Hero’s Journey On The Road: A Hitchhiking Experiment
Some weeks ago I had to expand my hitchhiking experience.
I had done short hitchhiking rides, especially in Slovenia where people are very open about it because it’s needed sometimes over there. Also in Slovenia, I discovered the very first Museum of Hitchhiking, an inspiring experience.
This time, I had (!) to go from Amsterdam to Copenhagen though my final destination was Oslo.
I didn’t buy a flight ticket beforehand. Instead, I assumed I could use a car sharing platform right before my departure. My last-minute strategy didn’t work out. Everything was fully booked or incredibly expensive. So, I decided hitchhiking was going to be my way.
I was extremely lucky to find Jass (a hitchhiking expert) at the Alternative Gather Festival where they invited me to speak about flow and ON BOARD. I saw it as a (good) sign that he was also heading towards Copenhagen.
Day 1: Not in a good mood, unwilling to hitchhike
The day started early in the morning doing some small groceries for the road and WAITING (it would later become the word of the day) for Jass to arrive.
While I was sitting with all my stuff around waiting, someone threw me 10 cents. I desperately tried to tell him that I was not begging but he continued his way and I was left with a weird feeling of scarcity.
This triggered me to change my attitude and take a hitchhiker’s attitude for one day: trying to enjoy the ride as much as I can, opening myself to the adventure and stories. It took a while until I got there… in fact, it took the whole day.
Getting out of the city was the worst part. Long distances in public transportation and then walking at least 1 kilometer with our heavy bags. Jass walked all the way not using public transportation. That’s why he was late.
Finally, we arrived the hitchhiking spot. Yes, these rather unofficial spots really exist. In the Netherlands, they have a name for them: Liftplaats is what the Dutch call them. However, they are usually not well located which is why I remembered this popular quote:
A day spent at a damn Liftplaats is a day well spent.
It made me think that I had to forget about having a rush. I needed to change my mindset. Otherwise, nobody would stop.
The truth is, the day before I was so nervous. I didn’t want to do it. I kept looking for options but nothing was possible. So, I decided to start energetically attracting people that would take us the next day. I was hoping to have an enjoyable experience, ideally as direct as possible and with not many different cars and waiting time.
While waiting, I was still on my phone trying to find BlaBlaCar options until Jass told me:
You need to stand up with me. Otherwise they won’t stop!.
Of course, I knew that was the basic rule. Still, I was not fully convinced of doing it.
Eventually, I stood up. Not only did I start doing the hitchhiker’s pose but added my own style of waving and smiling to people.
Another hitchhiker approached us at the stop. My first thought was:
Great! Now we’ll have to fight for stopping cars. Who stops for whom?
You can tell that I was not in the best mood. It turned out she was a sweetheart and even shared some of her food (local Danish pastry) with us when she realized that her hitchhiking would only last some kilometers and ours would take us more than a day.
Car no. 1
Our first stop came! It was a couple and he had also done hitchhiking before. He picked us up because he knows how hard it is to get out of Amsterdam and because he also wanted to reconnect with his hitchhiking spirit. He said he lived with 1 Euro a day when he did his last hitchhiking experience.
They were going to visit a nearby town to see an art museum with special Van Gogh masterpieces. He also told us about how he struggled with loneliness when he was traveling but also the power of connection hitchhiking gave him.
He left us at a gas station where we split our efforts (a division of labor): Jass outside the shop and me at the parking lot. After having asked more than 10 cars and being refused, I went back to Jass and took new hitchhikers with me.
There was a man driving all the way to Copenhagen. Perfect ride! So we discussed who should go. He had only one spot. I went to ask him but he refused to take me.
Car no. 2
A father and his son picked us up. The father was putting gas. When his son got off we were already in the car. They were changing wheels.
They were very nice. At the end, the young men asked me if I had cash. I told him I had none with me at the moment only my credit card (I thought he was going to ask me for money for the ride haha.) He actually wanted to give us money for the ride to get something to eat — he gave Jass 5 Euros.
Car no. 3
Also in a gas station, we were talking and heading to the parking lot when Jass saw a woman smoking and immediately approached her. He asked her if we could go with her. When she said „Yes“ she seemed surprised by her own answer.
In the car, she told us that she has been driving that route very often. Normally she would never (!) stop. She added:
You’re the kind of people I would stop for.
Soon we realized she could get us further than we thought. More than 3 hours with her. It was a blessing! I thought of the people I tried to approach the day before. She was like one of them.
We had time to talk a lot about milk (it’s part of her work),
suggestions for her Colombian trip in the future and time to rest.
We also talked about hitchhiking itself, the stereotypes, prejudices, and assumptions. We talked about the benefits for the „picker“ filling his car with stories and going to bed knowing that he or she did something awesome by giving a hand to someone else on the road.
One of the things you hear the most when hitchhiking is that you have to be really careful where they drop you. You can lose a lot of time and energy if they drop you at the wrong exit or in the wrong place — wrong meaning: nobody passing by.
There is actually a wiki for hitchhikers: I was constantly reading it and verifying that we were right. The wiki was not finished, so we were missing indications here and there.
Our driver was so nice that she actually did a detour to try to find the right place to drop us. Unfortunately, she dropped us at the wrong ferry station: Instead of going to Copenhagen it was going to Malmö (12 hours by night).
I was so tempted to just take it and cross but I wanted to know how this adventure was going to end. So, we just said goodbye to her and walked the path she drove us before trying to catch a car.
After 30 minutes another couple stopped.
Car no. 4
They just wanted to help us going to an easier spot to catch a ride since they knew we were in the middle of nowhere.
They have never stopped for anyone before and would actually like to try hitchhiking. Also, they had never traveled outside Europe.
They dropped us at a gas station that was not very „wow“. We gave it a try although Jass thought that it would have been better to continue going with them to their city, and from there trying to find a better spot.
We ended up waiting about an hour and 45 minutes when we were getting hungry. Grabbing something to eat at the gas station, a tall man asked Jass what we were waiting for and where we were going.
He took us to a better place, and we were so happy to finally be in a car again.
Car no. 5
They were actually having their first date! So, we told her he was earning points by being so generous to drive us. The thing is: This guy was incredible. He went not only once but three times away from his original way because he was not able to just drop us anywhere.
In the end, we made a detour driving us to the last gas station before the ferry place. There, we got off his car waiting and hoping for another person to come and pick us up. But he came back and offered to drive us 30 more minutes to the ferry station where we finally said goodbye.
We exchanged email addresses since we both promised to send them a copy of the book we are writing.
Finally, at the ferry station, we had what I considered the hardest challenge: finding a ride that would accept crossing the ferry with us including passing the immigration. I thought it was really hard considering all the security issues happening in Europe.
It was already dark (11 pm). For an hour we tried. Without success. So, we decided to camp outside and put our tent facing Denmark… a nice and a bit cold night was ahead of us.
Day 2: The split and car no. 6
A windy morning woke me up, together with the feeling of really wanting to arrive and discover Copenhagen.
Jass wanted to stay a bit more so we decided to split. It was raining and I didn’t feel like hitchhiking on the ferry way. Hence, I paid as a normal ferry passenger knowing that I would need to meet someone on the ferry to drive me to Copenhagen.
I spotted two guys on a table next to me, asking them if they were going to Copenhagen. They said they were, and of course, I asked to go with them. First, they were surprised that I was on my own and then immediately they asked me:
Do you know how to drive?
I didn’t understand well because they asked in Farsi exactly in the same moment when I asked who of them was going to drive. They had been driving from Barcelona in a day and were so so tired. In the end, we all laughed, and I was surprised that they would be trusting a stranger to drive their car and that I was accepting to drive a stranger’s car as well haha.
At the end, I didn’t drive but I did have some waiting time the immigration because they didn’t know that Colombians don’t need a visa anymore to enter to Schengen territory. They had to do their homework and research. Eventually, they apologized and let me continue with my new friends who were laughing about having a Colombian with them haha.
I said goodbye to them and ended my experience eating at the place they suggested me to eat.
My hitchhiking conclusion
After 6 cars, 11 people, 800 kilometers, 3 countries, a night in a tent at the border of Germany and France, and 28 hours, I made it from Amsterdam to Copenhagen hitchhiking!
It was a beautiful learning experience, an emotional journey where every picking driver played an important role. Each one of them not only helped us move forward but handle our emotions and understand how waiting can be an incredible master of life.
I learned that hitchhiking is the best metaphor for the dynamics of life and how we all need one another to get wherever we want to go. It can take longer trusting people but it is for sure more rewarding.
I strongly recommend trying to hitchhike at least once in your life. I’m sure I will include a hitchhiking day in my future travels to keep learning more about myself and the journey ahead in a slower phase, in a different rhythm.
If you want experience adventures like these yourself, consider joining our next trip to Colombia, the gate to South America and home of Gabriel García Márquez who is very famous for magical realism.
Originally published at ON BOARD Blog.