PÄIVI AND SANTERI: MODERN DAY NOMADS
REPORTER: TOMI HINKKANEN
PICTURES PROVIDED BY PÄIVI AND SANTERI
Päivi and Santeri Kannisto were a well-to-do Finnish couple with all the trappings of a successful life – both well educated with a nice house and great careers. But seven years ago they got tired of the rat race, sold all their worldly possessions and set out to tour the world – permanently.
Q. Talk about your life in Finland when you were still ”normal”,
working career people?
Santeri had an open source software house for some 12 years and Päivi
worked as a Management Consultant.
Q. It seems that both of you had found your vocation. You had an
interesting careers that no doubt paid quite well. What are the
reasons why you grew tired of that kind of a standard western life?
Those careers were what others expected us to do, not what we wanted
from our lives. Päivi wanted to travel and Santeri wanted to devote
his life for love and get rid of possessions.
Q. You allowed three months to prepare for your new nomadic life
style. Lift that curtain a little – what did you do with taxation,
property and how much savings did you take with you?
We finance our travelling by writing books. Our income is modest but
we consume very little nowadays. Our average total monthly spending
varies between US 400-700$. The taxation keeps on taxing no matter if
they have the right to do it any longer or not. Our income is too low
for any country to tax and most of it consists of tax free grants.
Päivi sold her property and Santeri walked out of his life leaving
everything behind. Santeri’s possessions ended up mostly to the
pockets of lawyers fighting for what was left.
Q. The United States and Finland are both expensive countries – every
time you leave your house, you spend money on gas, food, shopping,
etc. What kind of a daily budget do you normally have – how much is
spent of food, lodging, transportation, etc. and do you select the
countries you go to based on the costs?
We buy fruits and vegetables (we are vegans) and cook ourselves. We
walk distances under 10 miles and use the cheapest public
transportation available for longer distances, and use Couch Surfing.
If we stay around in a place for a bit longer, we rent a small
room/apartment and often help the landlord to decrease the rent by
doing renovation work, installing electricity, fixing things,
Our living costs have varied very little between countries and
continents. We don’t buy stuff except the bare minimum such as clothes
and shoes, and laptops for writing. There is enough pollution in the
world without us increasing it by consuming products and services.
Working in the traditional sense of the word and possessing cars and
real estate are the most expensive things in life. We don’t do any of
them. We have no need to show off with possessions.
Q. What kind of cultural differences and barriers have you run into?
In Finland people take shoes off when they enter someone’s house. We
do that, too. Sometimes it has been hard to convince people from other
cultures to do the same when they come to our place.
Q. You have said that some countries have been pleasant and some less
pleasant surprises – tell us a little of both – which countries have
you liked, which not and why?
We like countries that allow free debate and do not condemn
differences in opinion. We avoid countries that believe they can make
peace by killing people or countries that support or participate in
such activities. For us, there is no acceptable excuse in taking any
life, human or animal. We are all one. If you hurt others, you end up
Q. I bet you have run into some characters on your travels – tell us
about some of the most memorable people you have met?
Meeting Professor Erik Cohen was definitely such an occasion. We have
been doing research on lifestyle travellers and he is also interested
in the subject. We went to see him and ended up sharing a wonderful
night together cooking and talking philosophy. He is almost 80 and
beat us in speed walking.
Q. Right now you are in China. What part of the country are you at and
what is life like there?
We are right now in Guangzhou in the province of Canton in Southern
China. We are staying this week with our American friend from Iowa
whom we met four years ago when we were touring China for the first
time. The country itself is not very tempting because of visas and
pollution, but we came here to meet our friends.
The environment is pretty much spoiled thanks to all products made for
the Western countries. In bigger cities you can’t see the blue sky,
it’s just grey and hazy all year around. Western companies come to
China where it is cheaper to make products. The reason why it is so
much cheaper is because they don’t have to care about labour or
environment. Unfortunately the pollution does not respect the borders
and will eventually spread everywhere just like Fukushima radiation.
It’s pretty short-sighted.
Q. You mention the internet censorship in China – talk about that and
have you witnessed other kind of human rights abuse there?
Four years ago it was possible to find open proxies and web services
allowing access to censored web services. None of them work any more.
The only viable option is to buy a vpn service which is both costly
and technically challenging, because vpn documentation and client
downloads have been blocked, too.
Human rights are rhetoric everywhere in the world, not just in China.
For example freedom of movement has been limited with all kinds of
artificial restrictions and payments. Think about having to obtain a
permit to practise a religion and then pay a fee every 5 years to have
your freedom of religion.
Perhaps the situation is a bit better now, because Google is no more
working in China revealing the emails of dissidents to the government
Q. You are currently doing a study of the nomadic lifestyle and you
have interviewed other people who share this lifestyle with you – give
us a little peak into what you have found out?
We interviewed 30 contemporary nomads (9 Americans) from 17 countries,
who have been travelling the world continuously over 4 years without
permanent residence or work. Many of the travellers wanted to get rid
of the Rat Race and enjoy adventures, idleness, and masterless life.
They are not owned by countries or corporations. They are
professionals of travelling for whom the mobile lifestyle has solved
some of the biggest mysteries in life. The book will be published next
Q. You are both now about 40 years old. After six years on the road,
how long do you think you can keep on traveling and will there come a
point when one simply gets too old to do that – in other words, have
you talked about eventually settling down, and if so, where?
We are both 41 and have been 7 years on the road. This is now our 8th
year. For us, the future does not exist. We are living in this very
moment with only one plan: no plans. Earlier we had the idea of
finding a perfect place and settling down, but then we discovered
there are are too many of them and so many places still to see, so we
Q. In the United States the Occupy movement has spread into every
major city. The Occupy people demonstrate against corporate and
capitalistic greed. Do you feel affinity with the Occupy movement?
We have no sympathy for corporate and capitalist greed, nor for police
states that some of the Western countries represent. In that sense, we
feel affinity and might well stop by to spend a few days in such a
Q. How often do you visit your family and friends in Finland?
Last time we visited Finland in 2006. Some of our family members and
friends have come to visit us abroad which has worked better for us.
People tend to have more time for us when they are on holiday.
Q. What do you think is the best country in the world?
There are so many of them. Some countries we like a lot include
Brazil, France, and the city of Hong Kong.
Q. And the worst?
In general all countries. It is an absurd idea to divide the small
earth into even smaller pieces of land (countries) that quarrel with
each other and try to build barriers between people instead of uniting
We tend to avoid countries that charge for visas or entry permits
complicating border crossings. Visas are the best way to unwelcome
Q. What is the most valuable thing you have learned from your travels?
Less is more. Travels have taught us that we don’t need much, and the
less we have, the happier we are. When we possess something, that
thing starts to possess us and as a consequence, we loose our freedom.
Q. What is your typical day like – I mean, what do you do and how
much is spent on working?
It depends if we are Couch Surfing or renting a room. With other
people we usually follow their rhytm and habits. When we are alone, we
usually wake up before sunrise, have a morning walk or go jogging,
then write a bit, prepare lunch, go shopping groceries, sometimes
watch a film or play computer games, and go to bed soon after sunset.
Q. What happens if either one of you gets sick?
Santeri does not believe in medicine and if Päivi gets seriously sick,
we travel to a third world country such as Thailand that offers
affordable, high-quality medical services.
Q. Have you been in danger?
We visited Indonesia 2 weeks after the Bali bombings. The island was
empty of tourists and local businessmen were desperate. One evening we
we went to a hotel and agreed the price. In the morning, the business
owner wanted to double the price. We declined his offer and then he
started taking our photos with his camera phone and sending them to
his friends saying that they would come and beat us. Then he showed
his backyard and told that the previous tourists who refused to pay,
had been killed there. We sat down with him smiling and repeated that
we are happy to pay him the agreed sum. After 3 hours, he gave up and
accepted the agreed payment.
Visit Päivi & Santeri’s fascinating website for more information, pictures and videos: