Interviews

The hitchhiker

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In September 2012, Sébastian Dahl, a half-Norwegian, half-French photographer, set out to hitchhike from his hometown Oslo, the Norwegian capital, to Beirut, in Lebanon. He grabbed his camera, sealed his backpack, and embarked on a three-month journey. Some 10,000 kilometres (6,370 miles) later, Sébastian could complete an exceptional photographic diary that captured the moments he experienced, the people he met, and the 112 vehicles he used to get there. He tells us about the ride.

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How did the idea come about to hitchhike from Oslo to Beirut?

First I wanted to travel around the world a few times for a year or two but then I realised that it would be more interesting to live in different places for a while. I quite randomly picked Lebanon and the Middle East because of its food and language. I’m going to live here for a year while working as a freelance photographer and then I’ll head towards Japan, Canada or Mongolia and stay there for a while. Hitchhiking is something I’ve been doing ever since I was 18 years old – I’m 25 now – so I didn’t really think about any other way of getting here. It’s not difficult and people are always nice.

What did you feel like in the first weeks?

I was extremely excited. Every day I met a lot of people and they were all supportive and interesting to talk to. I don’t think I’ve felt that high on life before. Hitchhiking in Europe is very easy thanks to the motorways, and I could always speak to people – I speak French, English and Norwegian fluently, and a bit of Spanish and German.

 

You hitchhiked 112 vehicles to get to Beirut. Was it difficult to get people to drive you?

I usually waited between 10 and 25 minutes and never waited longer than an hour – which happened once, in Italy. I never got robbed or felt threatened.

Did you ever have any problems, such as dodgy drivers or motorstops? 

There was one time in Turkey when people misunderstood and thought I’d give them money for the ride, but it ended nicely. That’s it. Hitchhiking is fantastic! Some people are horrible drivers but that doesn’t really affect my mood.

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You have a photoproject of the places you slept. Do any particular nights stand out in your memory? 

The night I spent in some Turkish teenagers’ squat was pretty epic. It was their hangout where they would smoke and drink alcohol away from their families, and the place they would come fix their motorbikes. It was a very shabby and dirty place. They locked me in – to protect me from anyone entering – and didn’t speak any English, but all in all we spent a good evening together playing with fire, go-karting and holding hands in the streets. Apparently they do that there.

From a photographic perspective, what were the most interesting aspects of the journey?

The people. Traveling this way, I get to meet a lot of very different people from all walks of life. I get to hear – and sometimes photograph – their lives and I would never have met them if I travelled any other way. Also, since I have to travel as light as possible, I am forced to bring the least amount of gear possible. This sometimes makes photographing more challenging but it’s a very good exercise.

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What has the trip given you in terms of life lessons, experiences and perspectives?

In Kosovo I learnt what it means for someone to be trapped inside a country. I had some really strong encounters there and I realised that I’m very lucky to even be able to do what I’m doing. My passports – a French and a Norwegian one – allow me to go pretty much everywhere without too much hassle and I haven’t done anything to deserve that. Kosovar people are really trapped in their own country so meeting them was very enlightening.

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To any of our readers who might contemplate doing something similar, what advice would you give them?

What I’ve done might seem pretty extreme but to me it isn’t. I’ve been hitchhiking and traveling this way for a long time. I started with smaller trips just around where I lived. Follow your dreams, go meet people, but listen to yourself and don’t do anything too extreme. This way you’ll have fun and stay safe. And whatever happens, stay positive!

Photos: Sébastian Dahl.

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