Teaching Traveling: Is it possible to safely hitchhike around the world? Let’s get a lesson from the “Hitchhiking Guru,” Kurt Provost!
Kurt, tell us about yourself and how your travel adventures began.
Kurt: I was a bored student in a small coastal town in Australia, much like any other bored student in a small town. Life for me during high school was less of a cocoon to emerge gloriously from but a prison to break free of. My escape was through language, through culture, through travel. I went on exchange to Quebec when I was 16 and from that day on I saved every cent I earned while slaving at four jobs – a fruit and veg boy (making just enough in an hour to buy an apple), a dish pig (watching the chef eat the left overs off peoples plates before I scrubbed them), a delivery boy for my father’s store (which would have been fun if the shops I delivered to were staffed by cute girls) and a barman at the town’s only pub (getting offered financial incentives to take the drunk fat girl upstairs for a night. Please note I never took those offers up, no matter how desperate I was for money).
The dream of travel was so intimately entwined with my dreary reality that I found myself lapsing into “la la” land as I restocked the banana’s or scrubbed at a mayonnaise smeared dish. Travel became my escape from that horrible half-life of work and waiting.
I went on to hitchhike all over the world and explore the cultures and people I’d dreamt of. Now I’m in the wonderful position of being able to use my experiences to teach others how to hitchhike safely through my website HitchhikingGuru.com and my ebook, “Smiling at Strangers.”
TT: Whoa! Tell us more about your hitchhiking adventures around the world.
K: In early 2009 I attempted hitchhiking from Australia to China– unwittingly during cyclone season.
How did it happen? At the end of 2008 I made the decision to drop out of university. It was a time in my life when I felt I had a lot to prove, not just to myself, but to everyone who believed I was making a mistake in leaving University. It wasn’t a well thought out plan, but for what it lacked in planning it made up for with action and adventure; which is something I’ve learnt over the years – if you set off with a goal in mind, a path will be made as you take the first step.
I set off from my small home town of Ulladulla and hitchhiked up through Sydney all the way up the East Coast of Australia, stopping off at every marina and yacht club along the way asking for rides north. I hadn’t timed it well… it was cyclone season, and no one was sailing anywhere. I hitchhiked across the top of Australia to Darwin and after travelling over 5000 kilometres I accepted the fact that no one was sailing and bought a cheap flight to Indonesia where I continued hitchhiking. By the time I got to Singapore I was exhausted and eager to get to China, so I cut my losses and flew the rest of the way. Half way would have to do… for now.
Later that year I found myself in Tonga. It had become apparent that I had unfinished business with yacht hitching and was determined to get a ride. It was a strange dream because I’d never actually been on a yacht before, or even out to sea, but there was something romantic about severing all ties to land and drifting upon the great rolling blanket of the ocean.
Clearly I was delusional.
It took me nearly two months but I managed a ride on a tiny yacht skippered by a crazy Argentinean goblin woman who danced around puffing on a cigarette; the smoke had cured her skin into deep ravines of tanned leather. I’d managed to talk a Californian girl into joining us for the voyage and the three of us set off for New Zealand. The Argentinean and I communicated in French as it was better than her English, the poor Californian had to make do with being yelled at in Spanglish. The Argentinean had a temper that would roar from hidden depths, and was just as sudden and shocking as a streaker at a tennis match. It was a difficult journey of miscommunication. We bobbed across the South Pacific with no seeming direction for over two weeks before finally running in to New Zealand.
Despite my doubts as to the Argentineans sailing abilities and sanity, that journey was incredibly special to me, it gave me a rare glimpse of a world few get to see, I’m so grateful for that. It also taught me the joy of achieving my goals, no matter how absurd they are. It was worth all the hard work, the rejection, the pain and the waiting– anything you truly want always is.
TT: How do you find your travel opportunities?
K: Ever since I first hitchhiked across Canada at the age of eighteen I’d wanted to go on an epic hitchhiking adventure. I also wanted to see a bit of my own country and improve the Mandarin I’d been studying at university. The idea behind this travel opportunity was a bold attempt at killing these three birds with one stone.
TT: How do you find the money to fund your travels?
K: Back then I didn’t understand the concept of working smarter, not harder, so I dedicated every waking hour to work and saved every cent I could. Exploring this world and travelling to far off distant lands has always been my dream so it isn’t hard to be disciplined and save.
TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
K: My very first hitchhiking experience was a pivotal moment in my life and it sent me off down the path that I tread today. You would assume it was a resoundingly positive experience for that to happen. Well no, not really. My first hitch was with a truck driver who did his best to finish a bottle of whisky while driving me through the Rocky Mountains at night. I was eighteen years old, fresh out of high school, no phone, no map, no idea of where we were going, and crapping my pants with fear that I was about to become the bunk buddy of an overweight trucker.
I grew so much from that experience, I learnt how to survive and rely upon my senses, I learnt how to trust myself, and I learnt not to get rides with truck drivers who look like serial killers. It just goes to show that it’s not the situation that matters, it’s the way you deal with it and how you perceive it. There is a little good in every bad thing, and a little bad in every good thing… it all depends on how we choose to view it and react to it.
TT: How have your travels impacted you in your career?
K: My experiences travelling and hitchhiking all over the world have placed me in the wonderful position to be able to help others. I can provide them with the luxury of five years of knowledge and experience in hitchhiking, which is huge. My book (available here) can give them the push in the right direction, they don’t have to experience hardship in order to know what I know about hitchhiking and travel. That’s the beauty of travel: it teaches you so that you may teach others.
After returning from Russia last year I decided to pursue my own business in Network Marketing. It never ceases to amaze me how beneficial my experiences hitchhiking have been in creating success in the business world. Key lessons such as how to communicate, how to connect with people, how to build instant relationships and trust, how to embrace the unknown and use fear to my advantage – these lessons from my time on the road have been invaluable.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
K: George Bernard Shaw said “Life is not about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself”. I cannot agree more. Rather than travelling to find myself, I discovered that I created myself from what I learnt while travelling. Travel has taught me the value of communication, the value of people and their stories, the value of laughter and the value of a single smile in a world of frowns.
TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers curious to teach?
K: Have a diary and write in it every day. I learnt this when I first went overseas on my own as a sixteen year old on exchange in Quebec. Our mind loses the intricacies of life as time moves forward, it is so important to capture the detail of the moment, because that is all life is – a series of moments that fall like autumn leaves. Writing in a diary every day requires discipline, or more accurately, it teaches you discipline, this discipline will take you to where you want to go in life. I repeat this motto quietly to myself every day “enjoy the ride”. If you’re not enjoying the ride, then what’s the point in being on it?
TT: Thanks so much, Kurt! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this teacher of hitchhiking?