12: A girl and her thumb

I’m a tourist, not a traveller. I follow guidebooks, I plan itineraries, and I book hotels ahead, even though this costs more than negotiating once I’ve reached a town. I know that the unexpected is the most exciting part of travel but I also like to know exactly where I will sleep.

If anyone I know is a traveller, it’s my old friend Jo, who is in many ways the opposite to me. Jo has hitch-hiked around Europe, going as far as Iran, and writes up her experiences in a weblog, A Girl and Her Thumb. I love reading it, hearing where she’s travelled, about the people she’s met and the communities that she has encountered.

The only time I’ve hitch-hiked is with Jo. Some years ago, I lived in Coventry. I had a large flat there, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, far beyond the scale of any place I’d lived in Brighton. It was also far beyond the scale of the meagre furniture I owned, but I liked the flat’s emptiness/space.

Jo had been invited to a party on the outskirts of Coventry. She came up for the weekend, staying at mine, and we went to the party together. Afterwards, I was going to call a taxi but Jo said we should hitch. Jo was insistent about this so I went along with her. We walked along a dark hedge-lined road, only a few cars passing.

Finally one stopped, a taxi. He told us that he was heading back to town but we could hop in; he’d throw us out if he saw a fare. In the end we were taken to the town centre where he dropped us off. We thanked him and headed home. In my pocket I had enough change for the fare. When we arrived I had wondered if I should pay for the ride, but knew that Jo would have been annoyed – and, thinking about it now, the taxi driver would have been very confused. And that’s the only time I have hitch-hiked. It seems to show the difference between travel and tourism, and that these are two very different approaches, even if you’re in a town where you’re living.

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