Meet the Aussie nomad who bartered and hitchhiked his way to Africa without boarding a single plane

Meet Simon, a true adventurer in every sense of the word. He quit his job as a restaurant manager in Australia just over two years ago and has since bartered and hitchhiked his way around 16 countries without taking a single plane.

He drove across the Australian Outback, found a boat to Indonesia and embarked on a journey across Asia and all the way to Kenya in Africa, where he is currently living.

In Africa he has patrolled with scouts to protect elephants, taught children about Australia and got into a fight with a baboon while volunteering with an anti-poaching organisation in Zambia.

I run a crowdsourced travel blog called Happy Hobos, and am always inspired by travellers who truly put themselves out into the world by accepting and thriving within every situation they encounter. That’s why it was a pleasure to talk to Simon and find out some more about this way of life.

Luke: Hi Simon. Looks like you’ve been on quite the adventure! Tell us a bit more about who you are, where you come from and what you do?

Simon: I’m a self-proclaimed nomadic musician from Melbourne, Australia. I’m bartering and hitchhiking my way around the world without flying. I try to volunteer and help out with conservation where I can and play music to the hordes. In exchange, I only ask for something to eat, something to drink, and somewhere to sleep, using as little money as possible.

Luke: Living the dream. What did you do in your life as a ‘normal’ person before you travelled? What did you leave behind?

Simon: I was a restaurant manager in the small resort town of Lorne, about two hours west of Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road. I’d surf on my breaks and work about 80 hours a week during the summer season. When there weren’t waves I’d play in the Otway rainforest. Almost every night there was a jam session happening or just chilling at Teddy’s Lookout watching the Milky Way cross the sky.

I’ve left behind friends and family but that’s always the case when embarking on a lifestyle such as what I’ve chosen.

Material things? I miss nothing of my old life besides a surfboard.

Luke: What inspired you to take that final step out of your comfort zone?

Simon: I was travelling with my mum and her partner around Tasmania. We stopped in a small town called Hamilton. I was having trouble focusing on my travels with my family as I was constantly worried about how things were getting on back at work and that’s when I realised that life’s too short to worry about making someone else eternally happy (i.e. the boss).

So while I was in the shower it hit me – the shelf above the sink. Something popped in my brain and a vision of hitchhiking the world appeared. I’ve always wanted to travel but never had the financial means since my funds hover around the zero mark.

The ol’ cliché’ of you only live once hit me right after that shelf did and I knew that that would be the decision that would make me happy. Four weeks later I was on the road.

Luke: When and where did you start your travels and where have you been since?

Simon: I hit the road on May 13th, 2013 at 06:30 from my own backyard. I left Melbourne and drove my car to Darwin, some 5,400 K’s through the Outback, right through the middle of Oz. I spent two months doing odd jobs around Darwin, meeting interesting people while I hunted down a boat to Indonesia.

I found Tropicbird and was invited to join the crew of seven and sailed between countries for the first time in my life. From Indo I island-hopped with a good mate, Baz, all the way to Thailand, hitchhiking from Malaysia to Bangkok.

While travelling through the islands I had placed an ad on various sailing websites inquiring about boats sailing to Africa. A captain responded and we ended up meeting in Phuket, Thailand, after two months of emailing. We got along and I was welcomed aboard SV San Miguel.

For the next five months we crossed the Indian Ocean stopping in Sri Lanka (10 days), Chagos Archipelago (5 days), Agelaga (24 hours) and Madagascar (month and a half) until we finally docked in Cape Town, South Africa.

I jumped ship deciding that from now I’d go overland via hitch hiking and spending the amount of time I’d be given on my visa in each country. I averaged 3 months from South Africa to Kenya going via Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Zanzibar, back to Tanzania and then to Kenya where I’m currently located.

Luke: What has your experience of Africa been like?

Simon: I’ve been in Africa for over a year now and I love it. Africa has an immense energy to it. It’s as though your ancestral roots from back in the cave days linger around and draw you out to the bush, to the wilderness – to the absoluteness of nature and her raw power.

It’s the human starting point, especially here in East Africa where the remains of our earliest ancestors were found back in the early 60s.

I’m a strong believer in Karma. Baz taught me that the energy you project is the energy you attract. And, I gotta say, it’s true. I’ve never had an issue in Africa regarding crime – except for that one time my small backpack was stolen from my tent at the Oktoberfest in Zambia.

Other than that one incident, I’ve never felt any danger except when the occasional bus would offer me a free ride (let’s say that one of the main reasons for my hitchhiking is that public transport drivers seem to be auditioning for the next James Bond flick).

Luke: Interesting; the prevailing perception in the West is that Africa is quite a dangerous and scary place. Have you got anything to say about that?

Simon: Plenty. I hit South Africa just as the Ebola epidemic of West Africa began. I received so many messages to ‘be careful, don’t get ebola’ from family and friends that I realised that the West conceive Africa to be one country rather than the 57 nations it’s made of. Ebola only hit 4 countries and the media just hyped it up to be the end of days.

Because of that hype, tourism – a source of income for a lot of African nations that provides a lot of jobs for the locals – was hit hard. People lost their jobs, hotels, tour companies and restaurants were shut down because tourists were cancelling trips to countries that were nowhere near the affected areas, thinking that Africa is one place and that if they so much as look at an African airline they’ll contract the virus (which was closer to Europe than it was to south or east Africa).

And then Al Shabab hit the Garrison College in north-east Kenya just before I crossed the border. Many western countries warned against travelling to Kenya which killed a lot of business for the locals who struggle to survive on a daily basis. I can tell you I feel pretty safe in Kenya and I’ve been here for almost three months now.

When a gunman goes on a shooting spree in the USA you won’t see any hyped up reports warning Africans against going to the US.

The only danger I feel in Africa is when I cross the road as logical driving skills is still something to be obtained here.

Luke: It’s true, a lot of westerners seem to think of Africa as a single entity. How have you been getting involved with local communities during your travels there?

Simon: I volunteered with African Impact on a lion conservation project in Livingstone, Zambia, called ALERT. I spent four days helping out with daily routines to take care of the lions that’ll be released into the wild in a few years.

I did some anti-poaching on some islands in Lake Kariba, Zambia, that involved a fight with a baboon that had raided the kitchen and not only renovated it but shat all over the place while eating all my eggs and onions.

In Malawi I spent about 9 days in the Thuma Forest Reserve going on patrols with scouts to protect elephants and did a bit of admin work.

In Mwanza, Tanzania, I volunteered at a school, teaching about Australia, its animals and some geography and also about nature and eco systems.

In Kenya I’ve been invited to help out with Wildlife Works based in Tsavo National Park so I’m going to be working with them soon.

All the volunteering I do is in exchange for articles that I’ve written, to give the organisation exposure.

Luke: You seem like a traveller who doesn’t rely on money very much; is this true? What do you do for the little money that you do need?

Simon: Yeah, I really don’t use money except for visas at border crossings and the occasional cold beer (it gets hot in Africa and I am Australian).

If I do need money to pay for something like damage to a motorbike (which happened in Koh Samui, Thailand), I’ll find a job to pay it off. In that instance, I found work at a yoga retreat doing voiceovers for their yoga videos. They provided food, bed, yoga and paid off the entire damage to the bike (about $300 worth. I was cornered by a street gang that ripped me off. Damage was worth about $100).

Luke: I see you’ve hitchhiked quite a lot. Did you do this in Africa? What were your experiences like with that?

Simon: Hitchhiking has been amazing. It can really restore your faith in humanity depending on how you take it. People have taken me out of their way for kilometres just to make sure I’ve arrived safely.

If it’s late I’ll get invited to spend the night, dinner, meet the family, meet the village, play guitar and have an adventure.

I spent two days on a truck from Iringa to Mwanza in Tanzania. The driver and his co-workers (two of) sorted me all meals and accommodation for the night. They barely spoke English yet we laughed and had a great time. I hit Mwanza in the evening and even though two old beggars tried to pick my pocket I was in such uplifted spirits that I encountered a local who said, “Hello. Welcome to Mwanza.” We had a bit of a chat and within minutes I was invited to stay in his village. In exchange he asked if I could teach some classes at his school so I did. I stayed with him and his family for a week.

Luke: Really great to hear all these positive stories about Africa! Do you mainly travel solo? Does it ever get lonely?

Simon: People always ask if I’m alone or feel lonely. I’m never alone. I’m always making new and amazing friends. I’m only ever alone when I’m standing by the road but even then curious locals come up to chat and even assist with flagging down cars or trucks.

There have been moments that I felt, Yeah, this is awesome, I just wish I could share it with someone. Like climbing Table Mountain on a dangerous pathway. I was out on this cliff edge overlooking Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean, the very waters I had sailed a month prior, now seeing it from the land angle. And although I shared that moment with Animal, my mascot, I felt that if I had someone with me, it’d make this moment all that more special.

Luke: Care to share one of your most memorable moments?

Simon: I was hitching to hit South Africa after a month and a half of cruising the west coast of Madagascar. I had this gut instinct that kept saying, South Africa is going to be amazing (and it was).

We were sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. I was below deck in the galley, cooking dinner when the captain called out, “Come up here and check this out.”

It was dark, a sliver of moon was out and so was the Milky Way along with every other star in the universe, so it seemed.

“What’s up?” I asked coming up the gangway.

“Check it out,” and he indicates to the water.

I turn around and notice some green splotches in the water all over the ocean, as far as a good eye could see. At first I thought it was something radioactive as the splotches appeared to glow but as we sailed, I noticed outlines of fish. I realised then that the green glow was bioluminescence plankton activated by the movement of the hundreds of shoals of fish swimming about.

I stood there awe-gaped. And if that wasn’t enough, suddenly lines of green zipped between the shoals, the green light disappearing after a moment. The lines seemed to circle the shoals of fish. They’d veer and approach the boat and I could make out the outlines of dolphins hunting the fish.

It was like being on acid without being on acid. It was something that I still struggle to find the exact words for. No camera on the planet could capture that scene.

Luke: So, where’s your next adventure?

Simon: I’ve come across an amazing project called Musafir. It’s a 70-foot jahazee, a traditional Kenyan dhow, being built by a group of travellers and volunteers. The idea behind it is an alternative lifestyle. Sailing the high seas and helping out with remote coastal villages whether it’s to build a school or educate on the environment (mainly recycling) and spreading music and art and just mixing with cultures.

Since I can’t get an overland visa to Ethiopia and South Sudan is up in flames, I reckon I might stick around and help out with the boat until she sails and hopefully reach India and hitch up to the Middle East through Asia.

Luke: If you had to inspire people who want to travel but are full of doubts in one sentence, what would you say?

Simon: Take a deep breath, take that first step and don’t look back.

– This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on Luke Shekerali’s crowdsourced travel blog, Happy Hobos. Follow Simon’s adventures at The Nomadic Diaries.

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