28-year-old Marielli and her partner Natale have spent years traveling the world exploring social and environmental issues through volunteer work. They spend next-to-no money, relying on the generosity of others to get from farm to farm and school to school. Everything they have is gifted to them and everything they do, including their work, is also a gift. Marielli’s unique approach to travel proves that a shift in perspective can make way for some pretty magical realizations. Here is her story.
My partner Natale and I have been traveling for three years, passing through countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Laos, all while spending next to no money.
We see traveling as a way to study, learn, work and share knowledge that can help people live more sustainable lifestyles. Our journey working with organic and biodynamic farms, schools that use alternative methods of education, and traditional communities has led us to a new type of travel philosophy: “permaculture traveling,” or living as one with the natural environment.
Our moneyless journey from Bali to Thailand
Natale and I spent more than a year in Bali working on a sustainable educational project; It was the first time after two years on the road that we had settled in a place for so long. By the time the project was done, we were ready to pick up and move onto our next location.
With one backpack each, 3 loaves of sourdough bread, 1 jar of sauerkraut, 1 bag of brown rice miso and a bag of dried bananas, we set out. Our goal? To cross all the way from Bali to Thailand without using money, counting only on the generosity and kindness of people.
It was a total of 4110km, 15 days, 34 rides, 4 ferries, 3 islands, 3 countries, hundreds of people, and infinite love. Here are the takeaways from this moneyless journey from central Bali to Northeast Thailand.
1. Anywhere you go, there is community waiting for you.
All the passages between the islands were surprisingly easy and natural. For example, halfway through to the westerly tip of Bali, we got a ride from a truck driver. Once we arrived at our location, everyone was looking at us curiously, probably wondering what two foreigners were doing in the back of a truck. The driver (whom we had met one hour before, mind you) had a smile on his face as he told everyone, “They are my family.” And we can guarantee he really meant that.
This type of lifestyle has allowed us to constantly move and create new ‘families.’ We believe that our choice to stay away from a monetized life reinforces our interdependence on others. Every time we move to another place, we are completely open and vulnerable. It’s this openness and vulnerability that has paved the way for trust—even community—to form.
2. People are inherently generous.
Though the truck drivers who picked us up throughout our journey were sitting in hot, cramped conditions for days at a time, they were usually incredibly hospitable.
In one case, a trip that would normally take six hours took 24. (The truck was carrying more than a ton of rice and couldn’t go more than 30km/h.) Then, during that night, somewhere in the middle of Sumatra, one of the tires punctured and it took at least four hours to replace. The next morning, we went straight to the factory to unload the rice, which took another three hours. Even after all that, as soon as we finished our new friend kindly suggested that we to go to his house to rest. He enthusiastically introduced us to his wife and son, and took us all out for dinner together.
This isn’t unique. Every time someone helped us, they insisted we join them to eat. They never asked for money, never asked if we had any. They were full of love and each goodbye was an emotional moment.
3. Preconceptions aren’t always accurate.
In our first night in Java (an island in Indonesia that we had heard wasn’t very safe), we were standing at a gas station wondering where we could sleep when a group of locals gave us the best “Welcome to Java” we could have asked for. One immediately walked us to a spot where we could camp out while another began sweeping the floor for our tent. Then, someone else brought a pile of cardboard to sleep on. Another brought us water. They also offered us a place to bathe and a line to leave our sweaty clothes on during the night.
This experience reminded us that we create our own realities. Despite all the rumours about Java being a dangerous place, we had no issues there and actually met only friendly people. Good and bad coexist, and we are responsible for choosing a path to follow.
4. We need to change the way we live with our environment.
Our journey also served as a disturbing reminder that humans are completely transforming nature at every turn. All the way from Java to Thailand, specially Sumatra, all we could see were huge monoculture plantations of palm oil, sugar cane and cassava. We couldn’t see a single patch of native forest. Most of the workers involved in this mass extraction lived miserable lives, working in dirty conditions. Traditional culture had taken a back seat and the ugly side of our modern world had taken over.
However, every time we saw these unsustainable monoculture plantations and social injustices, we also saw tremendous potential for change. From our previous experiences, we know now that is possible to create agricultural systems that regenerate the land and are ecologically sound and economically viable. We already have all the knowledge to make this happen—we just need to put it into action.
To live the way we are living has forced us to let it go of many comforts and just accept whatever is given to us. But we know that these sacrifices have made way for beauty, miracles and love to permeate our lives.