Hitchhiking does not have a pleasant image in popular culture. Almost every time I say I hitchhike I get, “You’re insane,” or “I’d never do that,” or “That’s incredibly dangerous.” But they aren’t just saying this like you’d say driving is dangerous and to make sure you wear a seat belt. These people are saying I’m basically holding a sign that says “kidnap me.”
But it’s because these people don’t trust strangers. Hitchhiking is trusting strangers, trusting they are helping you in good will, and that someone somewhere will help you. I would argue that hitchhiking is a philosophy in itself, and that the people who so strongly say how dangerous it is just do not buy into it, which is, of course, fine.
When you hitchhike you are putting yourself out in the open. You are making yourself vulnerable and basically yelling out to the world around you that you, a stranger, need a driver to go out of their way to help you and for them to trust you just as much as you are trusting them. The drivers know you aren’t going to pay them, that you probably can’t do anything significant for them back, and that they probably are never going to see you again. But people stop. Someone will always eventually stop.
But it’s as dangerous as trusting strangers on the highway to not crash into you. When you hitchhike, you’re trusting that every driver who stops is doing so in good will and genuinely wants to help.
It’s time-consuming in that your time frame is forced, you have to wait for someone to help. When you hitchhike you are making the journey just as important as the destination by not being able to rush. How can you when you are simply waiting for others to help?
And its patience testing as not everyone will stop. Some will yell at you, some will glare, others will flip you off as you stand sopping wet and cold. But hitchhiking shows you more than you could have possibly even known to look for.
I’ve hitched over 4,500 km (about 2,800 miles) so far, maybe 50-60 rides total. Every ride I’ve ever had has been interesting and worth the wait, any person who picks up a hitchhiker is worth talking to.
I’ve had the life story of a retired, world-traveled musician, be told to me as he delivered fish in a tiny Italian villa. A stop before he dropped me off where I was going, and someone I’d never had seen without him.
I’ve had a 60 year old hitchhiker and traveler in Switzerland give me a lift for almost 300 km (about 190 miles). He brought me to a run-down farm house in the middle of the mountains where he bought “the best cheese in the country,” and we talked about hitchhiking in different countries for hours.
A train or bus would have dropped you off at a destination and that would be that. You wouldn’t meet other hitchhikers, you wouldn’t accidentally go places you didn’t mean to and find another, better, adventure. You’d simply be at your next destination.
My best memories of traveling is when things go wrong. You’re force to find people, talk to people, and go where you didn’t plan to. You see unexpected places, do unexpected things. Only when you go off your planned path does the adventure really start. And what better way of doing that than hitchhiking, and be reliant on where others can bring you.