There is something special and empowering about being able to transport yourself wherever you need, just through the love and kindness of humanity. It feels like some kind of magic.
Despite my admiration for hitchhiking, I didn't intend to start hitchhiking; it just kinda happened. I was in France in 2018 with my partner, Lachy, and we were planning to do a 3-month "tour of France," visiting small villages in-dispersed with WOOFING (Working on Organic Farms) and couch surfing to experience "la vie de France." This was originally meant to be via bike, but we weren't organized enough and hadn't got all the gear for a biking tour. So instead, we figured we'd take a combination of buses and trains around the place. Except for the first place we stayed, there weren't any good bus options. Our host offered to drive us to this village where he was doing a concert, it was in the direction we were hoping to go, and his friend would be able to take us another hour in the other direction. Then from there, we could hitchhike. He confidently told us that hitchhiking wasn't a problem in France, that he'd got all around the country via his thumb!
After some skepticism and disbelief that it would be as easy as he claimed, I figured we might as well try because we didn't really have any other options except walking a long way and catching many meandering buses. We took up his offer and went to his concert in a small french town. The concert was great, even if it continued all the way till 2 am.
Once the concert had finished and it was all packed up, maybe more like 3 am. We headed off with the friend of our host to travel further north into France. He kindly gave us a bed to sleep in for the very short night's sleep. When we rose in the morning, his wife had bought us some warm baguettes from the local boulangerie, cheese, and porchetta to take on the road (a staple for any trip through France). She drove us another 5 minutes to one of the main roads in the village, where she'd seen someone else hitchhike before. Who ever said the french aren't kind?
Feeling lucky, we wrote our destination on a piece of cardboard we acquired and stuck out our thumb. In less than 60 seconds, we had a ride; the second car that drove past just kinda stopped in the middle of the road, and a friendly woman invited us to get a ride in her small hatchback. It was at this point I was convinced we were going to continue hitchhiking for the rest of our trip.
It was also here that I also realized the biggest risk to hitchhiking in France was probably going to be the fact we were traveling in a car itself (~0.01% chance of dying in a car annually in the US or 1 in 9000 chance). The death rate due to assault in France in 2017 was 0.0005% one in 200,000 annually. Disclaimer the US gun assault death rate is the same as the car crash rate, insanely high so I don't plan to hitch hike there!
0.01% chance of dying in a car crash > 0.0005% chance of dying from assault
Hence driving in a car is likely a far greater danger in France and the thing to be concerned about! If I ever noticed a driver that seemed under the influence or of questionable character we would turn them down. You haven't got much time to make a judgement but you've just got to do it!
Why I love Hitchhiking
- It's a great way to learn a language, practice communication skills. You are going to be spending hours in someone's car, probably speaking to them for the entirety of the time. I soon realised that this was the true trick to language emersion, putting yourself in a 6-hour-long conversation that you can't get out of.
- Understand a culture. You meet people in an intimate setting, in their car for hours at a time; we were recommended many things to do in the places we visited. We ended up going hiking in this beautiful spot in the Pyrenees on the recommendation of one of our kind drivers. They put on this new-age concert nestled right in the mountains of the Pyrenees, and he thought they might be on this time of year. Sure enough it was, and it was something I will forever remember!
- It forces you to smile (sometimes for hours on end as you wait patiently for a ride!)
- It feels like this great social challenge, and I love a challenge!
- It's liberating to know if you get stuck somewhere, you can always catch a ride. For example when Lachy and I were doing a cycling trip in NZ, and Lachy's bike broke, we didn't have cellphone reception. His bike broke so badly that we couldn't even wheel the bike up and down hills; we'd have to pick it up and carry it. Though we were 40 km from where we started. We hitched a ride with a couple driving a ute that drove past and got to put the two bikes in the back of the ute. We talked for the rest of the hour's drive, heard about the couple's lives and shared stories. They even gave us two delicious craft beers to take home with us, while also just saving us from a tricky situation!
- One time we went on a long run and I severely underestimated how much food I would need and how far I could go (I didn't look at the elevation) so we ended up hitchhiking our way down straight to the local cafe.
- You meet interesting and generally chatty people and you are forced to leave your bubble.
- You learn boundaries very quickly; if you feel like something is a little off, you need to act quickly and ideally not get in the car or have the plan to get out of the car. We never had to get out of a car earlier than planned but we have turned down several rides because we didn't feel comfortable.
If you feel uncomfortable taking a ride from someone, you need to learn to say no, come up with an excuse or just flat say this ride won't work for you. Just because someone is offering you something doesn't mean you wave your right to say no.
Types of people that picked us up
Most of the rides we got were from women with children a similar age to us. I felt like they were a mother of a friend of mine; they felt very familiar and nurturing. It wasn't infrequent that they'd never picked anyone up before, and it was their first time! I do think that people somewhat similar to you are the types of people who most commonly pick you up.
People We've Picked Up
One of the first times Lachy and I met, he had picked up a Hitch Hiker from his parents town of the Coromandel, a German backpacker traveling around NZ named Richard. He wanted to head south, Lachy was heading south to our friends New Years gathering in Taupo, and he gave him a ride. They ended up chatting the whole way, and Lachy ended up inviting him to have New Years with our group of friends. A classic example of how hitchhiking is a shortcut to integrating into the culture of a country. Richard spent the next 4 days hanging out with us by the river in the sunshine!
My most impressive rides
- A taxi driver pulled over in the Allzas region of France drove past us, and we jokingly said, wouldn't it be great if he gave us a ride. The taxi pulled over just past us, theatrically popped open his boot and his side doors, whistled at us and waved his hand out the side of his car to indicate he wanted to give us a ride! Evidence of his business card he gave us at the end of the trip.
- I was in the UK and I was going to be late to a meeting with someone, and there were no Ubers or buses due to an accident in the opposite direction (I was in a rural area out of town); it would have been a 1.5-hour walk to where I needed to go, which was totally fine, I just would have been over an hour late! I stuck my thumb out at the next person that drove past and caught a ride. Talked to the person, they were nice, we got along, and I made it to my meeting without being late.
- The lady that drove us to her fancy BMParabough office in Luxembourg then offered us to come back and stay with her another time we visit the area.
- Thomas, who picked us up, offered to drive us another time for 5 hours, and then we visited him six months later in Paris.
My tips for giving it a go
- Go early in the morning
- You need to be comfortable with saying no to rides you don't want, even if it's just based on a vibe.
- Bring an A4 book and a vivid, where you can write your destination, or somewhere on the way to your destination if it's a particularly long way.
- Check out the guides on hitchhiking in the country/area. Often some places are far easier than others (France is particularly effective)
Hitchhiking is a beautiful thing, and it really restores my faith in humanity. It reminds me that so many people are kind and humble, wanting to make others' lives better. I recommend giving it a go, once you've done your research!
Any questions about hitch-hiking? I'd be more than happy to answer them!