This article had been originally released in the framework of the TravelMakers 2014 Project under the title “Ten little lessons taught by hitchhiking” and is slightly modified.
Hitchhiking is my personal university. My University of the Street. By the time I have realized that I have learnt more about real life on the road than sitting in the university library with my books. The most outstanding experiences which definitely have an effect on my future life in many terms are depicted here.
Let’s get on the road:
1.) Hitchhiking: money or not? This is not the right question
People often assume that we guys, we hitchhikers, travel this way only because we wouldn’t have money or we want to save the little bit we have. Some hippies might have this attitude. Real hitchhikers, though, are those that give back for what they get. An interesting story of their life, the excitement of hitchhiking, giving advice and simply spending a good time with each other. In the best case, and this happens quite often, such an encounter is fruitful for both sides. And people that take you often enjoy the feeling of having given you some help.
2.) Being under the mercy of other people’s help – it can feel so good
Honestly, nowadays we are less and less depending on other people’s help. I mean real help. When you have a pipe burst in your house you simply call the plumber and you give him money for fixing it; if you are in a legally difficult situation you give (in this case some more) money to your lawyer and he does his job more or less. And if as a woman you need to become pregnant no matter what you can go to a sperm bank and afterwards raise your child without that a male being has ever approached you. Money does it all.
Hitchhiking is one of the very few situations where you are really depending on other people’s help. Where money doesn’t play a role but real giving and kindness of strangers. Especially after a looong while of desperate waiting you can feel this kind of gratitude and humanness. The unique feeling and the amazement about how it was possible with the help of all of these kind people to get to your destination after a long day hitchhiking is irreplaceable.
Yes, you are allowed to do it because you will have plenty of occasions in your life to give it back to the world.
What I mean is this: it happens quite sometimes that people who give you a ride offer you even more like a cigarette, something to eat, a detour to drop you in a better place to continue or sometimes even a place to stay overnight. You might think –wow this person already gave me a ride which is so kind, I shouldn’t, I can’t take even more… –
Take it because the world offers it to you! You get it offered and you should enjoy it. It doesn’t matter if this person might have a lot less money than you do because it is not about that.
4.) You never give something without asking if people actually want it
Sounds a bit contrary to what has been just mentioned in point 3, no? Not quite. What I want say is rather the situation when your benevolent aunt serves you the third piece of cake without ever asking if you wish so.
It was one of the personal lessons that our nice driver and Bulgarian business man Victor gave me when I told about the fact that the TravelMakers Project raises funds for a Syrian refugee project in Istanbul. He figured out that I did not really ask the responsible persons of Small Projects Istanbul if they really wanted these donations. They need them for sure, yet, I noticed that I never explicitly asked them if they were fine with our intentions. Because with such an offer there are also certain responsibilities coming along.
I first did not quite understand this when he repeated this statement and had to think over it for a while.
5.) The Flow Experience – what words cannot describe
This expression comes from the field of psychology. Those perfect days which come up really seldomly in life where everything works perfectly together and you feel like being indestructible. When hitchhiking it is not unusual that you get into this sublime state of the flow; the trust into the world that the right things will fall in place at the right time. Hitchhiking is literally made to have this experience because you have to give yourself to the flow of the world. The moment you let go of your tensions and fears you will get more than you can handle.
6.) Respect and dignity
I have to admit that these two words did not have a special meaning to me before I have started hitchhiking. And it is something everybody can give with very simple measures. Like taking a hitchhiker down the way that you are going anyway for example.
But also as mentioned above that hitchhiking is something that goes beyond our commerce and profitability saturated world makes it that these elements kick in. The fact that someone does something for you without expecting something in return is giving both parties to the drives as well as to the hitchhiker a feeling of deeper satisfaction. The driver made a payment into his celestial account (dignity) and the hitchhiker gets the receipt of that the driver did so (respect). Voilà!
7.) The appalling abyss between people and the politicians
We know these stereotypes: Germans don’t like Polish people, Serbians hate Croatians and vice versa, Turks can’t stand Greeks…… really? Because once being on the road you realize that the vast majority of the people are friendly, welcoming and peaceful. And that the direct contact and communication between different nations or cultures is the best way to overcome those stereotypes.
Yes, there are a few patriots, nationalists and other idiots that hopefully just pass by without stopping for you. But for all the rest, and they are more than the media and the society might dare to tell you, they are good-willing and friendly people. No matter which nationality, race or religion they belong to. On a political sphere though they make a fuss out of it. This is the platform where it is exclusively about power and resources, where at the expanse of the normal people some elites play their might games by paltering and haggling with the funds and working labor of their people. In fact, there are very few people who want those instrumentalized political tensions to push through their interested.
This huge gap between people and their politicians became obvious to me when being on the road.
8.) Have a story that you can tell
People might be already curious enough about you as a hitchhiker. Though having a story makes you even more interesting which can be very advantageous sometimes. I made this experience when making music on the street for getting our donations hat full for our project. We had several people in our group participating when having street art actions, so it was good for talking directly to passengers, having a nice sign summarizing quickly our story and stickers about our project that made people happy when we gave it to them. Yeah, we had indeed a story with our TravelMakers project other than just being a random lonely guy in the street playing some riffs on his guitar.
This is what happened to me when I once went out by myself along with my guitar and tried to make some money for myself. Same venue as where we did it every second day with the group. I didn’t even make 5% of what we gained with the cooperation of the group. Having a story is what makes you personable (plus a collaborating team)
9.) The life of the others
Every car that you get in is a completely new world that you get immersed in. For a short while you take part in one of the million lives that for some reason you don’t live but someone else does. Being in real touch and exchanging with those persons makes it what turns down your prejudices and creates respect for the life of the others.
10.) Post hitchhiking syndrome
Yes, there is a life after hitchhiking, after being completely free on the road without any duties and commitments. An everyday life with the smaller and sometimes bigger problems around. Living in a big city almost always automatically means that you need a certain amount of money for living and getting along. Especially in times of living at the breadline would mean for normal people that travelling would be impossible. Even I get sometimes to the conclusion that without money nothing is possible anymore which can bring me really down. Yet, having the experience of all my hitchhiking lets me know that there is another world which not totally money-driven. It is good to bring to my mind back to those moments.