It all started with a conversation over some beers with a good friend from the States. I had the idea that I would hitch from Denmark to Spain over the next summer. At this point I had only hitched a couple times, mostly in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, but I’m the type of person that when I get my mind set on something there is no stopping me.
May 10th I flew from Delhi, India to Copenhagen, Denmark to start my summer hitchhiking journey across Europe. After a week in Copenhagen it was time to depart to the north to see my good friend from the Camino de Santiago in 2014 who lives in Aarhus, which is in Jutland meaning I would be hitching on to a boat to cross the ocean to get to Aarhus.
I stood in a spot recommended to me by HikiWiki a hitchhikers website (insert link) (I’ll talk more about that later). Nearly 2 1/2 hours had passed without a single vehicle stopping except for Police officers who told me to move away from the motorway as it’s illegal and dangerous. I was ready to give up and head to the bus station when out of no where comes another hitchhiker who was from Denmark. He told me of a better spot further up the road and so I headed that way, put down my backpacks and started to open my sign when a young Dane stops and picks me up. He told me that he was only going like 70km down the road but would be happy to give me a ride. I said that if that was towards the port to Aarhus, I’m in and he said “Well, hop in then.” After talking for 20mins I found out that he grew up in Christiania, a freetown in the center of Copenhagen where selling and smoking of Marijuana/Hash is tolerated. He then dropped me off at a service station from which I got my next ride.
The next ride came from a older woman who was able to take me some 100kms to a very small town which had very little traffic. That wasn’t good for me. I had to walk along the freeway for 15km to the next town where I secured a ride all the way to the port. From there I just stood by the side of the road with a sign and waited 30min to get a ride onto the ferry. Since they only charge by the car and not the person it was pretty easy to catch the ride that I needed (note: not all ferries are like this and most do charge by the person except for commercial trucks which are allowed one passenger in addition to the driver). After my first hitch it became easier to figure out where the best spot was to be picked up and where to get dropped off.
In my Hitchhiking tour from the north of Europe to the south of Europe I covered 5273km (3276.49m), 7 different countries including Denmark, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, France, Spain and slept in 17 different cities. The highlights of my journey include: getting a ride from a bride and groom who just got married just 2hrs before, a DHL driver that had to do his deliveries so it took a little longer than expected, a Polish man who bought me lunch and allowed me to have a shower at his house and older Germany guy who gave me money after dropping me off not because I needed it but because I was on my way to Poland and he wanted me to have some of the currency before I arrived.
Is it safe?
Well like all things, it can be unsafe and safe…..You take a risk every time you step foot into a strangers car, but they also have a the same risk by allowing a total stranger in their car. Its a mutual respect and trust that we are not serial killers and just are paying it forward. You also have the choice of simply just saying “No” if something doesn’t seem right about the car or the driver. I never had any problems while traveling this way and was never asked for money from any of the drivers. So it is it safe? Yes, but be smart like you should be anyway when traversing the world on a low budget.
What type of cars / vehicles / people pick you up?
All types of vehicles will pick you including crappy cars to Audi’s to Semi-trucks to DHL drivers, in my trip I had a almost 50/50 split between cars and semi-trucks. The only issue is that semi-trucks will take longer than a normal car and its can be quite difficult to get in and out of with a heavy bag or in my case two separate bags. People of all ages and backgrounds picked me up on my journey. I had mostly men pick me up but a few women as well, a newly married couple, a attorney, a brewer of beer, a nurse, a aerial photographer, a family and a boyfriend and girlfriend gave me rides as well. Its culturally accepted here in Europe and was quite popular 20yrs ago to travel this way but I’ve been told that less hitchhikers are seen on the roads these days.
Tips of the road:
There is this great website that I used called Hikiwiki, where they will tell you how to get out of the city to get to the best spot for you to go in the direction you need to go. As well as complete instructions of how to get to the exact spot and they sometimes provide pictures as well. I used this quite often and it never let me down the only negative is that it doesn’t have info on smaller cities but after using the site I was able to determine where the best spot would be in that particular town.
Make a sign and bring extra cardboard: making a sign for the city you want to arrive to is very important and you should write the city the way it would be written in the country your in. for example: Vienna is Wien in German or Warsaw is Warszawa in Poland. If your at the border write it in both countries languages. Bring a marker, your not always going to get a one shot ride to your destination so some times you need to make a new sign with a closer destination something closer to your current location.
Early bird gets the worm, in larger cities there is a lot of traffic at a good spot and its a first come first serve basis. So if you show up in Berlin at your hitching spot and someone is already there headed to Dresden too. Then you must wait your turn its part of the hitchhiking code. So get there early and you shouldn’t have a problem, this will also allow you more time to get to your final destination.
Don’t carry a ax, and be sure to smile, it will make you look more appealing to the driver and passengers.
Its not often your picked up very quickly, so hitchhiking takes a lot of time and patience. Don’t get frustrated to easily things will work out and you will be fine in the end.
Bring food in case you get stranded somewhere after the stores are closed and you have to free camp.
Have an offline map APP or an actual map, so you know where you are and where your going I use MAPS.ME, its a very useful app that allows you to search for WIFI, places to stay, gas stations, transport stations, places to eat, etc…. I don’t go hitching without it.
Having a tent is not a must but certainly can come in handy if you do, if your on an extreme budget or if you get stranded somewhere.
Every country is different, some are easier than others to hitch and some have completely different languages so try and learn useful words to help your hitching. (there were several times the driver spoke no english and would have been near impossible to communicate with out the basics of languages I learned along the way)
If you choose to do your hitching from gas stations you pretty much get to choose your ride by simply asking the cars you’d like to get your hitch in. So its important to learn to read the license plates, most countries in Europe has the country abbreviation of the cars origin in side a blue square below a circle of gold stars, and then the license plate will have a series of numbers and letters. Generally it will start with two letters the first of which tells you the city where the car was registered and the second tell you the suburb of the city where the car was registered.
This plate is from Poland, you can tell by the PL, then you see the first letter is a “W” which means its from Warsaw, Poland. If your headed to Warsaw this is the license plate you would be looking for.
Looking at this plate I can see its from Germany by the “D” underneath the stars, next I can tell that this car is from Dusseldorf by the first letter of the plate being “D”. If your headed to Dusseldorf you want to flag this car down.
This plate is from Slovakia, you can tell because of the country code “SK” underneath the stars. Then you will see the first letter of the plate is “B” which means this car is from Bratislava, Slovakia.
Always look online before you head out to your spot and figure out what your cities license plate looks like, generally speaking hitchwiki will have that information for you.
Stay calm and hitch on!