There are moments when you would like to leave everything and change your life. Moments when everything seems empty and devoid of real substance; work feels banal and repetitive, the daily routine is monotonous. Claudio Pelizzeni, 32 years old and former bank accountant, didn’t get stuck in those moments. He has really left everything, home, work, security, to embark on a grandiose project: travelling around the world in 1000 days without ever taking a plane. And so TripTherapy was born, a journey narrated on a blog and on Instagram. And that will soon become a book.
At the end of March 2014, Claudio left everything to follow his passion. Starting on May 4th, the first goal was already ambitious: reaching Australia without ever taking a flight (we’re talking about 48,000 kilometres and 16 countries in 9 months). Heading east, toward the sunrise, Claudio’s long journey began and TripTherapy was born. Here it is, exclusively for The Italian Eye Magazine.
Claudio, thank you for accepting this interview. In which part of the world are you now and how are you living the last days of this long journey? Do you want to come back?
TripTherapy: Right now I’m in Senegal and the trip will end in 75 days. On one hand, there is the desire to come back, on the other not so much; it feels like getting close to an expiration date. What awaits afterwards? Who knows, perhaps coming back will be the most important journey I have ever undertaken. But I want to test myself, to go back, to embrace friends and family. My desire is to build something with the accumulated experience, to start a new journey. I want to build on the experience gained in these 1000 days.
What was the spark that made you take the radical decision to leave the job and a “normal” life to chase this dream?
Triptherapy: It was a sunset on the train that I took every day from Milan to Piacenza for work. I felt miserable, I couldn’t find a solution, and that sunset was like a lightning strike. I thought: “Look, it’s there, take it.” After this sunset I got home, I looked in the mirror and I asked myself a very simple question: if I’d win the lottery tomorrow, what would I do to be really happy? The answer was, I would travel in an authentic and conscious way, getting into contact with people and other cultures.
Then I thought: I don’t care about resorts and starred restaurants. I’m a happy backpacker. ‘Well, then you do not need much money’, I thought. From there I stopped hiding behind a finger. I started organizing and six months later I was travelling. A trip with a low budget: 15 € per day. It’s something doable.
How did you decide to move without ever taking a plane? Is there an important meaning behind this choice?
Triptherapy: Yes and no. When I decided to do this trip I wanted to give me a rule, only one rule to be respected. At that time I had just finished Tiziano Terzani’s book A fortune teller told me, where Terzani, after the soothsayer’s prophecy, travelled for a year without planes. This had impressed me a lot, it had inspired me. Doing the trip in 1000 days was a consequence of the fact that Terzani chose to travel without taking planes. So my only rule became travelling without planes. And it was a choice that has allowed me to regain possession of the reality of travel time. A romantic choice, as well as economic.
Would you tell us briefly which was your path in these almost three years?
TripTherapy: Well, I went from Italy to Eastern Europe, came down in Mongolia and then China. I moved to Nepal, where for six months I volunteered. That was my most important experience. Then I was in India for four months. I came back to China, where I took a merchant ship and sailed across the Pacific for 26 days. From Australia, I moved to Canada. Then I took the coast to coast in the US and came down on the southern Pacific coast. Argentina, Brazil. Now I’m in Senegal, I’ll move to Morocco and finally, I’ll return to Italy.
Did you plan all the trip in advance, or was it all improvised?
The first period in Asia had been planned and studied in detail, especially for the visas. Then the rest was improvised.
Is there an experience that impressed you more than anything else during the trip?
TripTherapy: The biggest surprise was discovering the great adaptability that humans have. It’s an innate ability. Our comfort zone makes us uncomfortable when faced with difficulties and changes, but then fears are overcome. Only six months after becoming a traveller you feel that this IS your life. After all, the first humans were nomadic. Another thing that surprised me is the taste of water. In Patagonia, where I was for two months, I filled bottles with water from waterfalls, lakes and rivers, and it had nothing to do with the bottled water we drink for our entire life.
Did being diabetic made the experience more challenging? Or did the trip itself help you to deal with it in a different way?
Actually, the only problem I had with diabetes was space. Insulin, strips and everything you need to keep your blood sugar under control occupies a lot of space in the luggage. I have never encountered other problems. While travelling I lost 22 pounds, which were in excess. For a year I was a vegetarian and that was really good. In Central America, I had to start eating meat again because it costs less. Diabetes is fine. Control data and values are in place. That because I’m always in motion, zero sedentary lifestyle, which is diabetes’ nemesis. Traveling this way was doubly therapeutic, for the soul and for the body.
Where did you find the greatest level of humanity? Where have you felt more welcome and at home?
The place where I felt more at home was definitely Argentina, where the strong presence of Italian compatriots really makes you feel part of a family. The place where I met the human hand, in the full sense of the term, was in an orphanage in Nepal. There, really, in contact with those kids, I saw and understood what humanity is and what is our deepest meaning.
What was the place where you felt most strongly in touch with nature, the one with the capital N?
Surely in Patagonia. Here spaces are truly immense, nature is untouched, there are glaciers with their cold vastness, for days and days you don’t come across any other human being. Nature with the capital N. In comparison to it, you feel like a small dot in the universe.
What was the longest and most absurd transfer you had to undertake, having chosen not to take flights?
One definitely has been the journey from India to the Andaman Islands. I was on the road for five days (during which I couldn’t wash) and I was the only Westerner on board. And certainly, the longest trip was crossing the Pacific Ocean to go from Australia to Canada. It took 26 days of navigation. On that trip, I realised how globalisation, that has allowed our generation to move easily and everywhere, has somehow taken away the pleasure of the “real” journey, with its time, its true distances, even with its discomfort.
How have you kept in touch with your family and with your loved ones in almost three years?
Claudio jokes and tells me that actually, between Whatsapp, Internet and Skype, he has heard from his mother more than ever before.
How did this trip change your approach to life and what are now your plans for the future?
I’ve been travelling for almost 3 years and I still want to live these last days as a traveller. Then I will go to Morocco, where I will finish writing the book of this trip, a book that I want to end, even in the publication aspects, while I’m still travelling. I don’t want to edit it when I get back, for I won’t have the mind of a “fresh” traveller. I want the book to close together with this experience. And when I’m home we will see, I’m not precluding anything. I don’t know what life I will lead, but it will surely be another great trip.
What do you feel when you look at a picture of yourself before and after your journey? In a photo you worked at the bank, impeccable, and then you have a long beard and long hair, you’re tanned and savage.
Looking at the pictures of “before” I think I have done just the right choice. Looking at photos of my trip the feeling is very strong, it’s like seeing on my face a map of all the countries I have visited. You can see in my face what I’ve lived and seen.
What do you reply to those who tell you that you have made this trip on a whim because you have your back covered?
Not my case. Most people think that those who have chosen this life have plenty of money to afford not working. It isn’t true: these are the life savings, spending the time to work hard just to be able to earn a little bubble. Traveling costs, and sometimes you have to work during the trip to afford to live on the road. Money is no longer measured in the number of things you can buy, but in the number of days, you’ll be able to continue travelling. We, travellers, maybe we can’t adapt to society, but we can adapt to the world.
Thank you Claudio, and enjoy your last days of this great adventure!