I must repeat that again for my parental units and worrying friends, DON’T PANIC!
I’m only writing this after the completion of my hitchhiking adventures in order to reassure you that I am safe and will completely make it home in one piece. But yes, I did hitchhike through Eastern Europe. And it was one of the best decisions of my journey thus far. And I think the form in which I will put this blog entry is going to be in “buzzfeed”-style list form in order to give the best guide format for aspiring hitchhikers!
A poor mans way to travel might be the richest way!
What started as a way to save money in the last month of travel has become an addiction due to the many benefits and the joy that comes from this form of travel. The experience is more rich and you share friendship and time with other people! Besides that, it’s actually a very fast form of transport, and provides a sort of challenge when it comes to city and country hopping.
Don’t be afraid to stick your thumb out and hitch!
In our world so many people are concerned with what others think of them, myself especially included. Hitchhiking throws this out the window, you stand by the road or at a gas station and ask for help, you humbly stick your thumb out and people pass you will all sorts of judgments and reactions. My personal favorite is the “pretend not to see them and they’ll disappear”, unfortunately that’s not how hitchhikers work, sorry. The there’s the sheer look of disgust, or the unbroken stares, as if hitchhikers were an extinct or at the very least rare, species. The ones that make your day are those who signal, “staying here” or “headed another way”, simply acknowledging your existence. But each of these teach you that other humans reactions to you should never dictate your smile, in fact they’re probably all a bit jealous of your freedom, embrace it! And don’t worry, someone will come along to give you a ride 🙂
Learn to trust and connect with other human beings
Our world is very individualized, with iPods, and headphones to the point that even traveling can become a lonely excursion. In fact, if you choose to travel via train, use personal audio guides and internet tours and rent a private room, you can completely avoid communicating with humans!! While this might appeal to you introverts out there, this really does defeat much of the purpose of traveling. Hitchhiking is a whole other ball game, you really get the opportunity to get to know these people who give you rides. You learn about their culture, family, and share their food and families, and even have conversations that connect humans on a deeper level. I’ve learned more about the Balkan war from first hand experiences of former soldiers, I’ve learned about Bulgarian economic challenges from individuals struggling to rise above these circumstances and I’ve spent the night at a church in Hungary, having made friends with a preacher who came from the US years ago to address the hunger for the truth.
Locals know how to help you avoid tourist traps!
Let’s not even get into the plethora of delicious food I’ve gotten to enjoy! And almost all of it was free! In so many places guests and foreigners are taken care of, not out of courtesy but out of a genuine deep-seeded belief in the importance of caring for a visitor in your home land, and joy in welcoming strangers. We could use a bit more of this in the US!
Have some of the funniest times conversing!
I don’t speak Turkish, or Bulgarian or Serbian, or Romanian, but when the question arises “do you speak……”, my answer is always “a little, I’m learning”, because this allows for the most educational and fun conversation adventures. To immediately say “no” closes the door for much communication, and thus the opportunity for friendship can sometimes be lost, and it make for a very quiet ride. And from this I’ve managed to communicate with pieces of Italian, Deutsch, Russian and whatever language I find along the way. Have the confidence to fight through language barriers and these friendships will be worth the while, and if worst comes to worst, you can always just rock out to a song on the radio with the driver!
Everyone should walk across country borders at least twice in their life. ( The Schengen zone doesn’t count, cause you don’t even know when it changes!)
This will be a series of treasured moments, because the first time you cross the border on foot, you will feel completely illegal. People will look at you funny and you will more than likely provide incredible amounts of entertainment for the entire border patrol. By the second time you walk across a border, you’ll still get stares and laughter, but this time you’ll feel a bit more confident, and by the third border-walking comes along you will be whistling, skipping and even dancing across those boundaries!
Gain wonderful stories!
From the Bulgarian border police helping me flag down a ride at midnight, or camping in a field of sunflowers, to hearing a first hand account of helping tear down the Berlin Wall, the stories you gain will be absolutely incredible!
Use your resources, (don’t stick your thumb out in Italy!)
Hopefully, I can help inspire others to travel in a more connected manner, but always be SAFE and use hitchikwiki, it’s a website specifically for hitchhiking. It give you tips on the culture of hitchhiking in each place (for example, some countries are insulted by sticking a thumb out, who’d have guessed!), and the best places to stand depending on which direction your headed! (It’s fun too, ’cause you’ll meet other hitchers using the same spot recommended on the site!)
Tips for girls-
Don’t even think about wearing shorts, even in countries where you think they’re safe, just stick with the long pants (yes, even in July) and avoid ANY trace of confusion with prostitutes 🙂
Don’t hitchhike when you’re in an emotional state (particularly at a certain time of the month), because all of the rejections and ignoring people will likely make you break down into silly tears, which will be hidden behind your sunglasses until you finally realize how silly this whole scenario is and the tears turn into peals of laughter!
So, happy hitchhiking, and remember whatever you do, DONT PANIC!! Oh and always bring a towel (seriously my sleeping bag got stolen in Turkey, and my towel saved my life, so this is serious!!)
The map outlines in black the hitchhiking I’ve done in Europe 🙂 (other colors indicate different forms of transportation).