Guest Post: Overcoming Fear to Start Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking on the Italian Motorway

In this week’s guest post we join Jamie Bowlby-Whiting, author of Great Big Scary World as he explores his inner anxieties and the decision that lead him to start hitchhiking his way to a more fulfilling life …

Dinosaurs that hide behind closed doors, germs on taps, cannibals climbing through my window – no matter how fantastical these things may seem, I have been been terrified by each of them – and ever so many others. Then came the fears of talking to people, of failing, of life itself.

Do you know what it feels like to be constantly afraid?

It feels like you are falling. It’s that feeling you get just before you hit the ground. Except that you are not going to hit the ground, you are not going to stop falling. It just goes on and on and you beg for it to stop because it is the worst feeling in the world and you don’t even know what is causing it any more …

Overcoming Fear to Start Hitchhiking: As a child, I was scared of everything - this is my family dog

One day, I decided that I didn’t want to be afraid any more. I didn’t want to let my fears define me. I realised that the only person who could really help me, was me. And then for years I battled to take control. And failed. At the age of twenty-four, I was tired of my job, of where I lived, of everything. One way or another, I wound up spending a weekend in Japan and when I missed an inter-city bus, I was met with a train ticket of £130 – a cost that I couldn’t afford. Instead, my friend and I said that we would try hitchhiking. With him by my side, we waved at passers by until finally, someone stopped. It was glorious. For a few short hours, nothing else in the world mattered. We we free and I wanted more.

A few months later, I quit my job, my home, and I walked out to the side of the road with my thumb out… alone. I was hitchhiking into Europe with no plans, hoping to enjoy a few weeks of summer in Europe and to push myself. I really was pushing myself beyond all known comfort limits. At the first petrol station, I hopped uncomfortably from left foot to right, embarrassed and awkward as passing drivers laughed at me – or so I thought. After just ten minutes, I was beaten, I wanted to go home – wherever home was.

Overcoming Fear to Start Hitchhiking: Hitchhiking in a Truck

Then someone stopped. I couldn’t believe it, and leapt into the car, delighted, babbling away to my new driver. Funnily enough, he wasn’t quite as excited as I was.

That first night, I ended up being left on the outskirts of Brussels and slept in the garden of an abandoned building – I was so freaked out that I had to hug-chant myself to sleep, wishing to be anywhere but there… but in the morning, I was still alive. And so my journey went on.

Overcoming Fear to Start Hitchhiking: Camping under the Eiffel Tower

A short journey turned into six months, strangers became friends, and I found a new confidence in myself by learning not to overcome fear, but to deal with it. I now think of it as a little pink ghost…

“Fear is a little pink ghost that has the ability to change into any form more terrifying than your worst nightmares could even dream up. He can cripple you, taking everything. When he is around, you are falling constantly, a bottomless journey of no end. You have three choices of how you can deal with this little pink ghost. Firstly, you can run and you can hide. He will always be chasing you, he will always be looking for you. One day he will find you. Secondly, you can punch him in the face. Fear roars at you, you roar right back. It is a simple matter of who roars loudest. And lastly, you can embrace him and you can hold his hand. You walk with fear and you accept him for the little pink ghost that he is, always knowing that he is there, but keeping him in your sight.” [From The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World]

Overcoming Fear to Start Hitchhiking: Hitchhiking on the Italian Motorway

I am as fearful as I have always been, but I am learning to manage those fears better. And for all the people I’ve met, the strangers’ homes I’ve stayed in, the weird and wonderful experiences I have been lucky enough to have, I am grateful – and a committed, lifelong lover of hitchhiking and someone who now knows how to exist in the world with little to no money – something I previously would have thought impossible. I have camped in abandoned buildings, eaten from bins, herded cows at midnight, and swam in black rivers to name a few things – I name these things not as a boast, but to show that someone, even someone who is very afraid, can find so much adventure in the world. And still I want more.

The world is sometimes scary, but more often than not, it’s pretty damn amazing. Go find your amazing thing and love it, every minute – even when it terrifies you.

written by: Jamie Bowlby-Whiting

Jamie Bowlby-Whiting Bio Pic.
Jamie is the author of Great Big Scary World where he shares his stories, photos, and videos of adventure and overcoming fear, and tries to persuade other people to have their own adventure. He is the author of The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World, a true story about fear and hitchhiking, detailing his emotional rollercoaster that occurs when a fearful individual spends six months hitchhiking around Europe, mostly alone

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  • francaangloitalian

    This is incredibly inspiring Jamie, I am a traveller like you and, even if I go around from one place to the other in a very different way from yours, I still have to deal with my own fears. Travelling has been the best learning process I’ve ever had so far and the best thing I’ve ever done. Thanks for sharing your story that hopefully will inspire many others :)

  • My first big hitchhiking trip was back in 1983. I had been working for a few days on a ranch in western Nebraska and decided to visit a friend in California. I was really nervous; I prayed a lot while I was hitchhiking. So I hitchhiked to California, stayed at my friend’s house for a week and then hitchhiked to Reno, Nevada where I hopped a freight train back to Iowa.

    Here are a couple of stories that describe that trip:

    “New Camaldoli”

    “High Plains Drifter (short story)”

  • I am glad I read this post. It is interesting how, when we travel, when we are away from home, we do things we’d never dream of doing otherwise. I hitchedhiked in Central America and it was all very fine :)