PORTLAND, Maine — The world is a lot safer place than most people envision and Thomas Francine said he will walk across the United States to spread that message.
Francine will kick off his cross-country mission Monday morning a 8 at Fort Allen Park in Portland.
“I’ve realized that the world is a lot safer place than people think it is,” Francine said. “That has been my experience.”
And the 26-year-old Woodbridge, N.J., resident has a lot of experience. He estimates he has hitchhiked 26,000 miles since 2008. Those journeys have included hitchhiking from Denmark to Turkey and back.
This time, he will not be hitchhiking but walking from the shore of the Atlantic Ocean in Portland to the Pacific shore in San Diego, Calif. He estimates the walk will take from five months to a year.
Francine said he relies on the kindness of strangers on these trips. He said he never pays to stay in hotels or lodging places but instead will camp out in a tent or be put up by people he meets along the way.
“I have not had even one bad experience,” Francine said of his travels.
During his trip, he will be passing out cards with the phrase “change the world” on them. The New Jersey man said that he has faith in humanity and believes in the power of people to change the world.
“A lot of people think that a change must be some drastic public policy act. I believe you can change with three people — yourself, a friend and a stranger,” he said.
Over the years, Francine said he has become a spiritual person based on his experiences with people he has met. In his European trip, he said he carried booklets with common phrases from different countries but that often he communicated through body language and strangers would invite him into their homes and have him stay over night and provide him meals.
“I want to show people that you can walk across the country and be safe. I want people to take more risks and trust people. You can’t live in fear,” he said.
Francine’s hitchhiking began in 2008 when he had a couple friends talked about taking such an adventure but they were not sure whether they would like it. The group hitchhiked from North Carolina to Texas.
“I became addicted to traveling on a low budget and meeting people,” he said.
His last major hitchhiking trip was the one through Eastern Europe. He brought a video camera along and created a documentary out his adventure. That documentary, “The Greater Good: A Hitchhiker’s Perspective,” was shown at the New Jersey Film Festival in February at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. The 40-minute-long movie includes interviews with other hitchhikers he has met along the way.
The film has also been shown at the Black Maria Film and Video Festival, which is a traveling show; the Bootleg Film Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland; and the Bare Bones Film Festival in Muskogee, Okla.
Francine said he will be bringing a camera along this time and wants to use it to promote his message.
Francine will be taking a stroller with him to carry his backpack. In his backpack will be a tent, sleeping bag, a couple changes of clothes, a few personal hygiene items and food items such as peanut butter, sardines, cereal and water.
His parents have not been on board with his trips, saying they have been scared and angry, but that they are coming around more to what he is doing. When he was in Europe he did not carry a cellphone, but he will have one while crossing the United States so that he can contact his parents every few days.
In between his trips, Francine lives with his parents and works jobs that include substitute teaching and caregiving.
His decision to start with Portland was based on its reputation of a being a laid-back, friendly, small city, he said. In addition, he wanted to start on the Atlantic Ocean and wanted to try something different than New Jersey.
Three of his friends were driving Francine to Portland on Sunday.
His first leg will take him to Lake Placid, N.Y. in late July, where his father will be participating in an Ironman competition that includes a swim, a 56-mile bicycle ride in the mountains and a 26.2-mile road race.
While he hitchhikes and walks solo, he said he has made many friends along the way including a family from Washington State that he calls his second family. They picked him up one evening and said he could stay overnight at their home on one of the San Juan Islands in that state. That one night turned into four months as he helped them out with their landscaping business and did chores around the house.
He said that is an example of what has given him faith in humanity, and he wants to pass that on to others over the next year.