4 Lessons I Learned Hitchhiking For The First Time
Sun’s Out, Thumbs Out.
My friend Rachel and I traded in our desks for backpacks, and now in Bovec, Slovenia, we were about to trade in any sense of safety for a ride in a stranger’s car.
We left our jobs in June of this year deciding to follow our shared dream of long-term travel.
I crave adventure but am naturally cautious. Hitchhiking was something I swore I’d never do.
I’m all for leaving comfort zones behind in pursuit of the unknown but this was pushing it.
Everything changed in the small mountain town of Bovec where I found myself walking backwards at dusk, thumb out, screaming to Rach “don’t worry, we’ll get one!!”
As if that was a perfectly normal phrase to be shouting over the rush of cars speeding down the highway.
Sometimes you learn the best lessons about travel in the most unexpected of ways. Here’s four that came with sticking my thumb out and hoping for the best.
1. When you’re in an unfamiliar situation, stay calm and weigh your options
“The entire hike is about five or six hours,” the woman at the reception desk of our hostel let us know, as she outlined the Soca River Trail on our map.
“Once you finish,” she said pointing out the spot where the trail ends, “you’ll just hitchhike back.”
I was convinced I’d heard her wrong.
“It’s very safe here,” she continued. “Everyone does it.”
News of this hitchhiking necessity made me feel anxious. But no good was going to come of me freaking out to Rachel or this hostel staff member. I kept calm and decided to think.
Not exploring the Soca River Trail wasn’t an option. Rach and I had this map, we had each other, and this was a safe town. We had even asked other backpackers and staff around the hostel, and everyone confirmed they’d either done it, or knew locals who had.
I looked at Rachel, standing there calmly, concentrating on the map. I could feel my panic rising, but I met the woman’s eye.
“Alright, cool. Thanks!”
2. Commit to a plan
Six hours of hiking later the next day, tired was an understatement.
I had my arm half up, like when you raise your hand in class just to show you’re “participating” but really are praying the teacher doesn’t call on you. When a car approached I’d put my hand down quickly. Drivers rolled down their windows but didn’t stop, not knowing what we were trying to do.
While backpacking, I think it is vital to keep making sure you and your travel partner are safe and comfortable. But you must be quick to act.
We’ve learned through this trip that travel is all about staying confident and being decisive. Committing. I pushed fear aside and raised my hand high.
3. Trust the good in people
An RV and a car behind it finally slowed. The driver of the RV waved to us.
“My son,” he motions to the other car. “Where you going?”
He was calm and friendly. Rachel and I got in front with him, the three of us squished.
“Bovec, please!” we said in unison.
We learned the man was from Germany on a family vacation in Soca Valley. He pulled over at a campsite where his family was sitting and made sure they all got in his son’s car safely. We learned about his family, his love of camping and the outdoors, his pride in his daughter and grandson.
This trip has allowed Rachel and I to meet so many interesting individuals. I can feel myself becoming more open, trusting of my surroundings, and less skeptical of people's’ intentions. There are so many good people in the world; occasionally it just takes unconventional ways to meet them.
4. No risk, no reward
There are risks while hitchhiking; there are risks doing anything anywhere. Trust in your judgment, trust the person you’re with, trust that people want to help you. Knowing Bovec was a safe spot to hitchhike, Rachel and I decided to take a leap of faith and we met an incredibly nice, knowledgeable man in the process.
This experience in Slovenia woke me up. I was as far from my comfort zone as I’ve gotten yet, and I felt exhilarated. I want to continue this trip the way I felt when on that highway through the mountains: excited, brave, deliberate, and open. Thumbs up to that.
To read more from Anna, check out her travel blog, Outlaw Summer.