Hitchhiking From Bulgaria to Bhopal With out a Smartphone

In October 2013, Boris Kanev and Marta Samalea set off from Bulgaria with a easy mission – to achieve India with out taking a aircraft. The 2 spent the following 511 days on the highway, strolling and hitchhiking throughout Asia till they lastly entered the nation through Myanmar. As they travelled throughout a few of the remotest elements of the world, they regarded up maps, let their households know they had been nonetheless alive, and even up to date a weblog, issues all of us do whereas travelling. However they made one change you and I maybe would not even dream about – they did all this with out a smartphone.

We first met them in Bhopal earlier this yr, and acquired to speaking about their journeys. Since then, we have exchanged a number of emails as nicely, and pieced collectively their journey, and the way they managed to jugaad (improvise) a working Web connection as they hitchhiked throughout most of Asia, regardless of not having what most individuals would take into account a vital companion. The 2 aren’t towards utilizing know-how, however they simply did not really feel smartphone can be important to their travels. As a substitute, a netbook, a DSLR digital camera, and an book reader had been all of the devices they carried throughout their journey, other than previous Nokia telephone “with an unreliable battery and a failing charger,” Kanev informed NDTV Devices over e-mail.

Kanev and Samalea say that daydreaming about faraway travels has all the time been pastime for them, and some days after they first met, each considered hitchhiking to India.

“We each wished to achieve the subcontinent overland, to take each step, and cross every border, to fill the map with photos of actual locations, flavours and faces,” writes Samalea. “An previous map of Asia, invisible routes and extra creativeness than certainty set the journey plan in movement.”

Through the course of their journey, Kanev and Samalea realised that not carrying a telephone has fairly a number of advantages. “In all probability the primary benefit is that we spend extra time searching of the window than right into a display screen. There’s a sure pleasure in disconnection, in spending days in nature with out ringtones or the prospect to verify Fb,” Kanev writes. “You simply stay your days absolutely within the place the place you’re with out the temptation of repeatedly searching out of behavior reasonably than want. Plus you do not even have to fret about discovering a plug to cost your gadget.”


Alongside the way in which, the couple maintained a weblog, known as Roving Snails, the place they’d put up recommendation for different travellers, write about attention-grabbing encounters with individuals and animals in numerous locations, and even put up recipes for hitchhikers. However updating the weblog, and mailing family and friends so they might know the couple was effective, had been simply two issues that might have been simpler for Kanev and Samalea if that they had carried a smartphone.

(Additionally see: The Digital Traveller in Zurich – Without an Internet Connection)

Discovering your method with out Google Maps
Not having the Web to reply all our questions immediately is a problem, however one which Samalea says she enjoys.

“Naturally, after we are offline we now have extra questions than solutions, we glance round, write and draw the ideas that come. With out having Google to answer immediately, getting info turns into one thing like a treasure hunt recreation,” Samalea writes.

So, how do you discover your method round with out Google Maps? The couple usually relied on paper maps for instructions, and when maps weren’t out there, they made their very own. “We drew a map following bizarre indicators, incomprehensible phrases, and sometimes contradictory statements [of the people they asked for directions]. We suppose one can find yourself in the identical spots with the best coordinates, however we discover some magic in not realizing for sure what’s past every flip,” she writes.

Their previous Nokia telephone did serve them nicely in locations the place they stayed for lengthy, corresponding to Georgia, Iran and Thailand. On the highway although, even the Nokia telephone wasn’t of a lot use to Kanev and Samalea. “Normally, we’re of opinion that smartphones are extra of a consolation than an precise necessity,” says Kanev. “They may come very helpful in relation to maps and ease your life in a international metropolis. A few of our mates use them to ebook hostels on-line, however since we’re often tenting we by no means even considered such a use.”


With out a smartphone or 3G entry, they inform us that the true problem was discovering methods to entry the Web throughout their journey; they usually had loads of unhealthy experiences with Web cafes alongside their method.

“Web cafes are the satan’s invention, with keyboards that by no means work, lacking letters, fading sign, loud noise and even louder music,” Samalea writes. One among their worst encounters with cyber-cafes was in India. The 2 spent hours trying to find an Web cafe in Aizawl, Mizoram, with the intention to inform their households that that they had reached the town safely. They lastly got here throughout a Web cafe signboard that pointed in the direction of a flight of stairs. They climbed up right into a dingy trying constructing, their lengthy search seemingly over, solely to seek out that the cyber-cafe had shut down.

“The cafe had way back been changed into a magnificence parlour. And the proprietor informed us ‘most individuals have smartphones lately’,” writes Samalea. Fortunately, the story had a cheerful ending. The 2 took what they name “an emergency measure which has all the time labored for us”. The 2 walked into the reception of probably the most posh lodge they may discover and requested if they may use the Wi-Fi for 10 minutes. “That point in Aizawl, the lodge employees was so type, that we acquired tea and biscuits and spent the morning of their foyer.”

Might you final every week with out the Web?
The couple say that the longest they travelled with out Web entry was two weeks, however this occurred to them greater than as soon as. They inform us that the longest instances they spent offline had been whereas climbing in Turkey, hitchhiking in Myanmar, and strolling from Manipur to Mizoram – every of those instances lasting for a few weeks. They are saying that they often strive to go surfing as soon as each one to 3 days to talk with their family and friends and to replace their weblog.

“Through the instances we’re disconnected we regularly write down in our diaries questions, notes, ideas and stuff we want to verify on-line, so when we now have the prospect to look them up,” Samalea writes. It is a fairly uncommon strategy to take Google offline, however it appears to have labored for them.

(Additionally see: Seven Must-Have Gadgets for Every Frequent Traveller)


Spending even a day with out Web would possibly appear to be an excessive amount of of a activity for a lot of (like us), however it wasn’t an issue for the 2 hitchhikers. Greedy cultural nuances proved to be a far larger problem than discovering Web entry. One of many technological hurdles they confronted was in Iran, the place worldwide credit score or debit playing cards do not work. This implies you can solely use credit score or debit playing cards issued in Iran, when within the nation. There was no answer for this, and the one selection was to hold lots of money. “As laid again as our journey could seem, it truly entails various preparation,” Kanev writes. “We verify upfront if one can get money, the place is greatest to trade cash, how hitchhiking works or whether or not tenting is allowed.”

However no quantity of planning can account for unlucky incidents alongside the highway. After they had been in Dege, a small Tibetan city within the Sichuan province of China, they miscalculated the quantity of native foreign money they wanted to hold. Kanev writes, “After a really lengthy and dusty highway throughout Tibetan mountains, a number of sleepless nights, [we were] drained and Marta [Samalea] had a bleeding leg resulting from an unlucky encounter with a nasty canine. We walked for hours the streets of Dege trying to find anybody who might trade US for Chinese language yuan to cowl the rabies vaccine and some nights of hostel keep to relaxation.”

“No ATMs labored, no financial institution wished to trade and no one appeared to care that we’d in any other case have to journey all the way in which again via the dusty highway and mountains, for a number of days, to who is aware of the place,” he provides. “Determined and lonely, Marta sat down on the pavement and began to cry.” The language barrier was an enormous hurdle on this place, however it did result in the 2 studying an attention-grabbing factor concerning the native tradition.

A girl approached Kanev and he managed to clarify the issue via the tough use of signal language. “It took her simply seconds to improvise a avenue alms spherical on our behalf: moms, youngsters, grandmas, monks, shopowners and waiters from a close-by restaurant… the pile of cash grew bigger and bigger,” he tells us. “Nonetheless, no one was keen to trade the , however the bathe of provided yuans stored on pouring till the police took us away.”

The police informed them that not one of the individuals wished something in return for his or her assist, “as a result of altruism is the character of fine actions”. Kanev writes, “[They told us that ] if we wished to proceed the circle of fine deeds, we might merely return the cash to Buddha at any temple or monastery.”

Studying for your self
A smartphone may need helped the couple get their message throughout quicker, it actually would not have educated them concerning the cultural nuances of the locations they visited. Throughout their travels, the 2 got here throughout a number of “cultural peculiarities” in numerous locations. “We learnt that it was rude to refuse a drink in Georgia even when it was vodka at 10 am, cup of tea is all the time adopted by one other in Iraqi Kurdistan, that Iranians would supply every reward 3 times, and one would wish to refuse it twice to make sure the supply was real (taarof),” Kanev writes.

The language did not show to be that huge a barrier for the 2. The place we’d suggest a crash course utilizing Duolingo to choose up a language, or make use of Google Translate if you did not have the time for that, the 2 managed to choose up plenty of languages even with out these instruments.


Samalea writes, “Throughout our first days in each nation we often collect helpful phrases and phrases, write them down and take a look at speaking. The result’s often a a lot of enjoyable and misunderstanding, however individuals more often than not discover it cute as a result of it exhibits curiosity of their place.” In addition they did not all the time must study the native language as most nations have a generally spoken international language – like English is in India. Kanev speaks Russian, so travelling in Central Asia didn’t show to be a lot of an issue.

“However basically, we learnt that language goes method past letters, syllables and phrases and even that communication isn’t confined to language, plus Marta all the time carries a drawing pad [she drew objects they didn’t know the names of],” Kanev tells us. The couple wrote that their solely drawback with language was in China. “However there virtually everyone has a smartphone, so translators coped simply with the exhausting half and conversations occurred via another person’s telephone display screen,” he provides.

All through their travels that they had numerous encounters with know-how however the funniest encounter was in India. Within the Unakoti hill space of Tripura the couple met a sadhu who informed them that one would not want telephones to speak to the gods. “We had reached the positioning in seek for the enormous sculptures of Lord Shiva that we had heard had been to be discovered there. We stayed and made mates with a sadhu,” Samalea tells us.

The sadhu spoke little English, and Kanev and Samalea did not communicate his language [Bengali], however they wrote that “he was the sort of man who can communicate with out phrases”. They spent a few days with the sadhu and on the primary evening the couple might hear claps of thunder and felt storm was approaching. “We began to unpack our baggage, looking out round for place to cover or set the tent in between pageant stalls, pilgrims and sculptures, and requested our good friend sadhu baba if it often rained lengthy through the evening. Our tent is previous and leaks by now, and we hate waking up with a puddle inside,” Samalea writes.


That is when the sadhu grabbed a horn and held it to his ear like a telephone. “‘Alpha, beta, Hareee Rama!’ – he grabbed his horn and pretended it was a telephone, turning his gaze in the direction of the sky – ‘Haree Krishna! Vacationers ask if it can rain tonight’. A dialog unfolded, in a mixture of Bengali and army code phrases, however we solely understood that the gods had responded when he thanked them and mentioned ‘over’, hanging up the made up telephone which turned again right into a ritual horn,” writes Samalea. “‘Barely’ – he mentioned – ‘no want for a tent’. With thunder and lightning within the background we went to sleep beneath a mere mosquito internet, trusting the holy message in a leap of religion. Within the morning, Sadhu Baba was smiling with a cup of chai. He had been proper, happy with his diviner’s expertise, and glad that we had been all dry.”

She provides that in the event that they’d had an iPhone, a elaborate app may need predicted the climate, however on that evening there was no want for it as that they had “different means to achieve the sky”.

Boris Kanev and Marta Samalea began their journey in October 2013, and have been documenting their experiences on their weblog, Roving Snails.

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