Category Archives: Travelling philosophy

The Day I Hitchhiked to Tokyo

I really enjoy hitchhiking. I hitchhiked for the first time in Iceland on the Ring Road when I was 19. Now, 5 years later, I always try to do some when I visit a country – at least one ride. 

I mostly hitchhike not to save money (well… except in Japan 😉 ), but to meet the drivers, to force the unpredictable and to spice up the backpacking routine.

Hitchhiking in Japan

So I was in Nagoya and needed to go back to Tokyo. I didn’t have a JR Pass and felt it was time to try hicchi haikingude (as they say!). I am always anxious between the time I decide to do it and the first ride. To force myself not to run away, my trick is just to tell everyone that I’m going to hitchhike to Tokyo. I would look quite stupid if I didn’t go after all, uh?

After the hitchwiki ritual, there I was in Nagoya’s subway to go as far as possible and get closer to the highway – I ended up on Toyota City’s main square where a traditional Japanese drums concert was about to start. “A good omen” I was telling myself; I couldn’t really go back, anyway. I took another train from there to go further, and this time, ended up in the middle of nowhere with only one car in the horizon. “I am not prepared yet to approach them and ask for a ride, I need some more time to be in the mood”, I was thinking. But then I heard the engine.

The first ride

I realised that they were the only human-beings around; so I ran. I ran to them with my sign high in the air and asked if they could bring me to the nearest gas station. Luckily, they spoke perfect English and told me that, of course, they would bring me to the highway! They were very helpful and were going out of their way to drop me to the gas station.

If I put things in perspective: they had no idea I existed 2 minutes ago until I popped in front of them, they had no obligation to help me and even did more than expected! Looking at how I was overthinking, I felt a bit stupid but, eh, that’s how you learn! It is actually a principle I try to live with: you can’t predict the unpredictable.

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My first driver and his father

 

Let’s get back to that gas station… because it was the biggest one I’ve ever seen! I was quite confused on how I should behave, but I was prepared: I learned a bunch of sentences introducing myself and what I was doing. Anyway, hicchi haikingude is pure trial & error: I first tried to stand at the entrance of the gas station, then went to speak directly to people going out from the mall complex, then stood at the exit or spoke to the people about to leave.

What was the best strategy eventually? I think none. I was still stuck and receiving the harsh (I deliberately use that word, comparing to my former hitchhiking experiences) refusal of the Japanese. Anyway, it’s quite normal when you ask for a ride.

How not to lose hope?

You just need to be patient and… at some point, something will happen. Between 2 refusals, I would rehearse my intro, laugh by myself or pray to get a ride within the next 3 cars.

A few hours later, a truck driver finally opened his door! And guess what? He was going straight to Tokyo! He was really friendly and, spoiler alert, even offered to pay for my accommodation in Tokyo (I obviously refused). Unfortunately, our conversation was limited as we couldn’t really communicate… so I observed what a Japanese truck driver can do to entertain himself. The whole ride, the driver alternatively focused on 4 things: his Japanese drama on a small screen, his fantasy football league on a tablet, his can of beer on a cup holder and, last but not least, the (beautiful) road!

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Hicchi haikingude is not easy; you need time, patience and perseverance. But most of all, you need the right mindset: hitchhiking is not a free ride. It’s a human encounter, it’s running into someone you would have never met, it’s seeing a total stranger opening the door to help you out, and it’s definitely restoring faith in humanity.

26 life lessons I learned travelling

As I am preparing for my next trip back to Asia, I wondered what I had actually learned while travelling all this time. Most people will tell you that “travelling broadens your mind”, that it “makes you leave your comfort zone” and “discover other cultures”. Sure… but I wanted to know what exactly. So here is my attempt to formalise a bit of what I’ve learned.

Each letter has its piece of advice – don’t ask me why, I did that on a whim -,  so here are 26 philosophical insights I learned while travelling and travel tips I wish I knew before. They all helped me at some point somewhere in the world and I always try to keep them in mind, travelling or at home!

Always have toilet paper with you. It will be useful. You can thank me later.

Bargain at least half of the price.

Check if you bought a ticket from San Jose, Costa Rica or San Jose, California. I didn’t.

Download maps.me. Now.

Eat these tacos al pastor, you’ll follow your diet back home.

Flexible… be flexible. To the food you eat. To new experiences and itineraries. To the people you meet.

GPS can be used offline. You just need the pre-load the map.

Hitchhiking is great to meet locals, to travel on a budget and to get out of your comfort zone.

I am thankful for having toilets at home. And toilet paper.

Juggling is a nice ice-breaker. And you can carry your juggling balls everywhere.

Keep in mind that people are fundamentally nice and helpful.

Look at the CouchSurfing Event Page if you want to meet people, it’s a great community.

Music and soccer are universal languages. Even if you suck at it.

No worries, everything will be alright.

Observe: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Please, be respectful with the locals and the local culture.

Quote: “The word “adventure” contains 1001 forms: it is by itself a dictionary of the whole universe”.

Riding a motorbike is definitely the shit.

Speak to your neighbour, even if you are lazy. They might follow you on a hitchhiking trip 😉

The right person at the right moment is a thing.

Up to you to make your trip an unforgettable experience.

Vietnamese hats will save your life, one day.

When you travel with Air France, you can always ask for champagne.

XXIth century travelling is definitely easier than ever: try your luck and don’t be afraid!

You can’t predict the unpredictable. Don’t waste your time trying.

Zombies might exist: what you take for granted here may not be true elsewhere.

 


 

My favourite one is and will always be Letter W 😉

Which one is yours, or, what did you learn travelling?

Bonus – A tip from the book “On a roulé sur la Terre” (Sylvain Tesson & Alexandre Poussin, who cycled the entire world): when they were lost, they would open a map and really show in public that they were obviously lost (or even pretend to be) until a local would approach them. It worked perfectly and they often spent days together!

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