One of the most difficult situations while traveling that I've had to face is trying to get around without a car. Traveling from city to city is easy provided there is at least one bus line that will take you where you want to go, but traveling within that city or just outside of it is not at all easy, especially when that city only has a population of 7,000 people and no reason for public transport. But if you want to see something incredible, you have to do what you have to do to get there.
When I was traveling through the South Island of New Zealand with my friend Eliza, we stopped for three days in the beautiful lakeside town of Wanaka. On our first day we explored the lakefront and looked through various travel guides to pick out a trail we wanted to hike the next day. We found the perfect one that wasn't too long and that had also been endorsed by a girl we met at our hostel. We were all set to go the next morning, but it was a little ways off from where we were staying, a couple miles down the highway.
We decided to walk it, since it would only take us an hour and we were already committed to spending the whole day hiking so what difference would it make. However the girl at our hostel insisted we just hitch a ride.
Immediately the image of a one-eyed trucker with rotting teeth and an axe at the ready in his side-door compartment flashed into my head. I looked at Eliza to see a similar look of concern in her eyes. "No, no walking will be fine," we told her.
The next morning we stopped in a cafe to get some directions when we were again told by the barista that we should just hitch a ride, since the drive would only take fifteen minutes and most people will be on their way to the ski fields anywway. We told her we would think about it. And we did.
"It's probably much safer here. I mean, look how quaint it is." I tell Eliza gesturing to the scenic lake and town.
"True and is the middle of the day."
"And we're two girls, so that means we'll get picked up easier, right?"
"But wouldn't we be safer if we had a guy with us?" Eliza made a good point.
"Yeah, I think so, but I mean...should we just try it? We're walking along the highway anyway."
So we did it. After a lot of apprehension and insisting that the other person should go first, I was the one to finally beg a ride from the red mini-van zooming down the highway. It took a lot of time to suppress the voice in my head that sounds like my mother's but I finally got the courage and stuck one brave thumb out towards the middle of the road.
I was promptly ignored.
Not dealing with rejection well, I made Eliza try the next few cars that also passed us by. One of the most frustrating moments was when a guy a few yards ahead of us stuck out his thumb and got picked up right away. We had no idea what we were doing wrong. After enough rejection, we decided to just keep walking.
We tried a few more times along the highway whenever we heard a car coming up the road and discussed our hitchhiking method, comparing ourselves to the guy we had seen get picked up before us. The strangest thing was when I could see the expressions of the drivers as they passed us by. Some seemed to be judgmental when others just gave us a sympathetic shrug. One woman made a gesture with her palm gesturing upwards that took me far too long to figure out.
"What does this mean in hitchhiking sign language?" I ranted to Eliza, frustrated and repeating the woman's signal. Later, I realized she was telling me to lift my arm up as I had it reaching out low near my hip in poor hitchhiking form.
After forty minutes of walking and failing to hitch a ride, a small green car finally stopped for us. As it slowed down in front of us, Eliza and I were in shock.
"Oh my god, it actually worked."
We opened the car doors to find two french skiers who were also traveling through New Zealand. They told us they used to a hitchhike all the time and they're glad to help out. We climbed into the backseat, cramped in-between some mountain equipment, but thankful for the ride. We had already walked most of the way, so we only ended up hitching a ride for a five minute drive. They dropped us off at the start of the trail completely unmurdered and that was that.
Eliza and I, so excited by the idea that not only does hitchhiking actually work but that people can be friendly, resolved to catch a ride (the right way this time) on our way back.