So it’s 11.30pm and I stumble into Zdiar’s Ginger Monkey Hostel. The girl at the reception greets me with a smile and asks me if I would like some tea, coffee or hot chocolate.
‘Coffee, please’, I mumbled.
I’m exhausted, and slightly delirious. It’s sinking in now… I just hitchhiked 100kms in a strange country… TWO strange countries actually- Poland and Slovakia. Who even does that anymore? With newspapers reporting insane incidents all the time, I’m literally thanking my stars that I’m in one piece.
I sat down and caught my breath. Crazy thoughts in my head. The last 7 or so hours ran themselves over and over in my mind as I began to think of everything that could have gone wrong. Best case scenario- I was just not given a lift and I’m still walking on the side of the road, SEVERAL kilometres from any form of civilization. Worst case scenario- I didn’t want to think about it!
As I started calming down, and others in the hostel started asking me why I was so late, I started feeling a bit, let’s say, badass.
‘I hitchhiked’, I smirked, almost certain that I was the coolest thing in that room. I repeated that to everyone who asked and then finally, some girl who had been sitting across the table ever since I entered said, ‘Okay fine. It’s not that big a deal’. I wanted to retort with a, ‘Oh yeah? It’s not as easy as it sounds’, but decided to keep my mouth shut.
A wave of people entered just then, just back from dinner. And between all the meeting and greeting, I found myself talking to Frankie, a guy from Florida, US, who had been hitchhiking in Europe for the last 7 months.
So, apparently, hitchhiking is a pretty common practice.
There’s an entire community of hitchhikers, a website and regular ‘hitchgatherings‘. This fellow was, in fact, on his way to one. So as we spoke about this phenomenon, he said I could go along with him to this gathering the next day (though I eventually decided not to), and ‘hitch my way back’ while he went on.
Frankie (I’m not even REALLY sure that was his name 😛 Sorry) mentioned that after some time of standing on the road with no one paying any attention to you… You start making excuses for them. And since that was exactly what I had been doing, I pressed him for an explanation, I wanted to know the reasoning behind this evidently common thought process. He said it was because you can’t accept this kind of apathy, or believe it exists, and so you begin to try justifying their behaviour.
Wow. That was profound.
So here’s some stuff I learned, through Frankie, through my own research, and some experience. Read on…
Hitchhikers are not the dirty, smelly lot people expect.
Most hitchhikers are as clean as the average person. They may be on the road for long, long durations, but they do take care of themselves, just like everyone else does.
Is it safe?
Well, I’m alive and well. And so are many others. But, of course, there are some who weren’t as lucky. All in all, though, take precautions. The world is not a glorious bed of roses, but it’s not AS bad as everyone seems to make it out to be either.
How do you flag down a car?
There are two ways (that I know of and have tried). One is the cliche thumbs-up position by the side of the road- with or without a sign. Someone stops, you exchange some words, and you decide to hop in or pass.
The other way, the better one in my opinion, is you go to a gas-station/petrol-pump/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, and TALK to people. This is preferable because both parties actually get to gauge the other. The driver is going to be just as terrified as you.
How many people is ideal?
Well, I did it alone. I know people who’ve done it in groups. It’s always best to have one other person with you, safety first. More than that is probably difficult to get a ride- some cars won’t have enough space, and others won’t want to take in so many because three goons can easily overpower the driver. And, yes, that is a real risk.
Dress happy. Not to be judgmental or anything, but wearing tshirts with skulls on them, and generally looking like a troublemaker, is probably not going to help.
Look happy. It’s important. Would you take a sulky person in your car?
Make eye contact. It’s easier for people to pass by if they can dehumanize you. Eye contact makes you more real, and more difficult to ignore (‘What if that was my daughter standing there?’).
Carry pepper spray, if that’s your type of thing. Mark your route on Google Maps (that’s what I always do) so you know you’re going in the right direction if nothing else. Keep your bags on you, atleast the one with all your essential stuff- passport, wallet etc etc. Who knows when you might have to jump out of the car and run? Hopefully never, but still! Better safe than sorry.
And solo girls… PLEASE check country specific info. There are a lot of countries where single female hitchhikers are mistaken for prostitutes. Usually because there are many standing out on the streets, and it’s probably easy to be misunderstood in a country you don’t know anything of the culture. There’s a wealth of information on the web, please, please make full use of it before you decide to take up this adventure!!
How long does it take to get picked up?
On my first attempt, it took me FOREVER to get a ride. At that time I put it down to ‘racism’. But, eventually I realised that was probably not the case. I’m sure I looked pretty sullen. Why would someone want to take a grouch like me in their car?
The second time, when I was hitchhiking by choice, I did the whole ‘smiley’ thing, and I got 6 out of 7 rides in less than 5 minutes each, maybe a couple took 10. But one ride took a long time. Though in that case, I was doing the thumb thing, and there weren’t many cars on the road. But, still, a LOT of cars passed by.
Very importantly, IT IS OKAY TO SAY NO.
If you think the people in the car are sort of sketchy, it’s okay to refuse the ride.
And, finally, hitchhiking is not dead.
I was quite surprised to find out that hitchhiking is so common. And because of that, I had an awesome experience hitchhiking from Budapest, Hungary to Ljubljana, Slovenia. I don’t have a conscious intention to do it again… But I’m definitely not against it. I even recommend it, to
some a large extent.
ANY questions, feel free to ask. I had a great time hitchhiking, and I’d even go so far as to say I learnt a lot in those few hours than I have in a long time. It’s worth a shot, but be sure to be safe!
(It’s probably easier said than done, and I’m giving all this gyaan here. If I found out my sister was doing all this, I’d probably lock her up in her room. Oh well,,, 😛 )