Sunil V Kaushik and Yuka Yokozawa have been married for three years and they've been on their 'honeymoon' for over a year now. But it's not a typical honeymoon - no fancy hotels, exquisite restaurants, shopping or other luxuries.
For Yuka and Sunil, honeymoon means being on the road, living a minimalist lifestyle and going where their journey takes them.
They call their journey, which began from Thailand last April, 'Sushi and Sambar on the Silk Route.'
The name is drawn from their roots - Sunil is from Bengaluru and Yuka from Japan - and they've traveled across 17 countries, crossing 38 borders, over 26,000 kilometres. All with two backpacks, a cycling bag, two foldable bicycles and a budget of $5 a day!
So far, the couple have been to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Georgia, Turkey Greece, Italy, Monaco, France and Spain, among other countries. They’ve visited Georgia, Turkey and Iran twice, but the latter remains their favourite.
“It’s just the people and the hospitality there,” gushes Yuka. “People see us, stop their cars on their own and offer to take us in for the night and give us food,” she says. Sunil adds that because of the kindness of the Iranians, they even traveled without spending any money in Iran for 20 days.
Here's a video snapshot of this $0 project:
Currently in Barcelona, Spain, the couple spoke to TNM about their journey, their relationship and the experience of travelling with just the bare basics.
Their shoestring budget means that Yuka and Sunil cannot afford to use public transport or stay in hotels. So, they carry tents or go knocking on the doors of the locals, looking for lodging. The clothes and shoes they wear are also donated.
“Most people are happy to let us pitch a tent in their yard or even let us sleep in their homes. There have been a few rejections too, but we just smile and move on to the next house,” Sunil says. They also carry a bag with Indian spices and Japanese sauces. “Since we cannot pay our hosts in money, we entertain them by cooking for them,” informs Sunil.
While Sunil and Yuka take up work in every place they go, they generally turn down payment. They’ve taken up jobs like waiting on tables, cooking in a Chinese restaurant, working in raspberry fields in Kyrgyzstan to name a few. Yuka has also taught origami at a school in Laos while Sunil uses his management and innovation background for consulting occasionally and to deliver lectures at Universities, especially in Europe.
“We like doing it for the experience and to learn as much as we can about the place and the people,” Yuka says.
Yuka teaching children in China
Sunil making Indian food at a restaurant in China
While the couple has stayed with over a hundred families and made many friends with locals and fellow travelers, their favourite people to interact with so far are truck drivers. “They’ve been the kindest, the most entertaining, humble and helpful of the lot,” says Sunil.
Yuka and Sunil plan to leave for Portugal soon and travel in Europe for the next 4-5 months. And if Sunil is able to find some online projects to earn a little money, maybe they’ll traverse North America and South America next.
Needless to say, travel has been an integral part of Sunil and Yuka’s life, even before they met each other. It even helped them find each other.
How the journey began
Sunil met Yuka in Ladakh when he was cycling through the Himalayas a few years ago. They were both attending Buddhist leader Dalai Lama’s public address and happened to share a cab. After being travel partners for some time, the duo fell in love and decided to get married.
They moved to Hyderabad after their wedding and while Yuka knew that this current trip was on the cards, she didn’t know cycling, hitchhiking and couchsurfing were going to be a part of it. She calls these the ‘three bombs’ Sunil dropped on her post-marriage in this TED talk.
Despite reservations, Yuka decided to take the plunge, and grew used to doing what they did. Their only flight so far has been from India to Thailand, and one ferry ride from Greece to Italy.
While Yuka generally doesn’t face a problem with the visa officials, Sunil says that they are sometimes apprehensive, seeing he has an Indian passport. “They aren’t used to seeing Indians travel by the road. It doesn’t help that I am dressed shabbily or have an unkempt appearance,” he says.
But Sunil was in for a complete surprise in Kyrgyzstan where the visa official excitedly asked him if he knew Mithun Chakraborty, a Bollywood actor. “He even made me dance to his song Jimmy Jimmy, saying he wouldn’t let me enter his country unless I complied,” he laughs.
Sunil says in the TED talk that he’s had to tell a lot of people that Indians don’t start dancing on the roads when they’re happy: a perception many have thanks to mainstream Indian films.
Some scary experiences
While they have mostly had good takeaways from their journey so far, a few scary incidents stand out.
For Yuka, it was getting separated from Sunil in the middle of a desert in Iran in August. The man they had taken a ride from dropped them off in the desert when it was pitch dark, and because they couldn’t see each other, they called out “are you there?” to each other occasionally while cycling.
Somewhere down the way, Yuka realized that Sunil wasn’t answering back. “But I couldn’t move because I didn’t know if he would come back there,” she recounts. It was only when a few vehicles came by and helped her find Sunil that they were reunited.
For Sunil, it’s an incident back in July last year when policemen and civilians were shot at in Trabzon, Turkey allegedly by three Kurdish Worker Party (PKK) militants. The attack happened down the street of the host they were staying with. Yuka had ventured out when Sunil heard the shots.
Neither Yuka nor Sunil have a SIM card because they move around too much. They just keep in touch with family and friends when they can access WiFi. It also means that they cannot contact each other without internet connectivity as well.
"I thought she would have been taken hostage or something. But I found out she had been eating ice cream just a few metres away from where they caught the terrorist,” Sunil narrates.
‘Travel has brought us closer’
While the logical progression for most married couples would be to buy a house and work to support each other, the mantra doesn’t apply for Sunil and Yuka. But traveling like this has brought them closer than ever and allowed them to learn from each other.
Looking over Acropolis, an anciet citadel in Athens, Greece
“We fight and make up like any other couple. One the common things we fight about is deciding where to go. I’m not the practical one so if I like a place, I want to go regardless of the geography. But I’m learning from Sunil,” Yuka says.
For Sunil, what stands out is dividing responsibilities and looking out for each other without saying the words. “There have been times when we’re both very hungry and there’s just one piece of bread to share. This trip has made us want to make those sacrifices for one another and live for each other,” he says.