Lipstick, Legs and Ham…Expat Adventures in Hitchhiking

I’m a middle-aged woman who pays taxes, owns property and has a career of sorts. I’m a Serious Person, and so are my friends. Mostly.

So when I find myself standing by the side of a road in rural Spain, holding a sign written in lipstick (Burt’s Bees Raisin, to be exact—my favourite shade—and sacrificed for the occasion), I can’t help asking myself: How did I get here?

The road is empty and so is the Spanish landscape, which stretches for miles around me, except for the six-house village across the road.

“You,” says my friend Encarna, nodding her head at me. “Stand closer to the road. You’re the girl and you have the legs. And you…” She looks speculatively toward our friend Pedro.

“I know,” he says quickly, shuffling into the shadows with his dangling cigarette and three-day-old beard. “Hide until we get a ride.”

I stick out my thumb.

So, how did I get here…well, I can tell you in four short words: I became an expat.

Some people move abroad for a lower cost of living or because they don’t like the politics at home. But the most successful transplants—and I include myself among them—also move abroad for the adventure. For the chance to have new experiences, try new things and meet new people.

Because when you move abroad you’ll find all that. It’s inevitable. Your life will include an element of surprise as things come your way that you’d never have experienced back home. Bird-watching in Costa Rica, perhaps…renovating a cottage in Tuscany…eating your way through the street stalls of Penang… Or, in my case, missing a bus in rural Spain and having to thumb a ride.

Which, I’m happy to say, proved great. We got a ride within five minutes—from a blue-suited businessman in a big, powerful car. In the time it took me to get my backpack, Encarna—in her best tenured-university-professor voice, had introduced herself and become fast friends. “You’re from Teruel? No wonder you stopped. Teruel folks are good people.”

And Pedro, who can talk about anything, kept the conversation rolling all the way to town. (“Curiously, this part of Castilla-La Mancha has the lowest population density in Western Europe.” No kidding—I’d thought we’d be stuck on that road for days.)

We even learned a bit. The businessman, it turned out, sold industrial dryers for curing serrano hams, Spain’s version of prosciutto. I now know what to look for if a high-grade, €500-a-kilo ham ever comes my way.

So, no matter what reasons you have for seeking a life abroad, remember that it comes with a dash of adventure, the spice of the new.

Who knows? It might even come with a ham.

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