- Travel and Places
Why Hitchhike?: Hitchhiking vs. Conventional Travel
The days of hitchhiking as a popular means of transportation are over. That is not to say the act itself is over, but much like a language that is slowly fading away through the passage of time, it's become a whisper. There are, however, many of us still wandering the roads, searching for adventure, looking at more sentimental and cost-effective ways to see the world. The fact that it's a dying art only makes the entire experience that much more of a special one.
As fast, somewhat cheap global-travel becomes the norm, society has started to demonize hitchhiking, and a few certain serial killers didn't help that image. With all the societal stigma's aside, hitchhiking remains one of the most unique, fulfilling, and just plain exciting ways to see this vast and varying world, but is it really worth it?
What's so bad about other means of travel?
There is nothing bad about taking a plane, train, bus, car, donkey, or magic carpet - not at all. For many, convenience trumps everything else, which is entirely understandable. In this article, we're talking about enjoyment in the act of travel itself. Travel isn't about getting to your destination, it's about the adventure, it's about the quest!
Planes are almost a necessity, if you're goal is far off lands. There is the possibility of hitching rides on yachts, or getting work on smaller vessels, but generally this requires experience, sometimes a qualification or two, luck, and a lot of leg-work. Many of us would revel in such a plan - hitchhiking the oceans of the world is a pretty nice idea, eh? But for those that are less ambitious, dislike the ocean, or would just prefer to skip the ocean altogether, planes are a good means of getting to your general area of operation, without too much hassle. Additionally, if you're on a time/money limit (Try not to be!), planes can definitely save time and the slowly accumulating costs of long-term travel.
From what I have noticed, most backpackers take trains. You have a front-row seat to the landscapes of whatever region you're traveling through, with the luxury of being able to read, write, talk to others, or just stare out the window and watch the world pass you by. Tickets can be cheap, but unless you're in cheaper countries, you're still paying a mint (From Munich to Berlin it costs around 100 Euros, last I checked! Compare that to a $10 USD ride from Gdansk to Warsaw, and you can see how differently costs can vary). So when it's practical, train rides can be a nice break from the constant walking and waiting of hitchhiking, but I personally avoid all but the cheapest trains. Even with programs such as the Eurail pass that gives you a package deal on train tickets, you're still paying a lot of money to just sit in a moving box.
Intercity buses are much the same as trains, albeit a bit less comfy, but generally much cheaper. In places like Europe, there are many bus companies that go to many destinations, so for more cost-effective backpackers, this is one of the best choices (You know... besides hitching). From personal experience, the smaller and cheaper bus companies are harder to locate, and I learned the hard way that it's best to look for the deals than to use the main local bus company. The difference between working a bit more to find a better price, and settling with the first bus station you see, could be a difference of $50 or more. Always shop around.
Car rentals, personal vehicles, or ride-shares are about on the same level of usefulness as buses. The main plus of course being that you can go anywhere you want, without being restricted to per-determined points on your route. This means that you can take all the side-roads you want, finding the secret spots that all the other tourists will never find. The negative side being the costs of fuel, insurance, and having yet another responsibility to deal with. Unless I was planning on long-term travel, while making a decent bit of cash along the way, I wouldn't rent a vehicle, or take my own. Ride-sharing, however, is a great alternative, and a respectably cheap mode of transportation when you're tired, lonely, or just need a break from thumbing.
How does hitchhiking stand out above the others?
Hitchhiking is by far my most favorite mode of transportation, bar-none. Besides the fact that it's completely free, it is the sheer size of the adventure that is guaranteed to happen, from simply doing it... The adventure finds you, wherever you might go.
Hitchhiking can be done anywhere. Techniques will vary, and you may have to dress and act in a certain way to get yourself a ride; but no matter if it's rural China, or the Autobahn, it can be done, if you have the heart for it. I think I can comfortably say that it's the only mode of transportation that you always know will be there, waiting for you alongside every road you trod upon. That alone comforts me plenty.
With every new ride, comes a new person, and a new story. Conversations can range from complete silence and a slight uneasiness, to unloading your life story, and confiding in a complete stranger all the things you are too scared or nervous to tell someone you know. There is a purity in the relationship of the hitchhiker and those kind souls who pick him/her up; two complete strangers, the road, and almost a guarantee that you will never see that person again, so how could it hurt to tell them anything and everything? (Of course, confessing to murders might not be the best conversation piece) Additionally, most of the people who pick up hitchhikers are fairly eccentric themselves, so there will be many stories to take with you along the winding roads of this world. You will learn a lot about the cultures of the locations you pass through, thus enriching yourself and hopefully the life of the person or people you converse with.
Important note: Hitchhiking definitely has a higher chance of danger attached to it, for quite obvious reasons. There are a lot of rides with complete strangers, in areas you aren't familiar with, and chances are no one knows where you are most of the time. This can make you a target, so everyone should keep that in mind. Personally, I believe that danger has the potential to be everywhere, and restricting what you want to do based on the off chance that something bad will happen, just isn't the way to live. It's just something to keep in mind.
We all live different, varying lives. Some of us move fast, some of us move slow, and we all have our preferences when it comes to, well, just about everything in existence. Modes of travel are obviously a varying and subjective area, as well. For those that just want to get to their destinations (IE. City to city), the more expensive, yet faster modes are obviously the better choice. For those of us who have more fun getting to our destinations, than being there, hitchhiking is simply the way to go. It's cost-effective, extremely entertaining, interesting in the weirdest and most fun ways, and it's such a 'different' thing to do, that you are afforded a unique and special perspective on life.
To explain my deepest feelings on my adventures thus far would be impossible, as we all know there are things in life that are simply unexplainable. You just have to do it for yourself, and find out.