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Rich-hiking around the world: Money is not as important as we think

Successful young entrepreneur and psychology graduate leaves his job, sells his house and car and sets out on a trip, hitch-hiking on private planes, BMWs and Ferraris.

Stanislav Gálik hits the road... or the sky. (Source: Courtesy of S. Gálik)

On his trip across four continents and 13 countries, this Slovak who lives in the Czech Republic, did not spend a single cent and moreover, he met successful people from Silicon Valley and Hollywood. He has now returned home, though, and he does not regret it. "It is funny that I had to travel around the globe to find out I want to move 200 kilometres away,” Stanislav Gálik told the Sme daily in an interview.

Sme: Looking at your CV, you look like the epitome of a young successful man; you launched a brand of luxury suits, got to the Czech Top Talents under 30 chart… What made you decide to leave all this, quit your work, sell your house and car and start hitch-hiking?

Stanislav Gálik (SG): At a certain point, not all my investments succeeded and at the same time, my divorce started. I explored whether I was satisfied and I found that I was not. I asked myself what would I want in order to be satisfied again. I said to myself I would want to travel in some original way and rich-hike crossed my mind. It is better than going to the same work the same route every day, seeing the same people.

Sme: Were you not afraid that you would have nothing or nowhere to come back to?

SG: It was not fear; rather, I thought a lot. I was a legal representative in two companies, a member of the board in two more, a member of the supervisory board in another firm. You think you cannot leave, as you have so many obligations, work to be done – but you can. Rather than fearing, I was looking forward to what I might experience.

Sme: Your hitch-hiking was not the usual type ordinary people imagine – cans in backpacks and sleeping under a tent. Was that not attractive to you?

SG: I knew that I would like to hitch-hike somewhere and I would enjoy travelling around the world in that way. I knew I had an infinite amount of time, as I still had enough money in my account that I didn't need to work for several years. It could last for three months, for a year – I did not really care. I was looking forward to meeting interesting people, learning many things but I put “hitch-hiking around the world” in Google, and found out that several people were already doing it, which quite de-motivated me. I said to myself I would try to do it differently.

I remembered that once, when flying on a private plane to Spain for a business meeting, the plane was half empty. It had six seats, and we were only three passengers sitting there. Then, I felt very sorry… the seats were already paid for, so why could someone not come with us? I said to myself: Who knows, maybe private planes could be hitch-hiked like this, half-empty yachts, half-empty expensive cars, BMW-sevens, or S-class Mercedes, which we see on the roads. I thought I would not mind at all if I got a ride in them.

Sme: You decided to hitch-hike only with the rich and their means of transport. Did you have a strategy for that?

SG: I found I had to go from one directly to the next. I could not stay stuck on the roadside waiting to hitch-hike further. There is this crucial aspect of reference – the one who drives you should connect you with the next. Thus, you are always an acquaintance of an acquaintance. The rich will give a lift to a hitch-hiker, not that they would not be willing to but they will not take someone they do not know.

Sme: Did you sleep at their place?

SG: Yes, I said to myself that rich people surely have some guest rooms. I supposed that the wealthier and more successful someone is, the more bored they get and thankful for any new experience. To have a crazy Czecho-Slovak traveler over for a day or two cannot be bad. It turned out to be the right idea. For them, staying with me was fun, a cool experience. They thought –I do not have any plans anyway, so why not?

Sme: How did you win the rich to your side?

SG: They were mostly willing to accommodate me because their friend told them “Now I have an unusual hitch-hiker staying at my place, could I send him to you?” This helped me extremely. Also, I tried to be a truly good guest, meaningful in discussions.

Sme: What does it mean to be a good guest?

SG: Everywhere, I asked “How can I help YOU?” As they were doing a great favour for me but I really wanted to be useful too. I am still in active contact with half of them to this day. We write or call one another at least once a month. It did not cost me any money to stay with them. You do not give a rich person 50 bucks for sleeping in their bedroom. Each of them said “This is my kitchen, feel free to take anything you want”. Or, they took me out for dinner.

All the social rules were playing into my hands. When you are a guest, you are taken care of but there is also the rule that however kind and likeable the guest is, three days is just enough. So I tried to stay everywhere for one, or a maximum of two days.

Stanislav Gálik is the founder of the company and brand of luxury suits for men, Galard, and co-founder of the innovative centre UNIFER which connects education with practice.

Sme: What did they want from you when you offered them your services?

SG: Very often, they asked for a piece of advice. Mostly entrepreneurial consultancies – they knew I had had a successful business and they also knew I am primarily a psychologist; so my knowledge was of value to them. Sometimes they wanted me to connect them with someone. I had a lot in common with many of them.

They were all older than me, all rich and successful, three quarters of them had been through a divorce. For many of them, I was their younger self. They saw me solving the issues they had been solving a few years ago, so this was also an interesting way of self-reflection for them and maybe an occasion to pass on their experience to someone else.

Sme: How close did they let you to themselves?

SG: The closeness was directly proportional to the time spent together. At the beginning of the trip, I did not count at all on them letting me so close. On the way, I did psychological research, too, on the philanthropy of the rich; I had some questions prepared and thought it would be easy – like when you go to lunch with almost a complete stranger. The first hour was always like that.

You have lunch, you get to know one another. Then get into a car and drive for example to his company, he shows you round, then you go e.g. to a fitness centre or for a jog, or you go out in the evening, you cook at home, open a bottle of wine, and suddenly, from the initial one-hour conversation of strangers, you have a completely different relationship. I always heard the most interesting things after that half a day, or a day.

“Money is much lower in the chart than we think. In fact, we need only a little to be happy and it does not make such a huge difference whether you have saved a little, or millions…”

Sme: You managed to achieve that seemingly impossible goal you set in the beginning – to hitch-hike on a plane. How did you manage it?

SG: There were several plane flights ultimately. One was arranged through an acquaintance – I will introduce you to someone who has a place. The second one – I was with a person who had so much money that when I told him I wanted to travel to the US or Indonesia, he bought my air ticket.

To buy an air ticket for me to any place in the world was about as difficult for them as for us to buy a tram ticket. The third journey started with me sitting in the lobby in the airport where pilots were crossing and I asked every pilot whether they had a seat on the plane.

Sme: How did they react?

SG: They were very surprised but they listened to me. The problem was that this was in France and the pilots did not understand English very well. It took them quite a long time to understand what I wanted from them in the first place. The French are slightly less open adventurers in communication with strangers, compared to the Americans for example.

Sme: You also met people from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and a famous American football player. What was interesting about them?

SG: They were a huge inspiration for me. I was lucky to get to the people who may not be well-known worldwide – and thus, I did not know them – but in their field and in the region, they had achieved huge successes. It was amazing to see how they live, how they think, how open and hospitable towards me they were. They could have said “I don’t have the time for you” but the way I tried on this trip to explore their generosity and philanthropy, their first step towards this generosity was their willingness to give their time and energy.

Sme: What were the most interesting life stories you heard?

SG: The American football player Anthony Trucks grew up in an orphanage and played football for the first time as late as aged fourteen. Despite this, he made it to the NFL. An amazing story. Or the yogi who told herself aged 20 that she felt attracted to Bali to follow a spiritual path. So she bought a one-way ticket, went there and spent many years in the Indonesian mountains meditating. Currently, she is a very spiritual person who teaches yoga. Also the story of Oren Koules is super – he was a stock exchange broker after college, as we know it from the movies and made a career that led him to be a millionaire in his fifties. He is the producer of the series Two and a Half Men with Charlie Sheen, the whole franchise of the Saw movies, and the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club.

Sme: On your trips, you were not just a hitch-hiker but also a psychologist. Did you find out what wealth means for these people? Is money important for them?

SG: The most likely answer to be right is probably that wealth means comfort for them. They all said money brings no happiness, nor sense of life but gives comfort. Comfort in life, comfort in decision-making, comfort in being able to go anywhere you want, comfort to not worry when something breaks and to go and buy an new thing.

It is interesting that when you open the issue of what is important in life, everyone says it is health, love and to be happy. Nobody says comfort. This proves that money is much lower in the chart than we think. In fact, we need very little to be happy and it does not make such a huge difference whether you have saved a little, or millions…

Sme: Did they feel happy?

SG: Yes. All of them had already experienced a lot, failures and victories and thus they knew what is life about.

Sme: You wanted to find out, as a psychologist, how the rich share their wealth with society. Were you surprised by the results?

SG: Yes, because when I looked at it analytically, it turned out they help their societies less than I expected. The philanthropist tendency towards strangers was lower than I supposed. I thought that at least some fundamental part of them would think like this: "I have already achieved something, I have something; how can I now impact the world around me positively? What can I do, how and where can I help?” and they did not have this.

They were rather ad-hoc helpers. If someone asked them for something and it seemed to make sense to them, they did help but relatively few of them actively sought possibilities to help. They told me there are so many requests that it is hard to decide whom to help. If you were supposed to help everyone, you would be broke in six months.

Sme: You ended the journey after 75 days: were you tired?

SG: Trying to be a good guest gets quite exhausting after some time. You cannot say, meeting someone new, “You know, I’ve been on my way for a month already, I am fed up with trying to make a good first impression and to entertain someone. Will you, please, give me a total break for two-three days?”

When I got to Bali, I took a short break. I was able to be alone there and do yoga. After two weeks, I felt that the journey had given me what it was supposed to give, and it was high time to take the next step.

I felt I should move to Prague; I had lived in Brno before. It is funny that I had to travel around the globe to find out that I wanted to move 200 kilometres away.

Sme: A man practicing yoga is quite an unusual phenomenon, how was it for you?

SG: It was terrible, especially in the beginning. In the first lessons, everyone is doing fine, everything goes smoothly and you are the only one to look like a fool. It looks like each position is completely natural for everyone and I only sat for two minutes cross-legged and I felt like fainting because of the pain in my back. However, after about the tenth lesson, it all started to improve.

“I had a lot in common with many of them. They were all older than me, all rich and successful, three quarters of them had been through a divorce. For many of them, I was their younger self.”

Sme: Did this journey change you?

SG: The bits of knowledge that I gained and that changed me were numerous. Firstly: you have really nowhere to hurry to. It is much better if you do things at your own natural pace than to push too much. Before, I pushed it almost to the limit, and it was a mistake. Yoga is based on the philosophy of non-violence, and pushing is a form of violence. I functioned like this in everything – in sport, at work, I always yearned to overcome myself.

I used to want still more and yoga taught me that I can have more even without this violence. These things impact on me a lot even now. For example, let us take some project which does not have the result I would like to achieve. You cannot always solve it by working harder and having the most sweat-soaked T-shirt of all. Maybe it is really better to stop for a while, to take a deep breath, take a break for a day or two, and to wait to see whether it can be solved spontaneously.

Sme: After having been in business, you became employed for the first time when you were thirty. How does it feel to be an employee?

SG: Of course, I do other things apart from being employed so I cannot compare it with someone who works from nine to five and then leaves for home. It is great, though. I was not in business because I did not want to be employed. I was in business because I wanted to do something sensible, I wanted to have freedom, to feel the self-fulfillment, that I am doing something for myself, for the chance to create.

Now I have all this – only I am doing it for a company owned by someone else. I do not perceive it as “as long as you don’t work on your dreams, you work on someone else’s dreams”. I am working on my dreams all the time – so that every day is worth living, every day is fun for me, so that I can every day – after I wake up – look forward to doing the things I am supposed to do.

Sme: Did your life not get quicker again?

SG: I think my pace is just right now, although life is awfully quick. As I also have other projects, my calendar looks completely full when someone takes a look. It was like that even before but the difference is that if you met me before, you had the impression I was haunted by being too busy. Now, my calendar is still full but if you meet me you probably have the feeling I have nothing to do.

Sme: Do you still feel like travelling around the world?

SG: My passport is already feeling hot in my pocket. From time to time I leave for a weekend abroad but there is already a plan being hatched in my mind – for a bigger journey. It will not be a rich-hike, though, but rather something original again.

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