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30 Sept 2022

French backpacker on goodwill tour pitches up in County Derry

The 29-year-old traveller from Normandy is relying on the kindness of strangers to survive.

French backpacker on goodwill tour pitches up in County Derry

Charles Attonaty handed his food delivery business to a friend before embarking on his trip around the world.

A French traveller currently attempting to travel penniless around the world has received a warm welcome in rural County Derry.

Charles Attonaty has been relying on the kindness of strangers throughout an adventure that began more than two years ago and has led him from his native Normandy on a tour of Europe.

The 29-year-old had already been on two trips after the cancellation of a planned holiday to Thailand due to Covid awoke his inner wanderlust in July 2020.

“One day I decided to take the road, I took some equipment and a rucksack at around 7.40 in the evening; even my parents didn't know,” he told Derry Now.

His first two trips took him through both Eastern and Northern Europe, with work commitments eventually bringing him back to France on both occasions.

He had been running a successful food delivery business after initially working for Deliveroo, but in search of a new, more extreme challenge, he simply handed the business over and took off.

“I gave my company to an employee; it was crazy. I gave them everything. The third stage was similar; alone, no plan, but now no limit of time,” he said.

“I went France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway – during winter. Sometimes it was 32 below zero centigrade.

“This is now my fourth step. I was in northern France, in Calais and explained my story to a French ferry company and they said: “This is crazy, we will offer you a ticket to England.”

"So I was in England, Wales and Scotland. I was on Isla and Lewis and Harris, and then I had the opportunity to go to Northern Ireland.”

And he took it.

Charles has pitched his tent in the garden of Ciaran and Majella McNicholl in Glenullin, County Derry.

Arriving at 10.15pm on August 10 2022, he linked up with a friend of a man he had been staying with in Scotland, who drove him to Bangor, where he spent his first few nights in Northern Ireland.

Charles has certain rules and conditions on his journey. He does not explicitly ask for food, or to sleep in people's houses. He is not allowed to work along the way in order to raise money.

The French native says he 'almost died' in the blistering heat of Turkey and the depths of -32 degrees in the Finnish winter.

And on Thursday afternoon, he knocked on the door of Ciaran and Majella McNicholl in Glenullin, County Derry.

“We were just in doing Freddie's homework, and he heard talking and him and Connie thought their Daddy was home,” said Majella.

“I went out and Charles was talking to the dog outside and he just asked could he use the toilet, so I showed him where it was and went back into the weans.

“We just got chatting, I was probably being really nosy! He'd said he was a French traveller or backpacker, so I was asking him about it.

“I figured he maybe hadn't eaten in a while and offered him something to eat, made him a sandwich and he was telling me the craic about what he was doing.

“When Ciaran came home from work, Charles was sitting here eating spaghetti bolognese with the two weans. I never had the chance to ring him and tell him anything.

“Ciaran is probably even more welcoming and friendly than I am, and when he came home he sat and asked Charles every question that I asked him earlier.”

@tourdumondesansargent L'Irlande du nord est devenu la scène de nombreuses séries - tour du monde sans argent #worldtourwithoutmoney #tourdumondesansargent #travel #outdoor #adventure @ TOUR DU MONDE SANS ARGENT ♬ Bigger Than Me - Louis Tomlinson

The welcome has not been as hearty everywhere, with Charles having particular difficulties on Rathlin Island, off the north coast.

“I have met thousands of people. 95% of people I meet are lovely people, but obviously, it is impossible to be 100%,” he said.

“I like islands because it can be totally different compared to the mainland and a guy offered me a ticket to go to Rathlin.

“I met local people so I had a smile and said 'hello', but they didn't respond. I received a lot of rejection, but that happens all the time, it's not a problem. You can say no, but be kind; respect a human being.

“It was quite hard to survive. I have no idea what would have happened if I didn't have a return ticket.”

The open-ended trip has created a number of unique experiences for the French traveller, who has travelled in a variety of vehicles along the way.

“I've been on a tank in Wales, in Usk,” he said.

“I was on top, but I could have been inside. The guy had a lot of tanks that he had bought from France, Poland, the USA.

“I walk a lot too; from five to ten hours per day. I am hitchiking, and I can be in a taxi sometimes, a tractor, a glider, sled, sailing boat.

“All the time, I meet lovely people. One thing I've noticed is that people are interconnected.

@tourdumondesansargent TOUS AUX ABRIS ! - TOUR DU MONDE SANS ARGENT #worldtourwithoutmoney #tourdumondesansargent #travel ♬ original sound - InShot App

“When I was in Sweden I met a local family and when I left them, I was walking two days later and 500km away and a lady stopped her car.

“She opened the windows and said she was carrying the doctor who had invited me for Christmas. What is the probability to meet the same family after two days and 500km?

“At Christmas, the man had sent a picture and summarised my story by message. I could have packed my stuff slowly, or she could have driven faster and I would never have met her.

“This kind of situation, with perfect timing, has happened all the time during my trip. I think the universe wants to show me these synchronises.”

Humans are conditioned to feel that a journey requires a destination, or at the very least a reason for travelling.

Had it not been for a cancelled holiday to Thailand, Charles may never have discovered the picturesque Derry hills.

Charles though, enjoys the array of possibilities that comes with simply not having an end-point, not knowing where he is headed.

“I started with nothing; only my gear, my passport and my good energy,” he said.

“I don't really decide the direction, I just feel it. The energy, vibration, I don't really know. Sometimes I don't feel it, and I make my way back.

“Every day is a new life for me; I don't know who I will meet, where I will sleep, or if I will eat. It's an experience.

“On the road I want to give up the comforts and keep the difficulties high, because the rewards will be high also. I really appreciate the little things in life.

“There are three possibilities. The first is to push all my limits and visit all the countries in the world. I have no idea if that's possible.

“The second is that in one country, one day, I will be blocked. People will ask me to pay and maybe it will be finished.

“The last one is that I find a lovely country, with lovely people; maybe a lovely lady, and I will never come back.”

“I am pretty sure if I had gone to Thailand on holiday, I would not have started this crazy adventure.”

He might never have discovered Glenullin at all.

Charles is documenting his trip via social media, and has accounts on Tik Tok, Instagram and Facebook. You can follow him by searching for @tourdumondesansargent – a translation of 'World Tour Without Money'.

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