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Relish the small triumphs and ignore the big pains: Smiling at Strangers.

Earlier this month I entered a competition, and (for the first time ever) won. A copy of the e-book by the Hitchhiker Guru Kurt Provost, titled Smiling at Strangers: How to hitchike. To be honest, I didn’t think he could tell me much I didn’t already know first-hand. Even though I had homework to knock over, I idly flicked through it… and ended up reading the whole thing. Kurt Provost has hitched to more continents than I have. He smiles as much as me (or more, if that’s possible), and he loves tahini. So it seemed fitting to review it here at tahinipaste.

This book is basically the book I would have written if I made a ‘how-to’ guide. It contains practical advice: where to stand, how to look, what to wear, who to approach. It tackles attitude, i.e. how to think about it, and intuition, which is crucial. The inclusion of this chapter was the section which reassured me that I could refer novices to the book. Crucial. On the other hand, there were some points of divergence. In a frank manner, the book discussed the drug and alcohol abuse which is commonplace amongst travellers, especially those from the Western World. As someone who has travelled extensively on a limited budget, this bothered me. Travellers get a bad rap in some places, and this could constitute propagation of negative stereotypes. It exists, and is ‘normal’, that doesn’t mean it is right, or to be encouraged. The book is about hitchhiking, not sex drugs and rock and roll. Which leads me to my second point.

Smiling at Strangers features a section titled ‘Female hitchikers’, an ambitious undertaking for a male to pen. To quote the hitch-hiking guru from elsewhere (and this absolutely cracked me up): ‘The amount of times a driver has assured me they knew a perfect hitchhiking spot and then dumped me in the centre of a city, leaving me with a wave and thumbs up as if they’d just left me in hitchhiker paradise‘. Similarly, although he is good-looking, the hitch-hiking guru is not a woman. He can’t possibly know what it is like to be one, and his idea of paradise may end a woman in hell. Again from Kurt,  ‘Miracles happen when I drive’, and my idea of true liberation is for every female to know how that feels. Hitching is one way to open yourself up to miracles, and there is no reason why to not experience that just because you were born a girl. For women even more so than men, hitchhiking can be an experience of stepping outside your usual identity, making yourself anew, and seeing what you are capable of. It can be an opportunity to stand on your own two feet in the most literal way possible. In doing so, you may be challenged to face the darker side of what it may mean to be a woman in today’s society. Face this as soon as possible, hold an awareness of it, and free yourself to embrace the opportunity to experience the light the world has to offer you.

I would take any advice about using fake alibi’s or carrying weapons with a grain of salt. Lying, when someone knows you are lying, could easily make you reek of vulnerability. Why would someone who was secure in themselves lie? Do always be prepared, because luck is when preparation meets opportunity. This extends to facing and accepting the real possibility you may die, or to a lesser extent end up cold, hungry, tired, lost or confused. Are you willing to accept these possibilities? Accept it, and move on. I agree to ‘not carry weapons as I see them as escalating or attracting a negative situation. My most powerful weapon is my mind and how I use it. Always remember, the way you think, speak and act is more powerful than carrying a weapon’, and this is true for the female as much as the male. Additionally, as a woman, I would offer the following additional advice:

1# Don’t drink or take drugs when hitch-hiking. You need to be paying attention.
2# Learn how to say no, Practice saying no.
3# Don’t go out looking for a fight. Stay home if you’re feeling angry at men.
4# Don’t buy into bullshit about you being the weaker, more vulnerable sex.
5# Use the stereotypes about you being the weaker, more vulnerable sex to your advantage. Allow people to feel protective of you.
6# Follow all the other rules laid out by Kurt. Smile. As far as intuition is concerned, you have the upper hand. Utilise.
7# Understand that people will trust you if you trust in yourself.  You are safe to the degree you trust yourself. Have a good close look at your fear and your beliefs. If you are not willing to step up and face up to them, you are not ready to hitch, let alone hitch alone.
8# Be clear on what you want. If someone makes an advance or an insinuation, make it clear you are not interested. Stay calm; do not get upset, frustrated, or confused by someones advances. Assert yourself, if required, do so aggressively. Do not be afraid to be rude or hurt someone’s feelings. At the same time, do not use asserting yourself as an opportunity to become the victim or make the other person into the ‘bad guy’. Take responsibility for maintaining your personal space.
9# Understand that society is structured a certain way, with certain expectations, in certain times and places. You are challenging these, so expect resistance or judgement.
10# Have fun. You will find it easier (and quicker) to hitchhike than a man ever will.

Smiling at Strangers makes an amusing and (sometimes) wise guide to the wannabe hitcher. For some who will never take that first step out into possible rejection, it will make for an enjoyable vicarious experience. Each new time and place I hitch, I am required to step into my own shoes and ask for what I want. Ask, and you shall receive: and so it is with hitch-hiking. You have to be willing to have a brave game face and a sense of humour. You need to be willing to be flexible, adaptive and good-spirited. You need to let the path lead you as much as you make it. As a final note, I want to add that you will find what you need. If you don’t need it, you probably won’t find it. If you can afford to, take the bus.

See the photo that won the comp here, and find the e-book here: www.hitchhikingguru.com/ebook-smiling-at-strangers/.