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Saturday September 30, 2006

Around the world on $10

IT was New Year’s Eve 2003 and Ludovic Hubler was at the Val d’Isere’s ski station in the French Alps, merrily sipping champagne but feeling a little anxious.  

At 9.30pm, he put his glass down and bade an emotional goodbye to all his friends. The young Frenchman just couldn’t wait till the clock struck midnight. 

With a backpack slung over his shoulders and clothes to last eight days, Hubler set out on his journey – to hitch-hike around the world without spending a dime on transportation or accommodation. He would only spend money when he travelled within cities. 

“I was already curious by the time I was eight. I looked at maps and wanted to know how people lived in other countries. So I made it my dream to tour the world someday,” says the boyish-looking 29-year-old, who was in town recently. 

Camels count too.
His first hitch-hiking experience was at 16, when he thumbed a ride to the football field 3km down the road from his hometown of Strasbourg, near the German border. 

“Yes, I could have walked the distance, but since there were cars going in that direction, I thought why not. It seemed pretty safe,” says Hubler. 

At 20, he hitch-hiked to places within his city, then to France and the rest of Europe. Hubler calls hitch-hiking his “school of life”, where he gains knowledge from meeting all sorts of people.  

After graduating with a masters degree in management in 2002, he was immediately offered a job. However, Hubler decided to pursue his travelling dream much to the dismay of his protective mother. But his father persuaded her to let him go. 

He says, “Everybody kept asking what I was going to do after graduating. I replied I was going to hitch-hike around the world on Jan 1, 2003.’’  

Prior to the trip, he did research, checked out visa requirements, got vaccinations and secured sponsors. The naysayers scoffed at him but being stubborn, Hubler persisted and pooled his savings. He drew up a budget and allocated a maximum of US$10 (RM37) a day for food and miscellaneous expenses. 

In the San Blas Islands, Hubler stayed with the Kunas tribe.
Hubler says there is a wealth of information on the Internet about getting free accommodation worldwide. One of them is at www.hospitalityclub.com, which comprises thousands of members worldwide who put travellers in touch with the local people.  

Their aim is to increase intercultural understanding and work towards a peaceful planet. Stays can be as short as a cup of coffee, a night or two, or even a few months or more. Beds are not always provided and you can opt to pitch a tent in the garden. 

Since his finances are limited, Hubler waits at petrol stations for his rides. 

Hubler snapped this seal while in Antartica.
“So, I choose my drivers and not vice versa. This technique enables me to have direct contact with them and that increases the chances of me getting a lift. That way, I limit the risk of untoward incidents,” he says. 

Hubler adds, “I realise this means of transportation offers many advantages. Not only is the cost reduced, it is also a flexible way to travel. Plus, it is a unique way of meeting the local people.’’  

His first destination was Morocco. The temperature was -5°C in the French Alps as he waited for his ride there. 

“My first driver was a Belgian who talked to me for four hours about the difficult relationship between two warring communities. Even though the topic was interesting, I just couldn’t concentrate on the discussion. I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m starting (on my journey) now’.’’  

Hubler arrived in a remote part of Morocco and hitched a ride from a local truck driver, who was nice enough to offer him a place to stay. 

“He asked me if I would like to stay with one of his wives! I was shocked but said yes. Apparently, it is normal for the men there to have many wives and they all live under the same roof,” he recalls. It was Hubler’s first enriching experience and one he remembers fondly. 

His journey took him to many exotic parts of the world. In the Sahara desert, he hitch-hiked on a camel to get to the next city, while in rural Africa, he sat on slow-moving donkeys to reach his next destination.  

Hubler also spent a year in the US and Canada teaching kindergarten, giving computer classes, lecturing at schools and sharing his travelling experience with others. He has also been featured in the media of every country he’s visited. Sometimes he gets paid for his work but mostly, Hubler does it for charity.  

When he travels to lecture in a city, Hubler uses part of his RM37 allowance to take buses or make phone calls. 

“I don’t spend much on food as people occasionally buy me meals.”  

His voyage has led him to meet many heads (and former heads) of state including George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and John Major. But for Hubler, nothing beats mingling with the locals and learning about their lifestyle. W 

Hubler trivia

  • Longest distance travelled in a car: 1,700 km from Florianopolis, Brazil to Buenos Aires, Argentina, October 2003.  

  • Longest time spent in a car: Five days and two hours to cross the western part of the Sahara from Dakhlat, Morocco to Nouakchott, Mauritania, Jan 31 to Feb 5, 2003. 

  • Longest waiting period: 28 hours in Linhares, Espirito Santo, Brazil, June 20, 2003. 

  • Shortest waiting period: A few seconds in Tarragona, Spain, January 2003 (first car). 

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