Back in June, I met a guy called Sam in the digital world. He had been invited to attend a language immersion program and was curious to find out whether it was the same one that I had attended and written about (in The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World). As another reminder of how small the world can be, it turned out that it was indeed the very same program that I had attended, and we had been invited by the very same person (several years apart). Sam went to the language immersion program and then begun hitchhiking. He kindly took some time to answer a few questions about his journey.
Sam, could you briefly introduce yourself and outline the journey that you are currently undertaking?
My name is Samuel James White/James Farner. I’m a historical fiction author from Leeds, England, and I began travelling on May 13th, 2015. My only previous travel experience was on a disastrous school trip to France, and a brief stop in Belgium. This was when I was 14 and I never flirted with the idea of travel again until this year.
My route is simple. I started on May 13th in Paris and made my way up the coast to Hamburg, Germany, before heading north and circling around Scandinavia. I came to the Baltic States, headed down into Poland, and explored the states of Austria and Slovakia whilst waiting for my English teaching course to start in Wroclaw.
Right now as I’m writing this I’m spending a month in Skopje, Macedonia, volunteering in a small hostel.
Hitchhiking (sadly) has become a topic of hot debate in recent years. I am a big advocate for hitchhiking and have found it to be safe from my experiences. What were your thoughts on hitchhiking before you tried it and what persuaded you to have a go?
I’ve always known about hitchhiking, but I originally learned a lot of it from your blog. I wasn’t really scared of hitchhiking because I often see it as just one tool of many to travel around. Cost is a major benefit for me.
I should let it be known this isn’t a pure hitchhiking trip. I probably will one day, but the nature of my work as an author means I must be connected to the Internet on a daily basis, with a few days missing here and there. You see I work as I travel and it allows me to fund everything I do. Without the Internet I’m screwed.
I first hitchhiked on the Aland Islands, off the west coast of Finland. It wasn’t because I decided I wanted to start here it was because the capital of the islands, Mariehamn, doesn’t have a hostel.
The only hostel on the island is in the nearby town of Godby. There’s a bus that goes there, but I couldn’t be bothered waiting. I stole a piece of cardboard, wrote a sign with a crappy little ballpoint pen (Union Jack included) and waited on the main road out of the city.
You couldn’t really read the sign, but they got the message.
Now that you have tried hitchhiking, what do you think of it? What would you say to anyone else who is thinking about trying hitchhiking, but is yet to try it?
Hitchhiking to me is just a car sharing service without any organisation or the need to pay for it. I don’t think it’s a magical mystery ride. You just sit in the car and talk to someone. I also don’t think it’s anywhere near as difficult as people seem to think. Of the countries I’ve done it in I’ve always been picked up in ten minutes. It’s just a pain doing it in the rain.
I’d say the main difficulty you have to contend with if you’re starting out is getting out of town to a place to try it. That’s the primary issue you’ll encounter.
In some places, particularly in Eastern Europe, it would actually cost you more in public transport costs to get out of the city than it would to book a cheap bus to your destination. So in that case it doesn’t make much sense to do it here unless you’re on a pure hitchhiking trip.
I completely agree with the sentiment of it being a very ordinary practice. People have built up a big, terrifying bubble around hitchhiking, when the reality is that by putting out your thumb or holding up a sign, you quickly get a ride with a friendly person. I hope stories like yours (and word of mouth) help to burst this bubble.
During my six month Euro hitch, I attended the same language immersion program in Poland as you, partly because I was offered three meals a day and a bed in a country hotel in exchange for speaking English. At the time I received the message, I was in Estonia and had been free camping for multiple days. During my time at this program, I actually met a lovely young lady (Leah) whom I have shared the past three years and many adventures with. What did you think of the language exchange program and why did you decide to ‘work’ for free?
I was curious if the program that invited me was the same one that invited you in your book The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World. It turned out it was exactly the same, although I’m not sure if it’s the same venue.
My programme took place in Wroclaw, South Poland, in the Karkonosze Mountains. It was intense, but it was also a lot of fun because I was working with kids aged 12 to 18. I actually have some of them on Facebook now. The fact I’m an author seemed to make me quite popular on the course.
I don’t actually see it as working for free because I’m still getting food and accommodation. I just see it as payment in another form. Right now I’m working in a hostel in Macedonia and I’m paid in food and accommodation for a few hours per day. If they gave me money, I would only spend it on these things anyway.
But I did it mainly for experience and to give me a range of fall back options if my writing can no longer cover my expenses. I want to try out a range of travel careers. The holy grail for me would be working on a cruise ship.
This sounds like quite a big adventure and I think it is really great that you’ve had a taste of this life, just to see how you feel about it. How would you say this journey has compared to your normal day-to-day life?
In some ways it’s exactly the same. My writing work still happens on a laptop, I visit the same websites, and go through the same process. The only real difference in this regard is the battle to find Wi-Fi.
In terms of everything else, it has changed in every single way. Previously, I lived as a hermit. I didn’t really see anyone. I suppose I started this trip out of nothing but boredom. Now I meet people each day. I find it easy to converse and socialise with people. I’ve mastered public transport and I’m no longer nervous about walking into a place, like a restaurant, alone.
Due to the similarities with work, it probably isn’t the ‘life turned upside down’ scenario it is for many others who leave their whole lives behind.
I like that concept because I think a lot of people expect to have a ‘revolutionary moment’ and run naked through the streets screaming Eureka! Life isn’t like that – it is a long journey and we are ever shaped by our experiences. It took me six months of hitchhiking to realise I had no conclusion, but it shaped how I lived my life in the future. What comes next for you?
I have no plans to leave Europe for the remainder of this year. It was the goal after the Balkans to travel around the Mediterranean in the winter. But since I won’t be leaving Macedonia until September it’s likely that I’ll be unable to enter Italy before I make my way back to England for Christmas.
I don’t want to rush Italy because that’s one of the main countries I wanted to visit. Instead, I’ll likely complete that from January onwards, alongside Malta, Portugal, and Spain.
The other countries I’ve missed out so far are Norway, Iceland, and Cyprus. Those were all too far out for me at the time, so I’ll have to visit them separately to complete Europe. There’s Belarus as well, but that requires a visa, and since I don’t really fly it’s harder for me to get.
My other plan is to start at the top of Canada and travel to the tip of Argentina, or vice-versa. The catch is I must sail across the Atlantic through working, whether that be on a cruise liner or a private vessel. It’s romantic!
But overall I have no intention of returning home long-term.
Samuel James White, otherwise known under his author name of James Farner, was born in 1993 in Leeds, England. Apart from a horrible school trip to France and Belgium, he has never travelled abroad before. On May 13th 2015 he began his first trip by landing in Paris.
His work as an author enables him to earn money as he travels. Along the way he volunteers on various programmes. So far he has taught Polish kids English and worked at an eco-hostel in Skopje, Macedonia.
Currently, he’s travelling around the Balkans in preparation to return home for Christmas.
You can find out more about him (and his books) on his website www.jamesfarnerauthor.com.
Thank you to Sam for taking the time to share his thoughts.I hope this story can help insire you to have your own.