You’re lying down with your eyes closed, enjoying the soft rocking of the waves and the fresh, salty ocean air. Background music – a Frank Sinatra cover – mixes with the shouts of seagulls. You lift your margarita to your lips, and let your mind wander back to the beautiful port of Valletta you saw yesterday.
Tomorrow, after a comfortable night under your down-filled duvet, you’ll be in Venice, to stroll over the Piazza San Marco and taste a refreshing gelato…
Yes, there is no doubt that cruises are one of the most luxurious way to travel Europe. But if you’re looking for more of an adventure, the means of transport you should choose is hitchhiking. It’s not only the cheapest way to travel, but also the one that creates the most amazing unexpected stories, as you ride with locals who can tell you all about their country and might even invite you back to their houses or make a detour to show you their favourite spots. There is no reason why this would be unsafe or even uncomfortable, as long as you keep a few things in mind.
Hitchhiking in France: “On fait de l’autostop à Paris, vous allez à cette direction?”
1. Look like a hitchhiker. You don’t have to look smart, because most people still expect hitchhikers to look like hippies or hard-core backpackers, but do make sure you’re clean. The classic piece of cardboard with your destination scribbled on it – last letter usually half the size of the first in a desparate attempt to fit it in – helps to put across that you’re hitchhiking, but is by no means necessary
Hitchhiking in Germany: “Wir trampen nach Berlin, gehen sie vielleicht in diese richtung?”
2. Good spots. Drivers need to be able to see you and to decide whether they want to stop for you or not. Obviously, it’s also important that they can pull over safely and legally. Motorways are ruled out for both of these reasons. Discuss where you’re going to be dropped off: your ride might think they know the perfect spot, but this doesn’t always mean it’s suitable for hitchhiking!
Hitchhiking in the Netherlands: “We zijn aan het liften naar Amsterdam, gaat u toevallig die kant uit?”
3. Talk to people. It’s much easier to get a ride if you ask for one, than when you only point at your cardboard sign from your comfortable spot on the verge. Most people find it very hard to say “no” when they’re asked politely – and preferably in their own language. Also, you can take the time to explain what you’re doing and why, which makes it easier for strangers to trust you, and you have the opportunity to check out in whose car you’re planning to get. And of course, by talking to the locals you’ll learn more about the country than by reading your Lonely Planet.
Hitchhiking in Spain: “¿Quizá está usted viajando a Madrid?”
4. Don’t over-rely on hitchhiking. Some overenthusiastic hitchhikers probably won’t agree, but it’s no crime to enter or leave a city by public transport if you’re hitchhiking. Most of the time it’s just much easier to get dropped off at a bus stop or train station and picked up closer to the highway than in a city centre where traffic is slow and mainly local. But before you’re dropped off at a bus stop somewhere in the suburbs, make sure the buses are running, especially late in the evening or on holidays!
Hitchhiking in Italy: “Per caso stai/sta andando a Roma?”
5. Trust your instincts, but don’t be afraid to trust strangers as well. If you don’t feel comfortable around someone, don’t get in their car. It’s as simple as that. On the other hand, don’t assume that your driver has something nasty in mind when he takes you on a detour to check some of his favorite diving spots or visit his cousin for a coffee. Chances are that is exactly what you’re going to do, and that these will turn out to be the best stories.