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All about hitchhiking: The how, the whys, the beauty and the hard part.

How did we start hitchhiking?

We were volunteering at Agape Eco-Farm, in the small village of Ljesevici Village, near Tivat, in Montenegro. Beautiful place, but very remote when you don’t have a car, which was no problem, until came our days off -woohoo! But how to get out of this hole? (The camp wasn’t open yet).Then, Pasha, the mind who started the project, looked at us and said, very simply: ‘’Hitchhike!’’. In all honesty, I just stared at him with complete surprise, unsure if he was serious or not- which shows how familiar I was with the concept then. I mean, I had heard of hitchhiking, but me? Doing it, just like this? Don’t you need a lot of mental preparation for this, a handbook of some sort or a friend to show you how?

Well, we didn’t have much of a choice, and our friend insisted it was super easy around here. All right. We started walking, we didn’t have anything to loose anyways! We stopped on the main road out of the villages. The moment of truth came: the distant sound of the first car coming. All right, how do we do this? Thumb out, smile, got to look happy but not creepy. Ok! They smiled, that’s good. As expected, the second car stopped. ‘’Hi! Where are you going?’’ The language barrier was quite strong in the Balkans, so we resorted to signs and the usual – well, he’s going the right way, we’ll just get off when he doesn’t. And there was our very first ride! The next one was a bit harder, on the side of a highway, not knowing what a good spot is yet, we walked most of the way, but discovered the best type of rides: the surprise ride when you gave up on finding one. This is when our addiction started. We were amazed to discover how nice people were, and how this could change our way of travelling, to a much better one. We tried a few times more to get to the beach 10 km away, and we were sold. I’m easily convinced to change my ways, so the decision came by itself: Let’s hitchhike!

Why though?

Why did we choose to make it our main way to travel? It’s so fun. The novelty of it, the excitement, the surprises, the unpredictability, the adrenaline, the relief when you find a ride after a long wait, the joy of seeing a car stop, or people smile and wave at you. It answered two main problems we had: little money and no idea where to go. It also felt like an awesome way to better utilize the resources already present (cars on the road) and reduce our footprint on the planet by not feeding the need for more cars, buses, trains or planes. It also answered our wishes: meeting locals (and people from everywhere), learning more of the language, going out of tourist spots and having awesome adventures! Hitchhiking is always an adventure, from A to Z. As you strap your bag on and step away from the place you were, only one thing is certain: nothing is certain. You might make it all the way across the country, as it happened to us in Montenegro, or spend 5 hours waiting, only to end up a few kilometers from the place you started. You might have a quiet ride or you might change each other’s worlds in one conversation. You might only share 5 minutes with someone and never see them again, you might make a friend for life. There is something magic about hitchhiking, and this magic lays in something quite simple and complex at the same time: people.

Marika’s positive flafla.

Hitchhiking is about crossing paths with people you never would meet otherwise. It’s reinstating something we seem to forget more and more: sharing. It’s about going beyond and over irrational fears of others, and realizing we’re all much more similar than we are different, despite the barriers and labels we give ourselves. Standing on the side of a road and throwing your best smile to strangers driving past is a lesson of humility. Being able to get anywhere doing this is a lesson of humanity. Realizing how many people I’ve shared a smile with as I stood in the sun, screaming and waving at each other with childish happiness, thinking about all the people who stopped for us and went above and beyond, inviting us into their homes and their hearts, my heart fills with joy and hope. I feel something I did not think possible before I started this journey: I feel connected. Although all the strings are not tied, I feel, more and more, a sense of community. I am starting to get a different idea of humanity. I mean, we’ve literally been moved thousands of km on sheer human kindness and generosity. I’ve never seen a more beautiful sight than a helping hand reaching out, and every single one of them has made my heart bigger. This had opened my eyes on something we don’t speak about enough, when it’s a good thing: the power of people. More than ever, I want to be that helping hand for someone else, see strangers in the street as a friend to be rather than a faceless number, feed the positive chain of connecting and sharing and remind myself and others of how powerful we can be, in a good way.

Our journey is a literal representation of how much we can achieve together, as soon as everyone does a little bit. Some gave us rides for days, some for a few minutes, but each and every one of them was just as essential, as without the 5 minute ride, we couldn’t have caught the 5 hours one. Most of them have no idea where we are now, or what happened just after they dropped, yet they’ve all shaped and changed our journey. If we weren’t dropped in that specific time and location, we would have found a different ride, and our whole journey would have been completely different. When I feel powerless or when people make me question my abilities to change things, this is what I think about. We can change the world, we do it every day, we just don’t realize how much impact we can have- and where it can lead. If we asked the first car that stopped for a 10’000 km ride, what would he say? That’s too much, I can’t do it. Yet, with everyone taking us for the distance they could, they were all able to achieve this. See where I’m going? I guess my point is just this: act in the best way possible, and you’ll have more positive impact on the world than you know. We are all constantly learning from each other and our actions have ripple effects as they influence the people around us. From hitchhiking, I’ve learned sharing, generosity and kindness. It made me a better human being to the people I meet, and hopefully, this will help other people help other people help other people [endless repetition].

The other side of the coin

Of course, hitchhiking (like anything in life) is not just glitters and rainbows, it has its down sides. The obvious one is the wait. You never know how long you’re going to wait (although that’s part of the thrill) and smiling to faceless cars while squinting from the sun and energetically throwing your thumb – or holding your sign- out can get exhausting. Sometimes, it’s easy to get discouraged, when you’ve been standing for hours in the sun, and you’re tired and hungry. It also makes it easy to get hangry and bicker (yes, couples who travel also fight sometimes!). Our usual argument is where to stand: before or after the space where cars can stop. The answer is usually before, although I doubt that it really makes a difference, as people who want to stop will usually stop regardless (as we learned the time we got dropped on the highway in Greece).

The other double sided aspect is the unpredictability of hitchhiking. It’s great, as you never know where you’ll end up, who you’ll meet and where you’ll sleep, and more than often, it allows for amazing surprises. However, sometimes you end up in the middle of nowhere, with no hitchhiking spot, no good place to sleep and, worst of all, no cheap food! (I’m thinking of you, Spain). Thankfully, this ‘’bad’’ situation can be avoided as long as the nights are warm, or with decent camping and cooking equipment. Unfortunately, this was not the case for us this winter, as we did not have a tent, good sleeping bag and a burner (we tell you why here). So, what’s the solution? Couchsurfing, of course! The only problem is that last minute requests are harder, and hitchhiking long distances makes it hard to predict, but it is still do-able, as we managed to only spend one night outside in our 2 weeks in Spain. Simple tricks will turn these ‘’bad’’ situations in a great camping night: always carry food on you (ready to eat or easy to cook with only warm water), be ready to sleep outside (whatever this means for you -tarp, emergency blanket, sleeping bag, hammac, bivouac or just your piece of cardboard if it’s summer) and always have enough water on you.

Is it safe?

Thankfully, we’ve never had bad experiences while hitchhiking and never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Our worst experience was forgetting a bag in a car and losing a few wet items- which was probably worst for the driver when he found them, so that gives you an idea. As a rule of thumb, we always tell ourselves that we won’t take a ride if we don’t feel comfortable, and will resort to a bus if we don’t feel comfortable or safe hitchhiking in the place we are in. Yet, we’ve never had to. I mean, sometimes we chose to take the local bus, like in cities, or the 5 cents bus to the next city when we stayed at Assilah Eco village, and sometimes we chose to share a few dollars with our drivers, especially when we feel like it will mean more to them than it means to us, like in Albania. I often feel safer when riding with locals, especially when it comes to the drop off. When you take a bus, you’ll get dropped in the middle of a city, with a hoard of people waving and shouting at the money bag they see you as. You’ll be disoriented and will probably feel overwhelmed and annoyed. Not such a nice welcoming experience. When you get a rde, you also get time. Time to ask questions about the culture, the place, the food, the languages, the person’s life and experiences. You also choose where you get dropped, and arriving in a place from a personal car, knowing where you’re going, and sometimes even with a new address in your notebook makes for a completely different experience.

Does it change a lot from country to country?

Hitchhiking is a great way to learn more about a country. How long you have to wait, where you can hitchhike, how people react when they see you on the side of the ride and even how you hitchhike varies widely from country to country. Although this is already quite interesting to experience, the best part has yet to come: the interactions once you get in the car. What’s the best way to understand the history, language, culture and people of a country? Get in the car of a bunch of different people who live there. Naturally, you’ll see how people interact with foreigners, travellers, men and women. Their stereotypes, the music they listen to, the languages they speak, what’s important for them. Naturally, they will ask different questions, or share different things with you. In some countries, we saw a lot of fear and indifference, towards us, but also fear for us. In Morocco, we rarely leave a car without receiving a business card or exchanging contacts, with an invitation to call them in case of need, or if we pass by a specific town. Ironically, what we’ve noticed as common in all the places we’ve been is division. It usually goes like this: ‘’Here it’s fine, but be careful in the [North/South/East/West/Insert name of another region], people are not the same there’’. This had made me think a lot about my own prejudice and divisions when I answer questions about Canada or other countries. For more specific information about our experiences in various countries, and areas, take a look at the other articles in our hitchhiking diary, we’ll tell you the highlights (and bumps) of our journeys! Please tell us if there are any other questions you would like us to answer, it will be our pleasure!

 

By Marika

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