Everyone has their reasons for hitchhiking. This is probably one of the first and very obvious questions of a small talk among hitchhikers: When did you start? How did you get introduced to it? And why did you start?
As for me… Traveling always seemed to me as something directly connected to freedom of spirit and mind. Something that lets you explore yourself by letting your existence flow through new places and get a more colorful version of yourself as an outcome. Maybe just like the light is dissolved into seven colors of a rainbow. However, not everyone’s experience might end up being as colorful as a rainbow. Ever since I was a little girl born in Tbilisi, Georgia, I was dreaming about the steppes of the US that I read about in books of American authors since it was so different from what I was used in mountainous Georgia.I used to write small stories where the main character would wander through endless fields and get lost just for the sake of it. And as I was watching planes crossing the sky, I was thinking that for sure I’d be flying frequently.
And I was right. As many Georgians who have been more or less good at languages, I have also traveled to up to 10 countries in Europe for reasons that included study tours, exchange programs, business trips and shortly, planned trips that required tiring and complicated procedures for visa applications. Of course, I enjoyed those trips, I loved getting to know new people and places, but it often lacked what I wanted the most: feeling of being free, away from everyday routine and worries, free of your usual self, maybe. And the Metallica song “Wherever I may Roam” kept inspiring me with its lyrics, probably written about touring around the US:
“And the road becomes my bride
I have stripped of all but pride
So in her I do confide
And she keeps me satisfied
Gives me all I need
and with dust in throat I crave
Only knowledge will I save
To the game you stay a slave
Call me what you will
But I’ll take my time anywhere
Free to speak my mind anywhere
And I’ll redefine anywhere
Anywhere I may roam
Where I lay my head is home”.
However, l knew very little about the unconventional ways of traveling. My imagination could only go as far as someday buying a small van, getting Schengen Visa and driver’s license to travel around Europe with my friends and I considered that as a far future, since it was kind of unrealistic to own a van any time soon.
Long story short, after a while, I got to know Florin from Romania, who is now my boyfriend, who introduced me to hitchhiking. It seemed to me so unimaginable and unreal at first. Why would someone care to give you a ride? Why would I not be embarrassed or feel awkward while being in someone’s car? First time I ever hitchhiked with Florin in Ukraine, I was even embarrassed to thumb. But slowly, I enjoyed the sweet taste of it and I loved the small trips we had.
However, the trip to Hitchgathering 2014, Qeparo, Albania, was my first relatively bigger trip, where I learned a lot about myself, in the first place. I had just quit my job (in public sector) in Georgia in order to move to Romania and after few days of staying in Bucharest, my boyfriend and I headed to Albania through Bulgaria and Macedonia, coming back through Greece and Bulgaria again.
The first feeling I had, was “I am stripped of all but pride”, but I felt too “naked” somehow. I felt that all the things that have been defining my personality over the last years, have been vanished suddenly and I was on the road with my amateur sleeping equipment and thanks god, with an experienced hitchhiker, Florin. Suddenly, everything that defined me in my everyday life back in Georgia: my social status, my clothes, education, my past and future became ridiculously insignificant. I could be anyone I wanted or maybe exactly that someone, I have always been and I forgot about. The scary feeling of being alone with your thoughts on the road overwhelmed me. And here it was: the long-awaited feeling of total freedom, the feeling of endless space, fields and unknown mountains, different ones than in Georgia, all these were laying ahead of me waiting to be discovered.
I won’t bore you with concrete stories how it was to hitchhike in particular places. I am sure you can find that kind of information on many blogs, and besides, I selfishly, would rather share what lies in my heart and what I think might add value since it is my unique experience.
The most thrilling feeling while hitchhiking for me was that almost every driver thought they were the last nice people left on the earth who still trust hitchhikers and they felt so proud to give us a ride. It was a priceless feeling for me to see their amazed faces when we told them: “Actually, people are pretty nice everywhere. Usually, we don’t need to wait too long to get a ride”. It was the sensation that we broke the best news to them. I guess it was like telling them: “Yes, humanity is not a lost case, there are so many nice people, and there is hope and kindness in the world”. It felt that everybody needed to hear something like this for a long time. I loved to be the person who was able to transmit these “news”.
It was like an exciting game to me to know that we had a destination: A village in Qeparo, Albania, where so many simple people will gather who have admitted to themselves that they wanted to travel freely; maybe for a month, for a year of even 10 years. I couldn’t wait to jump into the society of people who can do whatever they think their spirit is asking for.
It was interesting to see the atmosphere and the stories at the Hitchgathering for many reasons: First of all, I have a Georgian passport, which means that I am allowed to enter only few countries without a visa. It was the first time I realized how much it mattered and how lucky I was to have the valid 1 year Schengen visa that allowed me to travel to Balkan countries. It was the first time I understood how much my passport mattered and how I wished it was more empowering… or to say better, even a lot more empowering. I started to doubt even the sense of the visa system itself. At the hitchgathering someone even said: “Visas seem so stupid somehow… I mean, how can a person even be illegal?” All of the sudden that made a lot of sense to me. Even though the world is globalizing so rapidly, the freedom of movement is available only for few countries. The great majority of passports don’t allow you to travel much. So, it was really interesting for me to see the people at the Hitchgathering who could embrace the freedom in its full sense, at least in Europe.
I have to admit, first two days were irritating for me. Most of the people were so relaxed and I felt like someone from a different world. Someone, who jumped from a shiny office room to an abandoned village, where everyone seemed to know the best hitchhiking spots all over the world and I felt a bit left out of the most conversations since I knew close to nothing due to my lack of experience. All of the sudden, all my insecurities became so obvious to me that I could hardly enjoy myself. I suddenly became aware how lost and blended my personality has been in my own everyday routine. How I forgot about my passions, my desires and dreams and how empty I felt without my job.
I was lying down on the field in Qaparo, looking up to the perfectly clear sky, stars being so clear and so close to my eyes that I felt like the whole world was near me and yet, I felt there was nothing in me that needed to be discovered, neither for others, nor for myself. It seemed to me that freedom was too difficult to handle. I couldn’t find peace with myself and the words from that Metallica song “By myself, but not alone” lost their sense, suddenly. It was hard to redefine myself, to admit that I needed to be honest with other, even hardcore hitchhikers and just be whoever I was, even if over the last few years I hadn’t been doing what I would truly enjoy or was passionate about.
Once I discovered that hitchgathering was offering me lots of free time to think, communicate, cook, eat, write, sing, laugh and do simplest things, things got better. I realized how little people actually need to survive, how little my true necessities are and how much I actually need to know myself to get comfortable while being truly alone and honest with myself. I was amazed by the people that I met at the Hitchgathering. Some stories seemed so brave and impossible. The greatest feeling for me was to see full-time travelers. They weren’t the way I had imagined them: kind of acting cool and maybe closed in themselves, even a bit arrogant. In opposite, you could see how calm they were in their way of communicating, how accepted and understood I could feel while talking to them. I guess for them, it comes from the experience of meeting all kinds of people and just getting better at listening and respecting other people’s point of views.
Few questions came to my mind while being at the Hitchgathering that still remain unanswered for me: For example, how should people’s desire to travel freely be interpreted, as an attempt to escape from real life, responsibilities, attachment to places and people or should real life just be interpreted as every individual sees it? It is so complicated to admit to yourself that the idea you had about conventional ways of living might just be the trivial rule society chose to have in order to keep some kind of order. And even with Georgian passport there are legal ways to feel free and discover what might feel as “real life” for you. Would it be possible for me to travel a lot and still stay attached to my country, friends and beliefs at the same time? And whether maybe all the things that are close to our hearts, follow us wherever we go and it is impossible to become completely free of insecurities, responsibilities and affections even while traveling full time…
Another thing that I kept thinking about was the phenomenon of the Hitchgathering itself and the way it could be interpreted. I kept imagining different people’s opinions that have nothing to do with hitchhiking. I am sure, many would consider it as craziness, too much risk and waste of time. Some might define it as simple fun, but I guess there’s way more to it. I guess this feeling of being united by the same idea, same belief and way of life is a very simple need that everyone has. I have had few conversations with travelers at the Hitchgathering, who said that they don’t consider themselves to be parts of what one might call “the hitchhikers’ family” and that they didn’t have the need to identify themselves as the part of the any, even this kind of “cool” community. And yet, there were many people who held the name of a hitchhiker and a member of Hitchhikers’ community with great pride. The most appealing feeling for me was that there were no apparent rules or norms that would make me or anyone feel excluded or pressured. Everything was flowing so naturally that it was even hard to keep up with the honesty that the environment was offering me.
Just when I felt I blended in perfectly, we had to leave. It was kind of sad to head back. However, I was full of experiences and impressions that were enough for me to digest on our way home. I couldn’t help comparing the nature to what I have seen in Georgia and everything was so different despite the fact that we passed through various mountains. I discovered that I hadn’t hitchhiked in Georgia either and I still have a lot to discover in my own country. Also, many travelers told me stories about certain, amazing places in Georgia that I knew nothing about.
Images from our trip, crazy rides in mountainous Albania, blue ocean and incredibly nice truck drivers are now behind, but I am already “infected” with the “virus” of hitchhiking. I hope I will get my next dosage at least in summer and I will discover even more things that will eventually let me discover things about myself that will allow myself to find out more about the world around me and that will help me discover.. well, okay, I could go on like this forever.
Bottom line is: Traveling is awesome, people! Just get out of your offices sometimes and get lost on the road 😉