Why and How You Should Start Hitchhiking

I set a variety of intentions before taking off to travel, very few came true. Hitchhiking is one of them though. Upon leaving Europe, I had hitchhiked no more than 1000 kilometers. However, having hitchhiked most of my travels in South America, I can now add roughly 5000 kilometers to my curriculum. This does not necessarily make me an expert, nevertheless I hope that by sharing my experience I can make the step, to get you engaged in this awesome way of traveling, a little smaller. This blog will be the first in a series on hitchhiking. In the first two parts I will explain what hitchhiking is, provide background information and show how to get started.

The Basics

Catching a ride, hacer dedo, autostop, liften, pegar carona and hitchhiking all mean the same thing (in different languages); trying to catch a ride while standing by the road holding up your thumb. The idea is that you get a ride from someone without paying for it. The entire concept is entirely based on “giving”, pure philanthropy.

The motivation to hitchhike often originates from the necessity to travel, but not having the money or the means of transport for it. The first is pretty straight up, but the second is not something you encounter in Europe often. In Argentina however, there are a lot of places where there is no public transport. The solution therefore: hitchhiking. For others, like me, the adventure and the unexpected experiences awaiting any hitchhiker are what might move one in this direction. Nevertheless, the fact that it is a transaction without money always plays a big role in the equation.

An Opportunity To Meet People

To give a ride on the other hand is also something that requires motivation, not everybody will stop for a stranger standing by the road. Even in countries where hitchhiking is very common there will be plenty of people driving by. Even though, most of the people that pick you up either believe in the art of giving, or see, like me, the added value of meeting a stranger. It is not just that you get a ride, it is an opportunity to meet somebody new, learn new things and most of all have some company. The last, is often a motivation for truckers to stop for a hitchhiker. Spending days on the road in a truck all by themselves, having somebody new next to them allows for a nice change of pace. On top of this, for you as a hitchhiker, this is great as well because trucks often travel long distances.

Furthermore, the beautiful thing is that there are no set rules. Yes it helps to be polite, and there are certain things that will definitely make it easier, (more on that in the second part of this introduction) but otherwise it is all up to you how you define your hitchhike. I used it as a means of transport but it could also be a day out. Definitely in Europe this is easily done. Meet up with a friend on Saturday morning, get to your starting spot by 07:00 and see how far you get until whatever time. Here after, you can spend the night somewhere or go back with public transport. In the meantime you will have experienced a million things you were not aware of before. Above all, having the best stories to tell when you get back.

An Opportunity To Learn

I believe the ultimate thing to gain from the experience, is the fact that it is all up to oneself. There are plenty of people that hitchhike together or with more people, but dealing with the whole process by myself has taught me a lot. First of all, I had to figure out where to go, where to start and how to get there in the first place. This forced me to talk to people, to ask them where there is more traffic, where there is less traffic and if there are any rules or situations I should be aware of. This not only helped me with my hitchhiking but automatically taught me a lot about the places I was.

Second, the fact that I am all by myself makes me totally responsible for anything that happens. I can curse all the people driving by me for not picking me up (trust me, I have done this), but ultimately I am responsible for how I live this experience. Over time I have become more confident and relaxed standing by the road. Allowing me to make quicker and better decisions and to stay in a better mood all throughout. Nevertheless, the unique thing that hitchhiking did to my emotions is that I sometimes literally went on a roller coaster from feeling depressed to super awesome after catching a ride and back down again. Over time however, experience helped me to make this roller coaster ride a little calmer.

Finally, to have the opportunity to meet random people I would otherwise never meet was of great value to me. It allowed me to learn and practice two new languages (Spanish and Portuguese) and I got insights into how life really was in the places I was traveling through. I have had great conversations ranging from the troubles in somebodies personal life, to discussing local politics and the way certain agriculture works. I have had quiet rides and I have made friends on the go.

The Flip Side

Just as much as hitchhiking can be amazing and liberating, it can be frustrating and severely depressing too. However, there are plenty of ways to increase the chance of an enjoyable experience throughout. A lot of the difficulties are easily diminished by teaming up with somebody. Next, hitchhiking in a familiar environment, like your own country or the region you live in is another way to reduce it’s strain. Last, hitchhiking in countries with better roads, more trustworthy weather forecast and newer cars all increase the chance of making it an enjoyable adventure, rather than a 12-hour grind leaving you dehydrated and hungry looking for a place to spend the night.

Nevertheless, I learned so many things that apply to every time hitchhiked, regardless of where I was. I summed up as many as I could remember.

To consider before hitchhiking:

  • Bring sufficient water.
  • How much time do you have? There is nothing more stressful than hitchhiking with a lack of time.
  • Try to get as much information as possible from locals, before you start your hitchhike. Ask them for information on where, how and what to be aware of. Information from locals is more valuable than anything! If a local tells you something entirely different than what you figured out after hours of research online. Trust the local. The moments I didn’t do this, it always meant at least more discomfort up until hitchhiking in the wrong direction.
  • Do not hitchhike at night. Your chances are heavily reduced because the people can’t see you well, and you can’t see them either. Also, depending on where you are, the security situation might change.
  • What day? Weekdays are usually better because of work traffic.
  • What time? Early is usually better and in rush hour. Also depends on the distance you are traveling.
  • How far? Shorter distances are always easier and are definitely preferred if you have the time.
  • The weather. I try to be prepared, depending on where I am and want to go. I always carry rain clothes, sun glasses, sun screen, and a cap.
  • Try to be aware of anything special happening during the days I hitchhike. Things that influence the amount of traffic; like holidays, strikes, demonstrations or parties.
  • Write the name of the place I am going on a carton. I prefer to do this if I am no more than 150-200 kilometers away. If there is more distance to my destination, I prefer to go without. A direction like north or south can also help in some cases.

To consider during hitchhiking:

  • I look for spots where traffic is slow and can stop easily, think of highway entrees, crossings, traffic lights and gas stations.
  • If you are unsure about anything ask locals, they know where traffic is slow or where there might be a gas station.
  • Try to position yourself so that oncoming traffic can see you well, colorful clothes or an attention-grabbing hand movement can help a lot.
  • If you do not feel well, because you feel unsafe, need to go to the bathroom, are hungry or whatever, take care of that first. Your (unconscious) presentation by the road is everything. You are all by yourself/together and you never know how long your trip will last.
  • If it is sunny look for a place in the shadow. Even the shadow of a lantern or traffic light might work if your position yourself well. This sounds funny, but it saved me a couple of times when I was out on midday, with just the sun in the sky and temperatures reaching 35 degrees Celsius.

Finally, the following is something very simple but has increased my experience often in times when it was not that great; I try to say hello to anybody walking by, show thankful hand gestures when people communicate from their car things like “we do not have space”, “we are going in another direction” or are giving you the thumbs up telling you you are awesome but they are too lame to pick you up. Whatever reason, I try to smile and thank them.

I challenge you to redefine hitchhiking according to your terms to make your next couple, or thousand kilometers of travelling even more exciting.

If you make it to the side of the road, give me a heads up. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions please let me know.

This post was originally posted in two parts on questforauthenticity.org.

 

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University or Universe-ity?

During my travels in the inside and the outside world, my thoughts often go in a variety of directions. As things go, I stay little in one place, and usually in unfamiliar environments. As a result the things that make the clock tick at home do not matter anymore. The things I used to identify with, both negative and positive, turn out to be of little importance now. As a consequence there seem to be no limits to the amount of opportunities in my life.

Nevertheless, there are moments when I am thinking that I, for example, would like to study again. I love learning and a study environment can be very motivating. The thing that used to bother me though, is that there are always parts of an education that do not interest me. However, usually we tend to nullify this with the thought of what we get after. An extra couple of letters in front of our name, or at least a paper that would give another opportunity to earn more money.

Recently I realized though, why this thought keeps returning irregularly. On the contrary to learning by doing, travelling, talking to people, and experiencing the unexperienced, with a school education you know what you will get by the end. This is easy to visualize and gives a sense of security for the future. Moreover, because you are doing what is silently expected, the road is all the more paved and ready to be followed.

Even though, it all might seem obvious and safe, it does not mean that the options more obscure are of lesser value. We measure welfare with the amount of money that is being earned, the health of an economy by how likely people will spend their money, and intelligence with the amount of people acquiring bachelor, master, and phd degrees. However, what about all the things we can not express in numbers? What about the ability to love, the ability to change perspective, the capacity to self-reflect, and what about how easily you make friends and maintain relationships?

It is impossible to express this in numbers, but to me these qualities seem way more important than the next title I could study for. Whereas, the latter might result in that increased paycheck, the former is happiness. What is a title worth when you have no ability to self-reflect or maintain a healthy relationship? The end-result is an empty life with relationships that only exist because you believe in the same fiction. Titles, money and status are all man-made inventions leading us astray from what is really important. Sounds familiar?

This mindset I realized, I also see meeting other travellers. Currently, I have been staying more than usual in places with people from Europe. The subjects of any conversation happening, usually revolve around the places visited, where to go next, how much it cost and what you like most. Mostly supported with amazing photos. However, this is exactly where this mindset of looking for the expected comes back around. Before I would visit any of the recommended places I know what it is going to be like. The views will be amazing, it will be more expensive than a non-touristic place nearby and the local people will be aiming for my wallet.

Just like studying, travelling from one to the next touristic hot-spot will exactly be as expected. Until it is not as expected. And that is precisely where the real value of travelling or studying starts. When things do not go as we thought, we start to learn the things that are really important. The aforementioned self-reflection, changing of perspective and the ability to adept to unexpected situations are all provoked in moments like these.

So I ask myself, why the hell would I visit the next best tourist spot, or study for a master degree, when all the things that really matter are not directly learned in these places. They might be learned as a consequence, but just as well I might be looking for these situations all the time. In the meantime experiencing all the unmeasurable beauty the world and the people in it have to offer. Amazing friendships are waiting in all corners of the world, just like uncomfortable situations, making us a stronger and more confident person. Aiding us in everything we will engage in after.

True, it is hard to make a photo of all of this or to express this in any statistical form. However, the gain is literally of unmeasurable value. Where a master degree might cost 20.000 euros and tell you beforehand what you get, all the other things in life do not. They are also free. Any real experience does not cost money, nor does any real relationship.

I am using my traveling to get to certain perspective changes, to meet new people and to experience the unexperienced. Though, I believe all of this can be done right at home as well. I know that getting to these places for me was more about my travel philosophy than the traveling itself. This means that when I would apply the same ideas at home the result might be similar result might be similar. Engaging in new conversations, saying yes to the unknown and building new relationships can be done anywhere.

Why I Try To Let Go of Expectations

I remember before I started traveling that I had high expectations towards rock climbing. I was really looking forward to spending time in one place climbing, continuing to the next spot to do it again. Also, visiting Patagonia was on top of my list together with my main goal to improve my Spanish. Before leaving these expectations and the following anticipation were huge. I could imagine this rock climbing lifestyle up to the cramps in my fingers, I could see the peaks in Patagonia, and I could feel the Spanish words I did not know yet, flow out of my mouth.

What Really Happened

I have been traveling for over four months now, and how different everything has been. I did not go rock climbing once yet, I learned Portuguese before I got to Spanish, and I am not sure if I will make it to Patagonia at all this trip. The irony here is, that when I wrote a first draft of this blog post, I was almost leaving for Patagonia. Two days before I left though, I twisted my knee and had to cancel that part of my trip. But, do I regret any of this? Not at all, instead I experienced a million other things that got me to where I am now, happy with whatever crosses my path. Leaving a big part of my life up to the unexpected.

The Origin of Expectations

When we take a step back though, it is interesting to see where these expectations originate. We create expectations in our mind by projecting the past into the future. Because, we cannot expect what we did not experience yet. Moreover, we can create expectations about expectations. Hereafter, we create an entirely imaginary world that is clear of any surprise but is far from reality.

When you realize this, you see how self limiting expectations can be. Where on the one hand they are a tool to invest “time” more efficiently, on the other hand they take energy by dividing our attention between the past and the future, leaving little for the present. Since we create the future by how we live in the present, living in expectation actually increases our chances on experiencing the same thing over and over.

Also, expectations are reinforced by our society. Contracts, appointments, clear trajectories in school, and at work allow us to know exactly what to expect before we experience it. Since we do not have to worry about what is going to come up next, we can turn off our brain, stop asking questions and do as we are being told.

Living in this expectation-based society, life might get a little boring. Luckily, there is a lot of entertainment around to thrill us nonetheless. Cinemas, music festivals, restaurants, streetplay, theater, and soccer matches are all there to be consumed. Of course, we expect everything to start on “time”. Otherwise, the day after we might be at work later than expected.

How Expectations Influence our Daily Lives

In our personal lifes we often let expectations direct our feelings aswell. Because, do we not expect our parents to know the way when we do not? Is not our partner supposed to be there when we are sad? And, should not our friends keep your secrets forever? Again, in this case it might be harder to see, but expectations in these situations can be limiting as well. When we stick to these expectations the chance is high that any given relationship will solely develop along preset lines.

Where betrayal of a friend would provoke disappointment and anger, it might actually be the moment he or she realizes it is possible to feel comfortable sharing his or her deepest feelings. And, what if you do not show up when your partner needs you most and he or she realizes an inner strength to deal with it alone. So much for expecting anything from your loved ones.

Living in this version of reality we are limiting our own view. Where there might be a lot of valuable lessons to learn, we usually stick to expecting what we experienced already. We end up either satisfied or disappointed with the outcome. This all seems so normal because everybody around us does the same. It has gone thus far, that we have created an entire construct of ethical and behavioral rules. We know exactly how we are supposed to behave before we enter any situation. The people that act differently are usually the ones we talk about when they are not there.

Putting Expectations into Perspective

Even though, certain expectations are useful, for example, when your mother tells you she will pick you up, it is useful to think that this is going to happen. Also, certain ethical and behavioural expectations are useful to live, at least in relative peace, next to each other.

However, I think we should stop valuing expectations as something important. When we do this, we can see and adept to what is happening in the present. Because, expectations by itself are not limiting, rather it is the level of importance we ascribe to them that limits us.

Personally, I still expect things to develop in certain ways. But the boundaries around these expectations are more transparant. In general the importance of expectations is on the decline in my life, and I intend to keep it going this way. Because, when expectations are not limiting our sight in the present, there is more energy to enjoy it. At the same time staying excited about everything that we do not know yet.

My Current Travel Philosophy

I have been travelling through South America with my particular travel philosophy for four months now. I experienced enough to write a couple of books already. During this time I had the opportunity to meet many people, listen to unique stories and experience a lot of things I could not even imagine before.

Some of these experiences still blow my mind when I think of them. Experiences like ending up in a car accident to joining family parties and a pit stop in juvenile prison. During these four months though, I always tried to travel my way, sticking to my ideas of what traveling is about.

Before I took of, I set myself the goal to try to stay with people in their homes as much as possible and to use hitchhiking as my main form of transport. At that time I had no idea how this would work out, because I had little to no experience with both of them.

Sleep and Transport

To stay with people at home I use Airbnb or Couchsurfing to get in touch with locals. Also, I have had the fortune that on several occasions people offered me to stay with their family just because I was travelling in that direction. On one occasion even, just because I was in the car with them, after they picked me up hitchhiking. Regardless if this fit my plans or not, the answer was always yes.

Why I Stay Away From Tourist Attractions

However, when I meet other travelers I sometimes get the idea I am doing something wrong. I am not running from one tourist attraction to the next one, and I do not live from photo to photo. On the contrary, my way of traveling usually takes me to places that are not pretty from a photographic perspective. At these places though, is where the people live, unbiased by tourism, and unbiased by the idea of how much money I might spent.

In these places the beauty of the experience is harder to capture in a photo. In these less scenic places I have to speak different languages, I have to continuously adjust to different life values, different daily routines, and I am confronted with a wide variety of perspectives. Where after, the reward is so much more than a pretty photo. Even though, there are times when I feel so tired of having to adjust, again, until I do.

Really, looking for discomfort rather than comfort, increases the travel experience a thousandfold. Hitchhiking is one of these “discomforts”. At times, I am standing in the burning sun, collecting layers of dust on my skin, blown up by passing cars. Where after, somebody will stop and give you another chance to learn a million things. Sometimes, taking a bus might be quicker or more convenient, it reduces the chance of getting in to unexpected situations. Getting out of these situations though, is how I become more confident in dealing with everything that comes after.

YES-philosophy

Together with the above I also try to stick to a “YES-philosophy”. Along the road plenty people have invited me in to their homes, to family parties, to the cinema, to barbecues, to dance, to sing, to play an instrument, to a friends’ house or to their work environment (where the last, on one occasion turned out to be this juvenile prison). Regardless if my plans are different, if it might complicate things or if I feel uncomfortable accepting, I will always try to say yes.

This discomfort and feeling of insecurity, is there because it is sometimes hard to see what is coming. Also, at times I am afraid to show my “weaknesses”. Nonetheless, I believe all these feelings to be natural and valuable. I try to deal with them my way. Not seeing them as a code red situation, but rather as an opportunity to learn. Handling from this perspective has made my life a lot more exciting.

However, I have certain things that are very important to me. Mainly the way I take care of my health. I aim to eat a whole foods plant based regardless if I am at a Brazilian barbecue (there will be just meat) or if somebody offers me “Dulce de Leche” while I am getting a ride from them, the answer is always no. I do not eat animal products and I stay as close to zero with the amount of processed foods I eat. This means that sometimes I say no in the midst of enjoying limitless hospitality. Even though, looking from the outside this might seem rude, people have always respected my decision.

Two-way Street

I am willing to try everything but I stick to my core values, because that is who I am. If they will not hold up anymore I trust to keep an open mind, and to replace them with different values. In general, sticking to them will show people who you are, and the beautiful thing about this is: as much as the people I meet enrich my life, I do a little something in their lives as well.