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It costs 29 Euros to take the train from Heerlen to Amsterdam which seems accessible, especially since we want to support the efficient, comfortable, comprehensive Dutch mass transit system. But it misses the point - the point which is about radical sharing. And about story telling. And about dropping social barriers. And about taking useful risks. And about modeling behaviors for a more sustainable future.
I am talking about hitchhiking.
The Dutch weather is perfect today - it is cloudy and threatening. So even if i am not now wet, i could be in moments. You get to be a hero for picking up someone at the edge of a storm. Many people wave, some indicate that they are only going a short distance or that their vehicles are filled with family or junk. One woman gives me a thumbs down, but she is the exception.
After perhaps 45 minutes (i am without cell phone these days, so my clock is gone), a car stops on the wide breakdown lane entering the highway to the north. He is going to Eindhoven and on to Tilburg - this is far enough along my way to give up my good spot, for what might be a poor one further on.
He is totally charming. Speaks good English. He is an art lecturer, who amazingly makes his money from the entry fees to his lectures. He rents out auditorium space, self promotes and makes enough to live relatively comfortably. I can't conceive of someone doing this in the US, unless they had a huge name - and then thy would not do their own promotion.
We talk about Jackson Pollack who I have never understood (my lover Caroline, now in art school in Barcelona, has offered to explain him, but i wanted to do this face to face). And Andy Warhol (who he respects the intellect of, but is not impressed with his art). I ask him about Rembrandt and the Night Watch and why it is so important. He talks about artists as revolutionaries, as challenging our perceptions of the world. In Pollacks case, he talks about revolutionizing the tools artists use- throwing out the brush and the easel. I tell him stories, talk about the commune and of course memetics. He is enchanted, very glad he took the risk of picking up a hitchhiker. And I'm glad i skipped the train.
We part in Tilburg. We never shared names - often it is part of the culture of hitching - to be vulnerable and nearly intimate with someone and never know this label on their identity.
--Paxus 6:08, 20 October 2008 (CEST)
Viva con Agua Hitchhike Race 2008
From the 23rd of August on twelve people in five groups made their way hitchhiking from Hamburg to Saragossa for the Open Network Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli, a charity movement from Hamburg-St.Pauli, which provides different villages in Latin America and Africa with clear drinkable water resources. On their way the hitchhikers called attention for the worldwide drinkable water problems with 5,000 flyers in different languages and through the media. Malte, participant and member of the organization-team describes the way how the idea of such a race was born till the end with reactions of friends, surroundings and media.
Unforeseen competition in Corsica
It has been someday in 2006, when I and my best friend Marcel decided to hitchhike the first time a bit around Europe. We had no idea how to hitchhike, just got some information on the internet and a couple of days later our thumbs were shining the first time in the sun on the road direction south of Hamburg, destination Corsica to do the circle around the island. Our first ride in a foreign country was probably one of the most amazing till now, but for sure unforgettable. The rusty car with low air was full of bad sprayed graffiti animals - a bunny and a cow and something we never figured out what it was - and the three principles of the french constitution: Egalite, Liberte, Fraternite. So far, so good...low air, heavy heavy rain, already some cars beside the road and a freaky guy who proudly called his home this car, provided with moss in the front of the steering-wheel and some plastic figures, a bunch of some 50 parking and speed tickets in the glove box ("hehe, they can't catch me, i live in this car and have no address - who cares") and a clothesline from window to window on the backseat with some more or less freshly washed shirts. Wow, this is crazy, if every driver who picks us up is like this guy, we'll never stop hitchhiking we thought. After the 30 minutes ride he dropped us of somewhere and we still wondered how this car survived even this short trip in such a fucked up condition...we were even more excited when he told us he's heading back to the harbor now to get a ferry to the French main land and then continue driving to Thailand - without money, a working car and we would not even wonder if had no proper map...this has been our first hitchhiking experience outside of Germany - there is no better way to start we agreed standing in the rain waiting for the next lift!
After a couple of days spending time on the beaches and the beautiful mountains of Corsica we discovered another pair of hitchhikers standing with a sign on the road. Sometimes we saw these two guys twice or three times a day, always hitchhiking, always the same route we did, because there is only one good main road in Corsica. And here the idea of a hitchhike race was born. We never met the two ones personally, but always overtook them somewhere on the road and they for sure did the same with us, so we had our little competition on the island of Corsica - always celebrating the moment we saw these guys standing below a tree with a sign in their hand and sticking their thumbs out. We imagined some great evenings and stories if we only had met these guys once to share some time together on a bonfire...Too bad we didn't...
Hitchhiking and Viva con Agua
2 years later in 2008, after some time of traveling, working and studying we decided to organize a hitchhiking race for two weeks to a certain destination somewhere in Europe.We heard about this charity movement from Hamburg-St.Pauli called "Viva con Agua", which was known to raise money for social projects in another way we know it from big organizations. We liked the idea of an open network, where everybody has the option to move, organize or participate in something, with own ideas and influence. We also liked the idea, that Viva con Agua doesn't just ask people to donate money on a simple bank account but involving them in every project they run. Organizing parties, concerts, cultural and sport events or arrange "Water Days" in schools with a charity run afterward, so the kids know what they're running for. They also walked 1000km from Hamburg to Basel with a wooden bicycle from Kongo to the European Football Cup opening game in 39 days to call attention for the worldwide drinking water problems and collected deposit cups on every bigger festival in Germany the whole summer long.A crazy crew of young people willing to move something, open for new ways and ideas. Behind every of these activities stands one simple idea: to combine fun and social engagement.
Organization and disappointment
So our idea of a hitchhike race fitted perfectly in the philosophy of this a little bit different charity organization. A hitchhike-race, the ultimate combination of fun and the possibility to support the drinkable water-projects in countries in Latin America and Africa. We liked the idea a lot and so started to work out everything necessary. First we needed to find the route, checkpoint city's and organizing information for every hitchhiking group like maps, hitchhiking phrases, security issues, meeting points in the checkpoint city's, etc...Then we started to promote the race in the internet (not that successful) and our home towns Kiel and Hamburg in the university, bars and public places, spending nights tagging traffic jams and bus-stations with posters and flyers, talking to everybody we know, telling about our project and tried to motivate them to join. Everybody was interested, a lot excited, some said they're joining definitely - and some weeks before we planned to start from Hamburg to Saragossa we were kinda sure: we are freaks who like to spend our free time half the day on a dusty road or a smelly gas-station just to be the fun-and-fear-factor for hundreds of car-drivers. Only 1 more group signed up after weeks of spreading the word of the hitchhiking race in August, making a trailer for youtube.com and informing people - all the effort for only one group?this was definitely not what we wanted...but organizing a hitchhiking race is like hitchhiking itself - you can only influence it to a certain point, than everything is going to happen on his own.It was disappointing.
Alright, we gonna have fun anyway,if with 2,3 or 20 groups doesn't matter we thought, let these boring people staying home watching reality TV-shows or getting sunburned somewhere on a fake-beach in a 4 Stars hotel in Turkey - we don't care, because we gonna have fun and a great time together! After quite some time of disappointment after all that effort we just kept on working out the last details for the race. We needed a camera to document the whole race, we contacted different radio stations and newspapers, even wrote a short message to a local TV Channel which is covering the whole north of Germany. Our destination was still Saragossa, the place where the EXPO 2008 took place with the topic "Water and Sustainable Development" and we wanted to see this exhibition for free, so we asked the German pavilion for some support. 5,000 flyers needed to be designed and printed in 3 different languages to spread the idea of Viva con Agua on the way and we still wanted to find sponsors before the race who donate one cent for each hitchhiked kilometer. In that way we avoided to ask people for money during the race, because for us it was out of question to keep hitchhiking free of money for the whole time we gonna spend on the road.
Wow! it seems to work! - Reactions close before the start and after two weeks of hitchhiking
And two weeks before the race actually started, our project started to evolve like the rule number one of hitchhiking: you always get away. In the end we were 12 people who hitchhiked 2500km from Hamburg to Saragossa and back, always spreading good vibes, flyers and information on the road. And even the media started to become interested in our small project: 3 radio stations called us during the race for live interviews, the TV channel accompanied two groups the whole first day from the starting point on in Hamburg, a bunch of newspapers wrote about the race and its background and even one of the biggest internet news platforms in Germany, www.zdf.heute.de wrote a long article about the hitchhiking race.In Montpellier we received the invitation of the German pavilion in Saragossa and the whole crew welcomed us with beer and bratwurst and we didn't even had to wait 4 hours like every other visitor to see the pavilion from the inside!
So 12 people reached approximately more or less 500,000 people in Northern Germany (mostly between Hamburg and Kiel), calling attention for drinkable water issues and promoting hitchhiking as a generally safe, fast and extremely interesting, funny and cheap way of traveling.
7 of the 12 participants never hitchhiked before, not even a kilometer - and now, after hitchhiking some thousand kilometers they can't believe how easy it actually is and how they spent their time gazing out of a window for a couple of hours in bus or train. They were excited about the hospitality and friendliness of so many people and heard a dozen of different stories from all the life's ups and downs. To make it short: they became addicted to hitchhiking!
It's 3 weeks after the race now and the snowball effect slowly starts moving. Showing pictures of all the different people and their amazing stories, the nice sunsets in Nice, camping in Barcelona's parks, guitar-jams in Montpellier, juggling in Lausanne and the fact, that nobody didn't pay a cent for 5000km (Hamburg - Saragossa - Hamburg) of transportation already inspired a lot of people to join the race in the upcoming year or just start hitchhiking the next bigger distance - in my opinion far the most success. Some people even sticked out their thumb the next day to visit parents and friends in their home cities and have been amazed how funny and interesting it is.
In the end our project was pretty successful: we had two great weeks of hitchhiking, we promoted the idea of Viva con Agua, we combined fun and social engagement, we called attention in every possible part of the media, we promoted hitchhiking and inspired more people to hit the road by hitchhiking - we're looking forward for the Hitch in 2009 and more hitchhiking gatherings&competitions!
--Wukk 02:46, 1 October 2008 (CEST)
When you are all whatever, it all clicks together
"You shouldn't think too much about how hard something might be, you should just go on the road and find your way. Just believe it can be done and you will see it will happen."
Once, when I was hitchhiking through Akureyri to Reykjavik - hitchhiking there is really easy as most cars were driving on that route to Reykjavik anyway; I spent more time writing Reykjavik than holding the sign - a friend of my driver, was organizing an art exhibition and he asked me if I wanted to work for him, being paid in cash.
Things like this happen. You just have to get to know the people and network around that. Like that you sometimes end up going to nice places. I always wanted to go to Finland. In Iceland I met someone who offered me a job and a place to stay in Finland. It did take me a while to figure out how to survive but even without papers these things are possible.
When you don't really have plans you come to see it all falls into place. It seems that things fall together in that way, when you have less expectations and when you worry less. But when you need to be somewhere at a certain time it gets much more stressful to find your food and to find those rides. When you are all whatever, it all clicks together. It is about letting go.
The first times I came to Europe, I had a budget and a return ticket. I was on holidays, visiting Europe, using my credit card. I always had to go back to the US to work and pay off my debts that I made while traveling. But now I don't do that anymore, I have no exit-ticket and basically no budget.
Two and a half years ago I left the US with only 250 dollars and I made my way to Iceland for a job. I worked 90 hours a month in a youth-hostel just to sleep in a dormitory. To actually get some money, I had to work there 120 hours a month. Since Iceland is pretty expensive, I ended up with nothing.
At the end of those three months, I was going to overstay my tourist visa. The hostel arranged a ticket for me to the UK to go out. So I left Iceland broke and wanted to go to Ireland to volunteer at a different hostel. But with no money at all, I got detained at customs and got sent back to the UK. They detained me for seven hours in an empty room and returned me for free to the UK.
Then I stayed at the London airport for a night walking pass the restaurant area with no money at all. That was hard, seeing all those people eating. I could have done it differently by obtaining work-visas so that I could have stayed in a rather normal way - but I prefer not to have that responsibility, it is a different mentality.
So I stayed in the UK and through a friend I went to a Wwoofing farm where they payed 70 pounds a week, for 40 hours labor. Though I still wanted to go to this hostel in Ireland, in the Aran Islands. For nine years I really wanted to visit this place. It was worth it, it is a special place. So when I got some more money, I made my way there, traveled then through mainland Europe, moved back to Ireland, got kicked out, and so on.
But you shouldn't think about how hard something might be, you should just go on the road and find your way. Just believe it can be done and you will see it will happen. It is sometimes hard to figure out where is this damn highway but once you are on the road, it always feels really good. Finding food is actually the hardest part, every morning you have that same thing again, and sometimes it can be really hard when you wake up hungry. Or at night, and you are wandering around a random city and you really want to have a decent hot meal and a good cold beer and you see people having those meals...
My traveling is now a lot slower, I need to build up that system of having a place to stay, getting a routine, get work, then start looking where I want to go next. Before, to stay at one spot for six weeks seemed forever, but now six weeks looks like nothing: go to a place, find a job, a place to stay, etc.
The jobs I do can be pretty different. To get by, I sometimes just go out on the street and collect bottles with deposit. But you can also do Wwoofing or construction work. My favorite work to do is some bar tending, which is pretty easy to get a job in. The reason I like that is meeting people. When you are on a construction site you only meet the crew.
What is essential about traveling like this is to meet local people. How I was traveling before - I was working and living in youth hostels - I met a lot of travelers. So wherever I was living, I always met the same sort of travelers. It didn't matter where I was - the experience was all the same.
But now that I stopped traveling like this you have to interact with someone at some time. I am much more just wandering around in a city and I feel much more that I have to force myself to interact with people. Good things happen out of that, either they buy you a beer and you get by for some hours, or if you hitchhike, you get further on your way to a new destination, or when you tell your story to your driver they sometimes even help you with a surprise.
Not knowing what would happen next
Shaun "Master of Air Guitar" is from Canada, Vancouver and has been traveling through Europe for 1,5 year now on a low/no-budget. How does he make it happen?
"The adventure of it all, not knowing what would happen next, all the different places, and friends you haven't met yet, places you haven't seen yet, all that pulled me into traveling."
The first time traveling, I had no money. I had a backpack and a ticket to Costa Rica. I thought I would just go there, get a bus to the beach and put up my tent to sleep there. I met many people, who were just sleeping on the beach, for free, and like that I met many people who had done that for years.
I was living of coconuts and bananas, I didn't even need money. People I met who did have money were surprised, that I traveled like this, they said I was naive. But it helps being naive, because it makes you realise that it is very possible. I later hitchhiked back from Costa Rica to Canada.
These type of experiences inspire you with all kinds of further travel-ideas. On the way, you also learn better how to travel as such. For example, my backpack is now way lighter. At first it was 90 liters, now just 30 liters.
Now I am traveling without a plan to go home, I have no exit-plan, just a one way ticket. I have my guitar and I can also make jewelery for money, and I can always do that if it is needed, if I run out of money for example.
Since I arrived in Europe, I just kept on traveling until my money was finished and I really didn't think of my money until I run out of it. Though that didn't worry me at all. Once you are traveling and you stay in a city for a bit longer, you meet people from all over the place who you then meet up in the city where they live. As you keep on expanding your network you also get more opportunities on the way.
So when I ran out of money, I randomly went to Dublin. I did some couchsurfing and so I stayed at a few different places there when I started writing people just asking for any tips on how to find a job, if they know anyone for a room to rent, and letting them know I am very low on money so they know I cannot pay rent straight away. I got word back from different people with websites for jobs and through a friend of one girl I actually got a room and some work.
Skills and Resources
But the essential thing is that you actually don't even need that money when you travel. You come to this point when you realise the different things you can do to get by. What I do when I have no money, is going to the bakery at closure time and ask them if they have any food they are going to throw away, and you can do the same thing at markets, and so on. Grocery's stores throw away their old food too, but sometimes it is still really good, and you just have to cut off the bad pieces.
If you have a low budget and you want to travel for years and years, you should be able to have some skills to be able to get by with. If you can make something, if you can make art for example, or offer poetry even and ask people if you can share a poem with them. I actually met someone who printed poems and shared them with people and made his money through that.
You can also do farming, for which you don't always need special skills. Farmers pay you cash, you can pick grapes, strawberries. Take for example WWOOFing (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), you don't make money, but you have a free place to stay and free food. I did a lot of that. Even when you don't know how to farm, you can still do simple work like digging a hole.
But even painting - I was once working for a guy painting his house in exchange for a free place: I painted for two days painting and stayed for a week.
And sometimes things just occur to you. I was just sitting in Brussels and making some bracelets as some girls came up to me and asked me if they could buy them of me. "How much you want for it?", they asked. "A euro?", I replied, and they said, "no way, is that all?" and so I raised the price a bit.
That is how I came up with the idea of going around and sell the bracelets that I make. My plan now is to hitch to the Baltic countries, to make bracelets and to sell those in the Greek islands. Someone told me it was easy to sell them there, and that I could make 8 euros on average an hour.
How does hitchhiking fit in all that?
It is the lowest budget way of traveling. If you go short distances, you can ride bikes as you can go anywhere with that, but for larger distances, hitching is a really great way of traveling. It is not completely risk-free obviously, but you have a choice of who you want to get in the car with and if you can 'read' people you can be a good hitchhiker.
How does one become a good hitchhiker?
To start with, it is all in your attitude, if you're sitting on a back bag on the side of the road, not looking to anyone, you will never get that ride. But if you are standing up, big smile, and your thumb is out there with enthusiasm, you look the drivers in the eye, yeah, then it works pretty good. Equally important, when you're not getting your rides, don't feel bad about it, your right ride will come along, just wait and stay positive.
Did you have fears or doubts before traveling?
Well, there is the fear of never leaving the same place, the same old town. And doing something other than what you are told to do when you are born, school, job, marriage, house, kids. That fear pushed me into traveling. The adventure of it all, not knowing what would happen next, all the different places, and friends you haven't met yet. Places you hadn't seen yet, that pulled me into travelling.
I didn't have many doubts either. I thought it was actually going to be pretty easy, without any big problems. Being robbed was the only problem I could think of. Accidents, injuries, getting sick, or hit by a bus, that could happen at home also, so why should I not travel!?
Hitchhiking Image in Canada
In Canada I got rides from quite some people saying they have a certain image about hitchhikers, that hitchhikers are generally dangerous. So they say, they normally don't stop for hitchhikers but since I am a girl, and since it is rainy, or since it is bloody cold, sometimes women do stop for me.
This is beneficial for me, but is also pretty sexist. I think they should be just as compassionate to a male as they are to me. Or, why don't they think I have the same potential as a man? That I can be as dangerous as a guy because also I could have a gun or knife and be as 'powerful'?
They don't see us hitchhikers as just ordinary people who have office jobs for example, or whatever, and who just have go from place A top B like they have to themselves.
I am not so pessimistic about hitchhiking in Canada though, because I do get a lot of good lifts, and other people tell me that they like picking up hitchhikers, that for example they themselves used to also hitchhike.
In the 50s and 60s it was much more common to hitchhike. But these days, in different ways, people are taught to be afraid. The media image and the government give us hitchhikers and the concept of sharing a bad image. Also in general terms, people are taught to be afraid of others. That's a big shame.
---Sarah Jane from Canada
Hitchhikers Control Card
The Hitchhikers Control Card was a small booklet for each city with places where to stand, with the telephone numbers of police and the date issued. It would be valid for a year. The other side of this card had space for drivers to put their personal stamps that were provided by the government.
Even on television there were advertisements for people to hitchhike, also saying it would be perfectly safe for children to hitchhike without their parents.
But many hitchhikers also had fears of why the government was controlling even hitchhiking. Using the card was risky because the government could use the data you provided, whether you were communist or not. It was also just another way to control society, with the police abusing hitchhiking to have deeper surveillance.
The hitchhikers' card died somewhere in the 70s. Someone actually got killed and people stopped using these cards. Generally Polish people don't like control over themselves by the authorities, so hitchhiking was something you would do without letting the police know about it. People just wouldn't give out their names anymore merely because they wanted to travel safer.
It actually worked in a way, my uncle experienced. It can become handy, but the people that stopped for him would have stopped anyway. He felt safer though because once when he got robbed, the thief was stupid enough to give a stamp when my uncle entered the car, and so the police could track him quickly.
--- by Noemi.