We Hitchhiked into Love

Perhaps we shouldn’t listen when people say, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

Perhaps we should not only talk to them, but we should also take their advice and even invite them to stay in our house for a few days. Perhaps that’s how love comes into our lives.

Read the crazy love story about how these two full-time hitchhikers, who unknowingly had the same dream, hitchhiked into each other’s lives…

Names: Cynthia & Niko

Status: Life partners

Been together since: 2014

The thumb leads to serendipity…

Niko: I’m a full-time Canadian traveler and was in the north of France hitchhiking my way to Calais. My Mexican girlfriend was on her way over from the UK to meet me there so that we could continue our hitchhiking adventures together.

I was waiting for a car to stop when this big truck pulled over. There was a very friendly black guy behind the wheel. He said, “Jump in! I can drop you off anywhere.”

I said, “I don’t know where I’m going. I’m just hitchhiking around to kill time until I meet up with my girlfriend.”

He said, “Well, I’m heading to Belgium. Would you like to come along?”

The weather wasn’t terribly good that day so staying in my tent would have not been an option.

“Okay, but I don’t have a place to stay for the night. Do you think I can stay at your place?”

“I need to ask my girlfriend, we live together.”

“Of course, no problem.”

His name was Rene. He had a chat with his girlfriend, Claire, and they kindly invited me to stay with them. It was set – my day had started in France and would end in Belgium.

When I entered their house, I saw a lot of photos of a beautiful blond girl all around the place.

I said, “Wow, she’s cute.”

Claire said, “That’s my daughter, Cynthia.”

It turned out her daughter also had a nomadic lifestyle. I felt this might have been why they were so open to welcoming me, a  total stranger, into their home. They were symbolically paying it forward, hoping that someone would do the same for their daughter somewhere in the world.

The next thing I know, Cynthia and I were talking to each other on the phone as Claire thought we should say ‘hello’. Cynthia was in the French Alps at the time. We spoke for a little while but that was it.

“I saw a lot of photos of a beautiful blond girl all around the place.”

Cynthia: I first heard about Niko when my mother called me one day and said, “We picked up this hitchhiker and he lives just like you!”

Our first conversation with Niko was that day. We had a quick chat. To me, he was just this random hitchhiker who was going to stay with my mom and Rene for a few days. So he was sleeping in my bed before we even met.

Niko: That’s when I picked up her scent.

Cynthia: Our connection didn’t go much further than that but we did add each other on Facebook a month or two down the line.

Niko: Meanwhile, I went to Morocco with my girlfriend and we traveled together for a while. The journey we had with each other came to an end in all senses as we broke up but I still wanted to carry on so I continued with my travels on my own.

Two break-ups, one idea and some wishes…

Niko: By the time I left Africa, an idea had slowly started to brew in my mind. I felt that I wanted to hitchhike the African continent, all of it! This thought was seducing me more and more each day. But I really wanted a partner to do this with. The other thing I needed was some money to finance it.

Grape picking season was just beginning in France and it would be a great way to save some cash for my African project. I started to hitchhike my way back to Europe with that in mind.

“…he was sleeping in my bed before we even met.”

Cynthia: My situation at the time was interesting. Even though I was by myself in the French Alps, I was in love with a man who was living in the UK. We had met in Australia a few years ago but had broken-up after being together for a year. During my time in the Alps we had made up again and I eventually flew from France to the UK where we were together for another year but things weren’t flowing so well between us anymore. It was sad.

The month that I was turning 30 also happened to be the month that my boyfriend broke up with me.

It was difficult for me to make peace with that break-up because I really believed in that relationship. I believed that he was my soulmate and I still do. Soulmates are not necessarily people that you actually end up with. They cross your path, they teach you things and sometimes they leave after your journey together ends. Our friendship still remains to this day.

I had all these thoughts in my head and I was journaling them as this always brings me clarity. Ireland was where I had started my life of travel years ago and it was calling me back very strongly, asking me to return. I followed my inner voice and went there.

The place that I was volunteering in belonged to a very special couple, Roderick and his wife Elly, who were building a holistic retreat. It was completely engulfed in nature and very beautiful.

But that didn’t stop me from feeling sorry for myself! I was turning 30, I was all by myself, I had none of my friends around me and no huge party to celebrate it.

“The month that I was turning 30, also happened to be the month that my boyfriend broke up with me.”

As I was talking to Roderick about this, he suggested that I make a list of what I wished for my life to be like. He said, “There is magic in writing down your intentions as this allows you to manifest them and bring them into your life. Why don’t you make a wish-list?”

It made sense to me as I was reading Abraham Hicks at the time. I said, “You know, that’s exactly what I’m going to do!”

I got a bottle of wine, a pen and paper and I asked myself, “What do you want to do with your life now, Cynthia? Do you want to stop traveling?”

My answers flowed out, “No, I really want to continue traveling. That is surely my thing and I definitely don’t want to stop.” I wrote it down.

The answers continued flowing bringing my wishes to the surface, filling me with joy. “But I also really want to write!”

Ever since I was a child, I had always wanted to write.

I continued, “Traveling, writing… and also photography! Plus, I want to travel over land to give myself another challenge. No flying.”

My wish-list was shaping up, my pen was moving and recording it all on paper.

As a woman, I am used to traveling by myself. But there is something about having a partner to travel with. It was not a romantic relationship I was after, I was just looking to share the experience with someone. So I added that on my wish-list too.

I was excited, the thought of those wishes possibly coming true felt so amazing, like drinking hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. I really had faith that somehow, someday, I would make these dreams come true.

My wish-list was now complete.

A few days later Niko sent me a message on Facebook.

He asked me how I was, where I was, then asked me if I would be interested in going grape picking with him in France.

“He said, ‘There is magic in writing down your intentions… Why don’t you make a wish-list?’ “

Following the signs… 

Niko: Cynthia and I would speak over the internet once every three months or so. Similar to Cynthia’s idea, I was also just looking for a travel buddy and not a romantic companion. So I asked Cynthia to come along with me to go grape picking.

Cynthia: This was an option as I was broke at the time. I told him that I wasn’t quite sure but that I would give it some thought.

There was a festival in Ireland that weekend. I went and met some young French guys there. We were chatting and out of the blue they said, “Hey, why don’t you try to do some grape picking?”

I said, “Well, that’s interesting I just got invited to do that.”

They said, “You should go. It’s a fun experience.”

That was already a pretty peculiar coincidence but then a few days later things got even stranger. I was with some friends of mine and we picked up a hitchhiker. He was an older man from the Netherlands.

As we were exchanging stories, he asked me what I wanted to do after Ireland.

“I might go grape picking.”

“Where?”

“Beaujolais.”

When this random Dutch man also remarked, “Oh, I was grape picking in Beaujolais too. You should definitely give it a try!” I said to myself, ‘Okay, I need to go there to do some grape picking and I need to meet this Niko person.’

At that point, I didn’t quite know what his project was about so I had no idea that we both were dreaming of something so similar and complementary. In addition to that, I didn’t know who he was or what he was like. He was on my Facebook but I never felt that social media is a good reflection of what is real. So many people just like to paint an image of themselves as something that they are not. Still, I was aware of a feeling of connection with Niko and I was compelled to meet him.

“I really had faith that somehow, someday, I would make these dreams come true.”

Finally face-to-face…

Finally, the day arrived. We had our first face-to-face meeting in France, on the side of the road next to a Carrefour.

When I first saw him, I liked the warm and playful look in his eyes but the language of his energy spoke to me louder than his looks. It was difficult to explain why because I didn’t really know him, but I felt that I had found my match. I couldn’t quite tell how it would manifest – friend, teacher, lover, travel partner – but I knew Niko would be very special to me and that we had met for a reason.

Niko: Yes, we first met in a Carrefour parking lot. Our plan was to hitchhike together to Beaujolais for grape picking.

Few words were needed, we clicked instantly. I had found someone who could understand my lifestyle and passions, someone who understood what a life of constant travel was like.

We had been chit-chatting for about an hour as we waited for someone to stop and give us a ride. When I said, “Hey Cynthia, how would you like to hitchhike to South Africa with me?” she said, “Okay,” and we’ve been together ever since.

Cynthia: He started to explain the project he had in mind and the picture that was emerging was quite interesting. The pieces of our dreams fit together quite well because he wanted to film and I wanted to write and take photographs. It seemed that between the two of us, we had all angles covered.

“I had no idea that we both were dreaming of something so similar.”

I intuitively felt that Niko and I had a very special journey ahead of us – but did he? I kept telling myself, ‘I can do this, I know I can! I hope he realizes it too.’ I felt this especially while trying to convince him that I was the partner that he was looking for because the major thing that was lacking from his side was faith, as he didn’t have much faith in this initially.

That wasn’t the case for me though. I had the strongest feeling about it and this inner knowing kept telling me that this was definitely meant to be.

My dreams on paper were accompanied by real dreams too. The dreams themselves were not too significant in content, they were just of me and Niko traveling together in a van, but they were recurring dreams which are always worth acknowledging.

Niko: Starting out, our approach to each other was that we were partners working on a fun project together. Although we did kiss on the first day that we met, we weren’t looking at each other as potential romantic partners. It is rather inevitable though, when people are together day and night it does turn into something more than friendship.

Cynthia: First and foremost, we have very strong foundations as friends. I think that really helps. We have the same goals and the same purpose which is also a huge plus.

Niko: We never said that we were in a relationship or called ourselves a couple though. We were not in love. Plus, there was also a cut off date and the adventure was to end in 2 years when we were done with Africa.

“Starting out, our approach to each other was that we were partners working on a fun project together.”

Cynthia: Personally, I don’t believe in putting a time on anything. Things come and go. Niko is more of a time-and-date kind of person.

We were never blindly in love or over-the-top with passion, especially at the start. It was something that built up gradually. It was a slow realization that dawned on us and one day we said, ‘You are so under my skin now. I really care about you.’

Normally it’s the other way around where you are immediately, blindly in love and then the blindness gives way to often contrasting reality. In our case, it started as two people who met then just started to like then love each other more and more.

Niko: Now I sometimes refer to her as ‘my wife’.

Cynthia: I know that there are no coincidences in life and I knew our journey was not coincidental. Niko had a friend at the grape picking place. I had forgotten about this until his friend reminded me recently, but I had kept telling him, “I’m going to stick with this Niko for quite a while.”

Niko: It turned out that grape picking wasn’t exactly as lucrative as we had hoped it would be and we were quite short of the funds that we needed for this project. It was barely enough to get us by.

The place in Ireland that Cynthia had been in was still an option so we decided to go there, stay with that couple, volunteer our services and save up.

“it started as two people who met then just started to like then love each other more and more.”

We bare our souls…

Cynthia: We volunteered building up their retreat in exchange for food and board. Our home was a sweet little caravan. There is something about sharing a small caravan with someone. You discover everything about the other person pretty quickly. We saw each other very clearly and knew what we liked and what we had to work on.

Niko: It was an intense ‘make it or break it’ phase in our relationship. We shared that caravan for 8 months then moved to a little treehouse for another few months. Mind you, the tree house felt like a mansion after the tiny caravan.

Cynthia: The three months that we had allocated to Ireland turned into a little under a year in our quest to save the money that we needed. It was now March and we were at a crossroads. Would we stay there longer or start our journey and look for another job? We finally found a job in a hotel and decided to stay.

In terms of our relationship, things had been stormy, but that was a blessing. We needed that phase in the caravan emotionally, spiritually and mentally. There were some things about myself that I had to work on and so did Niko.

The magic formula for overcoming our issues was actually very simple: We were both brutally honest with each other and with ourselves. Saying it like this makes it sound easy but it wasn’t. Sometimes the words that he said were like a punch in the face but that impact sure has a way of grabbing your attention. It would make me reflect with genuine curiosity because I wanted to set things right.

“In terms of our relationship, things had been stormy, but that was a blessing.”

Niko held nothing back when he was telling me, “You can’t do this. Not only are you ruining this for me, but you’re also ruining it for yourself with these extreme emotions that you have.” I thought, ‘Well, I can take this feedback in two different ways. I can either get mad at him… or I could see it as genuine advice.’ Eventually, I decided to look within myself and question it openly.

‘Is he right? Does he really have a point? Maybe he does have a point…’

I realized that our project was at a risk of coming to a stop because I could not control my emotions. Looking in from his perspective, I realized they my emotions were, on the contrary, controlling me.

Niko: Cynthia could be very, very emotional.

Cynthia: I’m an emotional person in general, I realized that was okay. But I was never taught how to handle these emotions and would become highly charged easily, which I realized was not okay. Having to confront these issues, I dug deeper and saw that they all had their roots in feelings of inadequacy or fear of abandonment.

Awareness was the first step. The second step was the courage to ask myself, ‘What if these fears were to become true? What if we were together no more?’

That was the turning point for me as the answer to that question was that I would continue on my adventure regardless of whether he joined me on my path or not. That was suddenly a huge eye-opener and it changed where I was coming from. There was now courage, not fear.

If we look back on our lives, we will see that we act as mirrors to each other and I think that’s what happened to me. I started to see my reflection in the eyes of Niko and question myself with an earnest desire to get to the truth, ‘Could I be wrong here?’ It all felt like it happened in a very balanced way.

“I started to see my reflection in the eyes of Niko and question myself with an earnest desire to get to the truth…”

Niko: The drama that was created was not directed at me. A lot of drama stems from issues that we have within ourselves that we need to fix. This was essential groundwork that needed to be carried out before we could be together on a long life journey like this one. We needed to make sure that we were not bringing any unnecessary baggage with us that did not need to be carried. Anything that didn’t serve us had to be discarded.

I knew we needed this. We needed to live together for a while and figure all of these out within ourselves and between each other.

Coming out of the storm…

Niko: Coming out the other side of that process we were much stronger as a couple. The added bonus was that this also gave us a lot more clarity about our project. We decided that we were not only going to hitchhike just Africa but also hitchhike the world!

Cynthia: Initially, we had said that we would be together for two years until we reached Africa and that would be the end of our journey.

Niko: That was the original plan in the beginning. It was more of a business arrangement. We would both bring in our unique skill sets and have fun while carrying out this project for the period that it lasted but that was it.

But I know what I’m like and I realized that after I hitchhiked through Africa, I would want to hitchhike through the remaining continents too so why not expand the plan? Sorting out the issues between us as a couple opened my eyes and allowed me to see our future together. It was only then that I could see myself staying longer.

“Coming out the other side of that process we were much stronger as a couple.”

Cynthia: At the end of this soul-searching we had indeed seen that Niko had become softer and I had learned to have more control over myself.

We also don’t have any drama anymore in our relationship either. It’s a co-creative relationship where we create something together and it feels right to be together. I don’t think most people live in this kind of existence.

Our relationship is based on trust and honesty. There is literally nothing that we hide from each other; living in a tent does that to you.

When I look back now, I can see that what we went through was actually something very profound. We moved something big and made a genuine inner shift. If we had met a few years before it would have never have worked out between us.

Niko: Before we were both very wild and free. We didn’t have any direction in our lives and went where the wind blew us. Now, we have strengthened our connection with ourselves and each other and have thus become very result driven and focused on our project. The level of commitment that we have is a level of commitment that I don’t see much when I look around at others who have a common project.

Cynthia: We actually call this our baby. Niko planted the seed and I gave it life. It actually took nine months for the project to take shape in Ireland – quite symbolic.

Very interesting how this all came into being. I had been playing with this idea about writing and putting it out there for years whilst Niko was talking about filming for years. It seems we had to go through our crazy phase that shaped us. We were then ready to say, “I am determined, I want to do this!” instead of traveling around in circles.

“At the end of this soul-searching we had indeed seen that Niko had become softer and I had learned to have more control over myself.”

Stronger and deeper…

Niko: I think it was in Turkey when I started to take it even further say, ‘I think we’re going to stick together forever.’ It dawned on me gradually.

Cynthia: This is what happened leading to that. We were in Turkey. Of course, I knew his feelings for me were strong but we were at a time in which we needed to clear out our minds. We took a few days off from each other, it felt necessary.

I went to the mountains for a while to think deeply without distractions. Slowly it became pretty clear to me that I wanted to continue this journey with Niko by my side. On the other hand, I also knew if it didn’t work out, I would continue to walk this adventure on my own. Again, I felt very empowered with this thought.

Apart from all of that though, the most dominant feeling I was flooded with was an incredible sense of gratitude for all the things that I had learned from being with Niko. That would stay with me forever.

I got back. With some time apart, our thoughts had once again become unclouded. We had both decided we would like to continue moving forward together with an open mind. Our attitude was, “Let’s see where this all takes us.” Now, if one of us is gone even for the evening, we miss each other. This was not something sudden we felt from the get-go, it just seeped in and got stronger and deeper over time.

Even when we had huge disagreements on whether to go on, it never felt right to not continue. The thought of Niko leaving felt completely wrong, just didn’t make any sense at all. And it was not my heart but my gut telling me all this.

Niko: Had we taken other routes, it definitely would not have been good.

“There is literally nothing that we hide from each other; living in a tent does that to you.”

Cynthia: I never thought of taking the other route, my past experiences have taught me better. Before, I used to put my relationship before anything else. Now I know to put my own path above everything else and the person that is meant to walk in that path with me would pop up and stay. Or, like Niko, he would hitchhike in.

Niko: I really hitchhiked right into her life and now were hitchhiking around the world together.

Cynthia: In the beginning, if you are traveling to travel, it’s fun. But one day you realize it has started to feel a little empty. Just like everything you do in life, if you do it without an aim, a focus and a vision, at the end it will feel empty.

People think that traveling is a way out of that emptiness but it’s not because soon that beautiful mountain becomes just another mountain, that lovely beach becomes just another beach. But having the purpose of going deeper into a culture, to explore different parts of it that others might not know about, of seeing the positives and sharing this experience together is really a great place to be. That commitment to bring this all to life in this creative way really helps to keep the relationship inspiring and healthy.

Niko: It becomes a driving force. This vision is the reason why you’re doing it and you’re motivated even more.

Cynthia: Our plan for the coming years is to hitchhike all the way to Alaska. The next leg will be hitchhiking from Georgia to Southeast Asia through Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Russia.Then we’ll take a boat to South Korea, Japan and China. We make this journey step by step and go with the flow.

The same is for our relationship. We know we have found a life partner in each other but don’t like putting high expectations on our relationship. We want to be together for a very long time, we could see a marriage or children in our future but we love to take things as they come. Our journey around the world is a reflection of our relationship: enjoying the moments we have, see what presents itself and learn what it has to teach us.

Cynthia and Niko are the storytellers behind the blog Journal of Nomads. They share their stories and tips while they are hitchhiking from Ireland to Alaska, across 6 continents without taking an airplane. 

All photos courtesy of Journal of Nomads.

(Interview & write-up by Bianca.)

Read about our previous couple Blaire & Chris.

 

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