PETALING JAYA: Inspired by tales of a utopian lifestyle, Petrina Thong, a 29-year-old freelance scriptwriter, decided to embark on an adventure of a lifetime that cost a mere US$200 (RM800).
It was in early 2015 when Petrina began reading up on the anti-capitalist lifestyle, specifically, people who can survive without money.
“I found myself being very intrigued and getting very angry at the entire concept of money. How are these pieces of paper given so much worth and allowed to dictate our lives?
“I found that money works more as a distraction from things that mattered most, and yet it is a necessity. I hated the fact that although I recognised how capitalism is such a messed up system, I still wanted to have a lot more money,” she told FMT.
Petrina was born in Petaling Jaya. She studied journalism at Taylor’s University and subsequently majored in Film and Television in her degree at University College Sedaya International (UCSI).
Her story was shared on social media when it was reported that she flew to Stockholm, Sweden in June last year with just RM800. Petrina returned to Malaysia last month after travelling through 22 countries.
“For this trip, I didn’t have much money. Thus, it was the best opportunity to try out this ‘anti-capitalist lifestyle’ that I’ve been reading so much about,” she said.
However, budgeting with a mere RM800 isn’t an easy task, as Petrina described moments of dumpster diving during her journey.
“I ran out of money by the third month, but that was just about the time when I finally got comfortable with hitchhiking on my own.
“It was also around the time when I was shamelessly digging through trash bins for food or snatching leftover food off plates if people walk away, and also with camping wherever.
“So, I gradually acquainted myself with the art of travelling without money.”
Petrina’s first time hitchhiking rides from strangers was in Montenegro, where she casually walked along a road sticking her thumb out, signalling for cars to stop.
“I got into a car and asked ‘where will you be going?’, Sarajevo was their reply. So to Bosnia I went.
“That was the beginning of aimless wanderings and questioning the decisions I make.”
“There I was, in a country where I can’t speak the language, I have no money and no place to stay.”
She spoke about how she went to a coffee shop, communicating with the owner in charade-style due to the language barrier.
“They came to understand I had nowhere to sleep. Then, a lady sitting across us, not able to speak a word of English, motioned that I could stay with her.
“She even tucked me in at night, on her couch, which was a little awkward, but okay.”
That first free ride subsequently led to more hitchhiking, that took her through Bosnia and on to Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo, which she described as “a series of knocking on doors and requesting to pitch my tent in their gardens.”
“Having people pick me up by the roadside and inviting me to their home, entering hostels and asking if I could do some work in exchange for a bed, or even just a storeroom.
“I’ve had nights of sleeping next to highways, petrol stations, carparks, hidden spots behind some trees, but for the most part, I had a roof over my head and meals to eat,” Petrina said.
Petrina also described funny moments of culture shock during her trip to Lithuania, where she met a group called the “Rainbow Gathering.”
“At the Rainbow Gathering, the ‘communal bathroom’ was several ditches dug all in a row, called the Shit Pits.
“No barriers of trees or cloth or any sort of wall. Everyone’s side by side or in a row taking a poop together. It took a couple of days, but then I got comfortable making small talk to people next to me.”
On a humorous tone, Petrina pointed out that she had gained weight in her adventures, as kind souls often assumed that she hadn’t eaten for days.
“In fact, I packed on some pounds because people who take me in often assumed that I had not eaten for days and kept feeding me. ‘Eat more! Eat more!’, they would keep telling me.”
One of the most valuable lessons she learnt from the trip was “the more kindness you get, the more you want to share that love.”
“I think it is sad that we live in a world where people are uncomfortable with kindness from strangers, always wary that they’d want something in return.
“You really can’t judge a book by its cover. Dodgy looking people have turned out to be super nice, and nice looking people have ended up being dodgy.”
Petrina’s parents were extremely supportive of her decision to travel, she added “they respect that I’m old enough to make my own decisions and choose my own path in life, which I’m eternally grateful for.”
“They’re often worried, as parents are. But they’re also extremely encouraging and prayed for me a lot, which I believe helped in keeping me alive.”
Meanwhile, Petrina also said that it was not necessary for youngsters to follow her footsteps, as many are not likely to enjoy travelling on a low budget.
“If the entire time you’re gonna feel tortured, then what’s the point?
“But if you do feel the urge to travel, please do it! The older you get, the more responsibilities and commitments you’ll have, thus making it even harder to travel for long periods.”