Footloose and Fancy-Free: Hitchhiking Abroad

The night of my college graduation, I handed in my cap and gown and my dad drove me to Kennedy Airport in New York City.

The next morning I landed in Ireland. Then spent a good part of the next three years hitch-hiking across Europe, North America, and the Middle East, living out of a knapsack and working on farms when I needed money.

Here are some of the most vivid overseas memories:

The lush greenery of Ireland, with its warm people and its great pubs and its ancient family graveyards behind cottages in the countryside. Will and Bridey Travers’ farm, where I helped out during the day, and got very good at darts in The George pub at night…while still holding a big tumbler of black Guinness stout!

Getting tossed out of a reception in London given by Queen Elizabeth.

Running into a schoolmate at the base of the Arc D’Triomphe.

In Rome, waiting patiently at traffic-filled roundabouts for a nun to cross from my side (and for the traffic to stop for her). And then crossing alongside her… because that was the only way I felt I’d make it to the other side without getting run over.

Being pretty much the only one not throwing up over the side of the boat on crossing the English Channel toward France … every time I made the trip. And being pretty much the only one not hurling over the side on crossing the Irish Sea from Ireland to Wales… every time I made the trip.

The snowy majesty of the Austrian Alps, with their mist-shrouded tops. And the unbelievable beauty of the Dolomites and Italian Alps at sunset.

A restaurant in Zurich, Switzerland called Raclette Stube, which had the greatest version of a Swiss dish called “raclette” that I’ve ever eaten. And to which I returned every time I went back to Switzerland.

Being taken aback when, after I asked a Swiss guy about good clubs for young people in Zurich, I was told about one “where all you foreigners like to go.” (It was the first time I’d ever been called a “foreigner.”)

Getting thrown out of the first-class section on a German train (into which I had sneaked with a German friend).

The rain in the British Isles, clouding my vision and weighing down my backpack.

The French people who never seemed to understand my French, no matter how hard I tried. And the wonderful food in France, often sampled in the underground cellars of the Left Bank.

A beautiful two-year-old girl with a runny nose named Ruthie Jones in Wales; I rented a room in her family’s working-class flat for a few days.

Seeing the face of my mother’s aunt – who I’d known only from old photos - waiting to greet me for the first time in a hotel lobby in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Despairing of ever finding a room for the night in a little French village, and finally just bedding down under a stone bridge with a bottle of wine.

A group of young Turkish guys with whom I shared a compartment on an Austrian train, their fascination with the “yellow woman” (a blonde) in my “Playboy,” and the incredible Turkish food they shared with me (especially the grape leaves!).

The street-signs in Wales, with arrows pointing to towns with names like “Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant” and “Aberystwyth”. 
The silent magnificence of the Coliseum in Rome.

The golden, eternal beauty of Jerusalem.

The nights spent in shabby hostels with hitchhikers from all over the world.

The old lady in Rome who kept screaming at me (“Meestah! Meestah!”), while pounding on the door of the room I was renting from her, because the shower I was taking upstairs was somehow causing a flood in the kitchen below.

Trying my first Indian food, while roaming around London with another American guy I’d met on the road. Unfortunately, we had poured tons of curry on our food before first trying the food…or the curry. And a couple of hours later, listening to him moan in the darkness as a result of that curry, in the decrepit warehouse in which we were staying with other American and Canadian kids. And hearing him say the next morning that he had heard me moaning all night, too!

My Scottish “mates” with whom I went on many a boat-search for the Loch Ness Monster. (And wondering what the hell we would have done if we found him – or if he found us!)

I’ve been back to most of those places several times since then. But those first few years after college were invigorating, wonderful years, in which I learned not only about the world… but about myself. In which I met people I’ve never forgotten. And in which I was young and carefree and going wherever “the road” took me…