In case you didn’t already know, I quite like hitchhiking. It’s important to let people know that you like hitchhiking and that you’re adventurous enough to try it because you’re such a bohemian free spirit – otherwise, what’s the point?
There are a few reasons why I like hitchhiking. The first is obvious: it’s free. If you’ve ever seen me swoop mercilessly on your leftovers at a restaurant, you’ll know exactly how much I love free stuff. Getting something for free is like getting a blowjob for the soul.
I should also point out that hitchhiking is amazing in that it turns every humdrum A-to-B journey into an adventure. You never know who you’ll meet, where you’ll end up or when your next ride will pull over. You’ll get a true sense of the country you’re travelling in by interacting with locals from all walks of life, and you’ll end up in some towns or villages that you would NEVER have set foot in otherwise. Also, did I mention it’s free?
If you’re reading this and thinking “I want to be just as much of a pretentious wanker as you!” then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s my comprehensively Tragic™ guide to hitchhiking, replete with everything you need to know for your next adventure/ego trip.
- Tell everyone you’re about to go hitchhiking
I CAN’T EMPHASISE ENOUGH HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS! If you want to build up your reputation as a hippie bohemian nomad superstar, you have to talk the talk before you walk the walk. The best way to do this is to subtly slip the word hitchhiking into any conversation you have in the days leading up to your trip.
Me: “Oh cool, yeah that’s really good news. Anyway, I’m gunna head down to Sarajevo next week for a few days. No biggie. It’ll be nice to see the city again and catch up with a few friends. I’m thinking of hitchhiking. Have you had a chance to check out Sarajevo before?”
Friend: “No, I’ve never been … Sorry, did you say you were going to hitchhike there?”
Me: “Yeah, you know, it’s kinda this thing I do. It’s just a cool way to turn your trip into an adventure …”
BOOM! Suddenly you’ve got them eating out of your hand, thinking you’re some sort of modern-day Marco Polo. Make sure you have this conversation with as many people as possible before you head off, then let the rumour mill do the rest – soon you’ll be everyone’s favourite free spirit.
- Find a tasty piece of cardboard from a dumpster
Rifling through people’s garbage gets you some pretty intense stares no matter where in the world you are. Nevertheless, when it comes to hitchhiking, the prize is worth the judgment. For your troubles you’ll be rewarded with the perfect cardboard sign, which with a bit of artistic flare you can turn into a one-way ticket to your destination.
Ideally you’re looking for a piece of cardboard that’s slightly larger than shoulder width and about a foot tall; something with enough space to write your destination in thick block letters. It’s important you use a thick pen so drivers can read your atrocious handwriting from afar. When I hitched to Sarajevo the other day (did I tell you I sometimes hitchhike?) I couldn’t find a thick pen and was genuinely considering writing a sign in my own blood, but I decided that flashing anonymous bodily fluids at passing cars probably didn’t encapsulate the happy-go-lucky image I was hoping to project …
It’s my policy now that if I ever see a tasty bit of cardboard by the roadside I’ll pick it up and save it for later. Admittedly, the question “Why does your room smell like damp cardboard?” can be awkward to answer, but then again almost no one ever sets foot in my room. If perchance a visitor does call in, I’m quick to let them know that actually it’s “the smell of freedom”.
Your cardboard can be useful for other things, too. Seeing as we’re all friends here, I will admit that I once used my cardboard hitching sign as a chopping board/plate for my lunch. Don’t judge. It was at Plovdiv station in Bulgaria, and all I had was a tomato, some cheese, some salami and a bit of bread to get me through the impending train ride (yeah sometimes I catch public transport like a normal person, what of it). That sprinkling of dirt from the sign, mixed with the soaked-in aftertaste of bin juice, was enough to turn the humble sandwich into a delectable feast …
- Get out of the city ASAP
The worst place you can be stuck as a hitchhiker is within a city, where only a handful of the hundreds of cars driving past will be going in your direction. That’s why it’s important to start hitching at the city limits and take whatever lift you can to get yourself into the countryside. Even if your first lift only takes you 10 km outside of the city, that can be enough to get the ball rolling and give you that positive momentum which, for some reason, makes all the difference with hitchhiking.
Of course, this is where you can find yourself in some pretty weird places; expect to wait in a few random petrol stations, truck stops or abandoned former industrial towns along your journey. You’ll get some piercing looks from locals while you’re waiting, but if you just smile dumbly and say “tourist, autostop” in the local accent, they’ll typically take pity on you and possibly even offer you food. Free food from pitying locals is, like, half of what I survive on …
While I’m on the subject, I like to think of hitching as an opportunity to share food. I’ll always try to have a few snacks on me so I can offer something to the driver (it’s also a good idea to bring some little presents, like a fluffy koala toy or a kangaroo key chain). Secretly, though, I’m hoping the driver will swing by their house to offer me a home-cooked meal, something that has happened to me a surprising number of times in recent years. That’s the ultimate travel experience: a glimpse into the inner workings of the local culture and, of course, a free feed.
- Always take the lift, no matter how creepy the driver
This is a piece of advice that I, a large and somewhat hairy man, am fortunate enough to be able to follow, and one that might not apply so comfortably to solo female travellers. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to remember that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Actually, you can totally judge a book by its cover, and about one in 10 drivers look like something out of RL Stine’s Gossebumps. Still, even human horrorshows have cars, and if that car is going in the right direction then, hey, why not?
On my most recent hitch I got picked up by a morbidly obese Bosnian man whose fat spilled out of his clothes like jelly, flowing down in Jabba-the-Hut-like ripples. He smoked particularly pungent ciggies and smiled a toothless, stupid grin whenever I attempted a conversation-starter in Bosnian. The stench of stale smoke battled for prominence with his BO, cancelling each other out in a retch-inducing 1-1 draw. Most disturbingly of all, he made a kind of wet-fish parping noise with his lips that reminded me of Hannibal Lecter.
Despite my discomfort at his grossness, though, his shitbox car was driving in the right direction and, without his intervention, I might still be burning to a crisp on the side of the highway outside Požega. My attitude towards this is that every moment in life – like every ride – is potentially brilliant, potentially disastrous, or most likely something in between. So until the day you hear news of my body being found in a ditch, I’ll continue to get in the car when someone pulls over for me.
- Learn a few words in the local language
One of the greatest – and often most frustrating – things about hitchhiking is that, depending on where you’re travelling, there’s a high chance your driver won’t speak a word of English. This makes for the ultimate immersive experience, forcing you to test your communication skills outside your comfort zone.
For this reason, it’s worth trying to learn a handful of words in the local language before you set out. No matter where I go, I always aim to have at least five to 10 words to impress my driver with. Except Hungary. Fuck Hungarian.
Directions and basic conversational keywords are obviously the most useful things to learn, but it’s the swearwords that will really make your driver’s day. With the right timing, knowing how to say ‘donkey dick’ in Farsi or ‘fuck the sun’ in Serbian can be the difference between a tense, uneasy drive and a “You won’t believe what this foreigner said!” story the driver can retell in years to come.
There you have it, the most Tragic™ guide to hitchhiking you’ll ever read. Now it’s up to you to take this information, open your mind, hit the road and, most importantly, remember not to blame me if it all goes horribly wrong …
Love, peace and joy,