On a warm August afternoon, in New York’s Chelsea district, I was sat in a hostel courtyard contemplating my next move. In came a whirlwind: a character so full of life and stories I was instantly spellbound. Meet Inge, my Amsterdam based hitchhiking friend. Some people radiate energy and life, Inge is one of these people. If I could see auras hers would be a gigantic rainbow, I’m sure of that.
Inge is a solo female traveller, a hitchhiker who travels her way round the globe one Summer at a time. In ‘real-life’ she runs an after school centre for children with autism. In her six week break she explores the world fearlessly, hitching lifts with the guys and gals she meets on the road. I met her at the tail-end of her Summer adventure and she was bursting with stories about her travels around the US.
I asked the dull obvious question: ‘Are you ever scared? Scared you may jump into a car with a psycho?’ ‘No, never’ ‘I mean one guy asked for all my money in New Zealand and I laughed and told him I only carry travellers cheques and would have to come with him to cash them, he let me go.’ Attitude goes a long way in life and I certainly wouldn’t mess with this lady – she’s not afraid of anything or anyone. Over breakfast one morning she casually mentioned an old dude that had picked her up in Kentucky, a week or so before. 90 years old at a guess and obviously visually impaired he mistook Inge for a prostitute. ’Didn’t you read my sign?’, she exclaimed, as he pulled out his dick and ask her what she does. She laughed and he was embarrassed. He meant no harm, just a good old fashioned misunderstanding.
So how did this way of travel become the norm for Inge? ‘My first international hitchhiking experience was my first holiday abroad as an 18 year old. I was with my boyfriend and we wanted to go to France but never really discussed how. Hitchhiking was logical, no one had cars those days. We got stuck in Paris for 3 days, forced to go back to the hotel every night like 25 other people in the line with us. We ended up taking a train to Orleans, but after that we ended up in Spain. Lots of scary rides followed. I’ve never since been afraid but that trip we met lots of loonies, truckdrivers with hands in my pants (with my boyfriend next to me) drunk drivers, bragging men that said they hadn’t slept in 3 days, almost ending up in ravines, and a deaf guy with music so loud (to feel the vibrations) that we had to get out or our eardrums would have burst. It’s weird as travelling alone I’ve never had such scary moments just that one holiday together.’
So having first romanticised this way of travelling and then shared horror stories of 90 year old penises, what are the good bits of hitchhiking? ‘Why I hitchhike? I guess why artists perform….the anticipation, nervousness, adrenaline and of course hoping to have an adventure! I once took the bus to Boston from Hyannis Cape Cod, but only to the first stop. Waiting in line in Hyannis I talked to some poeple about the joys of hitchhiking and by the time I got on, the whole bus knew about it. They told me to stay on the bus, it was crazy it was stupid and dangerous, but I said haha and see you later! I arrived in Boston about 45 min before the bus. I had 3 great rides, met amazing people, and got dropped off downtown close to the hostel. I sooo wanted to walk all the way back to the bus station on the outskirts for a meet and greet with the bus passengers. But then again I thought, I don’t wanna gloat and I should just be grateful, but it was tempting.’
So there you have it, I’m not convinced hitchhiking is for the faint-hearted and perhaps not even for most intrepid travellers. But I do believe the pleasures of meeting so many characters outweigh the negatives. Travelling teaches you most people have good intentions, they want to help you and if you have a bit of trust the rewards are endless. I admire Inge’s fearless approach to life and I reckon her attitude is what keeps a protective bubble around her.