In several Western countries with developed infrastructure and affordable public transport, hitchhiking has become a very rare phenomenon. Parts of the population have created a stigma on what they’ve only read horror stories about and even associate it to possible criminality. Therefore, first timers may find the long walk to the side of a road and the first disapproving gazes the biggest challenge causing a mental block. I mean, who the hell would even bother standing uncomfortably outdoors in the hands of their own destiny?
Best solution to prevent such second thoughts and any feelings of shame, is to know yourself and be clear about why you are hitchhiking in the first place. Sure it can be part of budget traveling, but at least I am motivated by pure curiosity, socializing and the sense of an adventure. It’s actually a great feeling standing beside the road and wondering who is going to pick you up. When the everyday life gets too dull and predictable, I find it refreshing to break the norms by doing any short trip for the shits and giggles.
From what I know, accepting the vast diversity of human beings and their life values is the first step to growing up. Once you’ve truly taken in that piece of knowledge, you’ll only be amused by those who look at you like a dirty hippie. Or drive by with a grumpy face pretending you don’t exist. More importantly, there will always be just as many of those who smile at you broadly and give you a thumb up – probably hoping they could also be young and/or adventurous again. Exciting to see how different people can really be. All this probably rushes through your mind during the first minutes once you challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone. That’s a good time as any to turn on some music, smile back and wait for your ride.
Best part about hitchhiking is clearly the encounters with different kinds of people. On my very first try, I was even lucky enough to be offered a job on the way. Even back at home in Finland, I’ve gained inspiration and heard life stories from a tiny house builder, an alpaca farm owner, hunter, few sales representatives and others varying from locals to Baltic immigrants and Somali refugees. Once in Northern Sweden I was picked up by the most metal truck driver ever. He both transported and passionately listened to metal, so the two hour drive socializing mostly consisted of headbanging together. Hurray for the Nordic stereotypes.
I have done my hitchhiking trips mostly in Finland and in a few locations abroad. Despite the reputation as a difficult country for taking a lift, I’ve had it much easier than expected. Usually I only wait around 5 – 15 minutes for a ride, and sometimes I barely even had time to put my headphones on. I’ve got lucky so many times that I’m starting to believe that even us Finns aren’t that afraid of strangers.
My first multi-day hitchhiking trip was actually quite hardcore, since I started right away from the thinly populated region of Lapland and continued to go South from Sweden’s side. The thousand kilometres back home took a ferry ride and a few days on the road, as it once in a while took even two hours to get a lift. Mad respect for my friend Joona, who flew in Ivalo only to join me for the fun and sometimes desperate freezing.
Whenever hitchhiking abroad, you should do some research on the scenery and customs before hitting the road. In countries like Kyrgyzstan, official public transportation is almost non-existent. When hitchhiking is more like an everyday phenomenon for those living outside the capital area, you are usually expected to give a few pennies for bumming a ride. It is often wise to clarify your means of traveling for free or suggest a fair fee to avoid the risk of getting scammed. Anyway, in hitchhiking havens like Georgia, I sometimes didn’t even have to raise a thumb to have someone stopping and asking if I needed a ride. And in Armenia, my driver was almost even insulted when I asked if they wanted my share of the gasoline.
If anybody came here for some actual tips, then behold my top picks for anybody hitchhiking in the Western world:
- Look smart. Let’s say that not looking like a typical mass murderer probably increases your chances of getting picked up. Especially in places where people are not used to picking up strangers and need to build up their courage before trusting someone. You not caring about anyone’s looks but the inner sunshine doesn’t still mean that all your potential drivers share the very same values.
- Equip yourself properly. The earlier mentioned headphones are a great asset for having time pass faster and nicer. Keeping the spirit up with cheerful music makes you look less murderous on those longer waiting times you may have to encounter. Preparing with warm clothes and enough snacks is also important if you wish to make things any comfortable. Carrying a marker for your sign (and making one in the first place) is always wise. You can also march in a store and ask to borrow one with a piece of cardboard if you don’t have one yourself.
- Do it right. Favor a spot in an area of lower speed limits and where drivers can easily pull over. Bus stops in city outskirts are quite perfect for this, as you are also more likely to find someone on their way to hitting the highway for longer rides. Make sure you stand a good distance up front from the planned stopping place so drivers have enough time to make up their minds.
Now “summa summarum”: when some people don’t understand or approve your way of living, make small preparations and equip yourself with a great mindset and a clear mission. Hitchhiking, just like everything else, is enjoyed the best when focusing on the bright sides and self-realization.