It was 17th August 2015, 3:30 AM, in Trieste, Italy and I just completed the first day of my European 25 day hitchhiking trip. Honestly, I never slept on the street before, but this was my only option for accommodation and I was a bit shaky about the idea. Nonetheless, I set my bed up under the surveillance cameras behind the train station, ensured the night watch would keep an eye on me and I fell asleep with the pepper spray in my hand.
Would you consider the story above as the dark or the bright side of traveling? I would say a bit both, but rather on the bright side and I will tell you why.
My soul hit rock bottom within the first 24 hours
Suddenly I realized I voluntarily got myself into this uncomfortable situation and asked myself ‘why?’. This was the first moment when I felt a draining, depression-like negativity. I was hopeless, frightened and I wanted to give up right there. I was convinced the next day I would buy a flight ticket regardless of the cost and simply fly to Lisbon.
The dawn of change
Something incredible happened the following morning; I felt relieved, empowered and very proud. Miraculously I made it through the whole night without getting robbed or raped in a city I have never been before. Maybe the world – at least in Italy – is not as cruel as I imagined. That feeling right there started the roller coaster effect. Despite negativity kept coming back, I never felt the urge to give up again. Yes, I was very low and hopeless sometimes, but I learned to deal with these moments sensibly. Soon I accepted that alternative traveling comes with its ups and downs and both could reach extreme levels, but for me, it was worth all the downs to be rewarded with the ups.
Lows vs. Highs
Getting over the low in itself is a big achievement. The sensation of tackling an obstacle successfully is undoubtedly rewarding. Can you remember a moment of joy when you managed to overcome a problem you thought it was impossible? How did the success make you feel? Now imagine the feeling amplified by a 100 and you got yourself a hitchhiking experience.
That is one of the reasons why I chose to challenge myself in such an extreme way. Because there is no impossible. Everything seems scary and difficult at first, but once it’s over, looking back on it, it wasn’t as bad as you expected. Heck! It contributed to your self-development.
So what I’m saying is, it is impossible to avoid difficulties and it would be ridiculous to try to. Life should always challenge you. In direct consequence to this you learn, evolve and you become a much stronger person. If your circumstances don’t permit this kind of positive stress, you can always seek it out, just like I did. And what a journey it was!
Here is a list of things I gained only in 25 days:
- Undoubtedle confidence
- Clear goals for the future
- True friends
- A new life purpose
- Got in touch with my spiritual side,
- Which brought a new perspective on life
- Inner peace
- New business and art ideas
- Polished up Spanish knowledge
- A constant flow of energy from morning till evening
- Change in core values such as money versus time
- An honest appreciation of free time
- Acceptance towards others who think differently to me
- An open mind towards experiences I never thought I would have
The coin has two sides – The dark side of traveling
Occasionally you might meet people who do crazy trips and you think ‘Damn I wish I could do that too, but…’. Well, guess what, you can and in the coming articles I will write about different forms of travel and how others have done it despite having a full schedule, bills to pay, children to look after and many other excuses you can possibly come up with.
You might also think ‘Travelling is so fabulous, you get to see all the wonderful landscapes’. It is not always fabulous as many believe and that is the part you need to have more information about.
When you do decide to pack your backpack and go, you expect the trip to be magnificent and flawless. In reality, you will face countless roadblocks; missed flights, canceled couchsurfing accommodations, full hostels, loneliness, not being able to speak the language, strange illnesses, racist people, pick-pockets…etc. Now it sounds insane to even consider leaving, but if you think about it, bad things happen at home as well; overdue bills, late rent, broken fridge, leaking tubes, terrible Facebook comments, getting fired, car breaks down…etc., and you are not just sitting laid back, waiting for someone to solve your problems, you get up and do something about them, right? That is the same mindset you need while on the road.
Some would argue if you never left you would never have had those problems you encountered during traveling. True. Following this chain of thought I probably would never have lost my bike, got hit by a car, slept on the street, got harassed by older men, feared for my life in a taxi…or, wouldn’t I? To fear future negative incidents that might never happen sounds just as silly, as when people warn me about dangers they have no knowledge about.
I could have come up with 1000 excuses why stay put and practice a routine life, but the one reason why I should not beats all the previous 1000. What’s your reason to go?
Problems will never stop coming, but successfully overcoming them is your reward. When you actively seek complications is when you are testing how much you can take, how far you can push yourself. You are getting to know an advanced, stronger you.
Pushing the limits, never give up
It was the second day of hitchhiking and I just got off the train from Trieste to Milan. Getting out of a metropolis the size of Milan is an obstacle and a half. I was sent from one place to another for hours. So much time was wasted and I was getting very frustrated. Eventually, I asked a taxi driver where is it best to hitchhike from and he gave me a free ride to a highway entrance, which turned out to be a bad place to hold thumbs up.
After 30 minutes of no luck, another taxi driver suggested a different location. So taking his advise I talked to a bus driver – who I had no language in common with -, how to get to my new destination. He diverted the bus from its original route just to drop me at a bridge and explained where I needed to go from there. At this point, I was about 5 hours into my desperate attempt to leave Milan. Two polish hitchhikers showed me on the map where the ring road was and taught me some Italian so I could explain that I needed to get on the ring road. After 6 hours, I arrived at a big petrol station where international traffic passed through. At last!
When you are in a country where you don’t speak the language, where they are reluctant to take you because the whole country believes hitchhiking is illegal, you are in a major city with a short deadline to arrive in Madrid, trust me, it is very stressful and it is easy to feel down. Frequently I had to self-reflect and remind myself why I was doing this to not lose motivation.
The sun always rises
25 days on the road can teach flexibility, patience, and hopefulness. So what if you have to wait over an hour, so what if your ride drops you on the wrong side of the highway, so what if you end up in a city you never intended to visit…so what? Soon you will realize your life is pretty great if these are your biggest worries. In some way I was even thankful for the hard times, they made me much stronger.
Today I no longer look at stress negatively. Instead, I interpret it as an unforeseen surprise which contributes to my self-development and challenges my creative thinking. As I said earlier, problems will arise, but it’s your choice how you look at them. The more you stress the less you can concentrate and the less effective you are. Accepting the very concept of roadblocks in life should not scare you away from making a hard decision and taking risks. Each situation has one outcome with two sides and you may choose to look at it as positive or negative.
One outcome – two sides
We are at around the 9th day of the hitchhiking trip and the Lisbon holiday was coming to an end. My last ride towards Lisbon was with a Brazilian couple who were going to travel back to Madrid a few days later and I was considering going back with them. Solid plan! What could possibly go wrong, right?
Only 1 day before meeting the couple they sent me a message about meeting in Porto instead, so I was going to travel up to the North of Portugal. Later that day they canceled on me so I was stuck. When a plan falls apart I instantly feel betrayed and sad. So I could choose to look at the situation positively or negatively. Instead of letting this ruin my day, I just searched for an alternative plan and the next day made it to Madrid with only 5 cars.
The life lessons learned on the road shaped me. I can’t express in words just how much I’m grateful for this experience. The biggest gift of the trip was the shift in the perception of stress. It is my friend, and no longer my enemy. I fear no challenge, I never second guess my decisions nor I let other to do so. This overwhelming confidence and excitement about stress are very new to me, but my life is much more colorful, my mornings are happier, my decisions feel right. With certainty I can say, I will never be stuck in limbo or fear the unknown again.