Friday, November 14, 2008

Why hitchhiking isn't hip any more.

I was tempted to ask: why don't people hitch hike any more. But the answers are pretty obvious:
  1. Fear of getting murdered, chopped into pieces and thrown in a ditch.
  2. You can get a Megabus to anywhere for tuppence ha'penny (a booking fee may be charged).
So why would anyone want to stand by the side of a motorway, getting lungs full of exhaust fumes, getting cold, getting rejected, getting v-signs off angry drivers. Drivers angry that you choose to ask them a question that makes them feel guilty or just angry because they're angry type people... So, the question is: why o why o why would anyone hitch hike?

And why did I spend about 6 months doing it when I was 18 & 19.

I don't have the answers, so I'll just merrily indulge in some naked autobiography and see if any answers arrive through the back door. I only got thinkin about this as I found a bunch of hitch hiking signs in the kitchen. O, you wud not believe the amount of plop there is in some of these cupboards. Not mine, but for reasons I can't go into I'm not able to throw anything away. Well nothing that anyone might want any time in the next 700 years. Bla bla snore.... The reasons I was rooting through cupboards that are never used? Mouse hunting. The reason there's all bare brick and mess everywhere... I don't even want to go into that tediousity of tediousness (builders, leak, they seem to not be returning my calls, perhaps they have gone on holiday to Tenerife; I'm sure they'll be back soon...)

First thing to note about these *signs* = how crappy are these destinations? Kings Lynn? Norwich? And why no *west* sign. West is 1 of my favourite destinations. Not that I ever believed in using *Final Destination* signs. I had one that said *5 Km* if I was especially stuck but that was it. Useful in France that was.


Naked autobiography alert (exit now... exit now... exit now...)

So... when I was 18 I had nowhere to live. So naturally I did the only sensible thing and left the country. But I was sensible, I bought a 1 way train ticket to Athens. Didn't actually have a great deal of money left over but I was sure I would get back somehow. Greece was in Europe somewhere. Past France & some other countries.

I think this may be why I'm quite forgiving about the lack of worldy knowledge amongst your modern day *youthingtons* - coz when I was 18 I didn't really even know *exactly* what countries Greece was next to. There was a list of big stations on the ticket, but who knew where 'Beograd' was? What country was that in? Who cared. Sit on a train. Arrive. Get a job in a bar in Greece. On an island. Return to Ingerland, 3 months later. Good plan I thought.

So I trained it & ferryed it & had a bit more training then arrived in Paris. Got on a Metro underground train. Got fined about £50 for not having an appropriate ticket. Couldn't argue cos the guard had armed police with him & I spoke about 17 words of French.

Arrived at another train station: gare de sud? Wandered around. Ordered a pizza (French food? probably). The cheapest one on the menu. I pointed to it. The surly man cooked it & handed it over. It was an olive oil, olives and anchovy pizza. No cheese, no tomatoes. Not like the frozen mini-pizzas I was used to. Ummm. I had just picked one of the cheap ones at sort of random. I had no idea what I was getting. Ummm. I ate the crust & binned it. It was 8am & I was starving. Ummm.

Long story dull. Train buzzed along. Tried to sleep got kicked out of a carriage. The train stopped at the border to Slovenia. Border guards didn't like the cut of my jib. Kicked me off the train & locked me up for 24 hours. In a skanky jail cell. But there you go. It was an experience. They kept playing Whitney Houston in the distance. Thankfully I didn't have to share my cell. These things happen. Then they deported me back to Italy. (Ask no questions, I'll tell no lies.)

I think I'd slept through Italy. Where was Italy in relation to where I was going? Greece. There was the sea in the way, right? So I gave up on Greece.

I got a train to Milan. Because I had heard of Milan. They had a football team. Fell asleep. Woke up & we had stopped at at station that said 'Milan Industrio' or similar. I grabbed my bag and got off. Got lost in an industrial estate. It was the wrong station, but I wandered off anyway. Bla bla got another train to the South of France. Tried to get a job. Hung about for a month. Lazyin about and trying to find work. Couldn't get one. Lots of gay men wanted to befriend me. I ran away.

I ran out of money. And that was how I discovered hitch hiking. Mainly because I didn't have any choice. But, should anyone ever decide to hitch hike around Europe (you won't, it's a historical activity), don't start in France. You'll be lucky to get 20km a week. Walking is quicker. Luckily being a lovely 18 year old the gay community helped me out again, "Je desire un garcon." I did know what that meant.

O well, what did I have to lose. Not much, as by then I had befriended the only other bloke daft enough to hitch hike in France: an unemployed Algerian truck driver. The gay drivers stopped for me while my Algerian mate made rude signs at any Algerian truck drivers that didn't stop for us. We made quick time to Paris. Where we slept outside a train station with the homeless on lovely bits of cardboard. Which was nice. And then we went our separate ways. Another slightly strange man gave me a lift & I got to Boulogne where I met up with loads of British homeless people (I don't say tramps & beggars now, but I did then). They were hanging out near the port with occasional trips up the church in Boulogne town centre on a Sunday to beg off the nice Christians. Then back to the port arrivals terminals to convince Germans & Belgians that their pound coins were worthless. Or convince Brits that they didn't need their European money any more.

It was all pretty easy really. Money was there to be made. A lad was begging with a sign that said he needed money for his ferry fare. I borrowed the sign & set about begging. My homeless buddies stopped passers-by to point at me and convince them to give me money. I did look pretty pathetic. Dirty, skinny, sunburnt, 18. The money rolled in. Then someone said, come on, I'll give you a lift. And paid for me to get back to Dover. I almost didn't want to go. But I did. I went back to Ingerland, but still had nowhere to live.

So one week later I got a one-way flight to Athens and tried to find a job in Greece again. Followed by another hitch hiking expedition through Europe another couple of months later.

The next year, I just went everywhere. A couple of months full of lifts from genuinely scary psychopaths, drug dealers kidnapping me & taking me to Switzerland, odd but nice ladies, nice Germans, hippy Dutch people wanting to speak Ingerlish.

And nowadays it's all *Gap Years* in India & bungee-jumping in New Zealand. I say bring back hitch hiking. Not for me especially, but it might help the youth to learn something about the world.

Kill or cure, as *they* say...


  1. When I master time travel I'm going to go and give the 18 year old you a cuddle. And a lift.

  2. I too used to hitch hike in my youth......when I think about it now, it seems unbelievable. My 18 year old son wouldn't DREAM of doing anything so risky! As to sleeping rough....well I used to go to Greek islands and sleep in caves on the hilside in the summer( not exactly sleeping rough, but still). My son....if its not a 5* hotel, he isn't interested!
    Not sure where I am going with this.
    Glad you survived your experiences!

  3. I really thinkg you should write a book about your hitchhiking experiences. Its lucky you survived it all I say!

    Still back then (I don't know how old you are, so I don't know how long ago you were 18), it must have been much safer to do it - I have a feeling if I were to hitchhike, from Manchester to Liverpool,I would never be seen again... I don't have any faith in the trustworthyness of lorry drivers I'm afraid!!

  4. I think it always seems safer as a male hitching - and I wouldn't do it today really, well not often, but sometimes - and in Ireland, basically people just seem to stop and ask if you're okay and if you want a lift if you're standing anywhere near a road. that's actually pretty great.

    but as justme said, things like sleeping rough are *so* much easier in hot climbs. sleeping in a cave is much more exciting than sleepin in a multistorey car park. but it still gets bloomin cold at 5am wherever you are.

    my 18 year old self probably thought he was immortal. bravery is usually just stupidity and young males are full of bravado. as to actual risks Sam, I think like most things, 99% of the time you'll be alright. as part of a couple 99.88% of the time. people talk about randomness a lot these days and there's no more random way to meet new people. (not that i'm suggesting you do it, of course).

  5. I hitchhiked when I was a teenager because I had no money. Four of us had gone down to Cornwall to stay at my mother's hotel. The car died on the way home, and we had no money at all. We split up into two's and made it eventually, back up to Yorkshire.
    I remember my boyfriend made ME do the thumbing so the lorry driver would stop, and then he appeared out of the bushes!

    I never wanted to do it again after that, but was glad I did, so I can tick the box..

    This is something I would never want my children to do, not ever, and that is mum is a taxi :)

  6. I shall leave the hitchhiking up to the brave me thinks.... :P

    As for QWOP... yes,I agree, the aim of the game is to make him lie down, or run backwards. I too, am good at that. I can also make him do backflips, so I think I can safely say, I would qualify in the QWOP olympics in at least ONE event!! :)

  7. Yes, I used to hitchhike too - it always seemed such a horrid waste to spend my hard-earned cash on a trainfare when hitchhiking was free and a lot more fun. I always carried three knives with me - no idea why as I would never have used them and once cut myself groping about for a tissue in my rucksack and the driver had to stop to help me bind up my hand!

    You don't see many hitchhikers these days it's true. My ex said to me that he would never pick up a female hitchhiker these days in case she was crazy and made up allegations against him. I am not sure I would stop for a hitchhiker these days either although that is mainly cos my car is so disgustingly foul and dirty and is usually full of children.

    I have no idea whether my daughter would consider hitchhiking or not. I think as a child it is your responsibility to keep such things secret from your parents! She has certainly travelled by unconventional means and slept in weird places on her gap year abroad but she tells me she was always with others when she did so. But she is an adult now so it is up to her what she does obviously.

    I think we have all become soft and wussy and that we need to take more risks. Well young people do anyway - I'm too old for all that stuff!!

    Hitchhiking doesn't look right as a word, does it, with those two hs together in the middle?