“When I was 5 years old, my mom told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, I told them they didn’t understand life.”
I run beside a grandpa who’s pedaling his bicycle with a young boy on the back, and hold up my sign: an old piece of cardboard with the name of the town I am trying to get to written hastily in black sharpie.
“Por favor,” I plead jokingly, causing both the young boy and his grandpa to chuckle and wave. There is no way they could pedal me and my backpack 300km to my next destination, but hey, it was worth a try.
I see a few cars approach in the distance and get ready for my next shot. I run alongside them as they slow down to enter the small Argentinian village, and yell “Salta, Salta, Saltaaaaaaaa,” the name of the town I am trying to reach. I take care to yell in the same loud and catchy voice Latin American street vendors use.
The passengers all laugh and wave before signaling to me that they are turning left, not right towards Salta, at the intersection just up ahead. I have been running, dancing, and serenading every passing car for the past hour, but unfortunately my efforts have been fruitless; everyone is turning left.
As I retreat to the sidewalk to consult with my hitchhiking posse, two French boys who are also journeying to Salta, the couple selling street food to my right approaches me to thank me for the entertainment I have apparently been providing them for the past hour – them, and the entire row of street vendors beside them.
They hand me a basket full of fried donuts along with a beverage – some sort of sweet milky concoction to both drink and dip the donuts in.
They talk with me awhile before heading back to work, and I’m able to put my Spanish to good use as I explain why I have been jumping up and down with a sign.
They are a fun young couple, so when they make me promise to give up and join them for the evening if I can’t find a ride within an hour, I readily agree.
As I run and dance alongside the dwindling number of cars for a while longer, I know it’s more for fun than anything else. I end up in the couple’s small, open road-side hut along with the French boys, and we enjoy eating, talking and laughing until late. I finally accept their invitation to set up my hammock in their hut for the night.
2 years later…
Though I didn’t find a ride that evening, the feeling of jumping and dancing with my sign in the middle of the highway and running alongside the passing cars has stayed with me even now, two years later.
It is the feeling of pure happiness, of absolute bliss.
Though hitchhiking can certainly be frustrating at times (nothing like standing on the side of a busy highway for hours without a single car slowing down), it is an amazing way to experience a country, especially in a place like Argentina where it is considered the norm.
I met countless other hitchhikers, mostly Argentinian students on their summer holiday, and quickly grew to view hitchhiking as my favorite form of transportation.
It is cheap, usually free in most countries, and it’s a great way for travelers to connect with locals and explore non-touristic regions of the country.
Hitchhiking also provides a great opportunity to practice (or learn) the language, eat the local food, and encounter adventures and opportunities you would never have dreamed of while sitting idly on the bus.
So weigh your options carefully next time you are about to hop on that bus – instead, you might want to stick your thumb out and see where the adventure leads you.
Shirine Taylor is a regular contributor to The Happy Passport and is currently cycling around the world. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.
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1. Hitchhiking is not necessary the most dangerous thing in the world for a solo female traveler.
2. If you're going to hitchhike, make sure a totally normal thing to do in that country (and in many countries, it is!)
3. Keep in mind you might be expected to pay your way, pay for gas, etc.
4. Hitchhiking is an amazing, eye-opening way to see a country, explore areas most tourists never see, meet locals, and have the kind of Eat, Pray, Love-experience you've been searching for.
Want to dig deeper? Go for it!