Hitchhiking in Europe

If any of you don’t know what hitchhiking is, it’s basically standing near highways (mostly), with a sweet smile on your face and your thumb sticking out, hoping to get lifts from people going in your direction. Something like the pic above (not me):

As a part of maintaining the overall cost of my Eurotrip, I was hitchhiking when I was there. Not all the time, but did it whenever I wasn’t too tired or in a time constraint to reach my next destination. This also answers one aspect of “how I travelled”, that I promised to talk about in the post titled 6 weeks in Europe.

But cutting down costs wasn’t the only reason. In fact, it wasn’t even the primary reason. The main motive was to spice things up, meet people and have fun :)

A 3 hour train ride or a 5 hour bus ride is extremely boring if you are alone. It feels like wasted time on your trip. On the other hand even if you spend 8 hours hitchhiking instead, the journey becomes an adventure in itself. You have people to talk to the entire time and sometimes making fun of yourself on the road is fun :) It’s also nice to have a little trust in strangers.

I first hitchhiked 4 years ago in Canada. It was born out of necessity. There were no trains and the buses were infrequent or even non-existent. And it worked the first day that I tried it (interesting story, may be some day in another post).  I didn’t get an opportunity to do it again till my trip and I’ve never done it in India.

I think, I was reminded of this by a Russian guy who I hosted in Bangalore, who had been hitchhiking for 4 months in India, by the time he came here. What other way to make my trip offbeat than to hitchhike around!

My hitchhiking stats for the trip look something like this:

Number of days tried – 7
Number of days successful – 6 (I see you, Finland)
Rides hitched – 14
Distance ~ 1300 kms

The ease of doing this varied by countries and regions. It was very easy in western Europe. My first day, was trying to get to Amsterdam from Ghent, and I was successful in doing so. I had to wait <5 mins for my first ride from Ghent to Antwerpen. It was an excellent spot suggested to me by my Couchsurfing host. So the feeling how “What the heck am I doing?” was short lived :)
3 more rides Antwerpen -> Rotterdam -> Den Hague -> Amsterdam took me to my destination. On this day, I had single woman in cars stopping for me.

It became considerably harder in Sweden. My next attempt was from Malmo to Gothenburg, in Sweden. Here I had to wait for 1.5 hours before a taxi pulled over. Slightly confused with this, I went ahead and talked to the guy. As my luck would have it, he was okay with me going along and was going all the way to Gothenburg! 1 straight ride!

The interesting thing was that the guy was from Iran and had moved to Sweden more than a decade ago.  People had told me, and I had read, that hitchhiking is quite hard in the Scandinavian countries. People are more reserved and don’t like the concept of picking up strangers. My host in Gothenburg suggested that I do something with my board, because being a “dark skinned guy, with a beard, doesn’t help”. I still didn’t want to give up though, so the next time when hitchhiking to Stockholm, I had this board, along with a small Swedish flag on top:


To give you a perspective of how big the board is, look at this pic of the board with my backpack:


The one for Stockholm did work. A woman, probably in her fifties, and has an Indian godson, stopped for me. She was rocking to Bruce Springsteen and drove 20 kms ahead of her spot to drop me at a good gas station, so that I could hitch a ride easily.

The one place it didn’t work was Finland. I stood for 5 hours in Turku at a nice stop with the board above, but no one stopped. Not even a single ride. I took the bus at night to go to Oulu.

Norway was okay. The usual 1-2 hour waiting times did apply though.

I didn’t take pictures in the beginning which I deeply regretted later on, and made it a point to request for one. Some pics:

The last ones have an interesting Instagram account as well. Their van was called rico on the run.

For your chances of success to be high, it’s nice to stand at a spot where you are visible from some distance away. There also definitely has to be a place for cars to pull over for you easily, otherwise they won’t/can’t stop for you. If you are a girl and/or have white skin it’s a LOT easier. The immigration problems in Europe don’t help someone like me.

It’s only a few seconds for people to make decisions so you really have to look friendly out there. The other better option is to be at gas stations. Here there is the added advantage of being personal and talking to people, so that they get time to judge you. Just ask them if they are going in that direction and if they could accommodate with you. Say thank you even if they say no :)

The presence of sun late at nights and the all brightness, definitely helped.

Hitchwiki is an amazing site, that give a lot of tips and spots to be at, for different cities.

10/10 would do again.