Hitch-hiking was just something I associated with bedraggled, overly hairy men on the side of a road holding a piece of cardboard with a place name on it. Taran, being much more fearless and spontaneous, had always wanted to try it. So we did, in England, one sunny afternoon, on the Isle of Wight. It was a wholly successful first go, although I made the rookie error of leaving something behind in one the cars…first lesson learnt.
So now surely, after having such an easy go at it, I would want to do it again and again once we began our two year Australian adventure right? Not so much. I felt a whole new raft of emotions upon arriving in this foreign land and the thought of getting into an Australian stranger’s car was a bit too much for me to consider right away. But eventually, when we had no better options for leaving the stunning hidden gem of Port Stephens, it was time to stretch out those pale English arms and put our best thumbs forward.
Holding a sign made out of some maps, we waited in the midday sun (second lesson learnt, hats required when hitching in the heat) until an old man pulled up and piled us into his car. We had chosen not only a hot day on a fairly quiet road, but it was also two days after a major storm had hit that region, flooding towns and tearing trees down. And this was the first time many people were venturing out in search of supplies, driven from their homes that had no power.
We had a lot against us, and still we got 20 minutes down the road thanks to a man in his eighties, who dropped us at a service station, where tonnes of people queued for fuel. Apocalyptic sights indeed.
We purchased chips and water, hitching essentials…
Our next pick-up was a couple in a station wagon, with fur seat covers and a vague look in their eyes. They were friendly enough, but you know that feeling you get when you aren’t quite sure of someone? Sometimes straight away you have instant trust and familiarity. But these two, well, we felt a tad uneasy. It didn’t help when the guy driving said out of nowhere, “Do you guys believe in Karma?” Queue slight increase in my pulse rate. They dropped us off a short while later, pointed us to the highway, and we waved them off. We were both slightly weirded out and relieved to still be alive.
Less than 5 minutes later, as soon as we held out our sign, a young man on his way home from work scooped us up and took us on the next 1 hour stretch. We had a lot more common ground here; he was the same age as us, and didn’t ask any bizarre questions. At this point we were pretty pleased with our progress – this hitch-hiking in Australia lark seemed quite easy!
Then we were at another service stop but this one had much less through traffic. Stood on another curb under the same hot baking sun, we waited. We spoke to a toothless but friendly man and his dog, wandering along the road smiling. Where were we?? And then we got our next pick-up. The car rolled up slowly. The passenger lowered their window, and simply stared us. Said nothing and just stared. We were silenced by their silence until one of us finally said where we were going, and they said the name of a place near there that they could drop us. We swiftly checked our maps to confirm this. Their car was already fairly full of stuff but we squeezed in, our 10kg bags lying on top of us, with a small gap through which we could reach each others hands.
We realised that these men didn’t have the best English, hence their awkward non-existent introduction. But we made conversation nonetheless. Dropped in a small town surrounded by low bushy hills, it seemed like maybe it was going to take a lot of short rides before we reached our destination.
Walking up toward the highway, with very little traffic passing us, we waited. A couple drove past and the woman passenger pointed at us. 5 minutes later they returned, and the lady, happily cradling a bottle a wine, told us “I always pick up hitch-hikers! So I made him turn around for youse!”.
Luckily the man was seemingly sober, but the woman chatted along, in her half-cut but all the same amiable state. They went slightly past their home town, Port Macquarie, and dropped us on the side of a motorway; a bloody fast and busy road, with very little space for cars to pull in. We must have made several people say out loud to themselves “Idiots”, with a shake of their heads. 1 hour and 20 minutes passed, me going a tad delirious, dancing and singing. As the sun began to disappear we knew we wouldn’t be reaching our goal of Coffs Harbour, so we just needed a little lift into Port Macquarie.
That lift came in the form of a tattooed dude in a 4×4, filled to the brim with work-kit. He said he had seen us earlier and knew he’d get us if we were still stood there. He had somewhere to be so was kind of rushing, but he did manage to get us a short distance into town. Still, we had a long walk to go. Tired, a bit hungry, but feeling happy to be in this pretty lake-side town, a middle-aged couple (much more cuddly looking than the Karma people from earlier) offered us a ride. We weren’t even thumbing! But the heavy-bag, tired-eye look works like a charm! Kind and chatty, they took us on a mini tour, pointed out all the fast food places, and took us to the door of the hostel.
So you could say the people who picked us up sound like a rather surreal version of the cast of ‘The Breakfast Club’: The old one, the weird ones, the young one, the silent ones, the drunk ones and the cuddly ones. And ever since that first day of hitch-hiking in Australia, we have met more and more open, friendly, wise and interesting people, all who felt it was their duty or desire to help us two English youngun’s get places. Kindness and selflessness, nothing in it for themselves but some conversation and a sense of having done a good deed. And for us, well it has saved us tonnes of cash, taken us off the typical tourist route, finding destinations we might never have seen and making real connections we definitely would have missed out on. We even spent a week living with one person who picked us up, and now we are most likely friends for life!
Hitch-hiking is a good metaphor for the whole experience of travel overall; it can be scary, and intimidating, but can lead you to people and places you never imagined and are all the more happier for having experienced.
If you wanna hear about more of our adventures head over to Nomad’er How Far 😀
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