3 Lessons Learned From German Hitchhiking Travelers

Have you ever met a random stranger that taught you lessons you didn’t know you need to learn? That happened to me this week with a chance meeting after we found 2 people sleeping under our office building.

We arrived at our office on a normal Friday morning and found 2 people had slept under our office building. Their sleeping bags and sheets were still out and they were in their pajamas. What the heck were they thinking, they can’t just sleep under there!

A few minutes later the couple was packing up and getting ready to leave. As they were walking away we started discussing how they were dressed. He was wearing a black top hat, white shirt and pants and a black overcoat. She was wearing a red outfit, red flared pants, vest and jacket with a white shirt and black hat. Why in the world were they dressed that way in Alabama? Maybe they are street performers headed to Mobile or New Orleans?

They walked across the street and we watched as security pulled up to tell them that they couldn’t spend the night in the park without paying.

The couple moved on and went to the pier for lunch.  I received a phone call from a friend that  heard the couple is from Germany and they are traveling across the United States. I asked my assistants to go over and ask if we could interview them for the park. They agreed and a few minutes later they were back at our building but inside this time.

Our New Friends and the History of German Craftsmen’s Journey

Our new friend’s names are Wesley and Dianna and they are Journeymen from Germany in the United States for 90 days on a travel visa. Their visit to the U.S. is part of the training to become master tradesmen. In Germany, you have the option to go to college or follow the journeymen tradition. They left their home towns on foot to begin a 3 year and 1 day journey to travel and work in their trades. Wesley is a stonemason and Dianna is a church mural painter. During their journeymen years they are not allowed to return home and they cannot pay for lodging or transportation. They carry their belongings including a small amount of clothes, sleeping bags and blankets, town to town looking for work learning as they go. They must wear their craftsmen’s traditional costumes in the colors of their trade while they are in public. They are allowed to use technology if offered but they may not own or carry any devices on the road with them.

There are only a few hundred traveling journeymen in the world so this is a pretty unique  encounter and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to spend several hours getting to know them and learn about their custom and traditions.

3 Important Lessons Learned from Strangers

I learned a few important lessons from Wesley and Dianna:

  • Unplug from technology and connect with people
  • Slow down and enjoy the journey
  • Live and work with purpose

Unplug from Technology and Connect with People

Wesley and Dianna are not allowed to pay for lodging or transportation on their journey. That means that they must interact with people. They hitchhike and accept offers for lodging from complete strangers. When they arrived in the states many people told them how terribly unsafe hitchhiking is.

They have hitchhiked for years and said that the only scary people they have encountered are bad drivers and an occasional drunk driver. Dianna said that she has traveled alone and no one has ever tried anything inappropriate with her or tried to kill her (those are her words).

If they were traveling in their own vehicle staying in hotels along their way, they absolutely would not have the same experiences. They are forced to interact and communicate with people and become very resourceful. If they had been staying in a hotel here and not under our building we would not have met them. While we were talking and getting to know them some park guests joined in the conversation and offered them a place to sleep for a few nights and my assistant has offered to take them to their next destination when they are ready. We also invited them to our beach campout so they experienced sleeping on the beach and s’mores for the first time.

I have to admit that when we travel we are not normally open to new people. We set up camp and pretty much keep to ourselves. How many other unique, interesting people have we missed out on connecting with because we shut ourselves off? I have a new goal of having a real conversation with at least one person every trip that we go on. I will write the details in my travel journal as a reminder to stay open to new experiences.

Slow Down and Enjoy the Journey

Wesley and Dianna are in the United States on a travel visa which means they cannot work. The entire 3 months that they are here is all about experiences and learning. They have no deadlines, agendas or real plans except for the date that their visa expires and they must leave the country.

When they are in Europe working they occasionally work up to 90 hours in a week but in a trade that they love and are passionate about. When they take “holiday” they enjoy themselves and do not work. They work hard for 9 months and then generally have 3 months off to rejuvenate.

I am the opposite. I stay connected to work at all times and have taken only 1 vacation in the last 3 years. I love my job however I am literally always at work. I am fortunate that I am able to live in the park where I work however that also means I never leave work. I have my work email app on my phone and check it several times a day even on the weekends and all of our vendors have my cell phone number so that they can reach me anytime they have a problem.

What makes me think that I need to be accessible at all times? I am not the President.

We are going to take several long weekends this year and go explore places within a few hours from home. My big goal is a month long trip out west to visit our twins. They are in the Navy in California and we have not yet visited them there.

I am also going to take the email app off my phone so that I am not temped to check it and respond to every issue on my days off. There really isn’t anything that can’t wait until Monday.

Funny picture with a camel

Live and Work With Purpose

When Wesley and Dianna return to Europe, they will continue to travel from town to town in search of meaningful and interesting work. If there is nothing available in a town that will help them to further their goal of becoming master craftsmen then they will most likely move on. They do not like to waste time on work that is boring or does not help them  to gain more knowledge and experience. They seek to learn and grow.

How many of us continue to work a “safe” job that is not challenging in any way because we want that steady paycheck? We don’t take the initiative to make a change and sometimes become very bored with our careers and maybe even life. We spend so much time at work so wouldn’t it make more sense to be pursuing something that lights you up?

Don’t ever settle! If you aren’t happy, take the time to figure out how you want your life to be and make a plan for it. Most of us will not take months to travel with no car or place to sleep in order to grow but we can take baby steps to get to our goals. Everything can be broken down into small, reachable goals. If something is not getting you closer to what you want, don’t continue to do it forever. Life is way too short.

My goal is to travel full time. This is not going to happen right away but I do have a plan. I need a way to earn a living on the road so I am learning new skills that will allow me to do that. One of which is this website/blog. It will take a while but I am happy to be working towards the life that I want.

We are traveling as much as we can now to learn and practice what we need to know to live full time in an RV- kind of like our new traveling friends but on a much smaller scale. We are not hitting the road tomorrow but everyday we get a little closer finding adventure and fun along the way.





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