What is hitchhiking? To most it is the means to an end, a free method to get from A to B, and a frowned upon one at that. But for a select few, those who truly understand its nature and its beauty, it is an art form, a way of life.
So what is so special about hitchhiking? What makes it magical? Most argue that it is an inferior mode of transport, what with its unreliability, unpredictability and safety concerns. But that only makes it all the more exciting. What if I told you that the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks? If you don’t believe me, buckle up, because I’m going to explain.
First of all, and I know this is obvious, hitchhiking is free. Of course this varies from country to country, so it is advisable to do some research beforehand and to learn the phrase “I have no money” in the local language. What people are unaware of, however, is that hitchhiking can be utilised to get free rides on transport that would otherwise cost a hefty sum, such as long distance buses and boats.
As I stood on the edge of a small Moroccan town, sign in hand and a bright smile lighting up my face, two locals approached me as they were also in search of a ride. I was intending to reach Fes, a city hundreds of kilometres away, and they laughed that I would never make it to my destination. Not 5 minutes passed before a bus pulled over next to me having read my sign. I was told to get on for free while the others were refused. Peering out the window as a cloud of dust engulfed the two men, I was the one now laughing.
Another benefit is the lower environmental impact. Hitching a ride potentially takes another car off the road, serving to lower air and noise pollution. Though my personal contributions are small, promoting the concept of hitchhiking and even of carpooling in general has a much larger impact.
The magic of hitchhiking comes from the people you meet. Sharing stories and cultures acts to broaden your global perspective. Sometimes you encounter extremely interesting people with whom you can have a rich dialogue of conversation and learn a great deal.
In Turkey I met a Russian man by the name of Pasha. He was a passionate music teacher with an incredible outlook on life. I will never forget driving through the countryside, the final rays of sunlight radiating lazily, with Pasha teaching me to play the bongo to the beat of the traditional Bulgarian music that was playing.
I have found that those that give you a ride are extremely kind and generous. I often share food and drinks, and on several occasions have been offered money and even a place to sleep. One time I took up this offer, spending the night in a yoga studio in Varna, a coastal town of Bulgaria. In another instance I had lunch in the home of a Syrian family after reuniting them with the father and baby son Mohammad who was recovering from open heart surgery.
A large portion of the time you will be picked up by local people who barely speak English. While it is nice to converse freely and easily, such interactions are vastly overrated. I take these opportunities to practice my proficiency in other languages, something which is highly appreciated by the driver. This regularly leads to funny moments as you both rely heavily on hand gestures and broken phrases to get your point across.
Finally, hitchhiking promotes trust and friendships among all people, regardless of background, ethnicity or faith. It is an excellent mode of transportation, and one that I have truly fallen in love with. Perhaps after reading this, you too will yearn for such an experience.