Vijayan and Mohana run a small tea shop in southern India, but by saving six dollars a day they have managed to live their passion for travel and visit 25 countries.
How much money do you need to travel around the world?
For 70-year-old Vijayan, a roadside tea shop owner in the busy south Indian town of Cochin, it doesn’t matter how much you have.
“If you dream to see the world, you will do it. No matter how much you earn or save,” he says.
“When I told my friends about my dream 12 years back, they laughed at me. They said a small coffee shop owner could not dream about flying to the USA or Switzerland.”
Now, Vijayan is sitting in an airport hotel in Sydney, along with his wife Mohana and son-in-law, Murali Pai, talking to SBS Malayalam.
They have already travelled to the USA, Britain, South Africa, Egypt, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and the list goes on.
“Australia is our 24th country. We are completing 25 when we fly to New Zealand next. Money didn’t stop us from traveling.”
His wife, Mohana, agrees.
“It was a bit cold over here, and we didn’t have our beanies with us. It was therefore slightly hard. But, I want to travel more.”
A dream gets wings
Vijayan’s passion for travel started early when, as a child, he visited many temples with his father.
But after his father died, Vijayan had to look after the family and he started a small-scale tea shop 65 years ago.
But he never let his passion go.“Our first trip was a Holy Land tour with borrowed money. We had to pledge all our jewellery and borrow money from relatives.”
“It was a Christian Holy Land tour, but there was not a single Christian in that group. All 38 of us were Hindus, but we were fascinated by all those places – Cairo, Bethlehem, Cana, Jerusalem, Galilee etc,” remembers Mohana.
“When all the others bought coffee and food at Sharjah airport, we bought one coffee and shared it between us.”
“It cost around Rs. 500 (AU$10). To get that amount I had to sell 125 coffees or teas in my shop. We could not afford it,” Vijayan said.
It took them years to pay off the debt, but that didn’t stop them from planning their next trip.
The couple saved Rs.300 (AU$ 6) every day to make their dream fly. And they did, travelling to more than two dozen countries.
At one stage the couple thought they’d exhausted their opportunities to travel. It was after visiting 16 countries in six years.
“In one media interview, my wife said we are not following our ambition to visit the USA because of insufficient funds.”
Vijayan and Mohana cannot still believe what happened next.
“Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan offered us Rs. 50,000 the next day. Soon after, Anupam Kher (another Bollywood actor) also gave the same amount,” Vijayan said.
A group of “fans” from India’s IT hub in Bengaluru also came forward with sponsorship and made their US trip possible.
“Now people recognise us everywhere we go. In Sydney, there were many families who wanted to take photos with us. We never thought we would be loved so much because of our passion for travel.”
The couple has just spent eight days in Australia, visiting Melbourne, Cairns and Sydney.
“We have read and heard a lot about kangaroos and about the cricket grounds in Australia. It was another dream that came true.”
This trip was sponsored by Indian businessman Anand Mahindra, after he happened to watch a blog about the couple.
How did their Australian experience differ?
“How did the Australian trip differ from others? We could not bring our favourite food that we used to carry everywhere else.”
Both Vijayan and Mohana are strict vegetarians and they prefer taking food with them wherever they go.
“We take coconut chutney, pickles, potato curry etc. But we were told not to bring such to Australia because of the airport rules,” Mohana said.
It was hard, but they say the beauty of the land and the people helped them forget it.