I and two friends decided to go to Amsterdam. We also decided we’d go without any form of transport and without spending any money, yet as we arrived at our Dutch destination just 33 hours later we were amazed at how it had actually happened. I wish I were as whimsically impulsive as this makes me sound. In fact it was all in aid of RAG’s organised charity hitchhike, although I still like to think of it as no less a part of the wacky impromptu hi-jinks I’m told are all the rage at university. In any case perhaps this Hitchhikers guide to, well just Western Europe, will prove useful to some. So take note, and remember: “don’t panic”.
1. I cannot stress enough the importance of having boobs. Surprisingly, this is not a tip included in RAG’s official ‘Hitch Handbook’ but I assure you that, like in many other areas of life, they will help. Our first drivers were even so honest as to admit the only reason they picked us up was because “the brunette looked quite tidy”, and I don’t think they were referring to the level of cleanliness she maintains. If you, like me, are not lucky enough to be blessed with a pair of your own then be sure to travel with people who are. I must thank my own hitchhike companions, Miss Revell and Miss Frankland, without whose unique female assets (their personalities) I would most certainly still be standing on an M5 slip road, dodging the advances of sociopathic truckers.
2. Don’t get kidnapped. This may seem obvious but when hitchhiking you are likely to meet some slightly shady characters. During one lift I complemented our mysterious Belgian driver’s music taste after he put on the soundtrack for Drive. In response he turned to me with a raised eyebrow and whispered “I can be your Ryan Gosling for the night”, leaving me both enamoured and disturbed in equal measures. Don’t get me wrong, navigating the line between arriving at your intended destination or in an abandoned Serbian basement is half the fun, but try to remain on the right side of that line.
3. Prepare to talk. This will help in avoiding those awkward interludes in conversation with your new car-owning friends. If you’re ever in need of a talking point on such journeys, about which everyone has a untied opinion and even German-only speaking strangers can contribute to with heated fervour, simply remember the following two words: house prices. It turns out that people, regardless of creed, colour or psychological stability, are all hugely concerned with fluctuations in real estate valuation. Thus, the utterance “Isn’t it hard for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder?”, or something to that effect, became a devastating weapon against all silences.
These pointers may well assist you in your own hitchhiking endeavours. Maybe they’ll even get you to Amsterdam (in which case a thank-you note would be nice), but if so another issue arises: what to do when you actually get there? There’s no denying that Amsterdam is a beautiful city, known for its quirky Renaissance-inspired architecture, quaint cobblestone streets and interweaving canals. Of course, many visitors are instead attracted by the city’s more notorious idiosyncrasies. Its liberal policies on cannabis and prostitution have propagated its reputation as Europe’s home to the vices of life, taking on an almost mythical status as the weekend-tourist’s mecca of drugs, debauchery and sex.
As a first time visitor, I have to admit it’s all a bit disappointing. I’m staring at an 8ft penis with a bunch of weed in my pocket, 20 metres away from a girl who’ll do anything for the price of a ticket to the Safe Sex Ball, yet no one is batting an eyelid. And because no one cares, neither do I. The age-old predicament of the rebellious teenager once again reigns true; when you’re allowed to do something illicit, it’s no fun anymore. In the daytime the red light district is a sordid scene, as living dolls in the windows continue with their seductive duties whilst families meander by. But it all somehow works. In making the transactions for drugs and sex transparent, these industries remain safer for all parties involved. However, at a point the smutty decadence just became excessive and eventually uninteresting.
From speaking to the few locals we met, there seemed to be an air of resentment towards this side of their city and the typical party-seeking tourists who come for it. Impending changes to legislation, in making the sale of marijuana legal only to registered residents, seek to deter and sift out those who are travelling a few thousand miles just to get high. Perhaps this will improve the city, as there’s a sense Amsterdam has a lot to offer that is often obscured by its over-publicised ‘wild-side’.
Regardless of where you end up hitching, the one thing to rely on most is simply the generosity most people will show in offering a free lift. The very fact that we arrived in Amsterdam, and not in a body bag, is testament to this. So if you’re ever in need of a holiday, yet your student loan was instead well spent on Jägerbombs, then start making use of those opposable thumbs. Just don’t forget your towel.