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  • Writer's pictureClotaire Mandel

The cost of a long journey, part 1 : money and work.

Background and outlook

Australia is the perfect place to do refuel the bank account, and Melbourne to refuel everything else!

So the idea was to come and work for a while, and plan the next legs of the journey.

Crossing the Americas came as a logical next step, but for that you need money. Between the end of the Australian visa and the good season in Alaska, there was little room for manoeuvre.

This passage in Australia was placed under the sign of work, fast and effective. The idea was to earn as much money as possible before heading back to the Americas.

However, for the first time, work was almost a moral suffering. I came to think about the forms and costs of work, and eventually the overall costs of a long journey.

The labour market.

The labour market for people on working holiday visas is often the same. Unless you get involved or try to stay longer, you often get the same type of work.

For short periods, it would be difficult to sell yourself on the job market. The most interesting, and therefore rewarding, jobs require a long-term commitment and presence.

So when you're just passing through, you take what comes. It's not all bad, but it's not a lifetime career either.

These jobs reflect something insidious back at us, and have the baseness of poorly paid and poorly regarded jobs. We are one of the small cogs that allow the big cogs to turn. We are almost all small cogs, but the long term offers the prospect of advancing and progressing in one's career, which I suppose helps one to hold on.

In this position, there's not really much room for advancement: you take what you can get and work as many hours as you can. We are cheap and interchangeable labour.

A few months in Australia is a few months serving in a restaurant, picking fruit or making coffee. That's good, but not enough. Maybe when you're 20, but not when you're 30, I think.

These are often thankless jobs where you don't use your head very much, because in countries where you can't easily show off your diplomas.

Stagnating at the bottom of the social ladder is the price to pay for continuing to travel, in a single impulse that is mine. Maximising profits in a minimum of time, in countries that are on the road. To catch on the fly the opportunities that will feed the body immediately, and later the mind.

It's not my country, not my language and it's not my career dreams. It's not even really my place.

I am a passing stranger, plugging small holes in a system that will do without me the second I am gone.

The ungratefulness of the job

These jobs are often thankless. Restaurants, cafés or farms.

In the restaurant business, people often eat in a hurry in a filthy cupboard, hide to drink and have to wear a permanent smile. As if the customers had to be protected from the humanity of those who serve them.

I think I'm becoming more and more displeased with the position of serving. All this with hard hours.

Shitty job, shitty conditions, shitty salary.

You start early and come home late. A bit by bike and a bit by train, depending on how exhausted you are.

On the way back, we pass other restaurants and bars, full of couples and groups of friends. Noisy groups of friends on the train, belching their happiness to have a social life. Me in the middle of it, cruising throughout the night alone to go to bed.

I'm lucky enough to find friends when I get home.

And tomorrow we start again.

This is how I finance my trip.


Travelling long distances without a full bank account requires some sacrifices.

The picture is far from perfect: not catastrophic, but not ideal. In other words, you have to work, sell your precious free time.

During these periods of work, I at least have the chance to know why I wake up in the morning. I count hours, days and weeks.

Every hour I work builds up a week's pay. And that wage is a number of days on the road. No more, no less. I have no other motivation to go to work than to convert each hour of work into a day on the bike.

Which begs the question "what am I willing to do to continue this journey?

How much does this trip represent for me, in the construction of my person, so that I am able to put aside everything else?

Ideally I would like to travel, photograph and write. However, to start this machine, I need money. And this money, I decided to earn it quickly and well by working for a living.

This creates big differences between the intense periods of happiness on the road and the suffering of a life that doesn't correspond to me, in an almost parallel universe that I reject in my heart.

Not that I don't want to work. But there is a fundamental difference between work and employment.


Wage employment is the act of subordination of one individual to another or to an entity in exchange for a wage, all established by contract.

We sign a piece of paper that says in essence how much we will receive per hour of subordination. We trade our precious life time for money.

So already, put like that, it puts a lot of things into perspective.

Trading life time for money is fine, but to what end?

As soon as you have a little comfort and a satisfactory existence, you should be able to reduce your working time to regain possession of a large part of your life.

On the other hand, if you want more and more, if you want something new, something big, something beautiful, you have to work all the time to finance it.

What is the point?

There are a lot of social conventions and notions of identity that make you do this, at the risk of living a meaningless life.

... And its absurdity

The employee does not have the right to one minute of paid rest. Employers want their employees to be busy during paid hours. To the point of total absurdity.

You can work hard and give a good service, that's what you get paid for. On the other hand, there is no question of stopping, of taking a break during off-peak periods. Even if it means cleaning the same tables three times, the same door handles. To be consciously messy so that you can clean up after yourself and look busy.

The capitalist abhors any sort of void. He created the managerial positions and passed on his horror of emptiness. Rest is emptiness in the eyes of the capitalist. Emptiness is a failure to perform.

If there is no output, there must at least be movement.

From then on, the worker develops the ability to look busy, without really being busy sometimes. This is where we fall into a form of absurdity.

You get paid for it, and decently, so in a sense it's quite comfortable. But this is where the system finds its limits for those who think they have better things to do than work for someone else.

The worker is pre-designed to have little meaning to give to his task. Everything is so unstructured that the tasks taken one by one do not make much sense. The result is that a task leads to a salary that supports a family, but nothing more. You can't see the ins and outs.

As soon as an individual asks for meaning in his or her work, the professional possibilities are drastically reduced.

The absurdity also lies in the contrast between the life one leads on the road and the tasks one sees oneself doing at work.

On the one hand, you live on the ground, in the dirt and dust. You eat with your hands, you use a piece of fork that doubles as a knife, spoon and bottle opener. We eat in the pot which serves as a bowl, plate, pan and shower tray.

We talk with our mouths full and we laugh out loud because the happiness of a life close to one's wild self is so enjoyable.

On the other hand, you have to put the knife the right way round, change the plate between each piece of bread. You need a white, ironed shirt. We throw away astronomical amounts of food, we listen to people complaining because their cup is missing half an inch of milk. You need a straw to drink a soda, and you have to bend over backwards to get a glass of water.

I can't stand this contrast any more.

By unspoken agreement, I agree to do absurd tasks sometimes for a little money. This is what I am finally getting at after a long digression. This is where the budget for the rest of the trip comes from.

The equation

For lack of anything better, I estimated that I had 10 euros a day to carry out the rest of this trip. A few months in Asia, the crossing of the Americas, the north west of Africa and back to France.

For the moment, it is not even a question of going all the way with what I have in my pocket. We'll see. Tinkering on the road, and coming back completely broke seems the most likely way for the moment. (For the good cause)

If I've always thought that money can always be found, this time I've understood the price to pay for a little money. This makes me cut back on my spending.

I'm not good with accounting and don't have much respect for money. So I have always indulged myself without counting too much, for the sheer joy of living the way I wanted to.

The cost of work

It is clear that every day I cycle in the following months will be savoured as by the one who measures what he does of resilience to go and get that money.

It is expensive to earn money. You give a lot of yourself, and you give your time to do something that you feel less passionate about as the hours add up.

You put aside your identity to look professional.

You have to wear a special outfit, which is nothing more than a disguise.

It costs me to work like this. It's more difficult every time, more absurd every time. And even if no one reads this, I write to give myself a sense of purpose, to give myself hope that one day I can make a living from what I really love to do.

Money is so expensive, that I will now have to be more thrifty, and savour every minute, aware of what they have morally cost me.

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Apr 18

Wonderful article thanks for sharing your thoughts, it isn’t always that you find honest descriptions about travelling and money. I hope you are able to work your way out the systems that don’t respect us other than cogs in the machine, I am interested in finding alternative ways too, whatever that means for me. And I like this - ‘It's expensive to earn money’

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