Ukraine, the country where i’m now living (in L’viv) and falling in love with. But let’s try a few words: corruption? suspicion? reservedness? melancholy?

Difficult omissions

Once again, i won’t say much about the unbelievable support and friendship i got through hospitality networks, particularly in cities.

I’ll have to write at greater length about that aspect of the cycle touring experience and logistics on another occasion. As with the previous articles in this series, this one is concerned with the question of what Ukraine might look and feel like where you’re not quite expecting to meet each other.

Entering Ukraine

There are a few joint checkpoints between Moldova and Ukraine, and Giurgiulești/Reni is one of them. You still need to deal separately with authorities from each country. They just share the same building and hang out together.

When the Moldovan authorities were about to send me over to the Ukrainian officials, they asked me a question that prompted me to divulge the existence of a pepper spray bottle in my luggage — “oh, you might want to surrender it to us — the Ukrainian side is not going to like it if they find it.” Following their direct instructions, i moved my rig behind the Moldovan checkpoint booth, retrieved the pepper spray from it, and handed it over to the officer.

The maneuver caused the Ukrainian officer who was waiting to deal with me further down the assembly line to teleport from his position to the scene — “what’s going on here!?” — “everything is OK,” said the measured and polite Moldovan officer — “what did he just give you?” — “he doesn’t have it anymore” — “are you done with him?” — “yes” — “come with me, kid.”

Shiiit . . .

He guided me inside the customs room, where my bags would then be thoroughly searched.

“What did you just give them?” — “i don’t have it anymore” — “but what was it?” Trying as best as i could to keep my calm and choosing very carefully words that  were true but nevertheless revealed as little information as possible, i replied — “what are you looking for?” — “was it something like this,” he asked pointing to the pepper spray bottle attached to his Batman belt? — “i’m not carrying pepper spray” — “but did you have it before, is that what you gave them?” — “i have traveled with pepper spray in the past” — “where?” — “in Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey” — “how about Moldova?” — tricky question, i wonder whether it counts if i’ve only been in the country for fifteen minutes — “hm . . ., i guess” — “will i find pepper spray in your bags?” — that one is easy — “no” — “what else do you have in your bags that might be like that?” While beginning to worry about whether the transnational repertoire of over-the-counter medicine and supplements i’ve gathered along my travels might be yet another potential source of trouble, i tried to remain focused on his question and the only issue he seemed concerned about — “i have two knives, that i use as tools for cooking and repairs” — “show them to me” — that’s yet another difficult one — is answering to such a request from an immigration officer legitimate grounds for holding a knife at an international border crossing customs room? — i parsimoniously retrieved them from my luggage and placed them on the table, hoping not to sneeze or have any other involuntary spasms along the way — “anything else?” — nothing else that could potentially be used as a weapon, if that’s what he meant — “no” —  and then the search began — “please place all your bags on the table, and open them for me.”

Traveling is still a privilege

By that time there was a typically entitled American hitchhiker being thoroughly searched as well, and i’ve been looking for a good opportunity to judge that guy ever since. Although being searched like that was certainly unpleasant, i was grateful the officer didn’t do anything beyond his duty — once he realized the problem he was worried about didn’t exist, he let me through without looking any further. This guy, on the other hand, seemed almost insulted about the extent to which he was being searched — “i’ve never been searched like that!” I felt like saying, “well, i guess you’ve never tried to hitchhike into the US with a Ukrainian passport” — or simply entering the country by plane with a Brazilian one, for that matter — i lived in the US for six years on a student visa, and had my bags thoroughly searched like that every second or third time on the border, a couple of times all the way through Granny’s cheese rolls.

But i digress.

I’m in Ukraine now. So far, so and so — hopefully i’ll only need to deal with ordinary civilians from now on, at least until i leave.

More countryside hospitality

My Couchsurfing host Yuriy in Izmail had found me a backyard to camp the night after at his friend Gennadiy’s pension. That was my goal for the day i left Izmail.

The sun, encounters and sincerely bad roads slowed me down considerably. If i were to reach Gennadiy’s before dark, i’d have to bypass Vylkove, which i had been told would be a pity — “it’s our Venice!”

This brought me to Sasha, Rita, and their adorable kids Elia and David.

Between Kilija and Vylkove, the Danube bank seemed quite difficult to access, and it was otherwise endless farm fields ahead and before me — where am i going to pitch my tent? — oh, wait, here comes a small village — let’s ask them how to get closer to the river!

A small girl played on a swing while what looked like her dad fixed a wheelbarrow. She saw me far before her dad noticed me, even though i’d been standing there for what must have been at least a couple of minutes already. I was convinced he’d just shamelessly ignored me when he finally turned around and greeted me with one of the sweetest smiles in the whole spectrum — “hi, how may i help you”?

Sasha told me i could pitch my tent anywhere in the premises, and then continued making incrementally better suggestions — there were a couple of houses under construction further in the back, and he offered me space in either of them — it was quite dusty inside though, so i asked him if i could borrow a broom — he responded by taking me back to what looked like a guest room/house, probably for seasonal workers.

Sasha and Rita were a bit shy in the beginning, compared to what i’d gotten used to from countless other such invitations. They slowly warmed up to me though, and by the time i left next morning, Rita was proudly showing me some of her sketches, one of which she gave me. We exchanged a warm goodbye hug, and i was invited to return.

Road magic or life magic?

I had no phone or Internet that night and was, therefore, unable to tell Yuriy or Gennadiy that i was doing very well despite not having reached his pension. In hindsight, i realize i could have likely asked Sasha and Rita to borrow their phone — i guess i figured that next day i’d just swing by Gennadiy’s along my way and say hi.

The road magic once again took care of that for me — as i’m pulling out of a secondary dirt road back into the main road, a red van driving by stops, while the driver steps out of it shouting, “Brazilia, Brazilia!” — what the fuck? — could he see the tiny flag sown to my handlebar bag from all the way out there? — probably not — it was Gennadiy!!

That’s just how much fun cycle touring can be!

And what if i wanted to sleep in my tent?

Between Romania and Ukraine, it’s now been 17 nights in a row in someone’s home, and i really feel like having a night by myself, alone inside my tent. Apparently, the Universe felt otherwise — as i’m making my way out of a village towards the suggestion from the gentleman who had just filled up my water bottles, i get a roadside call from Goge.

At first he just wanted to share a shot of whatever that was — “i’d love to, but it’s not a good idea for me to drink right now, it’s getting dark and i need to keep riding to find a place to pitch my tent” — that’s roughly what i typed into my translator and showed him — “oh, you’re looking for a place to spend the night! — follow me” — he asked me if their guest room would work — “should i pour you that shot now?” — “i guess so!”

Another joyful evening eating, looking at pictures and overcoming language limitations with Goge, Luda, and their daughter Ira — another invitation to return.

Institutional hospitality

It’s now been 18 evenings in a row in someone’s hospitable home.

Anticipating other inevitable several nights like that between Odessa, Tiraspol, and Chișinău starting the next day upon my arrival in Odessa, i was desperately looking for that quiet time alone in my tent — preferably with a skinny dip in the Black Sea.

What seemed like the perfect opportunity presented itself when i was between Mykolaivka and Kurortne. I pulled into an auto service shop to ask for water and the locals’ blessing to pitch my tent on the shore and take a bath — “well, sure, you can do that — it’s a 20m high drop to the water though” — i don’t care — let’s just go check what that really looks like before anyone invites us to stay in their home!

Are those fisherman? — what are those guys doing?

It might be too late for me to just turn around now — one of them started walking towards me while the other two continued posing for pictures with their guns — it was the Ukraininian military.

“Excuse me, hi, hm, i’m looking for a place to pitch my tent, and i’m wondering whether i could do that somewhere around here.” His answer was terse — “passport” — i don’t think he even said “please.”

Relax, Mika — it doesn’t feel like you’re in trouble yet — there was a small boat in the water a couple of hundred meters away from the shore, towards which they’d occasionally point their binoculars — i guessed there was some sort of military exercise going on in the area, and i assumed they just wanted to establish that my grounds for being there were legitimate, and not in conflict with Ukrainian national interests.

A quick flashback

I’d met and interacted with a soldier before in my cycle touring career.

Goran and i became friends when i passed through his home village in Croatian countryside, some 1,400 km up the Danube. That happened in my Copenhagen–Istanbul tour in Fall ’16. He was off duty having dinner with his girlfriend when i walked into the village bar asking for help with a place to pitch my tent. He mediated my becoming a guest of the village for the night, much of which Goran and i spent talking about the commonalities and differences between cycle touring and military service.

When i was leaving next day in the morning, he asked me that, if i ever write about my time with them, that i acknowledge the help from the Croatian Army — i suppose this is a good opportunity to do that?

Although i remain a much bigger fan of diplomats, i learned that night that, so long as nation states exist, protecting their visitors is at least in principle part of the duty of their military — whether or not Ukraine was a place where that duty might be taken as seriously, we were about to experience.

Back in Ukraine

I gave the Ukrainian soldier my passport and pointed to the stamp showing i’d entered the country a few days before through Reni. He made a phone call, presumably to his superior or whatever, presumably explaining the circumstances, and then finally replied, “можна.” Does that mean, “yes”? — “OK, dobre?” — “можна.”

How about we assume this does mean yes then ask about the skinny dip — despite his disengaged interest demeanor, it was clear that they didn’t want me to leave, at least not immediately — “можна.”

Great. We’ve now established that i can either both camp there and take a skinny dip, or do neither. I thanked him and started very slowly moving towards what looked like a good place to camp, like a child slowly walking towards something they’re not supposed to touch to test how close to it they can get before their parent’s intervention.

He went back to his post while i used all my attention and cognitive apparatus to spell that noise in Ukrainian Cyrillic before it dissipated — thank goodness it’s a phonetic alphabet, much of which is the same as Serbian Cyrillic, with which i had become vaguely familiar — “one can,” returned my phone.

A little later they came by to take a selfie with me, and also show me how to get to the water without committing suicide.

Habemus skinny dip!

Cycle touring camaraderie

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this stretch of the Danube Delta and the Black Sea shore on the Ukrainian side turned out to be a rather popular week-long cycle touring route along which i bumped into several other travelers.

Most of those travelers were, unfortunately, riding in the opposite direction, so our encounters were quite brief — they were nevertheless eager to share information about the roads, where to sleep and what to see further along my way. A large group from Kyiv even gave me the suitably annotated paper map they would soon no longer need!

I did meet one person going in the same direction as me though — riding the remaining 60Km from Zatoka to Odessa with Zhenya was rejuvenating — there’s no other way i could have kept up with his 25Km/h average speed, even with the tail winds we’d been blessed that day. The fact that he spoke no more English than i spoke Ukrainian or Russian was not a problem at all.

In summary

Adding all of that up, the Odessa Region was not just fine — it was amazing!

I was surprised not to meet anybody from outside Ukraine riding along the gorgeous Ukrainian side of the Danube Delta and the Black Sea shore. Granted, the Odessa region is not particularly easy to reach from outside Ukraine, and that’s a great pity — this part of Eastern Europe unfortunately remains a largely underrated cycle touring destination.

I won’t hide that some roads in Ukraine can be catastrophically bad. That might be the only bad impression about the country that has endured my tenure in it.

Besides the fact that it’s not always the case, the only thing bad roads will do is slow you down a bit — and why would you want to rush on a cycle tour in Ukraine anyways?


Read the next article in the series: Nothing much Sinister about Transnistria
Previous article: But Won’t the Gypsies Steal My Clothes?
First article: The North Cape Hypothesis


The North Cape Hypothesis: cycle touring, solo travel; Eastern Europe, Ukraine

TNCH #2 — But Won’t the Gypsies Steal My Clothes?

I know, right? But that’s exactly what i asked one of my hosts in Bucharest half-jokingly when she pointed to the clotheslines outside the living room window of their ground floor apartment.

I say half-jokingly because i must admit i still carried some of the prejudice i had entered Romania with a couple of weeks before — a prejudice that compounded itself an order of magnitude over through the exonym for the Romani people, and another one for conflating them with the Romanian nationality. I’m aware that publicly acknowledging prejudice can come across as patronizing and still be hurtful to its target. I see no better way to internalize personal progress on the front — kindly let me know if you do 🙂

This is the second in a series of articles on how my prejudices and expectations about each country i visited during my latest cycle touring journey (the North Cape Hypothesis) were challenged by my actual experience in them. I hope that this reading will encourage you to reflect upon and challenge whatever prejudice might be alive inside you right now, regardless of whom they target. I would also love to hear your reactions to this piece, so please feel invited to comment at the bottom or write me an email!

The negative spiral of hearsay

Romania was the second country i visited in the North Cape Hypothesis. I spent a total of 21 days in the country riding between Drobeta-Turnu Severin, where i’d entered from Serbia, and Galați, where i left to Moldova. This included a 10-day layover in the capital and largest city, Bucharest.

By this point you might have correctly guessed that nobody stole my clothes or anything else in Romania. It might have actually been the country (at least among the 12 i visited during that tour) where i was given the most from locals — in particular, it is where i was offered money (cash!) the most — that must be the exact opposite of being robbed!

Nevertheless, i’d been very apprehensive about cycle touring in Romania — this might be where it will finally happen to me on a cycle tour, isn’t it?

How the hell did this develop?

All encounters with Romanian nationals i can recall before entering the country for the first time on April 11th, 2017 had been positive experiences: a peer during graduate school in the US — the jolly bunch who adopted me for an evening at a bar in Montréal, after i had been ditched by some Couchsurfers who never showed up — my high-spirited housemate for about a year in Copenhagen, and a couple other acquaintances from the boardgames meetup at around the same time — my friend Bogdan Budai, who also happens to be one of the greatest sources of inspiration for my transition into my current lifestyle — the panhandler in Malmö who attended to my suitcase while i figured out how to get to the airport to catch my flight to Serbia and hop on the touring rig that would soon bring me into her country — i can immediately think of at least another handful of such neutral-to-positive firsthand experiences, and not even a single negative one.

On the other hand, much of what i remember having heard about Romanians before going into Romania had not been very positive.

Research indicates that we might be wired to internalize negative impressions more saliently than positive ones. Thus, i won’t repeat what i’ve heard here, as just the title of this article and what has been implied so far might already be enough of a disservice to Romanians, Gypsies and our hopes for a flourishing global civilization — if you’ve heard bad things about them, you probably know what i’m talking about — and if you haven’t, i hope to convince you that you don’t need to.

Alright, how did it go?

My experience in Romania was overwhelmingly positive. I can’t say it was 100% positive, but it must have been close to that. To give you a better idea of what i mean, let me briefly share with you my most uncomfortable moment in the country.

I was passing through yet another small village along the Danube when it came the time to refill my water bottles and get something sweet to eat. Towards the end of the village, i pulled into a typical magazin mixt — a small shop for everyday staples outside of which you may also find locals having a drink. The shop proper was located inside a gated patio. There were two men drinking next to the gate, and another party of three young people at a table in the back.

As usual, i immediately had their attention. Contrary to what nearly always happens, this time they seemed suspicious rather than interested though. One of the men at the gate asked me if i was the police, and the young guy at the table in the back would not believe i was just a traveler from Brazil.

Inside the shop, circumstances were more neutral, but i was getting increasingly sensitive to any signals from the environment. When i realized nobody had offered to pay for my carbohydrates, my spider sense went off — let’s not linger here — i’ll refill my water bottles in the next village.

Back outside the shop, the harassment persisted. The young guy in the back, who still didn’t believe i was from Brazil and had started quizzing me about my home country, wanted me to come over. One of the women sitting with him then asked me for money — to me that’s a clear sign that you’re not being treated as a guest.

Whatever it was that was brewing there might have well turned out alright — i did not stay long enough to find out.

Are you serious!?

Yes — i was dead serious when i wrote the alarm went off when i noticed that nobody had offered to pay for my croissant — that’s simply how well i had been treated in the countryside along my way up to that point!!

When i pulled into another such magazin mixt to refill my water bottles for the night a few days before in Bistrița, i couldn’t leave without a chat, a bottle of soda and a cup of coffee with Sorin, Emi, Alin, Marius and Stan, who also offered me food. Later that same day, when i asked the shepherds one village over if i could pitch my tent somewhere in their field, they pointed me to where i’d be better protected from the wind.

Next day, i once again couldn’t clear the village of Botoșești-Paia without first following Cosme to the shop, where i was offered a place to sit, a cup of coffee, some sweets for the road, and even asked when i’d visit them again!

When i pulled into a little patch of forest just outside of Caracal to find a place to pitch my tent, i ran into this happy family having a barbecue.

Surprise, surprise — they didn’t let me go without first filling my belly with the proceeds from their grilling and a couple of beers. The sausages and cake they gave me for the road lasted for another couple of days, and the bottle of wine for another several. I asked Razvan if there was something i could do for them — “no — actually, yes — it would be nice if you told people about your experience in Romania.”

Here i am 🙂

Next day in the morning, on my out of the forest where i had set camp the night before, i pulled into another magazin mixt to ask if i could use their Internet for a few minutes. What developed has been one of my most heartwarming encounters to date on a cycle tour. The shop owner, Leonica, has remained one of my most diligent followers. She constantly responds to my social media dispatches with much-appreciated words of encouragement. They always remind me of the hospitality with which they treated me, making sure i had everything i needed before i got back on the road.

In many occasions such hospitality came completely unsolicited. The morning after meeting Leonica, i was merely 8km into my ride and had no reason whatsoever to stop when i heard a call from the roadside offering me a cup of coffee at Florin and Florina’s bar.

The longer i stayed inside, the more the prospect of braving the chilly and drizzly weather back outside seemed unappealing. The coffee had by then turned into Easter cake, then sarmale, then a drink — “what else do you need? — you can ask anything you want,” Florin kept repeating in Spanish every time he offered me something. He meant it — “would you be able to offer me a place to spend the night?” — “no problem — stay, we’ll eat, drink, chat, tomorrow morning we’ll give you a hearty breakfast and you’ll be back on the road feeling better than ever.” I ended up staying with their friend Marcel, who’s retired and lives alone — i wouldn’t refuse to keep an old man company for one night in exchange for so much hospitality!

And what did i do when a good place to wild camp or an invitation to stay inside didn’t happen? In Romania, gas stations continued to be the perfect place to pitch a tent for the night where someone hadn’t already offered me a room — just like i’d experienced in Serbia and Turkey, they’ll give you water, access to the toilet, and make sure you’re within the security camera’s range.

Campsite by night, hot spot by day — ironically, i don’t think i’d be able to cycle tour without the support from gas stations, which i probably visit more often than someone traveling by car!

On my way out of Florin and Florina’s towards Giurgiu, i eventually stopped by this one in Zimnicea to get some candy, refill my water bottles, and perhaps also use the Internet. Martin told me i could sit there for as long as i wanted, and actually suggested i stay for the night. Along the way, he and his brother Florin kept bringing me food, which was in turn supplemented by coffee and soda from random customers coming in and out. Martin had tears in his eyes as i left — “why are you sad?” — “because i just learned about who you are and what you’re doing, and now you’re leaving” — that put tears in mine.

I soon realized that taking pictures and writing down the names of every single person i had a nontrivial interaction with would be impractical. The ladies in the picture below, which some of you might recognize from my previous post in the Trelograms series, refilled my water bottles.

Towards the end of that same day, i asked another such group of lovely ladies chatting by the bench outside if they knew where i could sleep in my tent for one night. They gave me a lead three villages over, and when i was about to thank them and get back on my way one of them said, “wait!” and ran inside — she came back with enough food for another couple of days — “drum bun!

Truly honorable mentions

What if i told you that the above is barely scratching the surface of my positive experience in Romania? In fact, all of the above is merely the countryside highlights of what happened within my first few days in the country up to that uncomfortable incident.

I’m deliberately leaving out of this story all the support and friendship i could so effortlessly find in the cities of Craiova, Bucharest and Galați from Alex, Raz, Alex, Dana, Nico, Anca, Paul, Lulu, Mihai, Robin, Dan and Giorgiana through Couchsurfing and Warmshowers. Can i at least share my experience touching Ioana’s bathroom tiles?

I’m also leaving out the tremendous amount of support and friendship i continued to find in the countryside after leaving Bucharest, most notably from Liviu, Margareta, Viorica and all other folks at Viorica’s magazin mixt, where a request for a safe place to pitch my tent for one night turned into an invitation to stay for the whole weekend and return more leisurely in the future.

In summary

To be clear, i never felt entitled to any of this hospitality — i’d simply gotten used to it, and probably reacted a lot more defensively than i need have when confronted with suspicion. This is one of the main reasons i want to speak better the language of my hosts in my next cycle touring project, which will likely involve a larger amount of time in a smaller number of countries. I wonder how the situation would have developed had i been able to interject, “why are you asking me these questions? — what do you expect from me?”

Does Romania deserve the reputation they have at least through much of Western Europe? I invite you to go check it out and see for yourself.

If your experience turns out anything like mine though, i must warn you Romanians might indeed steal something from you — a big piece of your heart!


Read the next article in the series: But Would That still Work in Ukraine?
Previous article: But Why Serbia!?
First article: The North Cape Hypothesis


The North Cape Hypothesis: cycle touring, solo travel; Eastern Europe, Romania


ps. Anyways, were these the clothes i was worried anybody else might be interested in!?