Hitchhike. What pops into your head when you see that word. Dangerous? Hobo? The movie Taken? Well I’m here to tell you it’s none of the above. I’ve mentioned in previous posts (23 Ways to Travel the World on a Budget) that I’ve dabbled in hitchhikery, but how do you even go about it? Well I know you’ve probably laid awake wondering this exact question, so look no further! Here’s a guide on hitchhiking Europe!
Safety when hitchhiking Europe
- Never travel alone. Common sense. Pairs are best, and drivers are less apt to feel comfortable picking up more than that (let alone have room in their car).
- Talk the talk. You should be able to speak the language of the country you’re in, or at the very least of the person who is giving you a ride.
- A two way street. Don’t be afraid to turn them down. Just as they’re picking up a stranger on the highway, you’re getting into a stranger’s car. If it feels off to you, or for any reason you feel uncomfortable, politely turn down the ride or say you’re going a different direction than they are.
- Never part with anything you don’t want to lose. So if bags are going in the trunk, keep your passport/money/very important things with you up front.
- Be aware of where you are at all times. Read signs, look around. Always make sure at least one person from your group is awake.
Preparation is key
- Pack light. Some drivers will just keep on their merry way if they see big bags.
- Pack enough. Make sure you have nonperishable food (tuna, dry Ramen, cookies), water, and some permanent or dry erase markers.
- Check the rules of the road. Know if hitchhiking is legal where you are. For instance, it’s illegal for pedestrians to be on the autobahn in Germany. You want a ride, but not to the police station.
- Dress clean but athletic. Dress nice enough that drivers know you’re not a homeless drifter, but you’ll be walking a lot so good shoes are vital.
- Make signs to describing where you’re going. If you’re in the middle of a big city, don’t expect to get to another big city in one go. So make signs saying the highway you need to get to, or the direction you’re going, until you get on a main highway where someone will be more apt to take you the long distance to your next city.
- Bring a map. On that note, bring a map. A real, old fashion, paper map. If you’re in a country where you don’t get cell service, you’re going to need to know exactly where you are at all times, without the help of a GPS.
- “What’s in a name”. Know the name of the city you’re going to in the country’s language. So if you’re going to Rome…Roma. Cologne…Koln. Florence…Firenze.
- Waterproof your signs. Use a dry erase board or use a white plastic table cloth (like the kind you get at the Dollar Store) to make reusable signs with dry erase markers, or put paper signs in clear ziploc bags. Your sign is your lifeline, protect it!
- Actually, waterproof everything. Make sure to have a waterproof jacket/poncho and something to waterproof your bag, at the very least. It’s already pretty draining not getting a ride for 3 hours. Layer onto that soggy + cold and you’ve got a recipe for misery.
- Bring camping gear. You could get dropped off between two big cities and not be able to find a room to stay, so be prepared to be one with the great outdoors. That said, sleeping outside without gear is also not out of the question.
Get out there and do it
- Thumbs up! Keep that thumb up for every car that approaches. And know what sign is used for hitchhikers in the region. In most of Europe, it’s an upward pointing thumb, but this differs around the world, from waving to pointing down.
- Smile! In the case of most of the people who picked us up, it was their first time picking up hitchhikers. Do you think they would have picked us up if we hadn’t been smiling? You’ve got to convince a person in less than 5 seconds that they should stop for you, so smile.
- Kick it up a notch. Smiling is good, dancing is better. Just have fun. You’re going to be out there for quite some time, so have fun, laugh, dance. What driver wouldn’t want a fun road companion?
- Location location location. Entrance ramps are going to be your best option, as people will still be going slow enough to not only have the ability to stop, but also the time to decide if they want to give you a ride. Gas stations and rest stops work great too. We had luck just asking people what direction they were going. If it was our direction, “Great! Mind giving us a ride?” The center of the city, though most populated, will be the hardest place to get a ride. People running errands around town aren’t likely to be heading to the highway.
- Patience is a virtue. It’s going to take a while. Sometimes you’ll get a ride in 5 minutes, but sometimes you won’t. And those times that you don’t will feel like days. Just wait it out, someone will come along.
- Consider the time of day. People on their way to or from work are less likely to want to stop. You’ll also want to avoid pushing into the evening/night for obvious stranded-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-at-night safety reasons.
- Aim for the lorries. Lorries (or cargo/semi trucks) are going a long way, usually across Europe. If you can get on one of these, you’re golden. Our best luck with these came from walking up to the drivers at rest stops and just talking to them.
- Don’t dilly dally. If someone stops, move move move! Run to the car to show you value their time, and of course, greet em with a smile.
- Go with the wind. If someone stops and they’re not going to your destination, but are going that direction, take the ride!
- Feel it out. Some people want to talk and know everything about you, some people don’t. Try to feel that out from the get go so you don’t end up annoying them with your desire to fill silence. What if you don’t speak the language (though this does break one of the safety rules above)? Improvise! Pictionary becomes a great way for learning about people, and shows that you’re interested in and value them.
- Trust your instinct. People everywhere will tell you “hitchhiking is dangerous”, but the truth is, 99% of the people you encounter genuinely want to help you. Of course, you need to be constantly vigilant and aware that the 1% does exist, but hitchhiking doesn’t work without a solid dose of trust. For instance, most people would caution against sleeping at a stranger’s house, but after realizing we’d been picked up by the most selfless people while in Ireland, we accepted their invitation and ended up having an amazing two days.