Hitching again!

It’s been 10 months since I haven’t been on the road; 10 long months in which I finished a degree instead, and discovered that being sedentary can also be fun. We-ell, here I am again. I used the past few weeks to piece myself back together, after running on a limited version of myself for quite a while (I really really did enjoy all the studying. But that’s not all I need, and then there’s the stress, of course).

First came Tandem Festival (whoa! Music! Crafts! Movement! … I kept on smiling sheepishly – “Forgot how happy this stuff made me!”) and sunshine in Oxford. 

Then I stayed up a whole night running around London parkour-style, while also learning how to build shelters or light fires … which made me feel a bit more ready to face an urban catastrophy scenario (or a G20 meeting … or long nights next to motorways).

I traveled to Germany, did couchsurfing again (“whoaaa, such nice people” *gratitude overflow*), and felt scared about all the hitchhiking I’m planning to do this summer.

Then I shut up for 10 days and meditated and now life is kind of easier. At least the bit of it which is self-caused misery; which might end up being all of the misery we feel. Please remind me to write a post dedicated to meditation!

After meditation retreats, sometimes great things seem to happen and stuff suddenly works out; like when I found someone driving past my family home (in Western Germany) and did a surprise visit for a few hours. Imagine the happiness of seeing family again after months, and then receiving the gift of doing so unexpectedly. Add to that getting your uni results which turned out fine; and an impromptu party including both of your divorced parents (“Efficient time allocation”). Bliss – and so many hugs.

The next day, after a long long breakfast, my mum dropped me off at a service station to hitch towards Brittany. Hopefully it is evident how much I love her for being that kind of mother.

About to set off!

And then – vrumm, vrumm – back en route! I didn’t have enough time to get properly sceptical or pessimistic about my lift chances, because an old couple in a minivan took me on board after 15min, and the magic of the hitch started working again. He told me how he hitchhiked to the red sea back in ’59; and I learned some things about market research and Iron Man competitions. I got my next ride from a German ladder-manufacturer whose father had invented a special type of ladder now endangered by new EU-regulations. He was off to Paris attempting to get an exemption through, and had a great hands-on life philosophy… again a nice reminder that one does not need to be an academic to make sense and to think on one’s feet (and that, conversely, I  should not stop trying to make sense even though I know fancy words. Surprise.)

He dropped me off just before Paris, since I wanted to continue to Brittany… but here, time passed and I got bored (also, I’d only slept 4hrs because of said impromptu-party). And so, I hitched into Paris and spent a lovely evening with a high-school friend who lives there now. More of these beautiful surprises 🙂
Anyway, now I’ve reached Brittany, staying once again in the house where I spent some of the most important months of my life, helping my ex host family prepare the party that’ll happen here in a few days.

So, for example, this ladder is built in accordance with the new standard, prescribing that the bottom width be 50% more that the top width. However, that does not take into account the special case in which the top is larger too, which means you only need 25% extra at bottom and top… also, we made bunting.

Hopefully, I’ll have some time to rest and to brace myself for the journey to Croatia which awaits next week…

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Confidence, dread, and crisp-craving crises.

My final exams start in just under two weeks. Excellent occasion to write a blog post about confidence*.

I’ve been feeling quite anxious for the last week, and am currently recovering from the stress I wasn’t even aware I was feeling (seriously, my body had to tell me). One thing that helped in the process was meeting two of my tutors who basically took me by the hand and kept telling me that I did know stuff, and just needed to be more confident and say it. The part of me that is not my inner critic (according to whom I would probably not do anything at all for fear of not being good enough) largely agrees.

The thing is, I wouldn’t rate myself as generally under-confident.


*sorry, I won’t actually talk about crisp-craving crises. But I think you get it anyway.


To find out what made me confident in some and not confident in other situations, I made a list and identified a couple of factors that seem to play a role. Here we go:

“Intrinsic” factors: related to how I feel about the task

1) finding it easy

For example, for my German Linguistics paper, I found that I could complete the work without having an existential crisis in the process. Indeed, I was familiar with lots of the concepts and could apply native speaker intuitions – nice for a change.

2) finding it interesting

That’s kind of obvious, I hope?

3) being passionate about it (thinking it’s important)

That mostly applies to stuff I do with charities. It was a big driving factor in my community-oriented volunteering (at the Oxford Hub), and one of the factors that balances my low confidence in effective altruist circles.

“Extrinsic”/Group-related factors

4) getting positive feedback

The hub committee is a great illustration of this: more often than pointing out mistakes, and certainly more often than elsewhere, people pointed out when someone did something right. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be critical, but reflecting on it, I kind of miss that positive and encouraging atmosphere.

Academically, it’s tutors telling you that you’ve done well, or getting a good grade. However, in low-confidence constellations, it’s easy to think that this was accidental, or that they are trying to be nice. For example, me getting a first in statistics didn’t change my belief that I’m bad at maths.

5) being good in relation to others

See also (4); somewhere in 4+5, there is also something about not feeling judged, but encouraged in the group situation.

Conversely, there is nothing worse for my confidence levels than being in the room with people who either are better or who I think are better than me. They’d have to be exceptionally nice for me to think that they are not judging me.

6) and a difficult and fuzzy one: identifying with it

Is that about past experiences? And how much of that is social conditioning? And why do I not stop believing that I “can’t do” maths or logic? And should I be worried about the fact that I would rate myself as less analytical now than I did at the start of my degree?


I don’t have more time to think about this (there is finals waiting for me), and this seems too complex to just blame it on gendered social conditioning.

Also, crisps…

Yet, quoting one of my tutors:

“you know, if stereotypical white males are allowed to say things they are not sure about with confidence, then you should allow yourself to do so, too”.

I always like to take lessons from my thinking, so what is the lesson now? Just act more confident?! Yeah, lol.

Trying to remember for the future:

  • It did help to remove myself from group situations that convinced me that I was inadequate >> by telling my tutor about struggling and getting one-on-one tuition
  • It did help to seek out people who are good at being encouraging, and stressing that I do know things, as well as showing me how to use them in an exam situation.
  • I’m lucky enough to find most of what I study interesting anyway. YAY I LOVE MY STUDIES (*makes mental note*)

What I’m not sure about yet is whether I should think more about what lies behind “identifying myself” with something, since that might be a phrase I use to plaster up insecurities (“It’s okay to fail, this is not my thing anyway”) or false (and possibly gendered) beliefs… and whether that is something to tackle in the long run.

For now, I’m happy enough that in this moment, I feel sufficiently confident to go through the next weeks and that in the worst case, I have enough vague knowledge on everything to at least make up something. Another tutor quote:

“And when you look at the paper and think that you can’t answer any of the questions, you might as well take that to mean that you can answer all of them”.

Have any thoughts? Just pop them below! Especially if they provide an easy and quick answer to all of this! 😛 

Why I won’t tell women to be “extra careful”

Being suspicious of men began when I was twelve and a classmate walked up to me, outright groping my emerging breast.

This story already shows the seeds of a dynamic I still experience and tried to properly put into words only yesterday when a male friend asked me to. There is: the shock and disbelief that someone just invaded my private space, without even hesitating. The perceived helplessness, which is hard to admit for someone like me who thinks of themselves as strong. But apparently, I can be able to articulate what I want in many areas and still feel helpless in other situations. A comparison: the same kid threw snowballs at me on the way to school and I had no problem at all reporting that. In the groping situation, a teacher was even closer, in the same room. Yet, it didn’t even occur to me to say something.

I can’t fully reconstruct what happened in my head nearly ten years ago, but I can try to understand better what is now happening to me and probably many other women on a regular basis.

ronnie-pic-2

Spoiler: Won’t stop doing this and more.

This post is not only about travelling. But we travellers need to talk about it.

The discussion I had with my friend was sparked by internet articles around the theme of “sexsurfing” – couchsurfing being used for hooking up with travellers. I hadn’t heard the term before, but was aware of it happening, at least through my share of creep messages through the platform (“Come to my place. I only have one bed, though. *wink* “).

And, yes, there are actual people writing guidelines on how to find “naughty couchsurfing chicks”.

I had a hard time explaining to my friend all the things that made me angry in there, and how my experience might be different from his.

One reason for this is that it is really hard to talk about moments in which men did things which made me feel helpless and ashamed. I’ll try with a small selection: someone trying to force a kiss, or masturbating while watching me sleep, or following me around the streets. Some of my experiences are more coercive and manipulative than this, some less, but they contribute to the feeling of perpetually having to guard myself. Maybe you should ask a female friend about this if you want to empathise, I assume that many other women spend a lot of time taking precautions for their safety, even in a subconscious, automatic way.

If there are reasons to be afraid, why not tell (other) women to be careful?

When I think about all these moments, I don’t want to talk about them. Because. I have this horrible feeling that it’s kind of my fault. Even after knowing what victim-blaming is and that it’s wrong, I just can’t help but immediately relativise my experience. “This guy did this disgusting thing? Well, yeah, but I did put myself into a bad position there” (insert: I shouldn’t have smiled at him/ I shouldn’t have been out on my own/ I shouldn’t have fallen asleep on his sofa … In my head, I can hear a chorus of relatives: “You shouldn’t have travelled alone!! We told you it was not safe!”).

This is why it makes me sad to hear so much well-meant advice, even from fellow female travellers (“Of course, you have to be extra careful as a woman. Here are ten ways to guard yourself”). Adventurous Kate, for example, writes a post that explains the background of why travel safety is different for women better than me, but her conclusions are just as disheartening.

Summary up to now:

  • Sexual situations are different from others. I might be a self-confident person otherwise, but still less able to assert my limits in front of men (especially if they are hormon-driven, not particularly aware, or don’t care*) and to assert my rights afterwards. The feeling of guilt/shame is part of that, but also some other dynamics I’m finding too hard to explain right now.
  • Perpetually telling me to guard myself against men makes me feel like it’s my fault when men do things to me.

*I have met many many men who are not like this, who are sensitive and kind and able to respect me as a person whatever conflicting interests we might have. (You know. Not all men…) Keep trying everyone.

So. What should we do?

I don’t like fear. The logic that tells me to not go to other countries is the same that would like to keep me inside, confined to what a “decent girl” is supposed to do or be (what even is that nowadays?). This logic takes away my agency, because I only have the choice to react to the world, and to be defensive about it.

That doesn’t mean that I would recommend someone who has just started travelling to put themselves alone next to a road in the night if they have never hitchhiked before. That doesn’t only apply to girls.

For the record, I’d tell anyone who asks me about hitchhiking to try it in daytime with someone who has done it before, or just with another friend, and in situations where they have a chance to chat to the drivers before entering the car, e.g. by asking in service stations. This is mostly because I think you should be able to feel in control (so that you kind of know what you’re doing at least most of the time, in a very broad interpretation), and that this is more likely to be the case if you proceed in small steps. Just like bicycle travellers recommend novices to first try to do a day- or week-long trip before going for around-the-world adventures. Kind of sensible.

I think: women, like anyone else, should get the chance to discover the world and grow doing it, because there is no other way to get equipped dealing with it.

If I were to stay home, I wouldn’t have had as much exposure to these disagreeable situations, but I also wouldn’t have learnt to tell men when they ought to better back off. The balance between exposing yourself to the world, learning step by step, and doing something outright foolish and putting yourself into great danger is delicate. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to be reckless, even though I think I should be able to be foolish if this is a right accorded to men, too.

At some point, I will explain in more detail what we can learn from my namesake Ronja Rövardotter and her philosophy of how to guard against danger and fear.

But for now, I wish you a great new year, with all the adventures to learn from, all the freedom and love…!

Inspirations.

All of us know these moments when we look at what someone is doing and think “this is great! I wanna do that, too!”. This ist he first time that I am consciously in the position of that someone. A friend of mine (Alex) just told me that he is going to hitchhike across Germany next week, his first ever solo hitchhike!

Without wanting to take ownership … (well, okay, I’m proud)…just saying: the only time he ever hitched before at all was this July, when we both travelled back South from a Parkour gathering in Edinburgh. Admittedly, there are more impressive ways to have an impact on other people’s lives, but, well, hitchhiking is pretty cool already and I hope he won’t be the last person I can persuade to give it a go!

The good thing about inspiration is that it travels in all directions. In the same chat in which Alex told me about his travel plans, he made a joke about putting on a hitchhiking-badge. And I thought “What hitchhiking badge? We need a bitchhiking badge!”

Another inspiring friend – Susanna, who happens to have a history in feminist jewellery making – then drew this super cool logo for me:

bitchhiker-copy

 

Wahoo! I can already see feminist travelers carrying it into the world. Love being inspired.

Three Euros, 840km, and, er, a couple of hours.

Oh, I forgot to mention fences. Like those around the service area on the motorway. Our friends at hitchwiki had left us clues on how to leave Bologna, so we took a bus out of town, investing all our remaining money spare 30 cents or so. What we didn’t know was that the area was under construction, so a lot had changed, and we couldn’t see a (legal) way of getting into the rest area. Also, it was hot. And our backpacks heavy. And then, a car came out the gate and its driver told us he’d call the police if he caught us entering.

We backed off and he followed us in his car, gosh.

– “Where are you, going, anyway?”

– “We want to get towards Modena, then Milan”

– “Ah, well, then you’re on the wrong side anyway, this one goes to Florence. If you want to get to Modena, take this underpass, walk around the fence, and there’ll be an entrance”

– “…Okay…”

He was right. We didn’t quite believe it, the way all around the fence was long, we nearly gave up – but we had a ukulele and could sing and hope we’d see some figs on the way and ultimately, we slipped through a gap right into a super-busy service station.

By that time, it was already 5pm, also because we’d spent all morning cooking up random leftover food in the hostel kitchen (you have to eat, right?). After some starting difficulties, we got a ride by a Neapolitan lorry driver, then by a guy driving Italian branded goods over to rich people in Switzerland, who got us up to the Swiss border. We watched all the full cars (“I mean, it’s okay that people want children, but why do they also have to take them on holiday??”) and the sunset and thought about where to put up our tent. Before we had to, however, we met a young German couple coming back from Rimini. We spent most of the night together, until they left us about 70km before our final destination. It was something inhumane like 4am, but we quickly found a really sweet Turkish-born truck driver who brought us closer still. Still in darkness, we asked in a car that turned out to be going to a games convention.

Since my house wasn’t exactly on their way, they dropped us off in another suburb and we had a lovely sunrise walk to then join (or rather: wake up) my family for breakfast.

That journey is over, and incredibly, this part of summer, too. I’ll be back in Oxford in a week or so and there will be no time for travels for the whole year, until that degree’s done. Well… I don’t really believe it (yet).

For now, a song including the line “This is how the summer ends”. Not quite coincidentally also the song we sang during that last Italian sunset.