LAUSANNE — First you notice all the tattoos, including one drawn with bamboo by members of a Fillipino tribe. But Sarah Gysler is far from the archetypal modern trend setter.
The 23-year-old Swiss woman doesn't have a Snapchat account or an Instagram profile filled with retouched pictures. She doesn't even have a smartphone. What she does have are a lifetime worth of memories built up in just a few months — since Dec. 8 — when she began an around-the-world adventure that has so far taken her 12,000 kilometers and, amazingly, cost her just 320 euros.
This empty-pockets explorer describes her moneyless adventure "the ultimate retreat." And yet she does stay connected — through a blog she updates from time to time, and on Facebook, which she uses to highlight certain memorable moments, like the time her family sent her a package of moldy cheese.
I'd like to think my journey and my experiences motivate, inspire, or at least comfort other people.
When she hitchhiked out of her small village near Lausanne on that early December night, heading for Spain via France, she took just a few clothes, an iPod, a harmonica and a camera, so she could record her first encounters. By Christmas, she'd reached Granada. But that's when things got a little complicated.
"I was stranded 48 hours in Granada waiting for someone to give me a ride. Nobody seemed willing to drive with me. Then, I continued my way south to reach Gibraltar on Jan. 1 after spending New Year's Eve on my own. I made camp in Tarifa, Europe's southernmost village," she explains.
The bare minimum — Photo: Sarah Gysler/Facebook
On a previous trip, in 2015, Sarah crossed the continent to reach North Cape, Europe's northernmost point, in Norway. "This time, I wanted to reach the other end," she says. "It was a sort of pilgrimage. I got to Tariga late in the afternoon, lit a fire, made myself some tea, and I slept below the stars, on the ground."
Her iPod provides the soundtrack to her travels and doubles up as a companion. Leaving alone had been a natural choice at first — "A call to discover my desires, my dreams, my freedom," Sarah explains. Since then, it's become a real "commitment," a way to escape life's "straight-jackets' while proving that solitude isn't "some monster you need to face or an incurable disease."
Instead, spending so much time alone has been a blessing, helping her become more benevolent and humble, she says. Both qualities proved very useful indeed when Sarah was crossing the Atlantic Ocean with an Australian family she met in Gibraltar, on their boat. She did her share of daily chores and gave private lessons to their daughter, Teagen. A first for Sarah, who'd never gone on a cruise before and didn't have her sea legs.
The adventurer publishes all her pieces of advice and anecdotes regarding boat hitchhiking on her blog. But while social networks are all about immediateness, Sarah affords herself "the luxury of slowness." She wrote the article about her transatlantic cruise months after it had happened.
"Blogging is a way to write later," she says. "On the spot, you don't always have the necessary hindsight. Sometimes, you need time to understand how a certain experience has affected you."
There are also practical reasons why it took her so long to post: For several months she couldn't get her hands on a laptop. She finally bought one for 50 euros, a gift from her mother. She also uses her Facebook account to update followers about her latest adventures. "I'd like to think my journey and my experiences motivate, inspire, or at least comfort other people," she says. That may very well be the case given the growing number of comments on her page.
Next stop... New Zealand
After she reached the West Indies, Sarah sailed from island to island. From Barbados she sailed to the Grenadines aboard a new boat: the Walden. Later she went to the Dominican Republic and finally Guadeloupe. Wherever she stays, she offers to take care of the children and do chores in exchange for a place to sleep. For her, it's a way of rediscovering exchanges with strangers, a way to get to know them and the local customs.
"I don't have any guidebooks. I don't like them actually," Sarah explains. "They tell us where to look all the time. Supposedly they all direct you to unusual places, but I prefer to trust the locals."
Crossing the Atlantic — Photo: Sarah Gysler/Facebook
Now, the only thing on the low-cost adventurer's mind is her "next expedition." She's already picturing herself teaching her vision, her way of exploring the world to anybody willing to listen, when she returns. "Why not organize internships or create an association where I would explain to struggling youths or adults the point about alternative traveling?"