Frenchman Muammer Yilmaz set out to see if a round-the-world trip was possible relying solely on the generosity of others. In this interview, he explains how he got on with a trip inspired by Jules Verne
42-year-old Muammer Yilmaz from Colmar in Alsace is a modern-day adventurer. He completed a round-the-world trip in eighty days powered by the generosity of others with the aim of demonstrating that generosity is a common value.
How was this this project decided upon?
Muammer Yilmaz: It came from meeting my fellow traveller Milan. In 2010, I was couch-surfing in Berlin and he put me up for three days in his home. When I was in Berlin again in 2014, I spoke to him about my idea of going around the world in eighty days. He was all up for it and off we went!
What Kind of traveller were you up to that point?
I never liked organised trips. At the age of seventeen, my secondary school suggested a trip to the United States. When I told my dad, he said “Well, you can work up the cost of it and then you can go.” My friends asked their parents for money, but I did washing-up in restaurants, I picked apples… and I paid for it myself. Since then, I’ve learned that I could go anywhere, it was only a matter of organising myself.
Did your occupation as a video artist allow you to plot out this world tour?I travelled a lot – 75 countries, 450 towns – but for our world tour, we laid out some rules: not to use our acquaintances or friends but to sleep every night in the homes of people we didn’t know, not to bring any money, only a credit card in case of medical emergency. But we never used it.
When did you set off?
On the 9th of September 2014 at 9am! With a 10kg rucksack each – a few clothes, two film cameras (one of which was stolen at the beginning of the journey) but no tent, no sleeping bag, no medicine… It wasn’t the Peking Express with a helicopter that emerges from the trees to fly us home if we got a blister! And every evening, we had to convince someone to put us up for the night and to share their meal with us. We had no Plan B!
How did your loved-ones feel about this trip?
They know me… But I didn’t call them, no point just to be worrying them. Especially since they couldn’t do anything. I remember just ringing them once, in Iran, before going into Pakistan because I wasn’t feeling too certain about it all and I wanted them to be able to know where I was.
One gets the impression that you were got help more frequently from strangers rather than from locals…We got help from almost 50 different nationalities, often foreigners in the countries we were visiting, but I couldn’t say that that was the pattern… I couldn’t say either that it was only poor people who put us up or who offered us food because we were also assisted by a millionaire in Silicon Valley in San Francisco.
After Europe and Asia, you got on a plane to San Francisco, in fact. Who paid for the flight?
It was an Iranian family that we met in Singapore and who were moved by our adventure! They paid for one ticket and for the second one, we had it paid thanks to a crowd-funding campaign from our followers on social media.
What is the best memory of your arrival in Paris?
The wonder of seeing the Eiffel Tower again and telling ourselves “We’ve done it!” And then, something crazy happened: Antoine de Maximy (the presenter of a TV show on France 5 called “J’irai dormir chez vous”) contacted us to offer us a night at his place. He had followed our road trip on the social media outlets and he found it “extraordinary”!
Did this journey change you?Travelling without money changes everything. When you have money, you arrive somewhere, you stop for a break in a cafe, you choose your drink and you’re all alone. But with us, we weren’t choosing anything. We took what we were given and we were always with people, living with them. It was like living a month of my normal life!
After thinking about your journey, you set up web site…
The idea was to make a million dreams come true in ten years. I’m convinced that everyone in their lives can make someone else’s dream come true and see their own dream come true. With this site, we’re going to introduce these dreams to one another! It’s www.optimistictraveler.org.