Hitchhiking: traveling without paying for it.
The short and objective explanation above indicates usurpation, a benefit without offering something in return, an act of detriment to current social standards.
I’m not referring to the paid rides of apps like BlaBlaCar. They do not count on this. They are a paid way of moving around.
I’m talking about going to the road, stretching your finger and waiting for the goodwill and action of a complete stranger.
With the passing of several trips, faces and stories, I came to know adepts of this peculiar way of traveling. They appeared to be detached, fearless, amusing, and a spontaneous.
It was like magic: to convince a stranger to trust and to take you to the next destination.
I really admired it, but I didn’t see myself doing the same, until I met two people who would change my life.
It was beginning of 2017, in Vietnam, more precisely in Can Tho, on the banks of the Mekong Delta, when Maria and Paweł emerged on top of a bunk in a cheap hostel in the city. Besides the contagious joy and the tips of restaurants of the region, they shared a little of their stories: they would go from Poland to New Zealand, with only hitchhiking, for a year.
On that 5th of January, they completed something about a six-month journey from Poland to Vietnam, practically without spending on tickets.
Needless to say it was love at first sight, right?
Everything has changed since then. Together we traveled for about 1 month between Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, and I thank my tutors for this. We separated on the border with Myanmar, as they were due to go to Malaysia and I had already paid the visa to ancient Burma.
I was ready to continue the rides alone and I succeeded in that, I was moved by the result and I do not want any other way to travel nowadays.
Before any fight of the sexes I will make clear:
Yes, society is predominantly sexist.
Yes, women are more susceptible and exposed to abuses.
But I can not put myself in the place of one to tell whether or not hitchhike around.
I know some successful examples of beautiful women traveling alone in Brazil and around the world, carefully, with extra doses of courage and wisdom. As one of them recently told me, “I can be robbed, abused, they can put a gun on my head inside my own house, why not fulfill my dreams of traveling and being happy, then?”
Nor can I argue if it would be for people of different ethnicities, but unfortunately racism is still constant in the world.
The tip I give is to get in touch with someone who has already experienced this style of traveling and if possible, take the first rides together.
I’m willing to do that. Whoever wants to, just call me, and if I’m in the vicinity I’ll be happy to show what I know.
In Germany and Thailand, I have helped friends in this endeavor, and I hope more opportunities will come.
If I’m not around, I’ll leave some simple advices beforehand.
1) Weather Forecast
Take a raincoat, jackets, hat, sunscreen, water, sandwiches, whatever necessary.
You’ll be mostly out on the roadside.
Download the MAPS.ME application and get the maps of where you are going. It works offline, only with GPS and will be very useful to locate yourself in the unknown.
Look for the name of the city from where you will depart at http://hitchwiki.org/. It will show you how to get out into the chosen direction.
It works in large cities, but in the smallest a little study and creativity are needed to find the starting point.
3) Escape the urban perimeter
Hitchhiking hardly works within cities, and the reason for doing so is very clear. There are many streets and destinations possible, and most vehicles will remain within the city itself.
Look for some public transportation (do not cheat with taxis), or even walk, if possible, to the road heading to your destination. I always say that hitchhiking is like a sport, so many are the miles traveled on foot.
4) Thumbs up or a piece of paper?
A piece of cardboard and a marker pen can be very useful, indicating your direction, but be very careful. If the driver is not going exactly to this location, he may refuse to stop because he will not be fully helping you, so take care with this writing.
A simple thumb up can solve your problem. Position yourself in a place where there is space for vehicles to stop, extend your arm and look at the face of the passers-by. Remember not to cause chaos in traffic.
5) Break the ice
The big problem with hitchhiking is fear.
Fear on the driver’s side. Fear on the part of the hitchhiker.
The unknown scares.
No matter how much the news tries to prove me the contrary, I still believe that the vast majority of people have good character, so how do you convince and stop them?
The answer is there at the gas stations on the roadside, which will be your best friends.
When approaching a person there, you can demonstrate how sympathetic and well-meaning you are, and so the ice will be broken.
The secret to everything in life is the way you look at it.
Patience, persistence, and good humor.
A ride can happen quickly, but hours can go by.
In Thailand the wait was less than 10 minutes. In Spain I spent more than 4 hours without help, and I have heard people who stayed more than 1 day in some lonely place, so smile!
Your gleaming dental arch can guarantee your success. Sympathy and joy get hearts, and rides.
7) Prose and verse
Talk, inspire, do not judge, help.
When one is willing to stop and carry you forward, that person genuinely demonstrated his goodness, without expecting something material in return, so be a good company.
On certain trips I came across lonely, needy drivers who wanted a good chat and advice. Newly divorced, people changing their career path, ex-prisoners seeking rehab, individuals with depression, and many who wanted only one thing: to be heard.
There were countless messages exchanged, and I am satisfied if for a moment I was responsible for laughter and new inspirations.
I don’t hitchhike because it’s free.
Quite the contrary, to enter this world you will be spending the most expensive good of all: your time.
But it will also be turning a monotonous journey into a good conversation. It will make your transportation into an act of generosity.
I carry with me some keyrings and magnets from Curitiba, my hometown, thus showing the world a little of my history. A simple souvenir for some, with a great symbolism of compassion behind.
Hitchhiking is like a social experiment, where prejudice can not exist. It may not be for everyone, but everyone I’ve met in this environment is beautiful!