It's coming up to six years now since my first hitch hiking experience. Halloween 2009. My friend and I were taking part in a charity event, Jailbreak where the aim was to get as far away from Manchester in 36 hours without spending a penny. After blagging our way onto a few trains, we'd wound up in Preston. The night drew in, it started to rain and our hot dog costumes weren't particularly keeping the heat in. It occurred to us that the most feasible way to travel without money was by thumb.
Hitching in the dark isn't the best idea; nevertheless we were picked up within 10 minutes by a lovely Polish fella on his way to work in Blackpool. Clear as day I can remember that overwhelming sensation of appreciation when he pulled over and told us to hop in. That moment had already won us over but his kindness didn't stop there. Not only did he go 15 minutes out of his way to drop us off in town but he also packed us off with food and juice. At the time I thought to myself, ‘wow I can’t believe how nice this guy is’. Little did I know how frequently I would catch myself saying these words along my hitch hiking journeys.
Since that night in Preston I have gone on to hitch-hike in 17 different countries around the world, most recently a Euro trip with Podstel. However, the places I’ve been are somewhat irrelevant to the message I want to convey. It’s not the places but the people. I have been left in complete awe of human kindness so many times when catching rides. People from literally all walks of life – young, old, rich, poor, students, business men, black, white, criminals, monks, gypsies, yogis – you name it they've all helped a sister in need! And it sometimes doesn't stop at the ride, people just want to give give give. From being given food, drink and a bed to presents, day trips and even a job!
A theory I have is that hitch hiking facilitates human kindness. By sticking out your thumb you are asking for someone to help you. You are asking for kindness. This presents perfect opportunity for the innate beauty of people to reveal itself.
I think everybody has had their 'faith in humanity restored' by a strangers act of kindness towards them. Over the past 6 years of my hitch-hiking career my 'faith in humanity' has stopped needing to be restored. I have faith full stop.
Most the people who have given me a ride I will never see again. So I started to ask myself why do people do it and how can I ever repay their kindness?
Then one day I tried to say thank you to a Parisian guy who had driven me over 450km. He stopped me and told me a story of a time he was in a restaurant in England. He said when he went to pay the bill he was shocked to learn that the old guy on the table next to him had already settled it. When he asked the old man why he had paid he told him that his granddaughter had just moved to France and that one day she might be in the same restaurant as him. When I left the Parisian's car he said to me, 'now I have thanked the old man, maybe one day you'll bump into my granddaughter'.
And so it all made sense. The philosophy of kindness. To thank my Parisian friend I need to pass on the kindness to another stranger (or maybe 500 strangers considering the number of rides I've been given!).
Pass kindness on to a stranger, or indeed someone you know, and eventually it will reach you again. I like to think of it a bit like Secret Santa. Everybody gets a present, though not necessarily from the person they gave one to. And that is how the world works best.