For four years, Christopher Schacht lived a life reminiscent of Odysseus’ famed voyage. He traveled 65,000 miles to 45 different countries, getting by on his charm, determination and a little bit of divine intervention. Around the World on 50 Bucks (W Publishing Group) tells of Schacht’s epic journey from his town in northern Germany to some of the most remote places in the world and back again. This international bestseller is now available in English thanks to a translation by Janet Gesme.
Reading Schacht’s memoir is like ping-ponging between worrying about your daredevil son and being proud of your older brother. At parts, I was genuinely scared for his safety. In order to eat, he worked any job he could find—a sailor, waiter, gold miner, model. He mostly slept in hammocks on the street or else in his tent. He hitchhiked everywhere, including across oceans as he found jobs on sailing yachts in return for board and rationed meals.
When he made friends in Guyana, they ended up being a part of the drug cartel. Schacht didn’t sell drugs, and he only used their camp as a free place to sleep, but the presence of weapons and danger did not deter him. The cartel became “like a second family,” which he called “ridiculous but also exciting.” Throughout his memoir, I was struck his apparent naïveté as he fearlessly approached strangers and took jobs with people he barely knew. I was convinced that at some point he would get robbed or stabbed and end his book reflecting in a hospital bed.
However, Schacht’s book does not give in to suspicion or generalization of others. He continually attests that many people in the world are benevolent, helpful and curious. He gradually becomes skilled at letting grievances go in favor of making a better connection with someone else. He turns frustration into “burying with blessings,” and his persistent friendliness probably saved his life many times.
Though not ideal for everyone, Schacht’s travelling methods force him to rely greatly on others for his wellbeing. Without the trust of others, Schacht wouldn’t have even gotten onto the autobahn outside his hometown.
He meets a Canadian living on his boat in Columbia who miraculously used to be a chef, just when Schacht needs to learn how to cook in order to get a job on a ship to Panama. In these high-stress moments, Schacht has very limited time to find a way to his next destination. The relationships he makes along the way are life changing. As he learns, “In most circumstances it is quite easy to help someone move forward when they would not have done it alone.”
From sailing through the equator, to meeting rae-raes in Polynesia, to speaking bad Korean in Gyeongju, Schacht takes us around the world in mesmerizing detail. The reader is continually awed by his experiences. Like Schacht, we are also grateful for the journey. We feel even more blessed that Schacht chose to share it with the world.
BookTrib had the chance to interview the author. Here is some dialogue from that discussion.
If you were to go on another trip around the world—I have a feeling you might!—what would be different?
The world has got the perfect size – small enough to travel once around but big enough to never finish exploring it. If I were to head onto another trip like my previous one, I would certainly journey into new territory. Places I’ve never seen before – like the icy tundra of Finland with the northern lights or the remote mountain regions of Nepal. I love my tent and my hammock, so I don’t see any reason to not rely on them in future adventures.
I was very struck by how you did not immediately share your experiences with the world. You only had a beat-up old camera and (sometimes) a cell phone. How contingent do you think your self development was on being cut off?
People are different and so are their motives. Who you are and what you want decides on what’s “better” for you in this regard.
For me, it was keeping to myself. When I left home to explore the world I was primarily focused on “living in the moment” and sort of wanted to drift from one day and one place to another. Like a piece of wood in the waves of the sea. I figured that taking a lot of pictures would interrupt the magic of the moment and push me back onto the distant seat of an outside observer. I didn’t want to interrupt this immersive experience! Neither did I want to compromise my thoughts and feelings with a constant “I wonder what my followers would like to see and hear?”question in my head.
We are surrounded by constant pressure of what people think of us. Escaping from this constant stream of expectations was one of the reasons why I wanted to leave home in the first place. I realized that comparing myself to others is the arch-enemy of being happy, content and thankful. Keeping myself away from social media was one effective way of limiting this temptation and becoming delighted with who I am, what I can and can’t and with what I have.
Many of your experiences—sleeping on the street, not having money for food, not knowing if you will have income—reminded me of homelessness. What do you think is the difference between poverty and being a nomad?
Poverty is not just a matter of circumstances but also a matter of education and even a matter of mindset. The main difference is the way you approach it. This “nomad approach” is far easier lived when it is a choice and therefore you do have more possibilities. Sadly, many in this world can’t choose. And from my point of view education is about the most important thing it takes to change this.
How has the publication of your book and its success changed the way you view travel?
So far it hasn’t very much. I still find traveling to be the most effective cure for overcoming prejudices, fear and indifference. At the same time, it is priceless at bringing us new inspiration, great stories and most importantly close friends. The only thing that has changed about the way I view travel is that now I’m aware of how great it is to simultaneously inspire others to do something similar.
Around the World on 50 Bucks is available today.
About Christopher Schacht:
Christopher Schacht, born in 1993, grew up in the village of Sahms, near Hamburg in Northern Germany. Over a four-year period, he traveled to more than forty-five countries and covered more than sixty thousand miles: walking and hitchhiking, and not once using a plane (who knew you can hitchhike across oceans?). His only provisions were an adventurous spirit, a positive attitude, a bright smile, and the willingness to embrace what lay ahead–whatever people, traditions, cuisine, and work opportunities came his way.
Find out more by following Schacht on YouTube.
About Janet Gesme:
I’m Janet: translator, musician and mother of two. I play string instruments and speak English, German, Russian, and Spanish. (Feel free to write me in French and Hungarian as well!) Check here for updates on my current translating project, Martin Schleske’s Der Klang (The Sound) as well as foreign language activities and concerts.