I’m back in Bucharest this week at the World Blogging Forum (not to be confused with the other wbf2009, the World Bodypainting Festival). I am here with all the usual suspects and all the usual self-promotion. Among the many interesting and over-achieving speakers here is Ramon Stoppelenburg, called the “internet’s first travel celebrity” by Michael Yessis. In 2001 Stoppelenburg began LetMeStayForADay, a journey around the world depending on the hospitality of strangers.
Back in 1996 Mike McIntyre did the same on a coast-to-coast hitchhiking trip from west to east coast in the United States (from what I remember, not a bad read). Come to think of it, the traveling freeloader is probably an archetype that has existed since before man was man. But it’s become easier than ever thanks to the internet. There are dozens and dozens or articles out there about how to travel for free using CouchSurfing. Others have found alternative paths of ingenuity.
Mihai is a Romanian blogger who wanted to ride his motorcycle from Bucharest to Mongolia and back, but didn’t have the money to finance the trip. So his brother Ion came up with the idea of “selling kilometers”, and Mihai decided to sell 500 kilometers of storytelling for 50 euros. Forty three people signed on “instantly” and Mihai had 2,150 euros in his pocket. Throughout his trip he stopped by cybercafes every 500 kilometers and penned public letters to each of his 43 supporters. “Dear Gili,” begins his first post just 500 kilometers from his hometown as he rode toward Ukraine. His latest post available in English is addressed to “Dear Mircea.” From what I understand, Mihai has just returned to Romania, and so his adventure – or at least this adventure – has ended. One dedicated fan here at the forum says that he was hooked and checked Mihai’s blog everyday for updates. I can see why. What a beautiful idea and beautiful story.
Not quite as creative, but just as successful has been Paul Smith who in March of this year adopted the moniker “Twitchhiker” and set out to not only travel for free, but to raise money for charity in the process. His blog shows how quickly and how much the long tradition of travel literature is changing in our contemporary times of instant, networked, and atomized content.
I was impressed while reading Lapham’s Quarterly issue on travel by just how much the motivations and criticisms of travel have remained the same over the past 2,500 years. But I wonder if any of those travel writers throughout the millennia and across civilizations had ever imagined a day where Ramon, Mihai, and Paul would join their rank.