Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: November 1, 1996
Hitch-hiking is a phenomenon that conjures a range of images and emotions in people's minds. The idea of standing by the side of the road, thumb extended, waiting, hoping, for someone to stop and take you along isn't for everyone. After all, who hitches? Those who need to, the poor, the young, the lost, whoever it is that can't use the public transport system. But wait, is that really the case? It may have been, it may still be, but increasingly I see people hitching because they love to hitch.
There are two key motivations for hitching. The obvious and oft overstated is economic, it costs little. It's not free though, nothing is. The cost is an often slow and tiring jouney, but it's one most can afford. What is often forgotten is that hitching brings people together. It's social, it's sharing and it brings travelers together. It brings adventure and uncertainty, it can forge relationships, and it can go wrong.
That last point has brought hitch-hiking's image much grief in this safety conscious world of ours. We seem to be increasingly risk averse. Worse still, we are incapable of judging risk objectively, outside of the light of sensationalism, and exceptionalism.
In the United States alone, some 250 people die on the roads, every single day. Think about it, that's 250 today, 250 yesterday, 250 tomorrow, and so on. A town of 100,000 every year. But we're still driving, more than ever. But that's not news, it's blasé, and we've consigned it to a reality in the back of our minds. Only a precious few are campaigning consistently to attack those figures.
How many hitch-hikers go missing every day? How many drivers carrying hitchers go missing every day? To be honest, I don't know. What I do know is that any number is too much for us, and that the risk of hitching is not one we have consigned to the backs of our minds as an inalterable reality. Of course, the toll can be reduced by stopping all hitch-hiking. No hitch-hiking, no problem. I can say the same of driving.
But is that rational? I'm not sure, and as I look around me, and observe youth tourism on the rise I am glad to see that others are just as unsure. Hitching, in my eyes, seems to be gaining popularity among the young, the adventurous, the social and the friendly.
There are no statistics on hitch-hiking, at least none that are meaningful and reliable. Compiling useful statistics would require counting hitchers, the amount of rides they receive, and comparing them to the problems reported. Not an easy task.
Because of that, the risks involved in hitch-hiking are inherently subjective, with each of us evaluating them based on our own direct and indirect individual experiences. As a result, we all have our own opinions for or against the idea of hitching.
Make no mistake about it, there are safer ways to hitch than others, just as there are safer ways to drive than others. But ultimately, hitching is no more dangerous than any one of many things we do regularly, and it brings us much in return. It pays to bear that in mind.