July 16, 2017 4:26pm CST
My hitch-hiking days were in the 1960s, a time when most of the members weren´t born yet. Was it a safe way of travelling then or at least safer than today? I wouldn´t say so. It has always been dangerous, not only because of possible sexual molestation, but also because of possible accidents. Did we know how well the drivers could drive in whose hands we put our lives? Were we insured? No and no. Why did we travel that way? There was no InterRail then, no Ryanair. Few students had cars, but the wish to see the world was there and so we did it. I went on two hitch-hiking tours with my girl-friend (I never hitched alone): a three-week trip through Scotland from and back to London and a three-week trip from the south of Germany through Italy up (or is it ‘down’?) to Naples. 1. In British youth hostels we met young men from the European mainland who told us that they loved the country. Either the drivers took hitch-hikers or they didn´t. There was no preferential treatment of girls holding up their thumbs. Indeed, in the mornings when the hitchers lined up along the side of the road, they were given a lift one after the other without respect of sex or age. We found that very British! One day when it was raining hard and a strong wind was blowing (it was in August!) we had the hoods of our anoraks over our heads. A driver stopped and told us to hop in as he needed ballast to keep the car steady. An odd reason to invite dripping people into a car, but we didn’t mind. When we peeled off our wet things and he saw that we were girls he became cross, he accused us of deceiving him. He said we had dressed up as boys to get a lift! He would have thrown us out again, but there were no other hitchers to be seen, so he kept us as ballast. :-) 2. Oh, the loneliness of Scottish roads! Where did the people live, where did they go to who took us a couple of miles and then dropped us in the middle of nowhere? The landscape is nice, no doubt. We had come to see it, but after two hours sitting on the grass beside the road, even the keenest landscape freak feels boredom setting in. So when a car approached we jumped up, waving frantically and before the drivers knew what was happening we had thrown our rucksacks and ourselves in. Once we ´kidnapped´ a young man who didn´t go our way, but we talked him into taking us to the youth hostel we had planned to stay the night in. What else could we do? We were desperate. This meant a detour of 100 miles for him. We must have been very charming then! We thought the least we could do for him was to invite him in and offer him something to eat from the things we had bought. He had supper with us in the main room of the youth hostel and then disappeared. The warden found our behaviour outrageous – bringing a young man in – and tore off a corner of our youth hostel passport in order to warn all other wardens of our immorality. No other warden noticed this, though. Ha! 3. Before we hitched to Italy we already knew everything about Italian men. An Italian had enlightened us as to the tricks his countrymen knew! We discussed how we could defend ourselves and decided to take knives with us. Why we took bread knives and not flick knives is something I don´t remember! What I do remember is that the knives were in our rucksacks and that the rucksacks were in the boots of the cars – safely out of reach! But we never needed them. Praised be the Italians we met on our tour! I distinctly recall a lift in the plain of the river Po in the North of Italy. We crawled along at a speed of 30 km, (not miles!), the driver had one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the dashboard. He found that relaxing. As there was no other traffic on the side roads we were taking, there was no need to brake suddenly. It was early evening, a slight mist was hanging over the fields and enshrouding the poplar plantations of the area. A red sun was setting. It was so romantic. Since then I´ve crossed the plain of the Po many times, always on the motorway, never again in the evening. Try as I may, I can´t recall the atmosphere, but I always think of that lift. 4. Girl-friend and I both wanted to hitch from Heidelberg where we studied to the north of Germany to visit our families. The first car (the south of Germany is not comparable to the north of Scotland traffic-wise!) was a Fiat 500 with two Italians. They were immediately smitten with us and wanted to stay the rest of their lives with us, only that they had to go to the west of Germany and not to the north. So we would have to part in Frankfurt. Instead of dropping us at a filling station they drove into the city. They wanted to invite us to have an ice-cream with them. They parked the car in the vicinity of the main train station. We had our ice-cream and then couldn´t find the car any more! This could have been a trick to steal our luggage, of course, hadn´t they themselves left everything in the car. A beige Fiat 500 in the 1960s! Together with the original Volkswagen Beetle this was the car one could see most often. How embarrassing! We walked up and down the streets until after an hour we found the tiny vehicle. What do we learn from this? Memorise the street name when you park a car. --- photo:Wikimedia, Roger McLassus
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My husband had a beige Fiat 500 in the 60s, he still had when I met him in February 1970. I only tried once to hitch-hike, we were vacationing with my parents in Alassio and one of my cousin was with us. We thought it was funny to try, but my father spotted us on the road and all the fun vanished.
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• United States
Wow! One had to really be quite savvy to get those rides from strangers. So many tricks to hitching a ride for you girls! I bet those Italian men were smitten, but alas, you had places to go and things to see.!! I am so pleased those bread knives were not needed. I am not fond of that warden that tore off the corner of those passports! Who knew hitchhiking could be filled with so many life experiences?
• Manchester, England
This made for great reading. More such tales would be most appreciated. Hitch hiking is not something you see very often in the UK these days. I also think that drivers are equally suspicious of hitch-hikers. I've occasionally considered picking someone up who was heading our way but Mrs WorDazza has always refused to let me just in case the hitch hiker is a psychopath. Rutger Hauer has a lot to answer for!!
• United States
Those are great stories! I think it was safer to hitchhike back then than it is nowadays. I hitchhiked once in the 60s and all I got from it was a tattoo, and a bad one at that. I tried to hitchhike a train in the 1990s and managed to stop the train, but the engineer and I couldn't figure out how to get me back home for knee surgery the next day.
• Fairfield, Texas
Oh my goodness what adventures @MALUSE . The only time I ever hitch-hiked was because my car broke down. The guy that picked me up tried to kidnap me. I had to bash the door open and rolled out into a ditch and ran like hell.
• Boise, Idaho
Ugh! I was never one for hitch hiking although I have picked up some interesting hikers. Never when a lone though. Now days with cell phones you can take a picture of the street sign where you parked. Not so back in the 60's.
In the 1970s and the beginning of the 80s, a young company was still hitch-hiking in our country. There was a sense of solidarity, and as you said the means of transportation were less common and accessible, but today I will not let my children hitchhike because solidarity and innocence have disappeared from "our provinces" these days... The soldiers are also forbidden to hitch-hiking by order, but this is mainly because of the fear of kidnappings ...
You were both smart and lucky, as nothing ever happened to you two. My mother had a hitch-hiking experience with a cousin of hers, that would be the late 70's though, she was about 12. Unfortunately one of the two guys invited my mother upstairs and something bad happened. It's much less profitable to do hitch-hiking nowadays, as you said, public transportation is more common and cheaper these days, but not completely safe either. It's always better to have someone with you during your journeys, someone you can really trust, I'd specify. Especially if you're a lady.
@sabtraversa @LadyDuck For Italians only: A friend of mine and her sister hitch-hiked from Germany to Italy when they were students. They wanted to see cultural monuments, museums etc. It was meant to be a culture trip. Once, two young Italian men stopped for them. When they suggested, "Andiamo al fresco", the two young women were overjoyed. They thought they'd be shown a famous fresco in a church! The Italians' conviction that German females are easy prey was confirmed. This was not what the men had been thinking of, of course. We've heard the story repeatedly over the years but have never heard the ending. I've never dared to ask.
• Cambridge, England
I used to hitch hike fairly often in the 'sixties and. later, when I had a car, would pick up hitch hikers if I had the time and the space. I only ever hitch hiked in Britain, so I have no experience of the continent. We used to find that girls had rather more success getting lifts than boys so, if we were in a mixed group, we'd always let the girls do the thumbing! On the whole, lorries were more inclined to stop than cars but I did once hitch (alone) a ride on a Bank Holiday (very few lorries and most cars were full) all the way from Cambridge to the Lake District in one go. The guy went a little out of his way to drop me at a suitable camping site, too!