'There'll always be someone there to help'
Estonian woman relies on goodwill of people she meets to travel
Estonian Elsa Saks has spent the last four months travelling around South-east Asia without spending a cent of her own.
Instead, she relies on the goodwill of people she meets as well as bartering for accommodation, food and travel expenses by doing work in exchange.
Ms Saks, who turned 29 on Wednesday, is now in Singapore, where she has been staying for the last two weeks with a woman who had helped her with directions.
In her time in Cambodia and Indonesia, she has had to sleep in clinics, fire stations, forest stations, bus terminals and train stations.
On some nights, when she could not find a kind soul to offer her a room, she would set up her hammock and sleep in the open.
Ms Saks, who quit her job as an IT systems support officer to tour South-east Asia, travels with three bags filled with basic necessities, a few clothes and her laptop.
She paid for her flight from her home country to Vietnam and then to Thailand. She spent a month in both countries.
In Thailand, she read about the concept of moneyless travel and decided to do it for the rest of her trip. Since then, she has visited Cambodia, Bali and now Singapore, paying only for her visas.
Random strangers have paid for her stay in hostels. In return for more expensive items like plane tickets, she has provided IT services such as designing websites to companies.
"I just believe that there will always be someone to help you," she said.
She said despite being poor, the people of Cambodia were the most warm and welcoming to her.
But she gets her fair share of rejections.
She said that while asking for directions in Singapore, many were sceptical and even shut her off before she could start talking.
When she landed in Singapore, she spent a night in Changi Airport before setting off on foot at dawn. She walked for four hours to Marina Bay.
The only time Ms Saks has lived in a luxurious hotel was with her good friend, who happened to be in Bali at the same time.
But her experience in the five-star resort was not as great as her other accommodation.
"I didn't like people serving me and the way the staff was treated there just seemed bad," she said.
Ms Saks has been living with Madam Jamaliah Jamali in her three-room flat in Circuit Road.
Madam Jamaliah, who lives with her two children and her parents, said: "I was wondering what this 'ang moh' was doing in MacPherson, of all places. I hate being lost, so I had to help her."
She bought Ms Saks a train ticket to Tanjong Pagar, but took down her e-mail address.
When Madam Jamaliah got home, she e-mailed Ms Saks to check that she was safe and had found the place she wanted. After exchanging e-mails for a few days, Madam Jamaliah offered Ms Saks a room.
Ms Saks: "I thought she was kidding at first, but she said she was serious, so I took her offer."
Living with five other people in the three-room flat was fine with Ms Saks, although the language barrier was a bit of an issue. Aside from Madam Jamaliah and her two sons, no one else could speak English.
"I had to use gestures to tell Jamaliah's mother what I needed, because I was recovering from bad flu and a cough," Ms Saks said.
The day she moved in, Madam Jamaliah's mother had prepared chicken soup with noodles and rice - specially for Ms Saks. Referring to Ms Saks as her "adopted daughter", Madam Jamaliah's mother made sure that she finished her food.
Ms Saks also visited an Outback Steakhouse restaurant, asking to speak to the manager about her challenge.
Mr Yayat Sudrajat, the manager, was initially shocked by what she told him. He instructed his staff to serve Ms Saks an oven-baked rye bread and a main course of mashed potatoes with chicken fillet.
He said: "I've never come across someone who told me that they were doing this. But we are all up for sharing food with people."
While staying here, Ms Saks has been busy trying to get a sponsor to get to Brazil to watch the World Cup, which starts next Thursday.
She has been e-mailing shipping companies to try to get on a cargo ship. She has also approached SingTel and StarHub requesting sponsorship to watch the World Cup. The replies have been disheartening, but Ms Saks continues to hope.
"I think I'd support teams from Africa. They have great players and I love the way they dance," she said.
Help she has received so far
- In Siem Reap, Elsa met a tuk-tuk driver at a bar. He took her to a hostel and paid for her to stay there for two nights. He also bought her a simple dinner.
- While hitchhiking from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, a distance of about 320km, she met a policeman who offered to buy her a bus ticket to Sihanoukville, a town south of Phnom Penh.
- At Sihanoukville, she heard about a group who gave accommodation and food to volunteers building self sustainable houses from recyclable materials such as tyres and plastic water bottles for the villagers. These houses have their own solar panels and water systems as well. She spent a month volunteering.
- In Ubud, a Balinese family invited her for dinner. She stayed with them for four days.
- A female manager from a cafe at Marina Bay Sands offered to let her stay at her place for a night to hear more about her adventures.
- A manager at Outback Steakhouse restaurant gave her a free lunch.
- Two teenage girls she met while asking for directions gave her an ez-link card with $10 value. She uses that card only during emergencies.
- A woman she met at MacPherson MRT station invited her to stay at her flat in Circuit Road, where she has been staying for more than two weeks.
About moneyless travelling
Moneyless travelling refers to people travelling to other countries without spending money, living on the generosity of strangers they meet and also taking up odd jobs to fund their travels, meals or lodging.
The concept was started some 18 years ago by German psychotherapist Heidemarie Schwermer. She has been living moneyless, travelling around to talk to people about her way of life, and she takes free train rides in Austria - thanks to a blind man she befriended.
Blind people in Austria are allowed to take one other person along on their free train trips.
She has published a book calledThe Sterntaler Experiment - My Life Without Money.
Another pair of moneyless travellers from France Benjamin Lesage and Raphael Fellmertravelled through Africa, Europe and the Americas over three years in 2010.