Photo courtesy: Lars König
Lars, a Dutch soon-to-be-again student from Tilburg, hitchhiked through large parts of Europe, Asia, and recently also through the Middle East. His last journey brought him to Erbil in Iraq where he sent a video message to the world. E&M had an interview with Lars who hitchhiked more than 55.000 kilometers (which is more than the circumference of the earth). Here, he describes his passion, shares his experiences, and the Do’s and Don’ts of hitchhiking.
Hi Lars, when did you start hitchhiking and why?
I started hitchhiking in 2010 as part of a hitchhike competition, organised by my study organisation back then in Eindhoven. The goal was to try to reach a random place in France, just for fun and as quick as possible. It was quite an adventure because my friend and I started in the evening and the first car drove us into the wrong direction, then we ended up in Luxembourg. After that, I tried to do more and more trips and it became just bigger and bigger.
Where have you been hitchhiking so far and what was/is the best place to do it?
I hitchhiked through 37 countries. Very easily put I have been to all Easter European places, Scandinavia and of course also some parts of Western Europe. I also hitchhiked through Japan and South-Korea. My last trip brought me to Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, UAE and Oman.
Regarding the best places, there is a very easy rule: The more east you go, the better it gets. The best place was probably Oman because everybody stops and tries to help you in any way possible. Japan was also very good because people have never seen hitchhikers before and they wanted to understand what it was.
Why do you think it is easier to hitchhike in Eastern European countries?
It is interesting in two ways. Firstly, because we have these big developed highways in the west, so you must hitchhike in a different way than in the east. You must hitchhike from petrol station to petrol station and ask around to get a ride. It is hard because people are rejecting hitchhikers. There were many times when I’d asked people and they had a car with enough space plus going in the right direction, but they were so afraid of trusting a random stranger that they rejected me.
In Eastern Europe, you hitchhike more in the old-fashioned way with a sign and your thumb out next to the road. People are more likely to stop you see less rejection, so it feels easier in a sense. In a more deeper sense, Eastern Europeans are more genuine towards a ‘stranger in need’, whereas in the west, people see hitchhikers as something a poor person would do. Because it is more out of the ordinary people mistrust and thus reject more. Whereas in the east, it feels that people feel more called to help. One person who I have met in Iran put it quite interestingly: In the west people make the decisions with their heads and in the east, they make the decisions with their hearts. I thought this is applicable for hitchhiking as well.
What would you tell people when they say hitchhiking is dangerous!
I will tell why hitchhiking is not dangerous. When you hitchhike, you engage in others’ potential to do good. It means that if you make yourself vulnerable and show your trust in other people, and that is what hitchhiking is, you express that they themselves can do something good and are trustworthy. Through hitchhiking you invite the other person to live up to something beautiful so to say. When you ask them, you tell them: “Yeah, you are a cool person who can do an amazing thing like helping a stranger out”. I think that is what hitchhiking does and if the person you are asking has bad intentions, they won’t help you because you are asking for help. A person with bad intentions will not respond to helping another person. That is what makes hitchhiking save. And that is why I also believe that hitchhiking makes the world a safer place, because not only are you the one who goes to a stranger to ask for a ride but you also proof that a stranger can be trusted. In that way, I believe that with hitchhiking you increase the trust people have amongst each other.
What was your best hitchhiking experience?
My best experience is very difficult to pinpoint because I had many amazing ones. So, I just tell one of my favorites
Once I hitchhiked through Norway and I tried to reach the fjord in Bergen, but I ended up in a mountain village in Hemsedal. The person who brought me to Hemsedal explained to me that he had a caravan there and I could stay there if I wanted to. But I was determined to reach Bergen the same day. It was during autumn and it was much colder in the mountain village than I had anticipated. I was standing next to the road but in X apparently no car or truck going anywhere near Bergen. After two hours a woman from the local café came up to me and invited me inside to have a warm drink. “I don’t want you to freeze”, she said, so I went with her, got a free drink and warming up before I continued hitchhiking again. But after spending two more hours next to the road there was still no one going to the right direction and at some point, a man came up to me and asked me if I was cold. I said that I was freaking cold and that I did not prepare for this weather. The man went to his car and came back with this snowboard winter jacket. He gave it to me and he said: “Just take the sweater as well”. I was almost crying over the sight of the woolen sweater and the winter jacket. Shortly after that it was getting dark and it had no use to try to reach Bergen, so I went back to the cafe and explained to the women that I want to take the offer of the man who brought me here. I told here his name and showed a photo. She recognised the person immediately and called him. The man was still in his caravan and was happy to host me. When I got there, he had prepared this great meal and the next day he took me out hiking in the mountains. The next day he had to go back to Oslo but I could stay one more day at his place during which I hitchhiked on my own. I have never reached Bergen.
What was your worst hitchhiking experience?
One of my worst experiences was in Iran. One of my drivers was smoking something and he offered it to me. I tried it and after a while, I started to feel weird. He gave me more and I started to feel even weirder. Only later I found out that I was drugged. I don’t want to go into further detail but eventually, nothing bad happened and he only brought me to the next city. I only had some restless nights because the drugs were still in my system but I had nice people who took care of me.
What are your Do’s and Don’ts for hitchhiking?
Get a very good roadmap. The map speaks for you when you don’t speak the language.
Hitchhike with your best friend.
Be very relaxed and calm about what you are doing. Go with a flow mindset.
Take regular breaks.
Be very honest with the people you meet. As a hitchhiker, you are an interesting person by default.
Talk and share stories if you are in a car.
Don’t take a 'no' personal.
Don’t be negative. If you feel energetic it will bring you forward.
Don’t be naïve.
Maybe some last words about what you personally have learned from hitchhiking.
In life, we have all these unattainable things we feel we must achieve, like finding a life partner, getting a career or just finishing this one big assignment you haven’t started on time. One thing that hitchhiking has taught me is that every journey is walked one step at a time. Every person you meet, every kilometer you take will eventually bring you to the greater things in life.
ABOUT THE interviewee
Lars König is a graduate at University College Tilburg and the chairman of the foundation "NederlandLift" which promotes hitchhiking in the Netherlands.
Besides his hitchhike trips he spends his day reading books, performing on stage and enjoying a good coffee at the local café while writing down his travel stories and philosophical thoughts.