Every August, a number of hitchhikers from around the world gather somewhere in Europe to meet new friends, reconnect with old friends, and celebrate the life of freedom that they have discovered through non-consumerist travel. The location of each Hitchgathering is decided whenever somebody suggests a good spot that fits a few simple guidelines–free for 100+ people to camp without disturbing the local residents, near drinkable and swimmable water, near a shop/market for food, possible to hitchhike to. This year’s Hitchgathering was located in the forest on the outskirts of Oslo, Norway.
Greeted with shouts and whoops from a sea of unfamiliar faces as I splashed through the Norway’s swampy terrain, I immediately felt at home. Equipped with camping gear, a cardboard sign saying “NORD” (north), and a giant bag of cheap food from Poland, I hoped that I would be unrestricted by the outrageously high prices of everything in Norway. I would stay in Norway until I ran out of food, and then immediately go south to a place where I could afford to eat decently. A month and a half later I was in a car dodging moose on the northern border of Finland, having eaten better food in Norway than anywhere else in the world and without spending a penny.
It all started on my first night at the Hitchgathering. Some of the guys organized a dumpster diving expedition and I decided to join, curious about what we would find. Six of us left with empty backpacks and six of us returned with full backpacks. Not school bags, 70 liter camping backpacks. The dumpsters behind the grocery stores were filled with everything imaginable–fresh fruit, cheese, sandwich meat, bacon, eggs, vegetables, pastries, and more. Some things were a day or two past their expiration date and others just didn’t appear pretty enough to be put on the shelf (for example, a carrot with a slight bend in the middle or a bag of apples with 1 rotten apple and 19 good apples). Nearly everything was individually wrapped and preserved in the natural refrigerator that is nighttime in Norway.
Throughout the rest of the gathering, people came and went but delicious dumpster food kept flowing in, feeding all of the 50+ hitchhikers there at any given time. By the end, the 8 of us left had become a tightly knit family, so it seemed only natural to continue onward together. The journey took us all the way to Hammerfest, over 2,000km north, by means of thumb. We camped when it was nice out (thanks to Norway’s law that wild camping is allowed everywhere) and found homes to stay in when it was raining, ate only recycled food, gifted food, or fish that we caught, and paid for transportation only where there were no bridges and a ferry was necessary to continue. As summer came to an end and the stars began to shine at night, the group size dwindled as many headed back south to a warmer place. Three of us persevered through wind and rain, sun and epic northern lights shows, to a final latitude of 70 degrees North, well within the Arctic Circle.
This style of spontaneous travel–utilizing the wasted food, car space, etc. created by society–attracts random acts of kindness every day. Norway was no exception. The kindness we experienced ranged from a woman offering us a place to sleep in her yacht for the night; to a man who had just caught a meter-long halibut giving us fresh fish and whale steak to cook; to an old lady giving us the keys to her second house when we asked about a campsite; to the amazing meals and home brewed beer from my cousin in Trondheim; to a Syrian pizza shop manager cooking us 2 giant pizzas and letting us sleep in his apartment in exchange for cleaning it; to a photographer letting us leave our extra gear in her studio while we went on a 5-day hike and then hosting us when we returned; to the couchsurfer who took us fishing on his boat and then gave us a fishing rod continue our journey with. These people, who went out of their way to help us, left us with an unfaltering faith in humanity.
Unexpected circumstances accompanied us from the very beginning. With nowhere to sleep in Oslo and not wanting to turn back to the forest, we followed clues of a semi-secret free guest room in Oslo’s biggest squat. Inhabited predominantly by 50-something year old anarchist punks, the squat has been around at least since the 80s and has always been a center of counterculture. They did, in fact, have a guest room, which we managed to find our way into. The rest of the evening was spent discussing politics with a middle-aged drunk guy whose knowledge of dental care clearly did not match his mental encyclopedia of political history.
Further north, when we weren’t couchsurfing or sleeping in yachts, accommodation ranged from an alternative community center with several couches and a free music festival, to a beach hut built by some surfers out of driftwood and trash (check it out in the movie North of the Sun), to an exceptionally clean heated bathroom at a rest stop when it was cold and rainy.
Norway, overall, was an incredible country to travel in. The ridiculous amount of excess created by such a wealthy society coupled with the genuine desire of the people to help out when they can made it a very easy place to travel without money. When hitchhiking, we noticed a couple of trends unique to Norway. Firstly, hitchhiking was far easier with a girl in the group, even more so than in other countries. Many drivers told us that when they saw two guys and a girl, they assumed we were just a group of friends traveling together, but if they had seen only males they would have been scared to stop for us. This point was demonstrated when two (long haired and bearded but very friendly looking) guys from our group hitchhiked together and after waiting over 4 hours, gave up and took a bus. With a mixed-gender group of three, we rarely waited more than half an hour. The second thing unique to Norway is that far more solo female drivers picked us up than anywhere else. The vast majority of drivers who pick up hitchhikers in Europe are solo males or couples, but in Norway it’s quite apparent that women and men are considered much more equally capable by the society. Way to go, Norway!
Shout out to Indre, Joe, Ferdi, Maruša, Russ, Daan, Marcel, and Ben, the greatest travel crew ever!