Beginning this past spring, Culturs partnered with Yuujou to bring you the story of friendship — real friendship that blossoms from in-person, rather than online-only, interactions. To tell this tale, we followed six travelers, each from a different corner of the world, as they navigated the globe in two groups — one going east and one going west. Departing from Berlin, Germany, they headed off in their different directions toward Tokyo, Japan. Their goal? To prove all people are interconnected, that humanity is the tie that binds us all.
Eschewing hotel reservations for stays with friends of friends of friends of past hosts, the travelers (Joey, Paula, John, Renata, Panos, Yvonne, and Jed) journeyed with no set route, save for the requirement of arriving at their final destination on the 100th day. “It’s great to travel like this,” says Yvonne Eisenring, YuuJou’s co-founder. “Thanks to the chain of friendship, we experience the cultures and people much closer than on an ordinary backpacking trip.”
Friendship = Happiness
More than a trip around the world, the trek from Berlin to Tokyo was also a sociological experiment. “What if we only travel from one person to another — can we make it to the other side of the world? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see who you’d meet along the road?” These thoughts of Yvonne and her sister Corinne served as the inspiration for the journey. After all, there’ve been several scientific studies showing that true friendship and face-to-face interactions are the keys to happiness.
By trade, Yvonne is a Swiss best-selling author and former anchorwoman, and her sister produces travel documentaries. Together, they were the perfect pair to launch such an endeavor. But, this dream couldn’t have come to fruition without the help of Oliver Herren, founder of Switzerland’s largest online shop Digitec Galaxus, who provided the financial support that allowed every participant to travel for free. “I have long had the desire to do an online project with relevant content and to show people [who generally never appear] in the media,” Herren says.
A Rough Start
At times, this friendship experiment seemed as though it wasn’t going to work out the way everyone had hoped. Team East, for example, couldn’t find a host to stay with for two weeks while roaming somewhat aimlessly through Eastern Europe, even losing one team member along the way. Fortunately, things got back on track during the second half of the trip.
Team East’s route ended up taking them through Europe to Ukraine to Russia to China to the Philippines, and finally, to Japan, while Team West’s travels included Brazil, Mexico, and the United States (even Hawaii), before arriving in Japan.
30,000+ Applied for the Journey
This influx of applications from 167 countries was eventually narrowed to five through a series of evaluations. The original five were Panos (from Cyprus), Paula (from New Zealand), Jed (from South Africa), Joey (from the U.S.), and John (from India). Partway through, John returned home and Renata (from Brazil) took his place. As co-founder of Yuujou, Yvonne (from Switzerland) also joined the group.
All’s Well that Ends Well
In today’s digital world, 50 percent of Americans report feeling alone and miss having in-person moments. Yuujou hopes to make a difference when it comes to that, and they’re off to a good start. “I can’t believe we really did it — that we really made it to the other side of the world!” says Paula. Panos adds, “I am full of experiences, feelings, emotions, and stories. It has been the greatest experience of my life that I will never forget.”
The other travelers, too, expressed their excitement at completing such an awe-inspiring mission. Renata said it was a dream come true, and her only lament was how 100 days passes way too quickly. Joey remarked, “Forming these friendships across the world is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.” Jed and Yvonne reflected on how mind-blowing it was to have actually made it to Japan, uncovering the power of friendship along the way.
Watch the video below to celebrate the culmination of a long journey and the beginning of a few everlasting friendships: