50 People #3: Niko & Cynthia

50 People #3: Niko & Cynthia

If you thought packing your suitcase for a 10 day cruise round the Maldives was hard, try packing for a five year trip across 6 continents.

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>> PROFILE

Name: Niko & Cynthia | Currently in: Turkey

Niko and Cynthia met each other in France in the fall of 2014. After an hour in each other’s company, they had decided to embark on an adventure around the world together with one small catch… no aeroplanes.

They spent the next year intensely working, preparing and falling in love before they set off on the first leg of their journey across Europe. They hitchhiked over 5500km in a matter of months from Ireland to Turkey – a great feat by any means. But they’re not stopping there. This year the couple plan to travel from Turkey to India through the Middle East, documenting their experiences on their blog and YouTube series.

I caught up with the dynamic duo and the faces behind the travel blog “Journal of Nomads” to learn more about their worldly adventures, and uncover their secrets to visiting Monaco for free, and how to hitchhike a Gondola in Venice.

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>>INTERVIEW

Tell us a bit about yourselves? What were you doing before you started travelling?

Niko: I come from, Quebec, that little French speaking province on the East-Coast of Canada. I grew up in a house without electricity or running water. My father had a wilderness survival school. I started traveling at the age of 17, so before that I was a typical teenager. Traveling has always been something I was looking forward to. I used to dream of Machu Pichu, the great wall of China or the Taj Mahal. Now I am living my dream and exploring this big beautiful world.

Cynthia: I am from the Flemish speaking part of Belgium. I studied for six years and have a bachelor degree in teaching and psychology. During my studies I went to volunteer as a teacher in Senegal and from that moment on I knew I wanted to travel more. I first tried to live an ‘ordinary’ life, working as a special needs teacher in Belgium but I always felt I was missing something. When I turned 25 I decided to give up my house and job, sell all my stuff and started traveling. I haven’t stopped ever since.

You have a plan to travel the world for at least 4 years, seeing as much of it as you possibly can. Tell us a bit about this epic journey you are undertaking together?

We just finished the first part: we started in Ireland and we hitchhiked 5500 km across Europe to Turkey. We travelled through 8 different countries and already made tons of new friends. We loved Eastern Europe!

Now it’s time for the second chapter: hitchhiking from Turkey to India across Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and China. Once we are in India, we will travel through South East Asia towards Australia and New Zealand. After this part we’re planning to go to Africa and then South and North America.

We have to see along the way, how the whole journey will develop itself. It’s hard to plan a world journey like this ahead of time. A lot depends on visas and finding boats. That’s why we travel bit by bit. Only when we finish one chapter, we start planning the next one.

Do you have a travel philosophy?

Our travel philosophy is to make sure you leave a place in a better condition than it was when you got there.

What compelled you to begin your journey around the world as hitchhikers?

We were already both traveling for years and felt we were in need of a new challenge.  Niko already had an idea in mind to start a project in which he wanted to document his experiences and knowledge about how to hitchhike the world on the smallest budget possible. All he needed was to find a partner with experience in traveling and a love for film and photography.

Cynthia, equipped with a camera, had the dream of traveling overland to Asia or Africa. She was looking for a travel partner and a project in which she could share the stories of her journey and create more awareness for life through photos and writing.

When we met, we both knew that traveling was something we wanted to do together so we decided to go on a journey that would take us around the whole world.  And we both had been hitchhiking before and really liked it. It is an adventurous ways of traveling which allows us to meet interesting local people from all over the world.

Why no airplanes? How do you plan to get across some countries without taking a flight?

We love the rhythm that traveling without airplanes entails. It makes a huge difference when you travel towards a country at your own pace, feeling the change in the culture itself as you approach the border. And landscapes are a lot more beautiful when you’re standing on the ground. Hitchhiking is our first option to cross-countries. To travel over seas we plan on taking ferries or hitching rides on sailboats.

Is hitchhiking as dangerous as we are sometimes led to believe? Are there any other myths about hitchhiking you’ve discovered to be false since you started your trip?

Hitchhiking so far has proven to be completely safe. We always follow our intuition but we never had to refuse a ride. Some people that picked us up bought us food, invited us in their home. So far it has been a great way to travel and make friends at the same time. We absolutely love it.

What’s the best thing about travelling the way you do?

We’re not in a hurry, we’re taking our time to explore and get to know a country. We meet so many different people, hear interesting stories and learn a lot about the culture. It is an enriching and inspiring experience.

That is also the worst part: we never know when we will get to our destination. We also mainly stay with local people or sleep in our tent. Camping is amazing but sometimes it can be very cold during the night (especially during winter in the North of Italy and Eastern Europe)! On moments like that we really long for a hot meal and a hot shower!

Favourite place you’ve ever been to?

Previously:

Niko: I am in love with Latin America, especially Mexico. There is something about the Mexican culture that I simply adore. The music, the spicy food, the way people invite you for a beer after seconds of meeting you. I absolutely love it.

Cynthia: I had an amazing time on the South Island of New Zealand. I was volunteering on a little llama farm where the owners were training the llamas for trekking tours in the mountains. The farm was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by majestic mountains and beautiful lakes. The owners and the llamas still have a warm place in my heart

On our current journey:

We are currently in Turkey and we can easily say this is another country very high on our list of favourite places. The people here are incredibly generous. When you hear ‘ask and it shall be given’… well, here you don’t even have to ask. Being invited for a meal and tea five times a day is very common here. 

What’s the secret to travelling on a budget?

Traveling on a budget means stepping out of your comfort zone. Dare to ask locals to camp in their garden (chances are they invite you to stay in their house and you get an amazing cultural experience and a warm meal). It also means to live like a local! Shop where they buy their food, eat what they eat… We try to avoid touristic places because the prices there are always higher. If we want to do a fun activity or visit a certain place, we don’t go with a tour group but always try to find a local guide who can show us around. It requires more time and energy but it is worth it!

Whilst the nomadic lifestyle might not be for everyone, Niko and Cynthia make it sound pretty idyllic. You can follow the couple’s amazing journey on their website or youtube channel here.

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Loved this story? Read more interesting accounts about how and why people travel around the world in the #50people50places series here.

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