Travelling the world is a pricey business. That is unless you are Michael Wigge, a German-born journalist who travelled from Berlin to Antarctica without ever spending a penny.
“I’d planned the trip a year in advance, so I always had a plan B or C if I was really stuck”, said the former comedian, dismissing his epic journey as a mere trifle.
Detailed planning, contact building and enormous research went into Michael’s 25,000-mile journey from Berlin to Antarctica. It is clear, however, from his inspiring tales that it is not nonchalance talking, but confidence in his own plan.
By couch-surfing, dustbin-diving and devouring the fruits of the forest, the ever ambitious Michael learnt to live off the land in order to survive. He said: “I met free lifestylers on the Big Island, Hawaii, who just live in the woods without money.” Michael fondly conveyed his excitement at the challenge: “It was amazing to join them for a while and an important experience because huge parts of my trip were city-based.”
Carrying a credit card in case of an emergency (a card which he never actually used), he would invent ways to make money for vital tickets. He said: “I had back-ups like pillow fighting, hill helping and human sofas. People would pay one dollar to fight me and in San Francisco 300 people fought me so I was able to buy a bus ticket.”
Not all of his journey was so smooth, however. Whilst sleeping on a Waikiki Beach in Honolulu he was nearly run over by a beach cleaner, a memory he’s clearly not so fond of. “Yes, it was scary! Cities can be tough for travelling without money; luckily this just ended in a shock with no further harm, but definitely be careful on beaches at night if you plan to try the same!”
Not wanting to miss out on landmarks along the way, the appeal of Machu Picchu was just too much for Michael who, in return for free entry to the historic site, took a job as a porter and carried tourist’s bags to the summit. Trekking up the mountain proved a tad too tough though, and his peers promptly fired him. Luckily for Michael, kindness prevailed and he was allowed to finish the climb baggage-free.
He recalls: “Next, I went to Bolivia where I had a tough time. It’s a poor country, which makes it difficult to ask for help. In the end I found a solution by using a bartering system. For example, I would ask for food and offer my help or work in return, or told stories about my trip.”
Expressing his determination and organisational skills, his most impressive feat, no doubt, was his ability to wangle his way across the Drake Passage. A boat trip from Argentina to Antarctica usually costs between $5-10,000, a crossing that Michael made for free. Trading his services as an expedition assistant in return for passage, he arrived in style aboard a luxury liner. “I would help guests across the ice, rescue penguins from overexcited tourists and brush off their snow boots at the end of the day.”
Arriving at the end of his journey, Michael’s Antarctic experience was bittersweet. “At first it felt so great to have reached Antarctica, but then my foot froze in the cold and I was in a lot of pain. So, I had waited for a year and half for that moment and unluckily it was a painful ending.” Shrugging, he concluded: “That was probably the irony of such a goal!”
An important aim of Michael’s journey was to discover the nature of the public. Relying on the good will of others, he found that around 80% of his exchanges were positive. He said: “For example, I met a family in Colombia who were struck by poverty but they let me share their house for a week without expecting anything in return.”
“The world is a much better place than the news tells us. Pretty much everybody I bumped into on my trip helped me or gave me contacts to other people who could. They were wonderful and unforgettable people.”
Images courtesy of Michael Wigge’s Facebook page.