Joan Pol Mingot: the ordinary Spanish student who became a traveler and gave up on money (extended version)




During our journey, we meet many tourists, but not so often extraordinary travelers. Some of them hitchhike, others ride on a bike; once we even met an American who had walked the whole way – thousands of kilometers. Their journeys may continue several months or tens of years. They come from different countries, look in a different way: some are very well equipped, others are skinny because they haven’t eaten well and regularly; but there is one trait in common – they radiate pure joy and their eyes sparkle. It is a pleasure for us to meet such people since the stories they tell us are exciting; they are fascinating and provoke us to embark on journeys, even crazier than the ones we have participated in so far. These meetings inspire us to publish some of the stories.

We are extremely happy to present you ourguest from Cataluña whose name is Joan and who travels from Thailand to Europe without a single penny!


How we met


Our six-month journey in India was about to end. Our last stop was at Imphal, Manipur in northeast India. Right after we met with our host we came across his other guest called Joan who had come a few days ago from Myanmar. We started immediately exchanging ideas and information about our forthcoming journey in Myanmar and respectively his in India

One of our first questions was whether he had any problem exchanging US dollars for the local currency. We were flabbergasted by his answer which was that he didn’t know because he traveled without money. We though we misunderstood something, but later on it became crystal clear to us that he traveled without any money except a small sum he kept for the visas. Here comes his story:


Joan’s Story

August 2014: He went to Indonesia, Semerang (central Java) to join a one-yea project as a volunteer. He taught English in UDINUS, a local University. He travelled to Java Island.

August 2015: The project was over, but he was not ready to go home yet. He traveled with a friend of his to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. His trips were low budget and sometimes he couchsurfed and hitchhiked.

September 2015: He gave up on money; he kept only a small amount to pay visas. He became a full-time hitchhiker and couchsurfer. He also slept in his tent, monasteries, and local people’s homes.

Around June 2016: He might go home… or might not!


The interview:


What was your life before you started to travel without money?

I was born in lleida a small city in Spain. After I finished school, I studied physics at the Universitat de Barcelona. As a student, I realized that something was not right; I felt lost, and my life seemed purposeless. Since I had enjoyed working in an international campus, I thought about volunteering and found this project in Indonesia. I quit the university and went to Indonesia to teach English in a university.

What did provoke you to give up on money?

I was in Jakarta, accommodated by a couchsurfing host and I wanted to visit the Ujung Kulon National Park and see the rhinos. I didn’t want to spend much money but hitchhiking was not an option for me back then. So, I took a bus and a cab van after that. I had to bargain for the price. This left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. I am sure that bargain battles leave both parties unsatisfied.

When I arrived at the final destination late at night, I was dropped in front of a cottage – the only available accommodation. The price was decent and I paid for one night. In the morning, I was told that I was not allowed to go to the park alone and must hire a guide. There was no place to buy food around and I had to order food. In addition, I had to stay another day and yet I might have had no chance to see the rhinos. It meant to pay a double amount for a guide, fees and food, of course.

The next day, I tried to bargain and felt uncomfortable and exhausted again. So I decided not to go, paid what I owed and left. I remember the manager asked me whether I wanted a taxi… There was nothing I wanted less! I was maybe in one of the most remote places on Java Island, but I didn’t care; I just wanted to leave that place. I was walking furiously and quickly, mad at the world, mad at myself and the whole low-budget-traveling idea…

And then suddenly, as if by magic, I started to laugh so loudly and an extraordinary feeling of freedom overwhelmed me. I had a tent, water, clothes, and a book. I needed nothing else. I kept on walking. When it started to rain, I found a shelter. I was reading my book when the rain stopped. It was beautiful and blissful. I decided to keep going. After some time a car stopped, though I wasn’t even hitchhiking. The passengers wanted to help me.

I wandered for a while and then I started to hitchhike again. I met wonderful people, I had amazing time and it was fun. I found what I wanted.

Is it easy to trust strangers?

After crossing the border between Thailand and Myanmar I started hitchhiking and after five minutes I got a ride. It was 4 p.m. They were a family going to Hpa-An. I was so happy. After three hours the old guy at the back and the little girl got off the car and paid the driver. It was a damn taxi! Though they looked like a family going from one place to another. When we arrived to Hpa-An, I still had some dollars. I didn’t want to argue or bargin. I ended up paying.

It was around 9 p.m., dark and I was looking for a place to pitch my tent. I was angry. All of a sudden, a guy came to me and offered me to stay in his home. I told him that I had no money. He didn’t care. We went to his place together and the first thing he gave me was a traditional T-shirt from Myanmar. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. He asked me if I was hungry and took me out for dinner. The next day he first cooked a breakfast for me and then asked where I wanted to go. I said to Kyayktyo and added that I would hitch a lift. He didn’t understand. He bought me a bus ticket and gave me some money for food. After several days, I learnt that hosting foreigners in Myanmar was illegal…

Can you describe us a typical day of your life?

Whenever I have to hitch a ride, I wake up early in the morning when the sun rises. If someone has hosted me, then usually they drop me at a place where I can easily stop a car and feed me before let me go. Otherwise, I walk out until I find such a place, maybe an hour or two, not more. Then I wait until the right lift arrives. There is always a vehicle on the road meant for me. Sometimes, I am fed, sometime I am not, but never stayed hungry for more than one day. Sometimes I arrive to my destination in one day where almost always couchsurfing is waiting for me, sometimes I don’t.

Both options are good for me and I greatly enjoy my journey. My trip is a pilgrimage. I eat what I am given and sleep where I am invited. I am patient, persistent and accept everything with equanimity. Every experience teaches me a lesson. There are many solutions for each problem.

What is the place that impressed you most?

Thabarwa Centre in Yangon, Myanmar. I cannot explain it briefly. Google it.

What is your dream?

I just want to make the world a better place. If I may quote Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Now I am on my way to grow up personally and spiritually. Learning how I can be a better person, how I can get wiser every day will enable me to spread the change to the world.

What are your future plans?

I don’t know. Maybe I will try to hitch a ride in a boat or an airplane.

End of interview


We want to shed some light on an interesting phenomenon that Joan noticed and we witnessed many times.

It happens quite often during our travels that someone (a person on the road or a passer-by) asks us where we are going to and whether he/she could help us. When we say we travel hitchhiking she/he says that in this country no one will take us and hitchhiking is impossible. The irony is that he himself stops to help us. Every day we meet dozens of people who help us and give us a ride.

The question that arises here is: Aren’t we all surrounded mainly by good people? Do we think that our neighbor whose political views differ from ours and whom we hate for years, the driver with whom we quarrel on the road in the morning; the “friend” who gossips behind our back and so on, are all good people? Maybe we were simply programmed this way; the roles we have to play in the society make us hurt the people around us and sometimes even ourselves…


Author: (Very special thanks to Joan – may the Force be with you)

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