I like challenges and I wanted to finish my world trip with a big one.
I also wanted to visit the north of my own continent that I didn’t know.
So I decided to hitchhike from Lyon to Stockholm, and back again.
The rules were simple. I had 1 month, 11 friends to host me along the way and I wanted to hitchhike from place to place. Taking any kind of train or bus would have been cheating.
I visited beautiful cities: Amsterdam, Paris, Stockholm, Hamburg… the most beautiful cities of the world are in Europe, I now know for sure.
But I’m going to talk to you about the experience that you can gain from hitchhiking.
I’m convinced that traveling in general is a way to hack the learning process and learn a lot faster about life than any kind of school.
Here is a list of 5 extremely usefull skills you can get when you hitchhike.
1- How to convince someone in less than 3 seconds.
When I say to my friends that I hitchhiked around Europe, they all ask me the same questions:
How long did you wait?
How did you do it? Did you use a sign?
Actually, my strategy was to ask people, face to face, if they could take me in their car in order to help me to get to my destination. I tried to stand along the road with my thumb up, it didn’t work.
So usually, I tried to start in a good spot where I can talk to people who are in theory going in my direction. It could be a red light before a high way, a parking, or (the best spot ever) a gas station.
And it was always the same story:
-Hello (smile), are you going to blah blah?
-Can I come with you? (Interrogative smile again)
And the driver has to say yes or no in less than 2 seconds.
It is really interesting to change your pick up lines and see the differences in the driver’s answers.
After asking 100 people, it’s automatic, you’ll understand what works and what doesn’t.
You’ll see that it is more efficient to receive one or two “yes “before asking the real question (can I go with you?)
You will realize again that smiling is powerful.
You will understand that you have to talk in a different way to a young man and an old one.
And you will realize that these basics communication principles to convince a total stranger to trust you enough to pick you up, are the same skills needed to convince anybody about anything in your life.
2-Have a conversation with a stranger:
Second step, you are in the car, usually alone, with your new driver.
To make the trip comfortable, it is your job to install a good atmosphere.
After the basic questions (Where are you from, what are you doing in life etc) you have to continue the discussion. If not, trust me, the atmosphere gets awkward.
So you have no choice, you learn how to talk about anything. I have been talking a lot about cars, trucks, Iphones… and I really don’t care about these topics.
But this skill is also very important!
Yesterday, I was in a bar with friends. I asked one of them who was looking on his phone: “why are you spending so much time on “tinder” (meeting app) trying to get in touch with girls? There’s plenty of girls here and you are not doing anything! What’s wrong with you?”
The main reason he wasn’t engaging conversation with girls was that he, “didn’t know what to say”
“I don’t know her, what could I say?”
It’s a problem today and it makes me a bit sad as well. People know how to communicate on Facebook, Twitter, Tinder… but they are scared to talk to new people in the real life because they don’t know what to say.
It’s a cliché, but I can tell you that after spending one year traveling with just a tablet and most of the time without internet: the real life is outside, not on your screen!
Hitchhiking is a really good way to develop this ability to talk to anybody!
3- Stay Optimistic:
Usually, I asked the same question to all the drivers I had.
“What would be the best advice you could give to your son when he turns 18?”
One 70 year old driver, very wise, told me: “don’t take things personally”
He wanted to say: “If somebody laughs at you, if somebody insults you, don’t get hurt and let it go”
It was interesting because a monk told me almost the same thing at the beginning of my trip in India.
It was like if this guy was here to remind me of what I learned 10 months before.
3 days later, I was hitchhiking in Denmark, standing at a red light trying to talk to people as I explained to you before. But a lot of people were laughing at me. Some of them were also insulting me and doing very bad signs to me… I started to get very upset, I was ready to fight with the next one who made fun of me.
Feeling these bad emotions inside of me, I left the spot to calm down and I realize that I was stupid to react with anger to these silly reactions from those people.
10 minutes later, I came back to my spot and some people were still doing bad signs (like “fuck you”, very bad!) to me.
But my way of thinking changed. I was now “sorry” and I was feeling a kind of compassion for these guys, who were obviously ignorant, to make fun of me.
So I experienced what my driver said 3 days ago, and most of us, I stayed optimist until somebody picked me up. I found a car to reach Copenhagen straight after.
Keep calm, think positive (even if you are French).
4- Quit your shyness, forget about shame…
In one month, I have asked about 1500 people to pick me up. But at the end, I took approximately 100 different cars. It means that in more than 90% of the cases, people said No. Mostly Because they were not going in my direction or because their cars were full.
But sometimes, people just asked me with arrogance: “Why don’t you have a car like everybody?”
“Do you really think I am a free taxi?” “Do you know about trains and buses?”
It’s pretty hard to keep calm with this kind of close minded people, but you have to.
The thing is that after asking so many people and receiving so many rejections, you will not pay attention anymore about what people you don’t know think about you.
And it is really good for your happiness!
5- Believe in the beauty of humanity.
Ok I haven’t had only nice exchanges with people. But every single person who gave me a ride was kind.. And this is what I’m going to keep in mind forever.
I will never forget this father who drove me until Eindoven for 40 Kms! It was not on his road but he was helpful and generous. I will never forget this young couple who took me with them for 600kms and drove me until 1am to Frankfurt. I did 1000Km that day.
Or this truck driver who asked me for sex in the middle of nowhere in Denmark. She was nice and funny! Not my type though. It’s a good story!
I think that the society pushes us to selfishness. But still, so many people have a kind heart and strong humanistic values.
Be one of them, as my great friend, Angie, says: Be kind, be true, be happy.
From Copenhagen to Sweden, one woman told me while we were riding on the bridge between the two countries:
“You are brave to do that, my kid is only 11 but I already told him to never hitchhike, it’s dangerous to do that today”
Personally, I think that TV is dangerous, fast food and soda are very dangerous, alcohol and drugs are a lot more dangerous…
Actually, after more than 5500 km, more than 100 different drivers around 5 countries: I don’t think that hitchhiking is dangerous.
I really encourage you to try it one day!
And I will encourage my son to do it as well.