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The Tao of Hitchhiking

There’s a very fine line between hitchhiking and standing by the road like an idiot. Still it gives you time to think, contemplate distant horizons and even write songs in your head as you do all you can not to go insane. Your luck can change in moments and you end up believing in one kind of god or another. Probably one with big thumbs.

Some of the rides you get restore you faith in humanity. All around the world people will take you home and give you food and shelter for the night. The kindness and thoughtfulness of the people you meet will leave you speechless at times.

In a world of self interest and declining resources, hitchhiking rekindles the magic of cooperation. Yet the hitchhiker is in no way a parasite. The stories you bring and even just your example of striking out on the road are often an inspiration for the people who pick you up. Hitchhiking is a give and take kind of thing and it’s in your power to change someone’s day.

Not everyone wants to talk though. Some rides you’ll just sit there in silence, wondering if you’re about to be thrown out. Other times the driver will monologue for three hours about the workings of a Ford Escort engine.

Everyone likes talking about themselves so that’s always a good start to the conversation and even if they turn out to be racist bigots, there’s no harm in finding common ground if you want to stay in their car. Many hitchhikers unconsciously adapt their accent and vocabulary to meet that of their benefactor of the hour. It’s also advisable not to have any particular politics or religion for the duration of the ride.

There are also the nightmare rides. There may be drivers who will try to get money out of you, ask sexual favours or try to convert you to their religion. How quickly you get out of the car may depend on how long you had to wait for that ride to come along in the first place.

Traveling like this is a great teacher of language too. You soon learn how to say where are you going, I’m hungry and thank you very much in the native tongue. Most drivers are in search of some conversation too and they’ll soon be asking you to comment on complex philosophical questions – remember you’re trading your good company for free miles so do your best to provide conversation if it’s expected of you.

By the side of the road your entire reality becomes focused on the next ride. Here you have no appointments, no schedules and all you really got to do is stick out your thumb. You arrive at your destination who knows when after who knows what. Yes, you may end up tired, wet and hungry but you’ll get there with a bag full of stories to tell and that’s more than you can say about a bus or a train.

In an age of organized consumer travel, where everything is mapped out, planned and insured from the start, hitchhiking is one of the few forms of true adventure left.