BY: ROB HOFFMAN
Hitchhiking is a traveller’s heroin. I’ve chased the high since I was 16 from coast to coast in the world’s second largest country on a budget of zero dollars and trail-mix, taken strange drugs with hippy kingpins, lived on beaches and swam in waterfalls. The simple romanticism of hitting the road with nothing more than a pack and your thumb is a feeling of ecstasy that borders on religion. It spoon feeds confidence, and if you put your trust in the road, you’ll be well taken care of.
Comparing hitchhiking to an all-inclusive is like asking whether you’d prefer to get drunk at a live show with your best-friend, or spend the evening playing shuffleboard with your straight-edge cousin Chad at the country-club. New experiences and bold adventure are the fuel of a fulfilling life and a good story teller; spend a few weeks hitchhiking and I guarantee you’ll be the most interesting person at the cocktail party.
Not convinced? Here are my top five reasons to pack your bags and hitchhike across the country this summer.
1. The spontaneity of the road is food for the soul
Photo: © keanu2
Meticulous itineraries. All-inclusive packages. Double-decker bus tours with portly middle-aged tourists in small-fitting cargo shorts, flashing cameras into city crowds like cultural paparazzi. This is the soul-crushing spiritual-kryptonite better left to balding men in visors and button-up flamingo shirts.
The human spirit is built on a foundation of spontaneity, new experiences and discovery. Hitchhiking means deliberately putting yourself in a situation where you’re not in control. The only plan is your destination and the rest is just riding a wave. The beauty of the journey means your destination is an experiential climax, not just a postcard view purchased from your local travel agent for the price of a plane ticket.
As Thoreau once asked, “Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter?”
2. Hitchhiking eliminates restrictions and reservations about travel
Hitchhiking eliminates the number one reason not to travel: money. Aside from walking or biking, hitchhiking is the only form of travel with literally zero cost.
The only other preventative factor is taking off work—and quite frankly, if you can’t take two weeks away from the cubical and ergonomic desk-chair, hitchhiking isn’t for you. In fact, living isn’t for you.
One of my most successful trips spanned over 4,000 kilometres and only required a week off work; leave on a Friday, end your trip the following Sunday. Rent out your apartment for a week via Airbnb or subletting resources and you might even turn a profit. And if you’re paying for accommodations, you’re not doing it right. Get creative with your sleeping spots and set up shop on roofs, in fields, or on the green-space of highway onramps. Otherwise, take advantage of resources like couchsurfing.com—on a two-week trip, I spent 12 days couch-surfing and only two camping out.
3. Hitchhiking is downright spiritual
Hitchhiking is an express-route to spirituality. You’ve probably heard terms like “synchronicity,” “oneness” or “interconnectivity.” It’s not just hippy-jargon. I’m not religious, but spend a few weeks on the road and you’ll come back believing in something. My number one piece of advice to new hitchhikers is to adopt an unrestricted trust in the road. If you’ve spent five hours at the side of the highway and the sky is calling for rain—good: you’re about to get your best ride yet. Everyday strange things happen on the road that can’t rightfully be classified as coincidence. If there is a God, for some reason, it’s sweet on hitchhikers.
4. Meeting people
Photo: © piskunov
Standing highway-side, your thumb might as well be a glowing neon sign to beacon the world’s most kind and interesting people. It’s obvious when you think about it—if you’re going to give some smelly roadside stranger a lift, you’re either a saint, a traveller, or open-minded. Hitchhiking has earned me some of my most interesting friends spanning the farthest corners of my country. Even if you don’t stay in contact, the experience will burn the faces of your single-serving friends into your memory forever. The type of people that pick up hitchhikers are frequently those who have the power to make an impact on your life with new perspectives, unforeseen kindness or simply by giving you hope that not everyone ages into the roll of straight-shooting desk jockeys.
As Jack Kerouac once put it, “one of the biggest troubles of hitchhiking is having to talk to innumerable people, make them feel that they didn’t make a mistake picking you up.” You don’t have time to be anything other than your most interesting self. It’s an odd routine where the confidence of independence meets the humbleness of blind dependency. Half your time is spent alone in foreign towns you’ve never heard of and couldn’t locate on a map, and the other half at the mercy of random strangers’ kindness, building innumerable friendships for the duration of a car ride. Combine this with the feeling of crossing the country with nothing more than a backpack and your thumb and it’s like being funneled through a sausage-maker that grinds your most attractive attributes into a bratwurst of confidence and strong personal identity.