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Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Alternative Life - Hitching and Dumpster Diving in Europe

Isn't there a saying that goes it's not what you do, but how you do it? It's all about the style, not the substance? Then one could also say "it's not where you travel, but how you travel."

I'm much changed from that wanderlusting traveller of Europe of 2 years past. And it is easily seen in how I am experiencing Europe in this, my third visit here.
Revisiting Budapest - this photo was from my first visit 3 years ago
Revisiting old Couchsurfing host and friend Gabor "Vandorboy - The Most Travelled Hungarian"
I am still pondering why I returned to Europe after India. The reasons are far too complex to dissect, but the journey itself promised to provide more answers. My lifestyle on the road has reflected the experimental nature of my journey as I have travelled ultra low budget and alternative, through means such as hitchhiking and Couchsurfing.
Thumbs out on the highway!
Hitchhiking with my Budapest sign
Well, now I can add dumpster diving to the list.

It doesn't need much explanation, however, for those who feel more comfortable receiving an unofficial definition, dumpster diving is recovering items, mostly food, that have been thrown out.

The act of throwing something away, or the sight of something in a waste receptacle, whether it is a bruised apple or an old cellphone, is enough for most people to deem it garbage, as in it has no longer any value or use. But most of the time, these items are thrown out for trivial reasons, and are in perfectly good shape.
My dumpster dived food from the Budapest Market Hall!
Not dumpster diving, but a generous  meal offered by a truck driver who picked me up
I dumpster dived only once before while cherry picking in Canada. I recently read an article about a guy in Austin, Texas who made lots of cash recovering discarded electronics, and was now determined to do it again, this time in Europe.

I started dumpster diving in Milano. I found a weekend market and asked in my learned Italian if I could have some slightly bruised oranges discarded by staff. They told me to come back after the market closed, and so I did, and found much more. I found oranges, apples, onions and cauliflower, all with just a few imperfections but perfectly edible. I took them home to my host, who said the food looked just fine, and we cooked them up!

In Budapest my activity picked up a little. I dumpster dived in residential bins recovering some grapes, bread and leafy greens for my host. At another weekend market after closing time, I encountered a few young people receiving loads of veggies directly from the shopkeepers! I approached them, and it turns out they volunteer for Food not Bombs, a non-profit organization with presence in cities all over the globe.

I helped them carry the food to a nearby home which acted as a storage room and kitchen. I couldn't believe how much food was in there! Baskets and bags overflowing with all kinds of vegetables and fruits, as well as donated items like pastas and rices. The next day the volunteers prepared large quantities of bean soup and salad. I got to eat some before helping them transport the food to a public place to serve to homeless people.
Weekly soup kitchen for the homeless and hungry, provided by Food Not Bombs
In Katowice, Poland I revisited an old friend from Moscow who had now become a self-proclaimed freegan. While he has a job, he and his roommate avoids paying for almost anything except the most basic of needs and a few desires. He knows where all the best dumpsters in his city are and, in addition to vegetables and fruit, has found beer, snacks and pastries. He has even struck up deals with business and shop owners for food, including a Lidl, one of the biggest European supermarket brands.
Alternative life = alternative art; Vienna
Cool street art in Katowice, Poland 
At first dumpster diving felt really uncomfortable. I constantly looked around, afraid of being judged by passers-by. But as I kept doing it, and found more edibles and other useful items, I felt enthusiasm coupled with liberation.

I realized that our vanity gets in the way of practicality, and we fear being judged doing things that just make sense. Dumpster diving is a pretty extreme example, but it is reflected in all our decisions, big or small. I often wonder why people wear uncomfortable and impractical clothing so that they can attain favourable judgment from others. Or why some people don't quit their jobs instead of complaining about it all the time?

If it just makes sense, do it! You'll survive.

A part of me definitely wondered if I was going crazy, engaging in an activity that my peers would look down on me for, ostracizing myself from them, and distinguishing myself as a hobo by choice. But now I see that while others may judge me and my actions as revolting, low or desperate, I feel they are noble deeds.

I feel that I have put my faith in human kindness to guide me safely along the highways of Europe. And that I have kept to my core environmental values through dumpster diving and hitchhiking, by reducing my impact on the food and transportation system to near invisible. Lastly, these actions are a political statement bringing awareness to the excess food waste in society.

These daily realizations are slowly forming the answer of why I am journeying through Europe again, like a fog clearing on the road before me. Hopefully with every ride I hitch, the further I explore the mental map of my mind.
A reunion with Enzo from Sadhana Forest in India! Now a vegan chef in agritourism Solimago in Italy
My amazing host Emma in Milano, with my hitchhiking sign
Cycling in Vienna with Marcus, whom I met volunteering at Sadhana Forest, India
A visit to the well preserved and beautiful Krakov, old town
How do you like my sketch of the Duomo in Milano?


  1. I love that you're helping to reduce the copious amounts of waste we generate. Be safe, but thank you for being brave enough to do it! And I love the sketch of the Duomo.

  2. You are an inspiration to me and I admire your lifestyle. I am in Cambodia. Budapest sounds amazing.