When I was young and very foolish, I spent three months in Europe hitchhiking around the country and sleeping in youth hostels. What an incredible way to see a country. I met so many wonderful people and had unbelievable experiences. I was twenty years old and my traveling companion, Michele, was about the same. We spent the entire summer traveling from one country to another. We started in Amsterdam, met up with old friends from home in Germany, saw the Mona Lisa in France, had a scare in Spain, danced through Italy, stayed in a haunted hostel in Wales, met new relatives in Ireland, and had other great adventures in Switzerland, Austria, England, and Lichtenstein. We met fellow travelers from all over the world and locals that often gave us housing and superb hospitality.
In those days, they didn’t have our fast food restaurants and it was impossible to find a good hamburger. We were very young and although we liked most of the food, we didn’t appreciate it as we may have had we been a little older. We were starved for good old American food. We finally found an import store. We sat outside on the steps for almost two hours until it opened. Once inside, we paid about five times the amount we would have at home for a jar of peanut butter. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. We would buy fresh loaves of bread in the bakeries and fruit from the stands on the streets and ate fruit and peanut butter sandwiches for about a week…until our peanut butter was gone.
Hitchhiking was the best way to travel back then. I was a college student at the time, and a bit of a hippie…not the real thing…I had too much “Catholic guilt” to get into the free love thing and the drug scene didn’t appeal to me. So, with my hair in braids and my loose outfits, I was sort of a hippie wannabe. I did hippie things, like: travel with just a single bag pack all summer, wash my clothes by hand in cold water and hang them out to dry, took cold showers (ok, so I had no other options), go barefoot or wear sandals, and of course, hitchhike.
We hitchhiked from city to city and then took the bus system around to see the sites, except in Italy. There we even hitchhiked in the city because the Italian men were so eager to give us rides. And yes, they do (or did then) pinch your bottom when you walked down the streets, just like in the old movies.
Hitchhike, a word my mother never quite forgave me for. She didn’t know until I got home what my mode of travel had been. She would have been so worried, and rightly so, but I know she also admired my sense of adventure. Now, I’m older and much wiser and will no longer even take a ride on a roller coaster, much less with a stranger. So now when I get the urge to put on jeans and a sweatshirt and hitchhike down the highway, I know I'm only dreaming of a time gone by.
Have you ever hitchhiked? Or picked up a hitchhiker? Please share your story.