Eliza: What is Traveling on Trust about?
Josh: During the summer of 2013, I hitchhiked 7,000 miles across small-town America, carrying nothing but a backpack, an empty wallet, and a sign that read, Traveling On Trust. I had three rules: (1) no money, (2) no interstates, and (3) no asking for help. I was traveling to meet people who were radically different from me, and to test the hope that the world has more good than bad in it. I slept with a shotgun one night, rode fifty miles with a blind driver, and once found myself trapped with a man who had attacked police officers with a machete—but despite a few nervous moments like those, I really did find good people during my two months on the road. One hundred and thirty-five drivers stopped to help a stranger. I found those Good Samaritans from Washington State to Michigan to New Mexico and back, and those Good Samaritans crossed lines of money and status and lifestyle. They were truckers and murderers, meth addicts and conservative Christians, Vietnam draft dodgers and New Age skiers. Those people are what Traveling on Trust is all about.
I kept a blog during my travels, and I am now writing a book about the experience.
Eliza:What gave you the idea in the first place?
Josh: I was working as an intern in Washington D.C. during my last semester of college, and although I loved the work, I realized I wasn't ready to move straight from that internship into a steady job. There was too much in the world I hadn't seen, and after I graduated, I would have a perfect opportunity to explore. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids, I didn’t have a job. I didn’t need to take care of a house or a car. This was my best shot to do something crazy, something that you can only really do in those tiny windows when you aren’t locked down by responsibilities. So I planned a trip that would use that time to the fullest.
Eliza: Why small towns?
Josh: More than eighty percent of Americans live in cities and suburbs, and that percentage is increasing. When most of us think about small towns, we romanticize them as bastions of traditional American values, or we stigmatize them as boring places that are a little bit backward. Or we just forget about them. That was enough reason for me to explore small towns. I wanted to learn.
Plus, the roads that connect small towns tend to have better scenery than interstates. I spent a lot of time standing on the side of the road, and good scenery makes that time much more enjoyable.
Eliza: Do you think being young and white made it easier for you to get rides?
Josh: Yes. Especially being young and looking even younger. Early in the trip, I would tell my drivers that I had just graduated, and they would usually think that meant I had just finished high school. One person, when he first saw me, thought I was fourteen years old. It bruised my ego a little bit, but it made hitchhiking much easier. Looking young means looking innocent, and people are much more likely to help someone when they aren’t worried about their own safety. So I received rides from grandmothers, pregnant mothers, families with kids in the car. One man even let me hold his loaded handgun.
Another factor that made it easier for me to find rides was my sign. I sewed fabric letters into a bedsheet, and that right there told drivers I had invested time into hitchhiking—I wasn’t some vagrant running from the law. Also, the sign read, Traveling on Trust, and that was a sort of implied promise: “I’m trustworthy, and I expect you to be trustworthy, too.” I think most people want to be good and trustworthy, and by calling attention to that, my sign helped me out tremendously. When I lost my first sign, though, hitchhiking all of a sudden became much harder…
Eliza: What's the oddest thing you had to do on your trip?
Josh: There’s a lot to choose from. Sleeping with a shotgun, helping an artist sell her work, hearing secrets that people had kept quiet for years and years. But I’ll stick with a happy story a girl who worked at a whitewater rafting company picked me up in southern Colorado, and she invited me to eat dinner with all the rafting guides back at their camp. Even though I had wanted to travel farther south that day, I rarely passed up opportunities to spend more time with my drivers, so I agreed to eat with her. Plus, dinner invitations are necessary when you’re hitchhiking without money. I saw the rafting camp and helped the guides prepare dinner, and by the time all of us finished eating, I had received three different invitations to go rafting the next morning. I spend that night at the camp, and I went “whitewater hitchhiking” in the morning. Even at the end of my trip, I couldn't predict what would happen while I was hitchhiking. The only things I could count on: learning about new lives, hearing fascinating stories, and meeting good people.