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My First Hitchhike: A Backcasting Experience

Hi, everyone Fabian from the think-team. Recently, we have been talking a lot about backcasting which you can read here. Generally, it is about creating the future with our vision instead of predicting the future with past data. I'd like to share one of my undocumented experiences where I actually used this method - hitchhiking.

In my final year of college, I was frustrated with my thesis, dealing with a breakup, and wanted to get out of the Netherlands for a few days. I wanted to go as far as possible from Enschede, the city I was studying in. I was not particularly broke, but I did not want to spend so much money on this trip. Funnily enough, my ex was the one inspiring me to start hitchhiking - something I've never done before. So I found a friend who wanted to join me and we started packing D-1 while choosing a location on the map.

As newbie hitchhikers, we did not want to go too far. We thought Belgium is probably challenging enough for starters. We decided to go to Gent and started making our signs. We didn't even know what Gent looked like, we just wanted to go somewhere nice.

Our vision was: Go to someplace nice as far away as possible without spending any money on transport and accommodation.

So we walked just outside campus to leave to our first destination. Our first target is to arrive at Gent without any public transport. Our naive minds just wrote "Belgium" in our sign and it took a while before we realized we needed a different strategy. What's the next closest city that is on our way? It was "Utrecht". So arriving at Utrecht became our first strategy. After rewriting our sign we immediately got our first ride. The next few rides became easier, we even got tips from elderlies who used to do the same when they were younger. We were told to not just write one city in our sign, write every possible city that is on the way. This made so much sense.

There's a lot of stories to unpack, us being dropped on the highway because the woman wasn't going to Gent in the end. Us already arriving at Antwerpen, Belgium, and then got a ride back to Breda because someone misread our sign. Surprisingly, we still arrived before dark. And the city turned out to be beautiful. Medieval, rustic, kind of like a mash between Edinburgh and Paris. Well, at least Paris from the Disney animated Hunback of Notredame which looks a lot more medieval.

Anyway, we finished our first target of zero transport cost, but next is accommodation. We failed the first night because it was too late, didn't couchsurf and so we ended up staying one night in a hostel hoping we could make friends. The next day, we went out to the park. I forgot to mention that I brought my guitar with me the entire time. We thought that bringing a guitar would make us look a bit more interesting and less creepy. Also, my friend was and still is an incredible singer, so we knew how to impress people. I think we make a great duo.

That day we passed a bunch of people (we think are around our age) nearby the University chilling outside their house. My friend immediately approached them and bluntly asked if they know someone who could host us. My anxiety kicked in, I was terrified of their reaction. To my surprise, they pulled out two chairs for us to sit, offered us beer, and started contacting their friends who could be our host. After having a chat, one of them offered us to stay at his place. Maybe the guitar did work. Because in the end, we had a jam session in the park. They were together in a band. This was one of those moments where music is a universal language.

Speaking of languages, did I mention that I used Dutch 90% of the time during this travel? If you speak Dutch, you would know that the accent is incredibly different between Belgians, they even claim it as their own language/dialect called Flemish (in Dutch, Vlaams). It took some time to get used to this heavy accent, I was not registering what people were saying (not that my Dutch was perfect to begin with). Some words containing "ij" or "ei", is usually pronounced like "I" in English. But they pronounce it like an "ay". This threw me off.


Fast forward, in the end, we stayed two nights for free, another night with a different person, and made it all the way to Gent and back without spending any money on transport. I was so close to giving up on the last day where it took so much time to find a ride back from Anterwepen to Breda, but we made it. We made it back with a lot of stories and some stuff from the secondhand shop. I brought home a jacket with animals that cost five euros. One man's trash is indeed another man's treasure.

So, what can we learn here? We created a vision where we don't exactly know how to achieve. Our first step was too ambitious, we put a sign to go to Belgium. So we modified our targets along the way, to reach the next closest city. After all, the first step shouldn't be the final step. We also couldn't find free accommodation on the first night, so invested a night in a hostel. Sometimes it is worth spending some money on something reasonable (especially for us, it was for shelter...). Overall we learned many things along the way and achieved our vision.

Obviously, to avoid survivorship bias, I must say that my experiences won't guarantee your success. I am also not saying our vision was incredibly difficult and large or even comparable to JFK's Moonshot. But I hope you learn to be more courageous to start something new. Something you don't know how to achieve yet but are willing to learn the know-how along the way. As they always say, the journey is part of the destination, or something along those lines.

Thanks for reading my blog, see you next week!

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