If you want to try something that will be far beyond your comfort zone; try hitchhiking. I haven’t felt that much anxiety about anything in many, many years. Not because I was afraid to be molested or murdered, but simply because I was afraid to talk to strangers.
Hitchhiking Made Easy – A Big Portion of Luck
Forget everything you’ve seen in movies about how psychopaths pick up hitchhikers and chop their heads off, that’s movies. This is reality: people are good natured, at least some are, and luckily for you the good natured people are the ones that are likely to stop and pick up a hitchhiker. Well, you don’t have to tell me, as a former bartender I know how shit people can be, but the assholes out there don’t tend to stop to pick up a hitchhiker. Although I’ve heard stories of them verbally abusing hitchhikers, not that it has ever happened to me. But some people are just small in so many ways that they think the only way for them to reach the light is by stepping on other people. You’re more likely to have to deal with these people in basically any job.
So armed with nothing but my firm belief in the goodness of my fellow humans, and the awareness of the bad, I took to the pavement with nothing but a small backpack, hiker boots, warm clothes and my thumb. The first step was to get a ride from Lagan, my tiny home town, to Ljungby, the larger town about 10 kilometres away. I’ve done that stretch a few times before so that was nothing new to me. Just walk along the road with your thumb out and hope that somebody will stop to pick you up.
I had a ride within 15 minutes, a bus driver. He must be used to picking people up and the fact that I was only about 50 metres away from a stop probably made it all the more natural for him. He wasn’t driving his bus mind you, he was returning to work after his lunch break. We had a little chat in the car, I kept the focus away from myself as I didn’t want to jinx my good fortune by talking too much about my tough challenge ahead: get to Nottingham, England by rail and thumb in less than a week and a half. Through 7 countries with 5 major stops on the way. So I only told him I was going to meet a friend at the petrol station by the highway. It was true, only I’d mistaken my friend’s schedule and he had actually finished work by the time I thought he started.
My plan backfired on me right away. I had no clue how to hitch a ride by the highway. I had been hoping my friend would be able to help me. I was going to chat to him and casually start conversations with customers and see if they could offer me a ride to Malmö. But when that didn’t turn out like I wanted I started feeling anxiety building up. What was I going to do now? How do you get a ride? Was I supposed to just go up to people and ask? They were not very likely to go in the same direction as I wanted anyway, and since I was only a couple of hours away from Malmö I didn’t want to catch a ride for a part of the way. So I decided on a different tactic: write a sign, drink a cup of coffee and sit outside the petrol station reading a book. Let them come to me, and if I don’t get a ride in let’s say a couple of hours I’ll change the tactic.
Turns out that was a perfect tactic as I had a ride within 15 minutes of sitting down. I hadn’t even finished my coffee, nor the first page of the book, by the time I had been offered a ride with 2 musicians returning to Malmö from a gig. We got along really well and chatted about this and that over the couple of hours we shared the road. It felt like we had made a new friendship and we parted ways in Malmö only after I got the details on how to find their music as I was genuinely interested. They played Swedish and Arabic folk music. An interesting combo and apparently they were quite good at it too.
Now I’m sitting in Malmö, the Swedish gateway to Europe, waiting to catch a train from Copenhagen early tomorrow morning to take me to Hamburg by noon. I still have many challenges to face on this trip but I have a feeling it will all work out well in the end.
Beppe Karlsson, Malmö