Hitchhikers in 1939
Hitchhikers in 1939

There was a time when the sight of a tired man standing at the side of the road protruding an optimistic thumb did not prompt a double-take. There was a time when it was deemed perfectly reasonable to consider pulling over. There was even a time when people actually offered this intrepid pilgrim a lift. Unfortunately, this time has passed.

The death of the hitchhiker was not a mourned one. He passed away unnoticed by many and while we may infrequently see the odd bohemian attempting to revive the tradition, hitchhiking has largely been forgotten.

The general consensus is that there developed a stigma surrounding hitchhiking and the perceived dangers that accompanied travelling via such means. The fears drilled into us by our parents from a young age – to the tune of “don’t accept lifts from strangers” – have stuck with us into adulthood and have inhibited us from even entertaining the idea of hitchhiking. This reasoning does seem somewhat peculiar considering that our roads are safer than ever.

However, it wasn’t this fear alone that erased hitchhiking from our roads. Now more than ever people have access to their own vehicles, and with the increased lifespan of cheaper models, the hitchhiker has exchanged his rucksack for a second-hand Fiat Punto.

A hitchhiker in Luxembourg in 1977
A hitchhiker in Luxembourg in 1977

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for hitchhiking, especially not at St Andrews. For the past several years, the University of St Andrews Charities’ Campaign has been at the forefront of a hitchhiking revival, organising numerous events to raise money for their nominated charities including Médecins Sans Frontières, Macmillan Cancer Support, and Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre Fife. This year, the Campaign’s annual Race2 event – Race2 Berlin – raised a record-breaking £38,000 for their nominated charities. Hoping to contribute to this mass is Race2’s little sister, Jailbreak 2014. This event is much like Race2, however teams have only 36 hours and the organisers offer no road map (figuratively-speaking, maps are actually provided – I think). Instead, teams get to decide where they go, and the team furthest from St Andrews by the 36-hour deadline, wins.

It’s events like these that “transport experts” (some guy called Bill on some blog somewhere) cite in predicting a significant comeback for hitchhiking. If hitchhiking were to claw its way back into the mainstream, many reckon it could be on the coattails of events like Jailbreak 2014. A conflation of awareness of such modes of travel and financial incentives – with rising ticket prices for buses and trains – it could be us lazy, countdown-watching students who aid the resuscitation of hitchhiking.

Hitchhiking is not an appealing notion for just students, however. With people’s wallets shrinking and fears for the environment growing, it is a widely held belief (among bloggers called Bill) that hitchhiking may well become a viable transport alternative for those trying to squeeze every penny. However, whether this will be enough to engender a resounding comeback for hitchhiking is unclear. Nevertheless, while we still have events like Jailbreak 2014, it certainly seems worth a bash, if for nothing else than to raise a little money for charity.

Sign-ups for Jailbreak 2014 can be found at http://yourunion.net/ents/event/173/ and will close 11 March, so book your place before spaces run out. For more information on Jailbreak 2014, please email the organisers at jailbreak@st-andrews.ac.uk

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