I spent most of my summer of 2014 hitchhiking around the Balkans and it was a blast! After 5 weeks, 4000 km, 9 countries and more than 40 cars I feel I can claim my official title of Hitchhiker. So what is the best advice for beginner hitchhikers in Europe?
I read up a lot and advice varies a lot from country to country. For instance, hitchhiking is an accepted mode of transportation in Romania, but the locals usually pay for the service (it’s pretty much Uber without the app). This means that if you want to get a ride in Romania, be sure to mention you don’t have money or have some cash on hand to pay the driver. Hitchwiki is the best resource to find advice specific to the countries you’ll be visiting. More than that, every medium sized city will have a few suggested hitchhiking spots depending on the direction you want to go.
Here is my general hitchhiking advice that applies to every place I’ve been to.
Do it (but maybe not alone)
The first ride is always the hardest. It’s very hard to actually get out there on the road and lift your thumb up. It’s something radically out of your comfort zone and your will without fail think about all of those crazy murder stories you heard before. The easiest way to get past that is to go with an experienced hitchhiker that doesn’t have the stage fright that you do. The second best option is to have a travel companion, mutual support helps a lot. I would not recommend hitchhiking alone, at least until you are a little more experienced. Believe me, once you get that first ride, it gets a thousand times easier.
People are great
There is a lot of fear because of the horror stories about hitchhiking floating around – they warn you about how the locals might hurt, rob or scam you but my experience proved to me the complete opposite. The experience actually restored my faith in humanity because of all the wonderful and generous people I met along the way. They were generous with their time, their stories and a couple times even with their food and home. I have many stories of and you will inevitably have some of your own. One of my favorite moments was with our first car, the couple that picked us up made a little detour because they wanted to show us a little lake up in the mountains!
Be ready to wait in between rides. However, a little foresight can shorten that time and make it more enjoyable. Energy bars (or whatever snack) and water are a must. You can’t predict anything while on the road, including when your next meal will be. I recommend getting a paper map too: you don’t want to risk your phone dying, losing signal and on top of that the locals can draw their route suggestions on a paper map more easily. To find rides quickly, I found that having a big Canadian flag helped a bunch. If you can, take a flag of your country with you because some people will stop out of sheer curiosity. To write down our destination, we bought a notebook and a permanent marker. Notebooks have many pages and I found it a lot more convenient than hunting down cardboard at every stop. A little basic preparation goes a long way 🙂
Trust your gut
No matter how desperate you are for a ride, trust your intuition and don’t get in the car with people that feel “off”. We didn’t have to do that while hitchhiking but I did ignore my intuition with couchsurfing once and it was a lesson learned. There is not much else to say about that but it felt important to mention because it’s honestly the best way to avoid unpleasant experiences.
Have a plan B
You never know how far you’ll make it in a day: it’s good to have alternatives in mind in case you get stranded or don’t make it to your “goal” city. Look up reasonably big cities on the way and make the choice to call it a night if you get there too late during the day. It’s easier to find accommodation there than in a village so be safe and stay put for a day if you’re not sure you’ll make it to your destination. Have some camping gear on you if you go all in and keep going no mater the time of day: you might get dropped off at a gas station without any accommodations available for the night. Look up bus routes and train stations on the way. You might simply get tired or want to get to your destination faster. In Europe, it was never too much of a problem because cities are pretty close to each other but it’s nice to know you have options when you stand on the side of the road for too long. On top of that, a little research beforehand might make you discover cities you didn’t know you wanted to visit. I never heard of Veliko Ternovo before I looked up our route to Sofia, and it was the highlight of our visit to Bulgaria.
Have you hitchhiked before? Do you have any crazy stories to share? Let me know!