Zaferullah Yıldırım has always dreamed of traveling the world. After visiting the holy lands with his family in 2015 by car, the young law student decided that he wanted to make wayward traveling a priority, embarking on a journey to travel the entire world on a budget.
As a law student from a middle-class family, Yıldırım faced many obstacles in pursuing his dream of traveling the world. Fascinated by the concept of globetrotting, he took to the internet seeking ways to make his dream possible. Finally, he set off on his first solo endeavor thanks to a Facebook page made exclusively for travelers, visiting Palestine with 10 other people he had never even met before.
"I can easily say that I got to know myself during my travels in Palestine," Yıldırım said. Two days after his return from the country, he set off on another journey through Turkey and the Black Sea coast, including the countries of Georgia, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran. "Since my first trip, I have tried to make certain destinations a priority whenever I have spare time to take off from school. In fact, I find new places to visit with the help of a smartphone app. I marked the places I have been on a map and color them up just to see how many places I have been so far. Right now, I have left my footprints in 44 different countries all over the globe. This is already enough to excite me. I will continue my journeys as long as God gives me strength."
Yıldırım posing with Sikhs while in India. India was the only place Yıldırım traveled to by plane.
Yıldırım's initial destinations have mostly been in European. However, once he got a taste of becoming a globetrotter, the Sivas-based law student turned his sights to Asia. As Yıldırım was talking about his travels, one cannot help by see the sparkle in his eyes: "My recent destinations were Sri Lanka and India. I ate horsemeat and drank "kymyz" (fermented mare's milk) in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and ate snails and tried camel's milk and mint tea in Morocco. I ate from the same plate with Sikhs and attended a local wedding in Azerbaijan. When you realize that time flies, you stop worrying about the chaos in your life and simply enjoy the moment."
Through all his travels, Yıldırım is keen to keep everything within his budget. What makes his travels so unique that he almost traveled all though Europe by hitchhiking. "By hitching rides from strangers, I avoided spending too much money on airplane tickets. I usually set off with 40 euros in my pocket," he added.
Wherever Yıldırım goes, however, the one thing he always takes with him is his saz, a traditional stringed instrument. "When I don't have much money left during my travels. I take out my saz and play some songs. I can make 30 to 40 euros a day doing that."
While sightseeing in major cities, Yıldırım prefers to walk from one place to another. In other cases, he can always trust his thumb and kind drivers to take him from one place to another.
"I traveled through Indian cities by motorcycle and took the train as I traveled the entire country. I had such a great time. I traveled for 12 hours by train in a wagon full of children. We sang songs all the way. The only time I traveled by plane was on my trip to India. If possible, I prefer hitchhiking or traveling by bus. It is especially exciting to cross the border on foot.
When it comes to accommodations, Yıldırım has faith in hospitable people. He usually couch surfs, but if he cannot find anyone to host him, he spends the night in a tent he carries everywhere he goes.
Yıldırım's travels are not always sunshine and flowers. During one of his trips to the Balkans, he forgot his backpack on a bus. Although he contacted the bus company right away, the company failed to return the backpack to Yıldırım. "I was in Athens and I took out my saz and played my favorite songs. By the end of the day, I managed to collect 150 euros. I was shocked given the fact that Greece was struggling with a huge financial crisis," he recalled.
Playing saz, however, is not always something that helps Yıldırım earn money to get by. "I played my saz for two hours straight in Bremen but made no money. I was also about to be beaten by a group of beggars in Rome as I unknowingly played in their territory. However, a woman in Belgium came to me and thanked fme or my music one day. She said they are accustomed to seeing people playing the guitar and even the piano on the streets, but they had never seen a musician playing the saz. In fact, I am a volunteer cultural ambassador. People usually mistake saz for a Greek or Russian musical instruments but I try to introduce saz as much as I can."
Yıldırım also gave advice to those who want to be travelers: "You have to believe in yourself first of all. A traveler should not be shy about meeting new people and exploring new places. There is an entire world outside waiting to be explored."