I got interested in hitch hiking when I was working at a hostel in Croatia in the summer of 2010. Another backpacker-worker at a nearby hostel had been hitching around Europe and had numerous photos and stories to share that painted a pretty rosy picture of the experience. However, I was still only just interested, I never thought I’d actually do it. That is until I met a Canadian girl, Amie, and we became good friends. Amie told me how she’d bee hitch hiking all over the place for years and what a cool way to travel it was. I thought to myself, ‘if this girl can do it then maybe I can do it too,’ and I started planning a trip. I planned to take a few weeks off from working in the hostel and travel around the Balkans – hitching the whole way. I did lots of research before hand, Hitchwiki was especially useful, as well an numerous other websites and travel forums that had tips, stories and advice.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I set off but there was one piece of advice that I had in mind – eventually, a ride will always come – and I was determined to not be defeated no matter how long it took. All in all the trip was a resounding success. I met tonnes of amazing people, had great experiences and was blown away by the kindness shown to me. Here are some of the highlights from that trip:
- Split- Plitvice National Park: My first lift. When I arrived there was a caravan stopped next to the toll gate and I wondered if I might get an easy ride. They seemed like they would be happy to take me, unfortunately they had broken down and were waiting for a toy truck. Still, we had a nice chat – their broken English and my broken French – and they gave me a beer and some shade for a while to re-invigorate me for my first lift. I waited several hours with no luck when another hitch hiker showed up and we decided to try and get a lift together. She was much more experienced and gave me some great tips on my technique. We waited another hour together – which she thought was unheard of – and eventually got a ride from a guy who was going the whole way.
- Plitvice NP- Plitvice Camp ground: The same day as above I got dropped at the national park but it was till several km’s to the camp ground where I wanted to stay. There was a bus in an hour, but in the meantime I thought I’d try and hitch. I had no luck and eventually gave up and went to wait for the bus. When the bus finally came the driver said that I needed a ticket to get on and the ticket could only be bought from the camp ground- wait.. what? Still a little confused, I watched the bus pull away and saw another traveller who was in the same position and we decided to walk to the camp ground and try out our thumbs as we did it. Turns out this guy was from Belgium and he’d been hitching/walking all over Europe and the middle east for 11 months- he had some great stories to tell. Twenty mins or so into the walk we managed to thumb a lift from a nice couple. The next morning we both caught the bus to the NP and went off separately to explore. In the evening we met up again and exited the park just in time to see the bus leave. We decided to start walking/thumbing again and we were soon picked up by an Aussie who’d been living and working in the UK for 5 years but was driving all around Europe in his van – converted to campervan – as he was about to head home to Australia. He gave us a lift back to the camp ground and told me if I needed a lift the next day to Zagreb (I did) then he’d give me one but he wanted to see the NP first. I didn’t really need any convincing as Plitvice NP is easily spectacular enough to warrant two visits. After exploring the park for a second day in a row he gave me a lift to Zagreb.
- Zagreb- Belgrade: Got picked up by two Avon employees who were on their way to their bosses’ wedding. When they dropped me at the outskirts of Belgrade they gave me some free Avon shampoo.
- Sofia- Belgrade & Belgrade- Sarajevo: Hitching in and out of Serbia the day after and two days after we beat them in the World Cup.
- Belgrade- Sarajevo: Waiting five hours for my first lift, eventually getting a ride from a professional juggler, followed by another twelve rides to get me to my destination 13 hours after I left. So many times I thought that I would have to spend the night at the spot I was at at them time but each time I got another lift that took me closer to my goal.
- Sarajevo- Mostar: An English guy, Luke, that I met in the hostel in Sarajevo said he’d hitch with me to Mostar but when the day came it was raining and he chickened out. I challenged him to a race… I would hitch and he would take the bus. I ended up beating him by several hours.
After that trip I was hooked on hitch hiking and it wouldn’t be long before I set off for another trip. When I left Croatia I travelled all around the rest of Europe, mostly hitching but also with some Busabout and trains thrown in. All in all I hitched in Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England. I hitched with over 100 different people and covered more than 5000 kms. I only had one scary experience and that was from scary driving. I was in Europe for a year in total, it was easily the best year of my life and I think the experience of hitch hiking was the highlight of that year.
I’ve now been home in Adelaide, Australia for 9 months and I’m itching to go hitching again. I still keep in contact with my Canadian friend Amie and we reminisce about life on the road and how we miss hitch hiking. Hitch hiking in Europe is one thing… but I always remember myself saying that I wouldn’t hitch in Australia.
Hitch Hiking in Australia
I’ve just finished a great book, Thumbs Up Australia: Hitching the Outback by Tom Parry and I’m starting to plan a hitching trip around Australia.
The plan is to hitch up the middle of the country to Darwin then down the west coast to Perth and back home to Adelaide. If I want to go on longer then I’ll continue back up the middle of Australia then over to the east and down the east coast then back to Adelaide, forming a big figure 8 for the whole trip. I would take a tent to camp along the way but also take advantage of hostels where they are available. I’d also like to find someone else to do it with.
The biggest obstacle I can see is convincing mum to let me go. I know she hated the thought of me going when I was in Europe and she worried about me but she couldn’t really do anything to stop me. This time it will be different. There’s a few other challenges that I think Australia will throw at me that I didn’t really have to worry about in Europe:
- Extreme weather
- Infrequent traffic- might get stuck somewhere
Here are some of the resources I’ve found so far:
- “This is the story of a hitchhiking journey I made from Sydney to Darwin in November 2010, and of the people I met along the way.” http://www.upyourthumb.com
- BUG’s Guide to hitchhiking in Australia: http://www.bugaustralia.com/transport/hitch.html
- Hitchhiking in Australia, specifically the outback (a girl’s perspective): http://www.outback-australia-travel-secrets.com/hitchhiking-in-australia.html
- Thumbs Up Australia review with good discussion in the comments
- Three part account of hitch hiking in Australia (June 2011)
Why Hitch Hike?
I’ve tried to explain the draw of hitch hiking to a few friends since I’ve been back and I just can’t seem to do it justice. I think it’s something that’s extremely difficult to communicate to someone who’s never done it before and especially to someone who would never think of doing it. People seem to let the perceived danger blind them to any good experiences that might come from it.
Here are some of the reasons why I hitch hike:
- I like to be different and have a unique story to tell- With so many people travelling all the time its difficult to get a unique experience. The HHing road is definitely the road less travelled and it gives you tonnes of unique experiences and stories to tell that other travellers will not get, however, they probably also won’t appreciate those experiences when you share them.
- I like the shock value you get when you tell someone you’ve been hitchhiking- It is nice to be able to tell people you’ve been HHing all over the place and have them make a bit of a fuss of you. Like many people, I like being the centre of attention sometimes and hitchhiking seems to be something that often impresses people.
- It’s an emotional roller coaster- The experience of your frustration rising and your enthusiasm dropping the longer you wait for a ride, only to be instantly reignited the moment someone stops is tiring but also interesting. It’s like you get addicted to that high you get when someone finally pulls over and gives you a lift.
- The challenge- This is something I really enjoy about hitchhiking. I liked to set a target for a city or town I want to get to by the end of the day and then keep working at getting there. There have been countless times where I didn’t think I would make it to my destination by the end of the day, but then someone else would stop and give me another lift, getting me ever closer. It’s added to by the fact that you’re constantly being told by other people that ‘nobody picks up hitchhikers any more,’ or ‘you’ll never make it, here, let me drop you at the train/bus station’ – you know from experience that they don’t know what they’re talking about, but it does light an extra fire in your belly to prove them wrong.
- The people you meet- Hitchhiking creates a unique circumstance for meeting new people. There’s no particular mold for those who pick up hitchhikers. You could argue that they’re more likely to be free spirited, liberal, travellers or hitchhikers themselves but those don’t hold for everyone. Everybody has a unique life and a unique story to tell and it can be refreshing, especially if you’re on the backpacker’s trail where you run into a lot of people who are very similar to you.
- The kindness shown to you- This is something I see repeated in many of the articles I’ve read about hitchhiking, often accompanied by ‘there’s hope for the human race yet.’ I’ve had drivers buy me lunch, drinks and beers on several occasions and it always enforces what a positive experience HHing is for both driver and hitcher.
- Because its cheap- The cost advantage is definitely low down on the list for me but its certainly an added benefit which allows you to do more, almost unlimited, travelling if you’re on a budget.
Is Hitch Hiking Dangerous?
The number one reason people don’t hitchhike has got to be because of the perceived danger, but is it warranted? There’s two parts to this issue, the frequency of danger or dangerous situations occurring and the severity of that danger and of the results.
The ‘danger factor’ probably prevents most people from even thinking about hitch hiking, but if you get past that there are a few other things that could dissuade you:
- They don’t see the point- As I mentioned above, its difficult to describe the positive experience that hitch hiking can bring so if you never try it, its probably difficult to see the point.
- Its unpredictable- If you’re the kind of traveller that likes to have everything planned down to a tee then hitch hiking won’t fit into your travel plans very well.
- You have to talk to people- One undeniable ‘role’ of the hitchhiker is to listen to and interact with the driver giving them the ride, which I admit can get pretty tiring at times. I can’t imagine people being put off by this if they’ve never tried hitch hiking before, but perhaps it could prevent them from doing it again if they’ve previously experienced it.
- It’s hard work- Some days are better than others, but HHing is hard work. With the walking, waiting, thumbing and talking your can build up quite a sweat, but hey that’s all part of the fun.
- Its uncomfortable- Some rides are better than others but you will undoubtedly have to be uncomfortable at least some of the time.