Why do you hitchhike? Is a question that has been asked to me quite often, ever since I uploaded this video about hitchhiking in Iran. Why would you spend hours next to the road, confuse people, go through the effort of explaining what you are doing… putting yourself possibly in danger.. when you can just take a bus for 5 euro or so?
The same goes voor wildcamping and couchsurfing. Why go through the effort? A guesthouse is under 10 euro’s a night. Why then, would you want to sleep in a tent – or bother other people?
I understand the confusion. People have many different reasons to hitchhike and travel super low-budget. I will try to my best abilities to explain why I do as I do.
#1 This is not a holiday
First of all: My traveling is not a holiday. I am not on a vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I love holidays. A holiday for me is relaxing, seeing new things, reading books, more relaxing.. They are great. However, 10-month holidays are both unaffordable for me as well as a bit boring. Getting ‘out’ of regular life once is a while is good. It’s nice. However, for the long-term I like to do something more challenging and rewarding. For me, long-term traveling is not for the sole purpose of enjoying myself. Its a way of life.
And as with anything in life, it has its ups and downs. Life on the road actually doesn’t differ that much from life at home. The definition of ‘home’ just expands to where ever my backpack is stored at that moment. Home is a feeling, not a place. You can be sad, happy, angry and joyful. One day is good, the other one a bit less. Just like normal life, I am trying to set goals for myself. Getting things done. Evolve. Trying to make enough money to make a living – or at least to continue to live as I do.
Sometimes, my home looks like this..
..and sometimes like this.
#2 I love challenges
Tours, public transport and hostels are ideal for tourists and backpackers. Now, I wouldn’t say that I am not a tourist or a backpacker, because I am both. I used to travel this way before. Although I didn’t take tours, I used trains and buses to explore new countries and stayed in hostels to meet fellow travelers. It is great, but it is not a challenge for me anymore. I know how it works, I know how to do it. I know the outcome if I take a bus from A to B. It doesn’t place me outside my comfort zone.
Hitchhiking does. Adventuring does. Placing myself into uncertain situations where the outcome is up to decisions I make on the spot. Not knowing where I will end up or where I will sleep tonight. It makes me tick. Let my eyes glim and my heart pounder in my chest. Getting comfortable with the unknown. Leaving the normality. It makes me grow, more independent with every new country and more confident of myself. It forces my inner devils outside, to show themselves. Forces me to confront them and deal with all my insecurities and fears. Getting over my own fears, again and again. Make my ego suffer.
I won’t recommend this way of traveling for everyone. If you are fine just where you are, no problem. It is not an easy way of traveling, but it is the most rewarding for me.
Getting invited for lunch by a local family, photo by Cassia.
#3 I want to completely dive into a new culture
Sometimes I am a tourist and I want to see places and things. But most of all, my journey is about the people. The people I meet on the way, in the street, who take me a bit further in their car, let me into their house.. the people who show me a bit of their lives. All the different layers of society that I would never come in contact with if I would have solely stayed in tourist places. If you stay in hostels, you meet fellow travelers. If you couchsurf, you come in contact with the local community. If you hitchhike, you meet the people willing to take a stranger into their car. If you travel by land, you see the cultures mixing at the borders and the landscapes gradually changing.
If you pay someone for a service – from a guesthouse to transportation – you have expectations and can demand certain ‘rights’, because ‘you paid for it’. You have a relationship based on money and business transactions. It is an exchange.
Couchsurfing and hitchhiking are based on different principles. It is a relationship based on trust and being open to strangers. You start out completely different when you trust a stranger in your house or car (and if that stranger trust to accept the offer as well). Is is a relationship based on giving without expectations. On friendship. It supports human connection to the fullest extent.
Now, to not get to romanticize my way of life – of course you have to be careful. Take precautions. Being able to read bad signs. Knowing when you can trust someone, and when not. It is not always like this. Sometimes people try to get money out of you (trying to steal backpacks and stuff), don’t understand what you are doing, having to explain that you are a hitchhiker – not a prostitute.. As always, the good experiences way overrule the bad ones. Else I wouldn’t still travel like this.
Hitchhiking together with Cassia and Lena (two other solo female hitchhikers) in Kyrgyzstan.
#4 Show that the world is a good place & empower women
In a time where people are afraid of their neighbor next door, where discrimination is growing and stereotypes about unknown countries are ruling the public opinion… Hitchhiking, even couchsurfing and traveling less-known countries like Iran might be seen as very controversial.
I don’t trust stereotypes. I want to see for myself how the people are, what happens in a country and how it works. Traveling like this, completely trusting strangers and getting to ‘dangerous’ countries learned me that the world is mostly a good place. That people are good. Sometimes they behave bad, or do strange things.. but learning to understand people.. analyse, observe and seeing the different sides of a situation, is where I do it for. Confronting my own stereotypes, being open to new ideas, the possibility of being wrong, growing and practicing empathy. Learning to build bridges between cultures that are so far apart from each other that even basic gestures mean something entirely different. Share this with the world.
Next to that, I am a great supporter of women empowerment. Women should be able to do similar things to men, without their capabilities being questioned. I lost count of the times people asked where my husband was or told me I could not travel alone as a woman. I am very pro-equality and would like to inspire other women to follow whatever they want to do. I can go on on this topic for ages, but if you are interested in it I would just recommend you to read this article.
Passed out in the grass after a long hike, photo by Cassia.
#5 I don’t have money
As I said before – I don’t have enough money for a months or years long holiday. I want to be able to travel anyway, even if I don’t have much. Of course, I wouldn’t travel this way if it would cost me loads of money. To be completely honest, I don’t know to what extent exactly I do travel like this because of the lack of money. On the other hand, even if I had loads of money, I would still prefer to travel this way. Maybe not always, but definitely most of it.
I prefer to exchange a few hours work per day for food and accommodation though websites like workaway. I prefer to stand hours next to a road or have to explain again and again what I am doing and how I can do it, so I can continue my lifestyle. I prefer the risk of staying at a strangers home, wildcamping in different places, sleeping at gasstations or staying up the whole night.. for the sake of living my life how I choose to. Last summer, I finished my studies (I have a master degree in marketing) and put out my thumb to hit the road.
I understand this has an effect on the people I meet. Not in every culture they know hitchhiking. Especially in countries where ‘white Europeans’ are seen as walking ATM’s it is not really understandable for people why I travel as I do. Why I don’t want to pay for a ride, if this driver can bring me anywhere I want. Why I only want to take up a space in a car that is not being used. Especially because I am a girl, some people (men) start to see my safety as their responsibility somehow. I don’t want to ‘use’ people. I only want to accept a ride, a place to sleep or food if people offer me this or if they don’t mind when I ask. If they are willing to give.
I am also not a saint. I am sure that, because of miscommunication, misperception, culture differences, laziness from my side – or whatever, people offered me things that they actually did not want to give. That it was not convenient to host me, but saw it as their duty to do so. That they drove me 100 km out of their way because they were worried for me. I think I have the responsibility to make sure a gift is a real gift, and it makes people happy to give. It happens tho, that things go different than intended. You live and you learn.
That is why I took a hostel when I was sick and didn’t wanted to talk to people. Decided to leave a host, because it seemed more inconvenient for him if I stayed. Took a night bus on the way to safe precious visa time. Took a train in Kazachstan, because I was tired of trying to explain what I do. Payed for a taxi in Iran, when I accidentally ended up in one without realizing. Took another bus, because all the different experiences were too much for me at the time. I need to process things as well.
Nevertheless, I am always immensely grateful for all the amazing people I meet on the road, through couchsurfing or facebook pages and other hospitality websites. All the people that helped me on the way. That made traveling like this possible for me. Without all the great people I met on the road, I would never have been possible. Everyone needs other people to help them. By your own you can get far – but together you can go strong. The only way I can thank them is by doing what I love, and helping out others as well whenever I can. Participating in spreading kindness, empathy for others and mutual understanding all over the world. That’s my goal.
Campfires and music with new friends in Iran.
#6 I want to have low effects on our environment
If you made it this far reading my almost 2000-word essay, better not skip this point. Our earth is fragile. This planet is the only one we have. Traveling is not very good for our environment. With hitchhiking, you (usually) take up space in a car that is else not been used. With dumpster diving, you use the food that else is being wasted. Being vegetarian saves both animal lives in different countries as well as lowers my environmental effects. You can call me a hypocrite as well, because I would use airplanes to visit my family, so this point is not always my main priority.
I hope I made it more clear why I decide to travel as I do. I know it is the right choice for me, at this moment in my life. It is the way I want to live. You can agree or disagree, find it horrible and destructive or exiting and rewarding. It doesn’t matter. This is my life, and if we meet somewhere along the road, I would love to hear about yours!