At 12:02pm sharp Lucas and I arrived at the Mont de Marsan bus stop–pissed. Tucked in the corner of the rundown train station parking lot, there were no passengers expectantly waiting under the bus stop overhang. We looked at each other with a combination of deep irritation and detached regret: waiting for the next bus would mean missing our flight leaving in 3 hours from Bordeaux. What to do now?
I felt defeated and angry when Sabine made eye contact with me through the rearview mirror and announced nonchalantly that this was unfortunate but she had to get back to the farm to greet WWOOFers arriving that afternoon. After working with Sabine daily for two weeks 5 hours per day, I’d learned that her character was comparable to a hot cup of coffee on a cold day: the first sip is warm and inviting but it cools off pretty quick.
“je vais te mettre sur l’autoroute et vous pouvez faire du stop, d’acc?” she immediately proceeded towards the freeway.
“What is she talking about?” Luc shot me a look of confusion. Cars raced by us and Sabine stopped on the ramp and regarded us expectantly, her eyes urging us out of the car. She had things to do; our time was up.
“She wants us to hitchhike.” I rolled my eyes. As a recent high school graduate, this mode of transportation was never something I’d considered – it conjured up feelings of danger, being broke, or even kidnapped. I could feel my panic rising.
We chose to throw caution to the wind and hitchhike that day not because we were broke, homeless, or because rescheduling a flight costs hundreds of dollars.
Sabine was looking at me like I was a wuss and this no brainer: easy, people do it all the time, let’s go. So I shrugged my shoulders at Luc, gathered my belongings, and watched her drive away, only realizing just then that we were truly alone and had to just go for it. It wasn’t the most mature I’m-am-adult decision of my life, but it happened, we lived, and it kick-started my fearless Maybe it wasn’t the most mature or thought out choice, but we did it. My first time hitchhiking involved Luc and me in the back seat and a Jamaican guy named Dominic, blasting Damian Marley so loudly that the weed paraphernalia clipped to the front mirror was vibrating.
Since Dominic, I’ve enjoyed Moldavian yogurt and apples with a Romanian French-speaking truck driver on the way to Brno, Czechia. We communicated with a combination of English, French, and smiles.
Listened to a middle-aged man sing Abba’s Dancing Queen for 2 hours – one hour was spent driving; the other was passed waiting in line at a car wash in the gas station where he picked me up.
Accepted a ride near Ljubljana, Slovenia from 3 boisterous and hilarious Albanian men on their way to Italy. They were surprised and dismayed when I politely declined to join them on their weekend getaway.
Befriended a 15-year-old Austrian girl under a bridge just outside Salzburg, Austria. Together, we thumbed a ride from a catering company van all the way to Munich.
One time I rode with from two grungy Slovenian climbers who casually dropped me off in the middle of the mountains. Nervously watching the sun go down, I was certain I would be waiting there several hours. Just 10 minutes later an agreeable young fellow from the USA pulled over – he had never picked up a hitchhiker before but his girlfriend was hitchhiking through the UK and he wanted to pay it forward.
Traveling is a chance to connect and build social relationships. It is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Hitchhiking is an extension of that.
Hitchhiking, like traveling, it brings me closer to myself and others. It is a chance to be fully present, engaged and trusting, which builds confidence and assertiveness.
Besides the first time, all of my hitchhiking experiences have been solo. Innately, traveling alone as a woman comes with heaps of baggage and misconceptions about bravery, loneliness, and risk but to change this dialogue we need to tell stories – about ourselves, our emotions, experiences and the interaction with have with people along the way. These stories conjure empathy and understanding to friends and family back home.
That being said it takes a certain type of human to be keen on hitchhiking or to even consider it – someone who has got an adventure itch they just can’t scratch. Then again, my mother (who’s a psychotherapist) tells me I have a problem with my ‘self-protection circuit’ and my self-preservation skills aren’t up to snuff.
I think of hitchhiking as a primitive engagement with oneself and the astounding uncertainty of the open road. It pushes me to trust that the universe and the people are kind, have the best intentions and that everything happens for a reason. I Trust that the risk makes the reward a little bit sweeter. There’s something unbelievably gratifying and empowering to arrive over the crest of a hill, walk your way into a new city and know it was the pure kindness of humans and the beautiful universe that got you there.
Nothing is completely safe, and hitchhiking is certainly a riskier choice than bussing or driving your own car. Heck, people choke on chicken salad and trip on flat sidewalks, but someone once told me that hitchhiking is less risky than standing under a coconut tree – so obviously don’t try that unless you know what you’re doing. The heart of the matter is about preconceptions, judgments, and what it means to be standing on the side of the road baring your naked thumb to the world. I never thought I would be that person, mostly because I’m not a rainbow-colored-tie-dye-clad hippie with a mane of dreadlocks. All you need is a thumb and a big ol’ smile, not to mention a little excitement, flexibility, patience, and a whole lot of positivity and gratitude.
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