Leaving Your Bubble by Getting into a Stranger’s Car
Hitchhiking is becoming my preferred way of travelling. The main reason why that is the case is not that it is a cheap way to get around, but that it is a very personal experience. Hitchhiking is somehow the Anti-Uber – when convincing somebody on a road to stop for you, you get in the front seat and get to know the other person. Hitchhiking is like a wildcard in a modern day world which increasingly relies on apps and smartphone technologies. Unlike Facebook, TripAdvisor or Tinder, hitchhiking has no references, mutual friends and ratings, it’s all about the experience and connection with new people. You do not have any idea who the other person might be, or what their interests, lives and (importantly) opinions are. In my point of view, this is the biggest advantage of hitchhiking. There are not a lot of opportunities where you can meet and interact with people that might be completely outside your everyday circles or your regular environment; hitchhiking is one of these opportunities.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I decided to write about who I met on my hitchhiking trip through Southern Sweden. In total, I hitchhiked for 618 kilometers: Karlskrona to Kalmar, from Kalmar to Norrköping and from there to Stockholm, where I stayed a few days. Then I tried to get from Stockholm to Uppsala, from Uppsala back to Stockholm and later from Stockholm to Nyköping.
In order to give you an insight in who the people that you meet are, here’s a short description of all the people that I hitchhiked with*:
- – Karlskrona to Kalmar: The first person in Karlskrona is a woman in her 30s named Alexandra. I get in the car, where she tells me that we have to first pick up her daughter from school. Her phone rings, and as the conversation is in Swedish, I don’t understand the discussion. After the call she looks at me and tells me that she talked with her boyfriend and unfortunately he is not okay with taking hitchhikers with her as they (meaning: I) could be dangerous. So we pick up her daughter and afterwards she drives me back to my spot, where I get out and start all over.
- – Karlskrona to Kalmar: Sven comes next – I do not really know his name but he looks like a Sven. He’s in his 30s and has two kids. His phone rings with the Imperial March – the customized ringtone for his wife. After the call, he apologizes to me, because recently it has become illegal to have phone calls while driving in Sweden. I decide not to tell the police and we keep driving and talking for a while.
- – Karlskrona to Kalmar: Christina is my next ride. However, it takes only about 10 minutes. Her kids (both under two years) start shouting and I get off the car again while she tries to calm them.
- – Karlskrona to Kalmar: Maria picks me up. She grew up in Greenland, then moved to Northern Sweden. Nowadays, she works with unemployed people and helps them find a job. Apart from that, she sells some mixture of fish oil and olive oil. She explains to me what Omega-6 fatty acids are and how her job gives her a lot of flexibility as she works as an independent sales person. She explains that people who sell these products get rich – like a guy that started at the age of 70 and now runs “a million-dollar business“. After our car ride, she drops me off in Kalmar. Her last words regarding selling the fish-olive-oil-mixture: “It’s all about the freedom”.
- – Kalmar to Norrköping: In Kalmar I get in a car with Oscar (around 45) and Karl (around 30). Oscar owns a shop in Northern Sweden at the Norwegian boarder while Karl is a shop assistant. Oscar’s store is very profitable, because there are many Norwegians coming over to buy candy and alcohol due to lower taxes. They are both looking forward to the elections coming up in September, rooting for the Sweden Democrats. If there would be another left wing government coming up, Oscar would move over to Norway. After our ride to Norrköping, they invite me for lunch and we take a selfie for Oscar’s girlfriend.
- – Norrköping to Stockholm: Stockholm is my next goal and Marin helps me to get there. His family is originally from Croatia but he grew up in Sweden, where he works as a professional masseur in a spa. He is on his way to Stockholm, as there is a family party coming up and he rented a bus so he could fit all the people in the vehicle. He is a big community person: he is part of a certain church, they help each other and include people with other religions – he celebrates Bayram with his Muslim friends every year. The current migration in Sweden is too much for the communities, however, and politicians tend to avoid this topic, which is why he believes right wing parties would win in September. He drives me near the Stockholm city center and leaves for the airport to pick up ten Croatian family members.
- – Stockholm to Uppsala: From Stockholm, I try to get to Uppsala. It takes me less than 30 seconds until a car stops. I meet Meen, a guy in his 30s with long black dreadlocks. He calls me brother all the time and tells me about the beautiful women in Uppsala and that life has to be meaningful. Unfortunately, he only takes me to a Stockholm suburb from which I’m not able to hitch a hike anymore. So, I walk to the train station and admit defeat for the day. On my way back I’m running late and it rains, so I also take the train from Uppsala to Stockholm.
- – Stockholm to Nyköping: My next goal is to go back South towards the city of Nyköping. Markus and Theresa, a retired couple in their 70s, take me in that direction. They are on their way to their summerhouse. Markus used to hitchhike when he was younger, however, nowadays he does not see many people doing that anymore. He works one or two days per week in an office as he believes the mind has to stay busy, even when you’re retired. Theresa agrees. They like me and take a longer route to their summerhouse so that I get closer to Nyköping.
- – Stockholm to Nyköping: The last hitchhike to Nyköping is with Agatha, her daughter Kim and their dog, Caramel. We start our ride by them taking a selfie with me. They’re on a mother-daughter trip to Southern Sweden. Agatha works as a teacher and loves her job, it never gets boring and it is very fulfilling. Kim studies and works as a barista. Kim would like to move to Malmö but Agatha reminds her that there are many Sweden Democrats in the South of Sweden (Kim tells me, that the translation for Sweden Democrats into English is racists). They ask me if we have racists in Austria as well and about the status of women and equality in Austria. We have a good conversation. When I get off the car in Nyköping, they hug me and we take another picture.
I know that some people have security concerns when it comes to hitchhiking and you might fear ending up with a murderer or in an accident. Of course, both can be the case. However, I doubt that the probability of meeting a psychopath is higher on the road than on public transportation and I have never heard of car accidents being related to hitchhikers.
Standing at the side of a road with a sign in your hand smiling at strangers surely takes you out of your comfort zone and, especially when I look back at the people that I have met, out of your personal bubble. Everyone I rode with was different – and everyone I rode with was nice and friendly.
* names changed