I love hitchhiking. I can only go off my own experiences, and I found it to be nothing less than a totally rewarding way to get around. It becomes a part of the travel, not just a way to get from A to B.
In France, where hitchhiking is not considered that scary, I took over 100 journeys, some short and some long, with my life in the hands of a total stranger. What would my mother say?
I only had one sketchy moment during the whole time hitching (aside from occasionally waiting long enough to think I was going to die at the side of a lonely road). I got in the back of a van with no seatbelt and sped down a motorway for a couple of hundred miles with a man who it was later revealed was on medication for some sort of psychotic disposition. I also managed to sit on, and break, his fishing rod at some point during the cruise. He let me off though, and managed to restrain his clearly bubbling anger. Good job he had his medication with him. Still, he was very kind hearted, and took us where we wanted to go, chatted, and let us out without chopping us up and throwing us in a lake. You only ever hear about the bad ones.
I have to be balanced here, before I go ahead and tell you the X reasons why hitchhiking is amazing. My friend, who is female, once hitched on her own, and had a bit of trouble with a man touching her leg. His advances were, by the sounds of things, were mild, but consistent and uncomfortable.
(I think most of the time this is more reflective of desperation and loneliness than it is of real danger and darkness. Men get weak when they think they can find the closeness of a woman, and lose their perceptive abilities enough to make girls feel vulnerable. This is, of course, not right, but my point is I don’t think it is necessarily dangerous for women to hitchhike. I am, however, assuming that this would be something to be aware of as a female traveler. Any bad experiences anyone?)
Without further ado…
Okay, so you can meet new people getting on a train sometimes, but really how often does this have any meaning? Usually, we use transport to get somewhere, and we stick our heads in the nearest smartphone, newspaper, or book we can find. Hitchhiking is not at all like this. This is the best bit about it!
The more you hitch, the more you will get a feel for different people, and for the situation that you are in.
Most people want to know more. This is going to be the most interesting part of their day if they are just going about their usual routine, which is more often than not the case. The bottom line is, for the length of the journey, which could be anything from a few minutes to many hours, you are going to be sat in the car with another human being who you barely know. How beautiful is that?
Often, you will end up getting to know much more about this person than you usually would in a short amount of time, and they will also get to know you. You talk on a different sort of level. They might even get deep or emotional, and I have had many who have. You know that you have X amount of time – half an hour say – and after that you will never see each other again. Imagine being in the car with a 60 year old from a totally different walk of life, and having half an hour to learn as much as you can from each other. Honestly, if you don’t think that is pretty special then you need to find a heart you big tin man!
My first hitch was a funny one. I had my knife in my pocket, because I had heard stories, and didn’t want to become the victim of a Hollywood movie plot. The guy picked us up. He was hench. Massive. Butch. My knife would not have even pierced his skin. Ex-military. I was new to the game then, and before that journey would have considered military personal to be my least favorite type of person, due to my ‘anti-war views’, which I still hold firm. But he was lovely. In fluent english, he explained that he had a couple of hours off duty, and was just going for a drive. He went well out of his way to take us to our exact destination, dropped us off, and was one of the most polite and gentile men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Hitchhiking had destroyed my prejudices from the offset.
On another occasion, we were picked up by a British man with a classic strong and well spoken accent. Here we were stood at the side of the road, literally looking and smelling like tramps after sleeping outside, and a guy picks us up in a brand new Range Rover, drives us hundreds of miles, and offers to take us out for dinner. The restaurant is shut, so he takes us to the nearest bakery, and buys cakes and pastries for everyone. He is a lawyer, away on vacation. We speak about life. He questions what we will do next. We say we don’t know. He encourages us to think about it. We laugh. He accepts that will not yet think about it. Again, lawyers are not my usual choice of company, but to spend a few hours with someone so different is bliss, and helpful for a rounded view on life. And what a kind soul…
Over 100 separate car journeys have shown me, overwhelmingly, that people are kind. Even in my so called bad situation, there was only a kind heart driving. Hitchhiking helps you to break down the fears that you have of the world, and of other people. These fears have been jammed down our throats from day one. “Don’t talk to strangers”, we are told, and God forbid get in their car. The media reinforces this image nicely, because of course one bad story makes better news than 100 good ones.
Everyone who picks you up is already being kind. Sure, they are on their way in your direction anyway, but they see you there at the side of the road and they want to help. Someone is always here to help… isn’t that nice?!
Aside from giving you a lift though, the kindness comes through in other ways. Many people will go out of their way for you, and show you the next point where you can hitch on a good road, or somewhere to sleep, or will just show concern for your safety. They want to know you will be alright when they leave you.
More than any of that, is the simple warm hearted feeling that comes from spending such loving time with a total stranger, who you know from the second you get in the car, that you are probably never going to see again. Gosh, it’s so poetic it’s making me wonder what I am still doing sat here typing from my bedroom. Seriously.
I hitchhiked with people from all over the world, and this is great for the cultural exchange. You get to see a lot of different types of people from different countries. Some of them local, some travelers, some on holiday. If you want to, hitchhiking can be a great way to learn more of the language of the country you are in (or other languages too). Natter away and try to find mutual grounds for communication.
The best situation, I think, is when you both know even a little bit of each other’s language. You can speak broken up and jump between, and somehow smaller communications become much more meaningful. You realize that people really just want to connect and be understood. That’s it. But yeah, speak something other than your home language. It’s fun.
This is kind of my least favorite point to have to make in this article, but at the same point it is very relevant, and it is one of the reasons why hitchhiking is so great. It’s a free way of getting around, and you can make good tracks while having a good crack.
Nobody has ever asked me for petrol money. Ever. It has never even been in the air. I have offered a couple of times, and the answer has always been a resounding ‘No’. People know that if you are hitchhiking you are doing it to get around for free. It’s a part of the unwritten rules I guess. No one is expecting you to pay. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but seriously you will rarely feel you should… in a lot of cases it would take away from the spirit of what is happening. It would be like offering someone money when they cook food for you as a guest.
What you can do, and what is more inline with the spirit, is offer anything else that you can. Do you have a little quirky present that you can offer? How about a little snack, or some tasty fruit? Perhaps a roll up is enough if they smoke. Or just your openness to conversation for some people. There are a lot of ways to give back without offering someone cash.
One of the main ways you can give back, is to always remember your time hitchhiking, and offer lifts to travelers if you have a car in the future. This is how it ALL works. Goes around comes around. Do you think, after having picked up over 100 free rides in stranger’s vehicles, that I would drive past a hitchhiker in the future, and leave them hanging by the road? Only if they had blood on their face, and an axe in their hand, would I do that. When I can give back directly, I will do, and the tradition will continue.
There’s no rush is there? There shouldn’t be if you are hitchhiking. It’s not really recommended if you have a plane to catch. So why not take a long route?
If I had a destination in mind when hitchhiking, I would often look at a map and scan around for fun routes. Roads that ran through national park, or areas of beauty. Smaller roads, because I hate hitching on fast ones. Roads that ran through places that could be interesting to stop off at.
You can pick a vague route, and take the long way to your destination. This way you get to see loads of places along the way that you otherwise wouldn’t have seen. You also open up the opportunity for more chance happen… events and experiences. You are letting the universe do its thing a little bit. You never really know what will happen.
Also, you never know before you get in the car where your driver will be headed, only that they are going in the right direction, so you can also adapt as you go along, and ask them if there is anywhere interesting they should see en route.
Nothing beats good honest advice off the locals. Hitchhiking gives you the chance to talk with people who usually know the area, and the country, pretty well. It is a nice intimate but gentle situation to find out more about the culture you are traveling, and perhaps pick up some much needed tips. Find out about places to eat and stay, attractions, and where not to go.
One of the best hitchhiking tips I have ever been offered had everything to do with where not to go. We were on a road that led into the mountains. It looked beautiful; the scenery so stunning all around. The map showed more mountains and forests up ahead, and we were hitching on a single road towards a couple of small towns.
We hitched a ride, and the lady asked us where we were going. She was shocked to find out the answer, and warned us sternly against going there at night, and especially against camping there. We asked why. She told us that the area was a place where extreme far right militants congregated and lived, all ex-military and highly racist people. This town was a stronghold for c**ts. She said that they wouldn’t take too kindly to foreigners, or to people with long hair. We stayed at a nearby campsite, and decided to leave the rednecks along until the morning light, when we quickly rushed through the town and out the other side.