Tao and the Art of Hitchhiking

by Lin Jiling

First, patience. Most cars drive by. Most drivers don’t give eye contact, or they look away, or even shake their head. Get over your ego. Get over your sadness, disappointment in humanity and exhaustion. Reconnect with your inner peace, and enjoy the journey. You’re walking. Maybe you’ll walk just for a few minutes. Maybe you’ll walk for an hour or more. Maybe you’ll (my favorite) just sit there and read or write, stopping to stick your thumb out at each passing car (I do this on slow roads).

A car finally stops. Check out the driver. What’s your instinctual reaction? Trust that. Trust your intuition, your gut reaction, your innate primal knowing. And if you can’t trust that, then it’s over. Go home. Walk home. Don’t catch that ride, or any other ride, to boot. Your instincts will tell you everything you need to know. Hone your instincts by breaking physical patterns: write with your opposite hand. Take a different route home. Watch people in social situations and make guesses about them, then go meet them. And for hitchhiking: your instincts will potentially save or destroy you. Listen.

Be aware. Use your senses. Notice what’s in the car, besides the person. Are there potential red flags? How about positive red flags? Notice small details, and respond accordingly.

As ye putteth forth, so shall ye receive. Many people will try to frighten you with all the dangers of hitchhiking, and stories of terror, mutilation, molestation and even death. I usually ask folks to withhold their gory details. I am aware of the risks. I am also aware of all of the less reported/media-touted stories, of all of the beautiful connections made via hitchhiking, getting where one needs to go, and making friends and having adventures along the way. Sometimes shit happens. And this is a part of life. But, it’s rare. And you get to choose a lot of your path. In a huge way, you write your own story. I am a believer of manifestation: that if I put forth fearful energy, then I will receive that in turn. If I put forth loving and bright energy, then I will receive that in turn. Watch what you exude. I pray before and during hitchhiking for smooth, easy and quick rides and awesome new friends. When hitchhiking I am also prepared to defend myself, but this comes from a place of practicality and not fear.

I am a believer of manifestation…
If I put forth loving and bright energy, then I will receive that in turn.

Be prepared. Be prepared to say yes, no or even maybe. Ask for what you want and need and don’t be afraid to say, “No thanks” or shout a “YES!” with a huge grin and jump right in. Be self-assertive. Stick your thumb out. Wave it around. Be bombastic. Make signs that make people laugh. Make eye contact with drivers. Ask for what you want. Say “yes” when you mean it. Say “no” as often and with as much honesty and ferocity as you must, too. Be clear in your communication. And always remember to say “thank you,” from your heart. I like to bring little gifts for my rides.

Often, there is no financial exchange. Your presence and your conversation are the gift. A good hitchhiker doubles as a psychotherapist and temporary best friend. It’s amazing clinician training. Ask clear questions that are directive, and make the best use of your time with your driver. Forget your assumptions and judgments, and just be present and open to your driver’s ways of thinking and being, which may be radically different from your own. Explore different world views and your own relationship with such. Establish quick connections. Listen. Be present and supportive. Offer your own diverse world-views when appropriate to do so. Open mental and emotional doors of perception.

Enjoy your journey. You’ll make it to your destination… eventually. Maybe something new and better will come along the way, and your destination changes. Enjoy that too. Create manageable goals and be open to shifts and changes. Be self-sufficient. Carry what you need and always be ready to jump, run or dive as needed. Scream when you must. Make yourself heard. As a hitchhiker and traveler, let yourself be your driver’s story of the day. Turn heads. Create excitement, something out of the ordinary. Notice what your driver needs and respond to that. If you must be weird and stand out, then let it be incredible. And don’t forget to take rest as needed. I rarely sleep when I am riding with a stranger, but easily find comfortable natural roadside nooks to nap in as needed. Listen to your body. Be aware of your needs and what you accept from strangers. Be humble. Don’t impose your world-views on anyone or try to change anyone. Allow your curiosity and sense of possibility to expand with each person that you meet, each ride that you accept, each new road that you set foot upon. Be bold. Then, be bolder. Take calculated risks, open doors you never even knew were doors and stick that thumb out, tossing your head back and laughing into the winds that blow across the open roads.

The Pre-story

“How do you hitchhike?” I asked my friend Tank eight years ago. It was my final year of college and my understanding of the world was finally cracking open. “Well, you just stick out your thumb,” said Tank. A brief pause. “That’s it?” I’m incredulous. “…And you wait. And then, you get picked up. That’s it.”

I hitch-hiked for the first time in Hawaii, right after college. My first day in Hawaii, I went hiking up the first trail that I encountered and got myself lost in the beauty. I descended the mountain right after sunset, sprinting out of the clacking bamboo stands, reaching the trail-head right after dark, far from home and too late to catch a bus. Much to my own surprise, I stuck out my thumb at the first passing car. And it stopped. Three people my age sat inside, music blasting. I climbed in.

Eight years later I am traveling less and staying put more, but am still traveling more often than not. But my self-understanding has changed. Instead of being a perpetual gypsy and thinking of myself as only ever being nomadic, I am now actively seeking a home: a piece of land to make beautiful, call home and love and be loved by my community.

Hitchhiking through a lonely section of southwestern New Mexico last week, I sat under the hot sun with my sunglasses, hat, and body fully covered. Sweating and uncomfortable while feeling wildly happy and free, I stared deeply into the eyes of the dusty road and examined myself. “Tao and the Art of Hitchhiking” came to mind. How can I feel such physical discomfort, yet simultaneously feel such joy inside? And why am I — almost 30, now — still hitchhiking?

I stared deeply into the eyes of the dusty road and examined myself…

I just got a car after 7 years of living without one. I’ve been walking, biking, hitchhiking, bussing, training, flying and catching rides with friends, strangers and acquaintances of all stripes for almost a decade. Not having a car forced me to fully utilize my resources, ask for help, develop self-reliance and be okay with not being able to do everything or go everywhere that I wanted. Last year, while apprenticing with herbalist 7song, I lived in the forest outside of town. Wild-crafting on a bicycle in a hilly environment where everything is far from each other was difficult. Always asking friends for rides — who would often have to come out of their way to pick me up in the boonies — was difficult. Not being able to have a job, because I couldn’t pack my schedule as tightly without a car, was also difficult. This year, transitioning back into living in “civilization,” I have finally conceded to having a car again. Now, I am juggling a variety of part time jobs, school and play. Life is a crazy whirlwind and part of that is because I have a car and am able to pack activities back to back, driving from one activity to another. I often double-take while driving at just how easy it is: I can just pick up and go. No need to ask anyone for anything, book tickets or even stick out my thumb and wait.

Now that you understand my backdrop, perhaps you can also understand why I chose to take the bus down to southern New Mexico. Driving long-distance is exhausting, whereas public transportation allows for reading, drawing, dreaming and drooling as wished, instead of driving, stressing and focusing for a whole day. However, public transportation in the USA doesn’t go many places. Thus, hitchhiking. Sometimes, hitchhiking is faster than public transport, as I proved in a previous experiment (blessed by the gods of luck, though). Hitchhiking hearkens back to a time of community interdependence and getting to know and help your neighbors. Although it’s energetically exhausting, I enjoy the human connection, diversity of humans that I meet and adrenaline rush when I get picked up. After eight years of travel, hitchhiking all over this country and a fraction of Asia, I am grateful to have a car again, amused by the familiarity of sticking my thumb out and going when I choose or must. I hope you enjoyed this small piece of my hitchhiker’s reflections, as presented above. Onwards, intrepid adventurer! Travel forth!

Reference Manuals

Inspiring Hitchhiking Reads

“On the Road” and “Dharma Bums,” by Jack Kerouac
“Even Cowgirls get the Blues,” by Tom Robbins
“Into the Wild,” by Jon Krakauer


Journal, Volume 2 Issue 5