In a group of friends, there’s always someone who truly believes every distance is ‘walkable’. Estonian man Meigo Märk is that friend! Averaging about 35 kilometres per day, equipped with only one backpack, the vegan wanderer made roads his home, and locals—his inspiration. Having covered 22 countries entirely on foot—only resorting to ferries or the like in the absence of roads between countries—this inspiring traveller has many fascinating tales in his kitty. Although he has covered around 20,000 kilometres in a span of four years, he has bigger goals in mind. He tells us all about his journey, learnings and more. By Bayar Jain

1. What inspired you to take up this dream of walking around the world?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

I started walking from my home in Estonia to fulfil this dream over six years ago in May 2014. Currently, I have walked through 22 countries [namely, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Iran, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia], covering a total distance of 20,000 kilometres. I started this long walk because it felt like the right next thing to do in my life. I believed that I have enough energy in me to walk thousands of miles across continents, but to know for sure, I thought I should give it a shot! My family and friends have always been supportive. Everything seemed to be moving in the direction of fulfilling this wish very naturally and peacefully. Eventually, the idea grew into a very big dream and has now helped me start a new period in my life. Besides, I also love nature, meeting new people, collecting real-life stories, and taking photographs and videos.

2. How did you stay motivated throughout the journey?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

Honestly, I never felt the need to motivate myself. The dream to walk around the world was—and still is—a very real, true, strong and powerful calling. The dream itself gives me enough energy, willpower, inspiration and motivation. When I look back and think of all the incredible experiences and people I’ve met over the years, it gives me renewed hope and energy to continue.

3. Apart from the physical toll of walking so much, how did you cope with the mental exertion of being alone during your walks?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

As far as I can remember, I would enjoy being alone, especially when I am surrounded by nature, even in my early childhood days. I enjoy being together with big trees, plants, flowers, bugs, birds, rivers or seas; and watching the sunrises, sunsets, moon and the stars. In the process, I have never felt lonely!

4. Your longest walk across India took you around seven months. What was the experience like?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

India is huge! It’s so big that it is very difficult—or maybe even impossible—to get an idea of how vast it really is! India is the most diverse and colourful country I have ever visited. It felt like almost every state is a country within itself. When in India, I slept and lived in over 35 local homes with local families. I was invited to visit many schools and universities to give a talk to thousands of students. For many weeks, I walked in Rajasthan when it was over 42 degrees Celsius and during many weeks of monsoon too. I camped out a lot; got attacked by a dog; escorted by a heavily armed Assamese police; swam alone in the Ganges river; celebrated major festivals like Navratri and Diwali; walked with hundreds of Hindus to Ambaji; visited the Barefoot college, Gandhi Ashram, Om Ashram; interacted with the inspiring world boxing champion, Mary Kom; met the members of the famous Shillong Chamber Choir who sang three songs just for me; gave many interviews and press conferences for local newspapers, televisions, and radio… it was a truly colourful, exciting, and interesting time!

5. You’ve seen various countries and cultures along the way. Which one was the most striking or eye-opening for you, and why?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

Over the long journey, I slept in over 220 local homes with local families. Can you imagine 220 different families from various countries, each with differing cultural, religion, and financial backgrounds? I lived with families in a house with no windows in a huge slum in India; stayed at multimillionaires’ home in Singapore; lived in a bamboo hut in a remote mountain jungle in Nepal, and stayed with nuns and monks at a Zen monastery in Vietnamese hills. Being inside a home—a very private and holy place—is the most unique and enriching experience for a traveller.

I met over 2,200 helpful people who would offer to give me a lift when they saw me walking, or would ask questions while offering free water, tea, coffee, food, gifts, and even money! I learnt that there is a lot of kindness in the world and that most people don’t want to create any problems for others. There were days when I would be so overwhelmed by intense feelings of gratitude that I would cry uncontrollably. The longer I travelled, the more hope and faith I had in humanity. This was the most fascinating for me: despite the difference in countries, histories, cultures, and languages, all humans have similarities.

6. Which of the 22 countries would you like to revisit again and why?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

I really loved Nepal and its people. In Nepal, I felt very naturally at home and at peace. I feel the people there are very peaceful, polite, joyful and generous. I fell in love with the Himalayas.

7. Which country was completely different from what you had anticipated before entering?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

Long before entering Iran, people were very worried and some were angry. They thought I was stupid to travel to a country full of radicals. That’s the image that the media has painted for us. In reality, the people of Iran are one of the most friendly, gentle, and hospitable people I’ve ever met. Every day while walking in Iran, I was stopped at more than 10 different places for tea or to eat with the locals. People even packed food for me for the road ahead! In a few shops, the shopkeeper’s refused to take any money because I was their guest.

8. What was your craziest experience throughout the journey?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

I had many crazy and extreme experiences!

I crossed vast natural landscapes, and slept alone in a tent for more than 650 nights. This means, I camped a lot along the roadsides, in rainforests, in the middle of deserts, along the sea, and atop hills and mountains. In some cases, I even slept at police stations, army camps, ambulance stations, churches, temples and many hostels and hotels.

I walked and camped in many different terrains and weather conditions, like the snowy mountains of Turkey, had temperatures dipping to minus 17-degrees Celsius. On the flip side, countries like Iran and India had daily temperatures as high as 42-degrees Celsius. For several months, I walked and camped in the heavy tropical rains of Asia where the weather was very humid and my stuff was all wet. Sometimes, the floodwaters would even rise till over my knees!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

While walking through one hilly jungle in Laos, I finished all my food by the third day itself. I munched on some fresh bamboo leaves, only to later learn about its health benefits. In two countries, the local government provided a heavily armed police escort to walk with me. And another two occasions, I was attacked by dogs. Having said that, I found three dogs and four cats in remote parts of the countries—all of whom looked very hungry. In those cases, I took them with me and found them new homes. The longest time one dog walked with me was exactly 10 days.

9. How difficult or easy was it for you to learn the languages, traditions, and customs of a place?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

Learning the local language was always a bit difficult; I tried to learn as much as I could in every country. With respect to different histories, cultures, traditions, religions, beliefs and other differences, I was always very open and tried to be as understanding as I could.

10. What were some of the greatest lessons you learned during your travels?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

I have learned that every single heartbeat and every breath is an unrepeatable gift and a true miracle! And even though it is very easy to complain about everything, we should still try to be appreciative. We also need to be grateful for all the difficulties and challenges of life because they can help us become wiser, better and stronger.

11. Your favourite souvenir you’ve bought or collected from the journey?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

I don’t really care about souvenirs. In many countries, I was given many nice souvenirs. I would carry them for some time and eventually give them away.

12. How did you ensure you were being eco-conscious during your trip?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

I have a few very good water filters with me, and I used those while travelling. I tried not to buy plastic bottles and instead refilled the one that I had as much as possible, although that was challenging at times. I carried a plastic bag with me so I could carry things in my own bag every time I shopped at a market. For over 13 years now, I’ve been following a strict vegetarian diet, and have been a vegan for five years now.

13. How has the lockdown been for you?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

The lockdown has been nice for me. Very high-quality family time with my wife and daughter! We found some ways to work and earn online during this time. I am also working a lot on my computer now by writing old travel stories, and sorting thousands of travel photos and videos.

14. Where will you walk to next once restrictions ease?

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Meigo Märk (@meigomark) on

My wife and I are dreaming and making plans to continue travelling around the world from Sumatra Island in Indonesia, where I needed to pause the walk after 20,000 kilometres of walking. This time all three of us (including our daughter) will go together. Hopefully, next year, if the global pandemic situation is over by then, we will begin the next chapter of this journey. I will continue to walk, while my wife and daughter would move on the same route on a motorbike or with a small camping car. The goal is to walk in different countries, at least the distance of Earth’s equator, that is 40,075 kilometres.

Related: Having Walked From Leh To Spiti Valley, Here’s How Climate Activist Aakash Ranison Is Redefining Road Trips