SPIEGEL: The corona pandemic brought world travel to an abrupt end. Do you get nostalgic as you think back to your hitchhiking trip from London to Byron Bay, a place on the east coast of Australia?
Nic Jordan: Yes! The feeling of freedom is gone. And travel has become a very sensitive issue. I will still spend the winter months with a friend in a mountain hut in Sweden. Often the reaction follows: “You can’t go there now!” In Sweden there are not so strict corona measures.
SPIEGEL: Would you hitchhike there?
Jordan: No. In the midst of the pandemic, this isn’t exactly a safe way to travel. I do not want to infect myself with the coronavirus or put people in danger who have to take the pandemic seriously as high-risk patients or are afraid of it.
SPIEGEL: Hitchhiking travel – what does it mean for you?
Jordan: It’s the feeling that life is taking you on a joyride. I used to hitchhike every little stretch. Even as a teenager, I was fascinated by the hip game life of the late sixties. From freedom. Walking barefoot. Trusting other people and hitchhiking.
SPIEGEL: Wasn’t hitchhiking even before the corona crisis past?
Jordan: On the contrary. I have the impression that it was slowly experiencing a revival thanks to social media and blogs – of course before the pandemic. For me, hitchhiking will remain the most beautiful form of travel in the future, at least over longer distances. If the situation allows it next summer, I would like to hitchhike again, for example to Bulgaria or Greece.
SPIEGEL: How did you come up with the idea of hitchhiking from England to Australia in 2016?
Jordan: I was working as a waitress in London at the time and I had a difficult time: my relationship was broken, my brother had committed suicide a few years earlier – I didn’t know what to do with me. Australia, as part of the western world, has never really appealed to me. But there were so many who said to me: You have to go to Byron Bay. You will love it. First I wanted to fly. But then I would have missed the most interesting places in Russia and Asia. And traveling by bus and train seemed too time-consuming: I would have had to change trains an infinite number of times and look for timetables. At some point I asked myself: Why don’t I just hitchhike?
SPIEGEL: You have also been to Swedish Lapland and Siberia. What was your most unusual winter hitchhiking experience?
Photo: Nic Jordan
Jordan: The day I met Finnish Santa Claus in Sweden. It was five in the morning, still pitch black, and I was standing alone at a crossroads in the woods. My last hosts who had to go to work nearby let me out there. I waited there forever and was scared because nobody drove by and the cold was bothering me. Until I finally saw the lights of a huge truck. He raced towards me and braked at the last second. I was thinking what if this is a creep now?
SPIEGEL: And? Was it one?
Jordan: Inside sat a man with a white beard, it smelled of cookies and coffee, there were kitsch decorations everywhere, Christmas music was playing on the radio. “I have to go to Rovaniemi,” he said. “I work there in winter. You are very lucky, young woman, because you are going to the North Pole with the official Santa Claus. ”He often stopped on our trip to show me reindeer. I’m still friends with him on Facebook today.
SPIEGEL: Didn’t you often have an uncomfortable feeling about getting into the car with total strangers?
Jordan: A situation at the beginning of the trip was precarious. I wanted to get ahead on the way to Dover and got into a car too quickly. The driver let his hand wander into his crotch while driving without looking at me. I immediately asked him to stop to let me out. This experience taught me a lesson.
SPIEGEL: But you still wanted to hitchhike?
Jordan: Most of the time I hitchhike from public places or rest stops. I can approach people there myself. If I do have to stand on the street, I take enough time to pay attention to body language, well-groomed clothes and the interior of a vehicle.
SPIEGEL: Of course, this is not a guarantee.
Jordan: Sure, but when there are beer cans there, a man’s gaze wanders along my body and there is also a wink, then I know: okay, no!
SPIEGEL: What was the strangest vehicle you’ve hitchhiked in?
Jordan: The tuned trucks in Asia, hung full of neon lights or disco balls. I also often sat between coffee beans or fruit on the truck bed. I’ve ridden tuk-tuks and motorcycles. In Thailand someone even tried to take me on a bike. But my travel backpack was too heavy, we lost our balance.
SPIEGEL: Is hitchhiking more common in some countries than in others?
Jordan: In Australia it is common practice, in India it is mainly men who hitchhike, in China many people do not know it at all.
SPIEGEL: How did you get on in China then?
Jordan: With a video message in Chinese – it was the idea of the roommate of a private host I stayed with in Shanghai. She asked people to help me come to Vietnam and give me a taste of the Chinese hospitality. That worked great, provided someone stopped and looked at my cell phone with the message.
SPIEGEL: Who then took you away?
Jordan: Quite mixed – indifferent to super curious people. I was almost adopted by some families. They took me out to restaurants, took hundreds of photos, and probably would have driven me anywhere.
SPIEGEL: As a Western European, can you actually allow yourself to be taken away by poorer people with a clear conscience?
Jordan: Naturally. At least if you are willing to give something. I don’t mean money, but a contribution to cultural exchange. It’s always important to me to entertain the driver – and not sit quietly in the back and listen to music through headphones. Otherwise the person behind the wheel will feel like a taxi driver.
SPIEGEL: But you bought a family in Cambodia a week’s supply of groceries, you write in your book.
Jordan: When I see someone struggling, of course I try to help. But many people in Asia reject money as a thank you. The family didn’t accept my support until I went shopping for groceries and said it was a gift. That’s why I often served coffee or bought fruit on the roadside. In most countries in Asia, the time you give away is more valuable than money.
SPIEGEL: After all, was Byron Bay the place you longed for?
Jordan: It is a very beautiful place by the sea, but it is very superficial. There is no stability there. Many travel to Byron Bay to have fun, do drugs, and forget about their problems.
SPIEGEL: Your father bought you a trip on the Trans-Mongolian Railway from Moscow to Beijing. How did that fit into your concept of only hitchhiking?
Jordan: I thought it was perfect, hitchhiking shouldn’t be a concept either. The train was very empty in winter. In this phase of being alone, I was able to let the last months of travel, the encounters and experiences that were constantly beating down on me, sink and process. I could feel the changes in me.
SPIEGEL: Traveling as Therapy?
Jordan: Yes. The trip changed me completely. I’ve learned to accept things and not always question them. I’ve got used to seeing the positive in everything.