Photo: Lena Si/Shutterstock

Why I Encourage My Kids to Hitchhike

by Cathy Brown May 6, 2014
Hitchhiking teaches them patience.

They grew up mostly in the US. When we left the States for Argentina, they still had the lingering attitude of, “They want what they want, and they want it NOW.” Orderly, predictable, comfortable, structured.

I feel it’s my job as their mom to break them of that level of expectation of the world. I think there are incredible benefits to learning to go with the flow and let go of rigid structure. We could get picked up in two minutes, or two hours. Either way, we will eventually get to wherever it is we’re going. Todo bien.

Hitchhiking teaches them compassion.

These kids know what it’s like to walk long distances. To wait in the pouring rain or in stifling heat with no cars in sight. To be passed by pickup trucks with tons of empty space in the back cab, that happen to be going exactly where they are, but that don’t stop.

I’ve seen my kids time and time again apply their experience — when we’re in a car, they’re the first to yell for me to pick up anyone and everyone who needs a ride. It doesn’t matter whether we have much (or any) physical space in the car, or whether we can only offer a ride for a couple of kilometers — they know it’s better to do what you can than to do nothing at all.

Hitchhiking teaches them that it’s about the journey, not the destination.

There was a time when we were riding into town with our neighbors quite a lot, and my daughter commented on how boring it became for her to go into town. For her, it was never about getting into town, it was about the unknown — what new person might she meet on the way, which friendly stray dogs and cats would follow us as we walked? For my kids, hitching is almost like a sport. Who can hitch the coolest vehicle? The strangest? Who can get the car with the most people already packed in to stop for us? If we split into two groups, which group will make it home first (losers have to cook dinner!)?

We have gotten rides on full school buses on their way to school (imagine how fast that driver would be fired in the US!), on an army tank, we rode on top of logs in the back of a logging truck, got to go to the gravel pit in the cab of a cement mixer, on dirt bikes, and my personal favorite…in the back of an ambulance. Who even remembers where we were going at the time? Who even cares? It was the adventure of the journey that stayed with us.

Hitching keeps them feeling connected.

In the US, we never even met the neighbors who lived three doors down. Or two doors down on the other side. It was all too easy to stay in a sad, isolated little bubble, because that’s how everyone else around us felt the most comfortable. Hitching bursts that bubble really quickly. We have met so many new friends and virtually all of our neighbors by simply getting in their car, being forced to interact with them in a very real, very instant way.

They tell us of local news, share gossip, invite us to their birthday party, share mate while driving, play their favorite music for us…then they often drop us off armed with apples from their property, or a bag of walnuts, or a kitten — whatever. And the next time they see us on the road with our thumbs up, they stop. Because now, we’re like old friends.

Hitching shows them that there exists a little thing called karma.

They figure it out. You get back what you throw out there. Stand on the side of the road with a grouchy face, kicking rocks and fighting with your sister, no one’s going to stop for you, and can you blame them? I wouldn’t want them in my car either. Start cursing every car who doesn’t stop, and somehow, every time, it seems like the rest that follow won’t stop either.

The universe seems to know very well how to deal with cranky people who for some reason feel drivers are ‘obligated’ to stop for them. Make eye contact, smile sincerely at everyone, maintain a positive ‘attitude of gratitude’ no matter what, and my kids have seen from experience that it gets them a lot further on the road.

Hitchhiking proves to them that travel doesn’t need to depend on money.

This is probably the most important lesson I hope they take from hitching. After I became a single mom, I had a couple of fleeting panicked moments where I thought I wouldn’t be able to travel much because of my new financial ‘limitations’, shall we call them. You might as well have cut out my heart, clipped my wings, and stuck me in a cage. The thought of not being able to travel scared the hell out of me.

Then I realized — as long as I have two legs and a thumb, there’s no place I can’t get to. It was the most liberating realization. In the poorest (financially) moments of my life, I actually traveled the most miles. Just to prove to myself that I could. I want my kids to learn that there are no excuses. If you have money, great. Travel. If you don’t have money, great. Travel more creatively. But travel.

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