In just the last two weeks, I’ve had my faith in humanity restored several times over.
I’m an optimist and idealist at heart. I believe that everyone has good in them. And yet I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m overwhelmed by the kindness I’ve encountered in Ireland.
I know that more than a few of my friends and family are concerned by my decision to hitchhike and couchsurf my way through Ireland and the UK.* Of course these methods of traveling are infinitely cheaper than the alternatives, and allow me to stay abroad longer. But it’s more than that.
It’s about having authentic and meaningful interactions with locals. It’s about traveling slowly, trying to uncover the heart and soul of a place. This type of traveling isn’t for everyone, but it’s perfect for me and my current mission. As I recently updated in my ‘about’ section: This trip is for me, but it’s not about me. It’s about the people I meet that I wouldn’t otherwise, and how I can learn from them.
My first hitching experience in Ireland (and first ever!) is a perfect example of how these methods bring me closer to a more authentic understanding of my surroundings.
I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to hitch from Dublin to Kilkenny, so I reserved the entire day. I set out from my hosts’ home in Dublin (thanks Tony and Bo!) early in the morning, large backpack and hitchhiking signs in tow.
When it comes to hitchhiking, there are generally two schools of thought. The more familiar approach is to stand on the side of the road, thumb out, with or without a sign in hand.
Or it’s possible to ask people in gas stations if they’re heading in the same direction. This method is recommended for newbies, since you can choose who to approach, and it’s more likely that they will say yes.
I passed a gas station on the way, and considered trying out the second technique. But upon getting closer, I chickened out and continued to walk alongside the road. I reached the N81 just as it started to rain, and immediately regretted that decision.
As luck would have it, there was another one just down the road. Mustering up my courage, I headed in that direction. There weren’t too many cars, but I took a deep breath and approached a man filling up his van.
I asked him if he happened to be heading in the direction of Kilkenny. He wasn’t, and my heart sank a bit at my first hitchhiking rejection. But then he offered to take me to the nearest highway outside Dublin (yay!). I awkwardly shrugged off my bulging backpack, and clambered into the passenger seat (which, by the way, is on the left-hand side and has led to me inadvertently getting into the driver’s seat on more than one occasion).
As we drove, the rain intensified. We reached the main highway, but he said he would try to take me a bit further. He didn’t want to drop me off in the pouring rain, and so he continued driving while we chatted away. By the time the rain did stop, we were about twenty miles from the city, and he said he might as well take me all the way to my destination. As we swapped family and travel stories, he also included his recommendations for Ireland, and told me to contact him when I return to Dublin so he can show me the city.
Upon arriving in Kilkenny, Colm and I ventured into a McDonald’s for a lunch break. I tried to pay for our food, but he insisted and I was treated to cheese dippers, fries, and a coffee.
This man – who I met just an hour and a half earlier – drove ~80 miles out of his way to Kilkenny (so about 160 round trip), took an interest in my life and stories, offered to be my Dublin tour guide, and bought me lunch.
I can’t think of a better first hitchhiking experience. It’s incredible how kind people are when you take the first step, and ask for help.
*Just a note to those who are concerned: I’m being very cautious. I check the references of those who offer me a place to sleep. When hitching, I text the license plate number to a friend. And above all, I trust my gut and have no qualms about exiting a situation I find uncomfortable or dangerous.