How I Used Tinder to Hitchhike Across America
So maybe you've used Tinder. But have girls ever picked you up in their car and driven you 60km at a time to help you complete a hitchhiking adventure?
In May 2014, I embarked on what turned out to be a 20,000km, 6-month hitchhiking adventure across North America. I started out the old-fashioned way - thumbs up at the side of the road, car after car rejecting me, storm after storm drenching me, can after can of cold beans for dinner.
The novelty quickly wore off.
On one very cold early morning three months and 8,000km into my trip, I was messing around on my phone while waiting for a lift on a quiet country road in western Canada.
I'd installed Tinder a couple of months back but hadn't really used it. After a bit of playing around on the app, I noticed I was getting quite a few matches. As I tucked into my 27th can of warm tuna, my most creative moment of the trip so far hit me:
Why don't I use Tinder to get car rides across America?
And that was the beginning of how I leveraged a dating technology app - along with other online platforms including CouchSurfing and Craigslist - to successfully coordinate around 12,000km of my hitchhiking adventure across North America.
My Tinder Profile
To accomplish this, I had to change my Tinder profile so that people knew that I was an adventurous traveler who was hitchhiking North America.
Here's a breakdown of my profile:
My Bio: Nomadic traveler of 2 years from Britain. Currently hitchhiking 20,000km across North America. Trying to get by through the generosity of wonderful people. Need to reach New York City by early November. Can you help me get there?
Age Range: 18-50 (From my experience hitchhiking there isn't a certain demographic that picks up hitchhikers).
Tactics: Swipe right to everyone (Since when did dating get so methodical? Come on, everybody deserves a chance!!).
Opening Line: Sometimes an observation about their profile. Usually something blunt and straight to the point: "Can you drive me 60km south?"
I was astonished by the response I was getting on Tinder. I was matching with a lot of curious American girls who wanted to know more about my travels. They all seemed to dig the British thing, too. Peculiarly, a lot of matches opened up with "OMG do you have an accent?" to which I replied, "Ever heard James Bond speak? I sound like him."
In just 3-months in America, I matched with 3,766 people. I managed to hitchhike around 12,000km to New York City primarily using Tinder, CouchSurfing, travel forums and Craigslist.
As a comparison, I covered 8,000km across Canada, hitchhiking from the side of the road 100% of the time. In USA, I covered 12,000km, hitchhiking from the side of the road just 15% of the time.
Amusingly, I also recall a very low point in my adventure when I had to email Tinder Support (screenshot below) because my account crashed and deleted all my matches. Oh my, I can only imagine the look on the woman's face dealing with my request and wondering how desperately deluded my life was.
Swiping right and playing the law of averages isn't a load of fun. After 20 days, the excruciating pain in my thumb and potential onset of RSI made me question what the hell I was doing. Yes, in hindsight, Tinder, I would've really appreciated a "Like Everybody in America" button installed on my account. Next time, please?
From my Tinder experiment, I observed that since I'd set my profile up to ask for help, swiping right to everyone worked well as a natural filtering system for matching with people who were willing to help. I matched with curious, like-minded, adventurous girls, some of whom had traveled extensively themselves and others who wanted advice on how to start traveling.
An overwhelming number liked the idea of long-term travel but often gave me reasons why they couldn't start a similar journey themselves.
The top five reasons were:
1. I don't have enough money to travel.
2. I need to get a proper a job so I can pay the bills.
3. I have a mortgage and car to pay for first.
4. I have to finish university and pay my debt back first.
5. I'll get murdered.
My longest single Tinder hitchhike was around 500km down the beautiful Route 101 on the West Coast of USA. My most memorable story came when I matched with a girl from Phoenix, Arizona.
In addition to hitchhiking, I also used Tinder to arrange a tour around Hollywood in Los Angeles, a trip to the Grand Canyon, a weekend adventure climbing in the Rocky Mountains, and a camping trip on the West Coast of USA.
Luckily, the arrangement wasn't just a one-way street. I wasn't always the one being helped. It wasn't like that at all. I would cook for girls, adventure with them, make them laugh, and inspire many to change some part of their life, big or small. One girl I met made the decision to quit her job and embark on a solo-backpacking trip across South America.
Some people ask why I didn't stick to the traditional method of hitchhiking.
Here's my answer: Proactive approach > Reactive approach.
When hitchhiking, a reactive approach would involve me sitting at the side of the road, aimlessly hoping that the right person would come along, pick me up and take me to my destination. The outcome of this situation is very much out of my control. Proactively exploring other mediums such as Tinder, CouchSurfing and Craigslist increases potential, possibility and the likelihood of finding the right people who were willing to help.
This Tinder experiment taught me a very valuable lesson.
If you never ask the answer will always be NO.
I battled with my ego for a very long time and could never find the courage to go beyond myself and ask others for help. Sometimes you need drop that, erase the fear of being judged, and let yourself become beautifully vulnerable.
Human beings are wired to help each other, and from what I've seen in two and a half years of travel, no matter where you go in the world, regardless of cultural differences, there are ALWAYS tons of amazing souls who are willing to lend a helping hand.
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