I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast recently titled “Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?” The link will give you the option to read the transcript or listen to the podcast; I recommend the podcast. I love Freakonomics! These self-professed, nerdy economists study everyday life, the assumptions we all make, and they apply their scientific method to offer explanations based on the statistics – often unexpected explanations. In this essay, they offer explanations for the decrease in hitchhiking over the years, and assert that it is a much safer mode of transportation than our mothers let on.
They make the case that hitchhiking used to be a much more acceptable way to get around. It was considered the proper thing to do to offer someone a ride when they needed it. They also say that the media sensationalizing stories about hitchhikers who became victims led to a change in our perception about hitchhiking rather than a change in the trustworthiness of the average person. I’m really glad about that.
I’m glad because we are friends with a young woman, Marzena, who recently participated in Auto Stop Race 2012. Marzena is a Polish grad student studying International Business, someone who speaks several languages and has a bright future. It wouldn’t have surprised me at all if she said she was planning a short holiday in Rome, but when she said she planned to get there by hitchhiking, I taken aback.
Let me tell you a little bit about the Auto Stop Race. 2012 was the 4th annual event with 1,000 participants, possibly a world record. The racers travel in teams of two from Wroclaw to the destination (which changes annually). There is a 35 zl ($10) registration fee and the camping fee in Rome was 8.50 euro per day. The participants must be under 30 and at least one of the pair must be a student. The basic rules are:
— the first one there wins
— they only travel by hitchhiking
— they have fun.
The organizers are from the University of Economics in Wroclaw. (Hmm, economists, maybe they’ve been listening to Freakonomics too?) The purpose of the race is to promote “hitchhiking as a cheap, ecological, and exciting way of traveling and exploring the world.”
|I love this shot from a truck. I need to get you some photos of the outside of the big rigs here. The cabs are often decorated with a fancy valance and the dash will have a license plate with the driver’s first name – truly their home away from home.|
Marzena was kind enough to let me share a couple of her photos from the race. When she speaks about it her faces lights up as she describes the people she met, the conversations, and the beautiful scenery. (I must concur about the scenery. We just made much of the same trip in our car and there isn’t much prettier than driving through the Alps.)
So Marzena is home safe and sound after her adventure. Social scientists say this is generally safe, and yet, it makes me nervous. Am I just too controlling for this sort of adventure? I must remember to ask how her parents felt about it. Is this paranoia about hitchhiking just an American mindset?