Steven Herteleer who has gone around the world sans luggage, plane or hotel stay

Ah! The world trip — this is the big holiday for which you make long checklists of things to carry along. But Steven Herteleer, a French photographer, who left home in June 2011 for a two- year world trip decided to travel with no luggage except his toothbrush, credit cards, passport and memory cards. Leaving his lucrative job at L’Oreal, Steven’s compulsive urge to explore himself led him to embark on an extra-ordinary journey governed only by the wilderness rules (zero planes, zero luggage, zero hotel). Without his phone, guidebooks or even a watch he set off on a seemingly boundless voyage on a sailboat from France to Rio de Janeiro. At a time he used only a pair of clothes which he used to wash and wear every day.

Here Steven talks about his wild odyssey:

The rules

I decided to write a book on my world trip and to make it adventurous I added the rules. The ‘no luggage’ rule was comfortable as I would arrive in a city with my hands in my pocket! I didn’t want to stay in a hotel as I would be in a tourist bubble. I couch surfed at people’s houses and adapted to their way of life. It helped foster cultural exchanges. I directly approached people and also used a couch surfing website. I have stayed in Kathmandu in a house that had no windows or a shower but was owned by a man with a heart of gold. I have also stayed with affluent families. When I didn’t find a place I used to go to a discotheque and party all night and during the day nap in the park or sleep on the beach when I was in Thailand.

I didn’t take a flight because I wanted to trace a line on the ground with my steps, to see each centimetre of my progression. I didn’t want to be dropped into a new culture as I gradually wanted to experience the change.

The downside

I was kidnapped at the Peru-Ecuador border, 3 gunmen drove me out of the city. Knowing Spanish I understood their plan and opened the door and yelled. The startled driver lost speed and I jumped out of the car. Luckily I found another car to drive me back and I had a narrow escape. Another time I was in China trying to survive with three U.S. dollars as my card wasn’t working. I tried getting a free ticket on the train and found a host and even invited him to eat a burger with that money. Another challenge was in Uruguay where I had to sleep on a cold, dangerous street where I could see people almost walk over me.

The upside

I was in Antarctica for two months and saw a million penguins. The adventure of being lost in a boat on a continent where there are only 100 people at any time is inexplicable. Some other memorable experiences were braving the storms at Cape Horn, seeing the launch of a satellite, swimming in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean among huge fish, sailing in Antarctica between icebergs, mountaineering at a height of 6300m, riding with a biker gang on a Harley Davidson, living in Brazilian slums which are the most dangerous in the world, and being on a cargo ship in the pirate-infested waters off Somalia.

I was at the Maha Kumbh Mela where I lived with sadhus, slept on the floor, ate their food, dressed like a local and bathed at 4 a.m. It was an amazing experience seeing millions of people all around.

The discovery

I discovered myself, the planet and the people on it. It’s ironic we travel to explore the world but in reality we actually explore ourselves. I already knew it, but you only live once.

If there was a travelling contest Steven would win hands down for his journey on which he found himself, made audacious choices, worked for himself as a freelance photographer, fell in love multiple times and learnt to say ‘yes’ to everything that came his way.