Hitchhiking was once a preferred mode of transportation on Martha’s Vineyard. If you had no wheels, no matter. If you had a thumb, you could move. To come to this realization at the age of 14 or 15 was like getting a get-out-of-jail-free card. Suddenly, the whole of the Island was within your reach.

Instead of having to rely on parents, older siblings and driver-age friends, you could set out on your own adventure just by hitting the road and sticking out your hand.

Returning from an Aquinnah beach day along Moshup Trail the road would be filled with our contemporaries walking backwards towards State Road as the sun lowered in the sky with our arms outstretched and thumbs pointing homeward. A station wagon would stop and we would pile in — sandy feet, wet bathing suits and damp towels — and breathlessly thank our benefactors as the car roared off.

Quickly the talk would turn to news of parties that night, people you knew and where you were staying. You felt part of a larger community that made you thrilled with the world and glad you were a part of it.

The safety and comfort I felt hitchhiking across the Vineyard did translate to the larger world as I got older. In 1970, after my freshman year of college, I headed to Europe for 10 weeks with no particular itinerary except to go to Wimbledon and stay a few days with family friends in London. Wimbledon was all I hoped it would be — Rod Laver, Stan Smith, John Newcombe, Illie Nastase, Arthur Ashe were all there and many others. But after a few succeeding days of museums and sightseeing, I ditched my suitcase and bought a backpack.

Reimagining my summer travels, I went through my things and selected a few key items to stuff the backpack with, including a light blanket, T-shirts, bluejeans, two pairs of underwear and a toothbrush, and set off for the European continent.

I caught a boat for Le Havre and then took trains exclusively at the start, going from Paris to Barcelona to the Spanish Gold Coast and up to Nice before stops in Florence, Venice, Rome and a memorable day spent in the ancient past in Pompeii. My ultimate goal was Corfu where I spent two weeks, the last one simply camping out on the beach.

But this is a story about hitchhiking and here’s where it comes back in. I met up with an English girl at the hostel on Corfu and she quickly became my traveling companion. Kat was chatty, five-foot-three, red-haired and 23 years old. A teacher, she had been traveling with a friend from London until she and I decided to hitchhike back to England. I had the confidence of my Vineyard travels to sustain me and we had seen many hitchhikers along the European roads. Word was if you had a Canadian flag stitched to your backpack, you would get picked up more often. The Vietnam War was at its height and our neighbors to the north were simply more popular. We took the overnight ferry from Corfu to Brindisi, located on the heel of Italy’s boot, and set out on foot for points north.

We were youthfully oblivious to the many dangers lurking on the open road, and like dharma bums went where the wind, or vehicles, took us. We were picked up by an empty bus on a deserted stretch of Italian highway bracketed by hot and dusty empty fields that took us to a tiny town on the Adriatic Sea with a name like Margharita. It was festival time and decked out with flowered arches that crowned its narrow main drag.

In Switzerland, we were given a ride in a tiny Opel Kadett that climbed up and down the Alps at a terrifying speed that repeatedly took us to the road’s edge and near disaster. Nights in Dijon and Paris finally led to LeHavre, England, and a bittersweet goodbye.

Armed with this European roadside success, I returned to Philadelphia at summer’s end, determined to hitchhike to the Vineyard by myself to catch what remained of vacation and Island fun. But it wasn’t the same. After one friendly ride I was let out by the side of the road on I-95 in acrid, smoke-stack-marred Paramus, N.J. There I was picked up by an intense Vietnam veteran who only knew how to drive one way — with the pedal to the floor just as he drove an Army jeep through the jungles of Southeast Asia. He dropped me at the off-ramp to the Bronx where the remains of burned-out cars threatened malingerers and the menacing, hollowed-out high rises in the background warned, “Not here.”

I eventually found my way to the Vineyard, somewhat shaken but thankful. I was back on familiar roads and the warm embrace of Island spirits. But the call of the open road? I decided not to answer for a while.

David Lott owns Vineyard Open House Real Estate. He lives in Vineyard Haven.