Talking to Strangers

Enlist the help of locals to hitchhike in countries where you don't speak the language. Like I did in Cambodia.
Enlist the help of locals to hitchhike in countries where you don’t speak the language. Like I did in Cambodia.

I appreciate the fear this conjures in many, including myself. Approaching strangers who are deliberately attempting to avoid your eyes is a bloody daunting task. But you will come to relish the approach and banter with strangers. It’s quite addictive. I guess it has something to do with fear and the sheer pleasure of flicking it the bird and getting on despite it. Or maybe it’s just human interaction, it’s fun, interesting and exciting.

I also realise that regardless what I have to say on this topic, many of you will still be in need of fresh underwear when it comes to getting down to the nitty gritty and asking a random for a ride. And that’s perfectly fine, nerves are natural, I like to think they are showing me I’m doing something important, if I’m not nervous then what’s the point? Almost every exceptional event or moment in my life has been worth overcoming the mountain of nerves before it.

Hitchhiking is walking, waiting and talking.

I’m assuming most of you know how to do the first two, the latter often requires practice. Just remember the old saying “interested is interesting”. It’s easy to sit in a car and babble about ourselves and how amazing we are, but the truth is, that’s boring as bat shit for the listener. So as a hitchhiker it’s often our role to provide an attentive ear for strangers. If you embrace this role there is no limit to the things you can learn. The lives we’ve lived are there just waiting to pour out. With the right questions and attention the trip will fly by for all involved and you’ll have reached your destination in record time with, perhaps, a new perspective.

Respect is important.

Hitchhiking is not the time to fiercely defend your beliefs or world view. Gauge your driver’s perspective and be sensitive to their beliefs. Everyone is free to think however they want and seeming as you are the guest in their car I don’t recommend getting in an argument over global warming with the hundred kilo truck driver. I’m not saying be weak and overly eager to please, just understand that if you’d walked in your drivers shoes you would no doubt view the world the way they do too. In the spirit of reciprocity treat people how you would like them to treat you.

Sometimes though you will be picked up by people who really don’t want to talk or listen to you crap on about all the cool places you’ve travelled to. In these situations chill out, enjoy the passing scenery, maybe listen to the radio or just revel in the silence, it’s one of the most beautiful sounds you may encounter. Life is full of moments when we fill the air with unnecessary chatter. Relish this rare opportunity in the presence of an individual comfortable enough to ignore social normalities and sit in silence in the presence of another. If that’s too intense then politely ask if it’s ok to have a nap, and chill out.

I rode with a guy for two whole days from Mt Isa in Queensland to Katherine in the Northern Territory of Australia. I don’t think he said more than ten words in the whole trip. Instead he stared ahead and listened to Brittany spears mixed in with horrible country music that made me want to punch Dolly Parton.

If talking to strangers is daunting for you then do some homework. Knowledge mixed with action is the antidote for fear. Prepare discussion points on a small piece of paper, have your cardboard sign with you so the driver already knows what you want, practice your best smile and ‘hello’ in the mirror. And remember, you will never again see the people who reject you. What are you losing? “What other people think about me is none of my business” so get on with the job at hand and pound those rides.

Here are some conversation points for those really battling with the idea of keeping up a healthy conversation:

  • The weather. Yeah I know that sounds boring, but it’s pretty much the only thing that you can talk about where ever you are in the world.
  • Ask questions about the driver’s personal life: family, husband/wives, children, occupation, travel, childhood, parents.
  • Ask about hitchhiking, whether they do it or used to, why they picked you up, their thoughts on it, their thoughts on why it isn’t as popular as previous decades, their thoughts on the revival we are bringing about, etc.
  • Look around you, use the things you see to use as discussion points, the traffic, the local terrain and environment, distances and travelling times, cars (some people seem to love having hour long yarns over their shitbox cars).
  • The economy, religion, politics (best not to hold too strong of an opinion on these topic)
  • Food

Good conversation really is only limited to your imagination and level of creativity. Don’t be afraid of appearing dumb, approach each ride with a goal of learning something new. The key is to be a good listener, don’t just ask a question then not pay attention to the answer. Listen to what people have to say, every word that leaves their lips is a line tied to a story, follow the leads and pull gently with questions and interest at the cords, you will be amazed by what comes tumbling out.

Talking to Strangers Summary:

  • Relish the fear and exhilaration of acting in spite of your nerves
  • Remember, those who turn you down will never enter your world again, so what have you got to lose?
  • In a month, will you still be embarrassed for approaching those people?
  • Respect is important
  • Interested is interesting
  • Be a good listener, ask questions that will lead to further conversation.
  • Chill out, know when to be silent (why hitchhiking where you don’t speak the language can be brilliant fun)
  • Look around you, gather the clues of your environment (interior of the vehicle, scenery, roads and traffic etc.) and use these as discussion points
  • Be prepared to relinquish that which you think you know, and learn something new