The hitchhikers guide to Europe: 10 tips!

The hitchhikers guide to Europe: 10 tips!

It’s by far the best way to meet people, to get on the road as cheap as possible and gather some unexpected adventure on the side. Of course we’re talking about… hitchhiking! It’s sad though that not many people travel by thumb nowadays. If you’re one of those few planning on an old fashioned, not prearranged hitchhike trip: get some ‘what to think abouts’ before you hit the road right here!

Written by Grietje Evenwel.

This article is based on 4 separate hitchhiking experiences in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Visiting and crossing: Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Hungary.

Location, location, location

Location is everything in hitchhiking. End up at the wrong side of a city, e.g. east when you are heading west, and it’s not unlikely you’ll spent some hours to get back on track again. Make sure to know where you are and ask your host to put you in the right spot. Even if this means you’ve to get out of the car early. If your host is familiar with the surroundings, it’s most likely he’ll be glad to help you out. It even happens quite often that people make some small detour just for you!

Coordination

To know where you are or to check if a potential host is going in the direction you want to go too, a map or GPS comes in handy. A detailed map is nice, but make sure you also have an easy overview. GPS is quite easy when you travel with a smartphone. A big roadmap provides really that old-fashioned hitchhikers feeling.

Avoid cities

Unless you really want to visit a city and stay there for a few nights, try to avoid them. It’s easy to get in one since your last host probably goes there, but the next morning you’ll find it hard to get out. Cities are busy and without knowledge it’s not easy to find the right spot for hitchhiking. If you ended up in a city or want to leave one after a few days, ask someone to take you to a rest place or gas station just outside of town.

Bring camping gear

That being said: if you plan on going long distance hitchhiking, for example from Germany to Greece, bring a lightweight tent and a sleeping bag. The best way to avoid the cities is just camp behind the gas station. Get some coffee in the morning and you’re back on the road again!

Camping during a hitchhike trip near München (Germany). Photo by Grietje Evenwel.
Camping during a hitchhike trip near München (Germany). Photo by Grietje Evenwel.

Trust your instinct

People at home and maybe even some people on the road might tell you hitchhiking is dangerous. Of course, as with many things in life, it’s unwise to go around without thinking, completely trusting everyone you see. Though 99 percent of the people is not going to harm you, you should still keep your eyes open. One way of avoiding danger is listening to what your instinct tells you.

While hitchhiking we’ve slept in a truck once, because we had a really good feeling about the truck driver. And indeed nothing happened besides that we ended up in his house the next hitchhiking trip and stayed with his family for one week! If you have even the slightest creepy feeling though, just get out of a car or truck or don’t get in at all! Better safe than sorry.

Hitchhiking. Photo by Grietje Evenwel.
Hitchhiking in Germany. Photo by Grietje Evenwel.

Travel with two

On the road I’ve met some other hitchhikers. Some hiking alone, some with three but most with two.
A boy and a girl is considered to be the best combination. The boy brings in some safety and the girl makes it easier to find a ride.

Speak your languages

Hitchhiking definitely becomes easier if you speak the same language as your host. Both for fixing a ride as for communication in the car. Of course there’s always English but as you’ll notice while hitchhiking: some people that take you along and want to know you, don’t speak English. Knowledge of some other languages comes in handy at this point! Some general German or French / Spanish helps out in some parts of Europe. Russian also makes a good communication if you travel further east. Some small words in a local language are also enough sometimes to win someone over to give you a ride. Or if you’re really determined, do as this guy and learn just as many languages as fit in one head!

Let surprise take you over!

Cause the biggest part of hitchhiking fun is to not know where you’ll be next morning or to be surprised by who you meet.
End up doing some camping behind the screen of an open air cinema or find yourself at a beautiful lakeside in a place you’ve never heard of, just by saying ‘yes’ and reschedule your plans.

Let surprise take you over in Zadar (Croatia). Photo by Grietje Evenwel.
Let surprise take you over in Zadar (Croatia). Photo by Grietje Evenwel.

Be crazy

People might say no a lot when you hitchhike. Sometimes you’re standing somewhere for hours, feeling like giving up. Best thing to do: just have fun! Dance, sing, make jokes, be crazy. Once we arranged a ride with a riding car just from an other riding vehicle just by dancing and writing notes ‘we’re hitchhiking and we’d love to join you!’ and holding them against the car window. If you’re enjoying your time, not only will it make your travel more fun, people will also be more likely to give you a ride. After all: what’s better than a funny and happy companion on the road?

And last but not least
Don’t forget your towel!

Have fun!

About the author

Grietje Bloem kopieGrietje Evenwel is an experienced traveler and co-founder of the concept ‘Travel by Polaroid’. Travel by Polaroid is based on the concept of giving away polaroid photo’s while traveling. Giving away a polaroid photo often ends with a unique encounter and a beautiful story.

60 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Manouk, that’s a good point about hitching as a two, I have done it both ways and found that on my own I never got picked up by women (story of my life), but as a couple women often picked us up!.
    Cheers
    Aaron

  2. Great article! I’ve always wanted to test my hand at hitchhiking but I wouldn’t dare try it here. I’ve heard it’s safer and more common in Europe so when I make my way over perhaps I’ll try it out. I wouldn’t do it alone though that’s for sure!

    • Hi Samantha! No, I also wouldn’t prefer hitchhiking alone either! But I’m sure you can always find like-minded traveler in hostels or social network sites! Cheers!

  3. Toevallig zeg, had dit artikel nog niet voorbij zien komen voordat ik mijn berichtje plaatste.

    Heb zelf 3x gelift, maar dat was meer toeval dan echt gepland. Ging wel goed overigens :)

  4. I prefer hitchhiking alone because it’s easier, faster and people are even kinder. I also like to travel with my boyfriend as he’s an expert so he knows all the roads and everything.

    About the languages, it’s better traveling as a couple. For example, I speak 5 languages (spanish, english, french, italian and portuguese) but it’s better if the person you travel with, knows other languages. Por example, my boyfriend speaks english and polish and he can understand slavic languages.

  5. I have never had the courage to hitch hike. When I was in Germany recently one of my friend’s friend was telling me tales of his hitch hiking trips from London to Germany and just what a great experience that was. From hitching a ride to getting free accommodation from the person hi hitched with to know where to hitch a ride to have a better chance of getting a ride going as close to your destination as possible.

    GATESHEAD | ANGEL OF THE NORTH

    • Hi Bianca, yes I reckon it’s one of the best ways to meet and get to know the locals :)! While traveling Im always amazed by the hospitality and generosity you get on the road!

  6. I’ve never had the guts to hitchhike. I’m a solo traveller a lot of the time so I always thought it can be dangerous. It’s good to hear positive stories about it!

  7. Love the Zadar picture.

    I am nervous about hitch hiking. Reading your post made me think maybe I am over reacting to my fear. Sounds like you have had a lot of great times.

    • Hi Jennifer! Thanks! I personally don’t have much real hitchhiking experience either but Grietje (our guest writer) really enjoyed it :)

    • Thanks for liking the Zadar picture :)
      I think it really reflects the feeling (at least) I had while hitchhiking. Feeling free!

      It was one of the best things I did in my life. Never want to have missed it!

    • Hi Gabor,

      Thanks for your command!
      Thrue, it does not work the same everywhere. Some places are definitely much easier to travel than others. It’s being said Albania is impossible to hitchhike (they’re not used to the concept) and we found out the same when we were there. They have some cheap minibusses though, but that just feels like cheating while hitchhiking ;)
      I found Italy also hard to hitchhike for some reason, but Germany for example is great!

      Do you have some hitchhiker experience yourself?
      Curious :)

  8. Wow! Never thought about hitch hiking as a feasible option before, but it seems great. And I’m sure you save a ton of money in transportation expenses! However, I’m in a wheelchair so it might be a bit hard to find wheelchair accessible vehicles to hitchhike in. Haha!

  9. I really enjoyed reading this post Manouk and you have provided some excellent tips here. I think the whole concept of hitchhiking is particularly controversial because I personally associate this with a negative connotation, you know with folks on the side of the road begging for a lift somewhere.

    But whenever you put together a post like this, it really makes you see the reverse of this and actually there are some folks out there that are genuinely looking for assistance. I just read a great book the other day called ‘Twitchhiker’ and would highly recommend it to anyone if you haven’t already read it. It’s about a British guy that decided he wanted to travel and he was going to use Twitter to get travel/accommodation arrangements sorted. Don’t want to give too much else away.

    Anyway, kudos to you Manouk for an excellent article here – very helpful indeed.

  10. Useful tips! Hitchiking isn’t really accepted in most of the US, but you can get away with it up in Alaska and the Yukon, so I’ve found some unexpected travel buddies that way.

  11. I hitchhiked in Cape Verde for many years and there hitchhiking “boleia” was part of everyone’s life, but in Europe things are rather different.
    I was planning to raise my thumbs from Slovenia to Romania, but after have read this post I think I will do it from London to Bucharest, why not?

  12. Very good guide, Grietje! We do agree with everything you have written although we don’t use a GPS, just the old-fashioned map :) Any tips for Central Asia? This year we will start our 11-month hitchhiking trip across Iran, Central Asia, China, Mongolia and Russia and we’re planning to cover 25,000 km by thumb. Fun, fun, fun!

    • Wauw, that sounds like a great trip!! Must be a great experience!
      I’ve never hitchhiked in Asia actually, only seen Europe by thumb… So unfortunately I can’t help you there. But please, if you want and it’s still in your mind by then: I’d love to hear your experiences and tips! :D

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