Words by Alexandre Beddock
Hitchhiking might seem like a remnant from the sixties, when the hippie movement was at its height. Hitchhiking is, these days, practically extinct, an anachronism, almost an utopia. It is so uncommon to hitchhike now that itai??i??s often perceived as a kind of deviant behaviour – the way of life of a fewai???“hobos“. Perhaps wrongly?
Hitchhiking first began with young American men training during WWI, in search of any ways to get home during periods of military leave. It then became more popular during the Great Depression when many people were simply unable to afford traditional transportation.
HavingAi?? hitchhiked numerous times myself ai??i?? Brussels/Lisbon, Bologna/Dubrovnik, Lyon/Venice, etc. – I can tell you that hitchhiking is not about the destination but the journey. Hitchhiking might not take you as far as travelling by plane or train but it makes you travel away from the standards set by our post-modern societies.
After all, is it not the temporary detachment from our everyday lives and the monotonous grind of our work routine the gold standard of travel?
Far from ordinary lives: Alea Jacta Est!
Our lives and movements are governed by certaintiesai???; we want to know where, when, how, why and who. The concept of time is a cornerstone of our lives. We over-manage our time-schedules, worrying about being late, counting distances in time, checking our arrival time on GPS…Ai?? And yet we still pretend to be free?
Photo by Cristian Felice
Travelling by hitchhiking consists of making a conscious decision to abolish the excessive importance given to time and to get away from these certainties: the way ofAi?? travel, the companions sharing the journey, and even the destination.
For the hitchhikerai??i??s path, not all the roads lead to Romeai???: he is one against the infinity of the different possible journeys allowed by the road network.
This practice reintroduces the unexpected into our lives: deliberately taking random ways, navigating without a map like a drunken boat and hoping, in this ocean of uncertainties, ai???to see what men think they have seenai???.
These acts of evasion are often portrayed by novels or movies: characters drive to the airport or to the train station to board the first plane or train wherever it goes. Some even believe that the game of chance, mixing unexpected opportunities, random encounters, love at first sight, shapes our whole lives.
Whether this is true or not, hitchhiking offers a condensed experience of this way of thinking about life.
Far from your ordinary way of life, hitchhiking takes you to an extra-ordinary place detached, physically and mentally from your own concrete reality. The philosopher Michel Foucault calls it heterotopia: a parallel space which is neither here nor there, and functions in non-hegemonic conditions.
The hitchhiking journey ignores the codes that have significant importances in ai???other spacesai???. The space of the journey does not need to have a specific location as long as there is a journey: it is a nowhere which still exists.
Even the car is a closed and floating space, that the hitchhiker shares with people he does not know. This contributes significantly to the process of detachment and the feeling of being in ai???another spaceai???.
Photo by Cristian Felice
A revitalised and sustainable civil society?
At its base, hitchhiking reinvents the model of our business society where all is to be bought or to be sold. It is a way of supporting humanity outside the confines of a structured payment and profit system restoring faith in our good nature and shared existence as it contributes to supporting sustainable transport means via filling empty car seats.
Hitchhiking is an exchange. Drivers opening up their doors to hitchhikers expect to interact, and share stories from the road or from the life. It is reassuring that despite growing individualism, peopleai??i??s good will still prevails.
My own hitchhiking experiences showed me that drivers happily welcome hitchhikers into their private space, and not least, into the object most sacralised by our post-modern society: their car. Hitchhiking means solidarity, confidence and mutual trust.
Hitchhiking comes from the will of a mental and physical escape from the post-modern world: breaking its rules, opening up to complete strangers, taking risks and contesting the existing society models in order to fulfill, for some hours or some days, the ultimate desire of freedom.
Nowadays, this desire to look for evasion and freedom should be even greater among the younger generations. The rise of the new Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and the over use of social networks has created a world where every space continuously interconnects.
We live in one space: the world and one time: now. This reduces the possibilities of heteropia and otherness. Michel Serre, described the youth of today as being able to access the whole world from the reach of his thumb, thanks to their smartphone placed in their hands.
What hitchhiking tells you is that, from the reach of your thumb, you can enter another world, which exists within this one.
If you want to discover it, just do it. Pick a piece of cardboard, write the name of the nearest highway and head to the corner of the street.