As a timid person when I first learnt about the concept of “hitchhiking” a few years ago, I thought it was a beautiful but unrealistic idea, and something I would probably never do it in my whole life for safety’s sake. Now I would say I dare not hitchhike unless I’m in Ireland…
My first thoughts around hitchhiking in Ireland took place in December two years ago on a trip to the west of Ireland with my friend Maria. Part of the holiday involved travelling from Galway to Letterfrack, a gem of a town hidden away in beautiful Connemara, on Christmas day. Considering the difficulty of getting there by public transport at that time of the year, the brave Maria suggested to the not-so-brave Panpan that perhaps hitchhiking would be the best solution.
Before we intended to set out on the road, an elderly gentleman we met on the streets of Galway on Christmas Eve imparted some sound advice. He strongly discouraged us from hitchhiking, saying that it was “too dangerous”, as I had previously feared! He went on to explain, in his strong Galway accent: “The law has changed. Now if there is a car accident, the person who picks you up will be responsible. Since this change, drivers are less likely to pick up hitchhikers. You can stand on the street for ages without anyone picking you up. It is so cold now. You might catch a cold.” That sounded extremely dangerous, and Maria agreed with him and comes from Moscow and is fully aware of the danger of a winter day, even in Ireland. So we decided to postpone the hitchhiking plan for some day in the future, a warm future. So we ended up staying in Galway for an extra day then taking the bus to Letterfrack.
The first hitchhiking experience in my life happened several months later, unsurprisingly, on a summer day, as I had the Galway man’s advice nailed into my brain. I was travelling in the Beara Peninsula in west Cork with two others. We booked our accommodation at a Buddhist retreat centre situated on the top of a mountain in the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. As we were walking uphill, a car stopped by and the driver asked us if we need a lift. We gladly accepted his kind offer and it became my first “hitchhiking” experience. So happy were we that we forgot to take the bag of food we purchased at the shop in town. The next day, after touring the Beara Peninsula, we were walking uphill again. The same car passed by, and the driver said to us: “Jump in!” So we miraculously recovered our lost bag of food!
My first real “hitchhiking” experience came the next day. We needed to travel from the Beara Peninsula to Allihies. We made the journey only by hitchhiking – we were picked up many times, by people of different genders, age groups, and professions. The law might have changed, but the cavalry spirit of the Irish people in the west coast obviously has not. It was difficult to draw a profile of these kind-hearted people as they all came from very different backgrounds. Thanks to them, we were able to reach some of the most beautiful hidden spots in Ireland which were not easily accessible through public transport. In addition, we were able to learn some local knowledge and funny anecdotes along our way.
I did a recent trip to west Cork again, and again I was offered a ride. I still would refrain from encouraging travellers to hitchhike, especially those travelling on their own. However, if you really want to try hitchhike at least once in your life, and if you do have some travelling companions with you, the countryside of Ireland is probably the safest place to start. You have a good chance of receiving a typical “warm welcome” of the Irish. In return, don’t forget to show your appreciation, and bring some little gifts with you for the Irish knights.
Panpan Lin is a student ambassador for Education in Ireland. Panpan has an MPhil in Textual and Visual Studies from Trinity College Dublin and is currently working on a second Masters in Interactive Digital Media. More Education in Ireland blogs can be found at blog.educationinireland.com.