It was a regular and unsuspecting Sunday afternoon, a long journey home was almost over. Suddenly, my dad pulled over our car for a hitchhiker dressed in a kilt and carrying a rucksack of camping equipment.
The man greeted us kindly, asking for a ride to Skye. While loading his equipment into the car, he discovered he was already on the island, and instead asked us to find somewhere he could charge his phone. He got in, and we continued on our journey.
He introduced himself – Charles Attonaty, a Frenchman on an international adventure. The 29-year-old had been on the go for almost two years, starting his ‘world tour without money’ on July 27 2020. On that day, he left his normal-life comforts behind and set off from Le Havre without any plans.
As we drive further down the road, Attonaty continues to tell us more stories about his adventures. He has travelled on three different trips, which he terms ‘steps’, over the past two years. Travelling via walking and hitchhiking, he has reached faraway lands such as Turkey and Finland over the course of these different steps. As the remarkable stories kept coming, my dad invited Attonaty to stay with us for dinner, and later overnight.
During a later interview, I asked Attonaty why he started his world tour: “Everything started out of frustration, because I didn’t have my freedom to go on holiday.” The coronavirus pandemic had cancelled his plans to spend three months in Thailand, so he spontaneously took to the road instead.
When asked why he does not spend money on his travels, Attonaty pondered. “Why without money? I don’t know. Maybe it’s to leave consumerism or to stay in contact with the simple things. I don’t have all of the answers yet.”
To avoid globetrotting becoming routine, Attonaty develops rules for himself to follow. An example is not asking for food, which he had done on his first step. “I noticed it was too easy, so I decided to not ask for food. It is more difficult, but I manage.”
This means that to get food, he must rely on the kindness of strangers. He confidently states that 95 per cent of the people he encounters on the tour are good people, and tells multiple stories of others’ extreme generosity, especially in Turkey. There are times that Attonaty is given so much food, that he has to give it away to offload weight. He has even been gifted a SIM card for his phone by an Englishman.
“Without money, it creates a natural attraction. People don’t care about the power, or the money, they give with their heart. When you give, you receive more.”
On multiple occasions, Attonaty has faced hardships, most notably in the wintery Finnish wilderness. He had to walk and camp in temperatures as low as -32°C and narrowly avoided succumbing to hypothermia. Wherever in the world Attonaty is, chance encounters have helped him out of trouble; by receiving new equipment, heeding advice from experienced locals, or offers of shelter. Attonaty is reminded of a time in Sweden when his body was in dire need of recovery; his open-handed hosts offered him to stay for two weeks to recuperate.
During our talk, Attonaty mentions “destiny” a lot. It is the force that drives him; it determines who he will meet, where he will go, and ultimately keep him going. “Especially when I’m in a difficulty, I say ‘Where are you my destiny, where are you?’ All of the time, my destiny is activated not five minutes later. When I’m saved, I say ‘My destiny is still there.'”
It would seem that going around the world without money and relying on destiny would leave the voyager powerless, but he doesn’t fully agree. “For the countries I have been to [so far], it hasn’t. For other poorer countries, it might be.” He says he doesn’t have a concrete answer for this question, but during his answer, he raises an ethical dilemma to think about.
“Is it ethical to make a world tour without money in poorer countries, or in countries like Ukraine, with the war? I don’t know.” At this moment, Attonaty pulls out his phone and adds to a list of things to contemplate. He hopes to have the answers to include in the book he wants to write after his travels. But with no foreseeable end date to his travels, there is no publishing date either.
He doesn’t have an answer for how his world tour has changed him so far, but tells us that will appear in his book. He wants it to be an original book, containing all of the life lessons he was taught along his travels. “Some of the most simple people have the craziest ideas. They might have experience, testimony, or just an idea. From [listening] to that, you learn a lot.”
Two years into his world tour, Attonaty knows he is definitely happier than he was before. He gave up a food delivery business and his flat, but he does not regret it at all. He claims his only regret is that he didn’t start adventuring sooner.
When asked what his world tour has taught him, he quickly answers: “What it teaches me is where I want to live in the world – with who, how I want to live, and what lifestyle I want.
“When we start, we are just kids. People ask us what kind of job we want. I have no idea. ‘What do you want to study?’ I have no idea. ‘Where do you want to live?’ I have no idea. After the world tour, I will know.”
When asked the all-important question – where he got the kilt – Attonaty laughs. “I met a guy and told him my story. I said I had a list of challenges: be on a helicopter, get to Ireland, and meet a Scottish guy with a kilt.
“The guy said: ‘you know what, I’ll give you my kilt.” He says it has garnered positive reactions from passers-by. He recalls another story in Hungary, where the locals were amused to find a hitchhiker carrying rolls of toilet paper. “It puts smiles on people’s faces.”
Featured Image Credit: Charles Attonaty / TourDuMondeSansArgent