Dutchman Wiebe Wakker is on a road trip in his electric vehicle from the Netherlands to Australia – and he’s doing it without money.
“My goal is to reach Australia in an electric car. I entered Asia through Turkey and then went to Iran, but since I couldn’t get a visa to Pakistan, I took a detour to the UAE, and now I’ve set foot in India, since it was the next most logical step en route to Australia,” said an exhausted Wiebe Wakker, as we attempted to beat the Mumbai heat with some fresh mango ice-cream. Having set out on this adventure — called the Plug Me In project — in March last year, the Dutchman arrived in India last month. What makes this voyage all the more special is the fact that the 30-year old is driving an electric vehicle and has no money on him – he relies on the kindness of strangers for meals, lodging and electricity to recharge his car’s batteries.
Ask him about how the idea came into being and he fondly recollects his time backpacking in Australia in 2009, and how it became incumbent on him to do something like this. “I was there for one year and read a lot of books about people who travel in unique, crazy ways. And I made up my mind that I want to do something similar in life too. So then I went back home and studied at the University of Arts and learned about marketing, storytelling and creating experiences,” said the tall Dutchman.
“In the last year of my studies, my graduation project gave me the opportunity to bring this dream to life. I told my teacher that I want to travel around the world, and then I thought that taking a road trip would be the best way to go about it, because you have the freedom to go anywhere you want. At that time, everyone was also talking about electric cars. They were nothing exceptional, but sounded cool, with the Teslas of the world creating some fancy automobile gadgetry. So, I thought maybe I’d drive to the other side of the world in an electric car and could even be the first to do so,” he added.
When asked about whether it was meant to be all about saving the planet initially, Wakker was honest in revealing how the idea, which commenced in a cavalier manner, evolved into something more serious over time. “When I started out, it was more about adventure. But then I started doing my research and realised that you can do a lot of cool stuff with sustainability as well. I volunteered for a festival where the energy was harvested purely by sustainable means, and soon it became clear that sustainability can be cool too.”
The car is a 2009 diesel Volkswagen Golf that was converted into an EV. It belonged to a Dutch power company employee who started his own EV company, and who was kind enough to lend it to Wakker for his trip. “Travelling without money can be a challenge. Sometimes even the distances can be a challenge. For instance, if I have to travel 1200 km, I have to do it over a period of six days, since my car’s battery lasts 200 km on full charge. So, I rely on people.”
Help is never too far. “I have documented some translations in different languages to communicate with people, basic questions like ‘Where is the toilet?’ or ‘Do you have Wi-Fi?’ or ‘Can you help me charge my car?’ or ‘Can you give me food?’However, I’ve only used them a few times, because usually there is someone or the other who understands English, or who’s even willing to help without conversation. As an example, I arrived in a Turkish village last year, only to find people running up to me and offering help by themselves,” he reminisced.
On his voyage, the traveller has driven through more than 40 countries. From the Netherlands, he set out for Italy at first, and then reached Europe’s northernmost point in Norway via Belgium, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Parallel to the Silk Route, the Golf then traversed Russia, the Baltic States, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Oman and the UAE, before entering India.
When asked about his most memorable experience during the trip, he recalled his time in Iran. “I had preconceived notions about Iran – I was even warned about getting kidnapped or killed, before reaching there. But it was the total opposite. The people were really nice, and the way they welcomed me, it made me feel special. It broke all clichés surrounding the country being shown in the media. I’ll definitely go there again,” he said.
And what about India? “It’s been a cultural shock. The last country that I visited was the UAE, where everything was in place and all organised. But it’s chaos here, and I love it! Every day is completely different, and you have no idea what to expect next,” he said and added, “Once my car, which is being shipped from the UAE by a sponsor, arrives in India, I’m headed out towards Myanmar and then further south east. I will have to ship the car once again from Indonesia or somewhere. I don’t have the money for that, but we’ll see.”
According to Wakker, he can probably survive without his clothes, but definitely not his laptop and smartphone, which have helped him reach out to people through social media. He also carries photography and video equipment, including a drone camera. “I have collected a lot of footage and hopefully will make a docu-movie from it to help create further awareness,” concluded Wakker, as he carefully tossed his ice-cream cup into a nearby dustbin.
The car is a 2009 Volkswagen Golf
It was converted from a diesel to an electric vehicle
It belonged to a Dutch power company before an employee bought it
He lent it to Wakker free of cost for his road trip