Firstly, a disclaimer of sorts. Hitchhiking is really, really common in New Zealand. There are so many young, cash-strapped travellers that gravitate towards the tiny country that it’s an hourly occurrence to see someone standing next to a busy road with an outstretched thumb. It’s also a really safe country.
I know, I know, it only takes one, but my experience with hitchhiking in NZ has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s a way of travel I prefer, when there’s time.
My approach towards travel tends to be one of openness and flexibility, a departure from my usual schedule and structure. Hitching not only caters to that but is a. free, and b. a refreshing way to meet people.
From French boys drunk on their youth in a dirty campervan to an articulate insurance salesman full of stories about the world, the breadth of people you encounter in this means of travel is beautiful.
I’ve been picked up by an Australian family touring the South Island in a massive camper, where I sat in the back with the kids and discussed kangaroos and favourite cartoon characters. I’ve been picked up by German girls who were travelling for months at a time and regaled me with their stories of Southeast Asia. I’ve been picked up by tour guides who have worked in exotic destinations all over the world and make my life sound very dull.
You stand in a convenient pickup location and open yourself to rejection. Standing next to a busy road, thumb outstretched with all your gear on the ground next to you is a slightly confronting experience at first. But you smile, you wave, and you keep waving as the cars pass you. No one has time (or room) for grumpy hitchhikers.
Once a car pulls over, there’s a quick negotiation, a flurried exchange. Where are you headed? So you have room? 9 times out of 10 you’ll hop in the car and off you go.
When hitching, there’s a lack of knowing when you’ll arrive at your destination, and you have to trust that things will work- that a car will come, that your driver isn’t a psycho, that their car is safe. There’s trust, there’s openness, there’s vulnerability. Once you get to know your driver, there’s often an easy rapport: you are, after all, two people headed in the same direction brought together solely of coincidence.
Sometimes the coincidences are truly uncanny- Clary had an experience getting picked up by a car containing a fellow American, someone she’d actually met before in Vermont. Sometimes the universe is just hilariously weird and you have to wonder.
Trust, openness, timing, kindness, connection. A connection to another soul just passing through, heading the direction you chose to go today, and who for whatever reason, you ended up with, even if just for a few miles.