The World Hitch-Hiker's Association: culture and hospitality among hitch-hikers world-wide

By: Bernd Wechner
© January 1, 1998

The World Hitch-Hiker's Association: culture and hospitality among hitch-hikers world-wide

The World Hitch-Hiker's Association: culture and hospitality among hitch-hikers world-wide

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: January 1, 1998

Last January I proposed the creation of an on-line Hitch-hiker's Guide to Everywhere. That was a guide book written by hitchers, for hitchers, sharing tips and details on good hitching spots they've found. It left me thinking of other ways that hitchers might help hitchers. A part of me rejects the idea of too much organisation among hitchers, there have been attempts in the past, none of which I think have met with lasting success. The problem of course is that hitch-hiking by nature is courting chaos; is a rather individual, or personal affair. And yet, over the course of 1997 I became aware of various hitch-hiking clubs in the eastern European countries, and recently came across a plea on Linus Rydberg's part to unite the hitchers of Europe. The idea of an organised hospitality club was also raised among hitchers on the Autostop mailing list.

I already touched on the fraternity among hitch-hikers in an earlier article. I suggested that hitchers had something in common, culturally speaking. Needless to say they're also very diverse, but still, there is a certain attitude to adventure, control, risk and finances that is shared by many hitch-hikers.

Now I'm active in a number of diverse small interest groups. I hang out with greenies, folkies, esperantists, all of whom have some kind of infrastructure. They generate gatherings, festivals, meetings, parties, discussions, newsletters, magazines. They have a cultural life so to speak, as a group. Hitchers (as a rule) don't.

Is Linus so wrong in suggesting that hitchers might make one? I think maybe not. Granted hitchers as a rule are fairly independent people, it's not a group activity in any way like the green scene, or the folk scene, or the Esperanto scene. To make matters worse, most everyone gives it up at some stage. They stop hitching, it doesn't mix well with the family life, or the professional life really. But still, having accepted that, there is still a healthy population of hitchers out there, and some of them are coming together, to share stories, ideas and good times. They see each other from time to time, and precisely because that's not so common anymore, they get to chatting, and ideas just like this begin to surface once in a while.

Added to that one of the most common rides I get is from ex-hitchers, people who often express a great deal of interest in what I'm doing (writing), who maybe sense that hitching is a dying art that could use a voice of support from time to time, through the barrage of criticism it usually weathers. Patrons maybe? Non-hitching members? How to reach them? How to enroll them in the idea?

I imagine a loose association, little more than a name perhaps, and one or two people running the membership list and other paper work. Let it be the World Hitch-Hikers Association (WHHA). It would perhaps publish the Hitch-hikers Guide to Everywhere (HHGTE). It would maybe act as an umbrella society for the clubs that are springing up. It would maybe hold the occasional gathering for hitchers, a festival of sorts, at a camp ground maybe, to which (most if not all of) the participants would hitch. Imagine the queue of hitchers leaving town afterwards! It would maybe administer a Hitch-Hikers Hospitality Club (HHHC), a kind of Servas or HOSPEX for hitch-hikers, whose members can provide one another with a short term crash at short notice, floor space if need be. Whose members understand that their guests are arriving by thumb and may be late, or not turn up till the next day but may have a burning urge to share wild stories with understanding ears when they do arrive.

Who would run the WHHA? Any club needs someone to organise a few things, maintain a list of members, attract members, inform members of events, maintain the resources and so on. I mean it's not necessarily a lot of work, but the problem is finding that kind of person among the body of hitch-hikers. Perhaps among ex-hitch-hikers there may be someone, some people stable enough, with enough interest to do something like that. Perhaps it might work.

It would need some money, not much, but some, any club does. It could charge a small subscription to the HHGTE and HHHC maybe. A sensitive topic. The minute you charge for it, the membership shrinks dramatically. Not because is too much, but because it's difficult to send small sums in this world of ours, with it's wonderful currency barriers and financial institutions making the cost of a transaction considerably more than . Maybe it could produce a journal or zine, like the National Hobo Association does. Not much, but something that might attract subscribers beyond the active hitching community and hence a little income for the postage stamps and so on.

I think it's a tall order given the nature of hitching and hitch-hikers, and yet I can imagine it happening. One of the prime motivators being the decline in the social acceptance of hitch-hiking. Some hitchers invariably turn to the few remaining hitchers to lend their habit validity when they find a sold wall of opposition in their immediate community. I found just that kid of support helpful before my Australian trip last year, where all my friends and family where prepared to question my sanity, but none a word of encouragement. I had a good friend with a lot of experience hitching Australia (that I never new he had) and some very encouraging and heart warming tales to share.

There is always the chance of course, that our litigation happy societies would ban it on account of encouraging dangerous practices in our youth. I conjure the amusing image of a World Hitch-Hikers Association, whose official legal stance is to discourage hitch-hiking, "but if you choose to do it anyway we'll provide some help and advice". This is precisely the sort of thing that some travel guides write nowadays if they still provide hitching advice and tips at all. The National Hobo Association has just such a stance I believe regarding train-hopping, the Hobo's traditional mode of transport.

Well, the idea has been raised, and some day it might prove fruitful. There is hope in the hitch-hiking clubs of Eastern Europe, perhaps they will catch, spread to the west. Perhaps they will organise themselves loosely. If they don't form a formal WHHA at they may at least cover many of the functions proposed here. I think I'd be prepared to organise it myself, then and when of course, I'm not busy hitching around the place. A little stability, an address say, certainly helps when you're trying to run a club ... In the mean time, let's see what happens.

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