I wanted to go on a backpacking trip to the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal, on a budget. One of the ways I thought of that could make it happen was to cut my transportation cost across the countries. It was either car-sharing or hitch-hiking.
I started doing some research on hitch-hiking in Europe, something I will not try in Nigeria (I will tell you why later). I came across the dos and don’ts of it and in which countries it is easier to do. Germany was the easiest and Spain was the most difficult among my itinerary.
I found a hitch-hikers map online. It contained accurate information of where hitch-hikers could easily get picked up, how much time it might take, how much time it took other hitch-hikers to get picked from there, etc. etc. I also found other helpful information from other websites such as declining offers that only go for a little distance or that won’t stop at a good pick up site.
The last information was helpful as I ditched many cars offering to take a detour from my aimed path.
It was really interesting sticking my thumb by the road side for the period of times I had to. Not only did hitchhiking save me some few bucks, it made me new friends and opened another world of understanding, considering I was not looking like a typical white person. And the best part, it really made my trip very memorable.
After getting some final good orientation from my flat-mate, I was all set mentally.
I packed my stuff, including snacks, sleeping bag, a mattress, highway maps of Germany and France, my erasable portable board to write where I am going to and my Nigerian passport, just in case I get asked at the borders. Starting off was really easy as my flat-mate had a guest who was travelling in the direction of Amsterdam. We drove through the huge German land, from the eastern city of Weimar to the western part of the country. She dropped me off at a nice location good for hitchhiking, some kilometres outside of Hildesheim.
The ideal ride I should take should be the one driving towards the German city of Hannover. While I stood at the exit of the filling station with a sign that says “A’DAM” meaning Amsterdam, it dawned on me what I was really doing. Trying to get free rides. I met a middle aged French couple as well trying to hitchhike to Hamburg. I asked “how long you have been waiting here?”. She said about 2 hours ago.
That sounded quite worrying to me. What if I go longer than 2 hours without getting any ride? It was already 3pm then. The sun will set in about three and a half hours. It will be dark, and it is not good to hitch-hike then, advised in one of the blogs I read. Anika, my first free ride from Weimar said the town she lives is about 15 kilometres away from where she dropped me off. If I cannot get any ride till sunset, I should give her a call to come back and pick me. “Tomorrow you could continue.”
I wished I will not have to call her.
A very important information given to hitchhikers is not to panic when they cannot find a ride. That piece of advice really helped. I stayed really calm as I kept a stare gaze at passing drivers till they are out of my front view. If you look straight into their eyes, you make a little connection that will prompt them to be more sympathetic. Some do make some kind gestures showing sympathy. Some even wave at you, wishing you good bye perhaps.
You cannot stick your thumb out and be staring at the number plate or wheels of the car. The driver will easily pass you by.
After being dropped at Garbsen, a city outside Hannover, it was already 5 pm. An hour before dark. It is one of the best places to get a ride straight to some cities in the Netherlands. My last driver told me I should watch out for any yellow plate number. It is a Dutch one. I couldn’t get a ride that evening. So I sought refuge in that little city. Luckily, there is a camp beside a lake called Blue Lake, a walking distance from the highway.
I laid my sleeping bag beside the lake and slept off for the night. “Tomorrow, I am going to A’Dam”, I told myself.
The next day was the day I told myself this will be my last time of hitchhiking. I waited more than 4 hours trying to get a ride direct to Amsterdam, all futile. I got lots of offers going to some cities in Germany, especially Dortmund. I turned them all down like a boss. I was tired and wanted something direct to A’Dam, because I was seeing the yellow plate numbers.
Some guy with a yellow plate number and his partner said I am going to A’Dam, but I won’t take you. They zoomed off. Another said to he was going to Rotterdam and I agreed. Before I could get my stuff, he had disappeared. Two vans that would have been perfect were filled to capacity. It was not just not the best of days for me. I couldn’t say if others turned me down because I was not painted like them. I got many offers from others, just not in the direction I wanted.
Either ways, white or black, you can hitch-hike in Europe and you will get lots of offers. Just do not take any.
I later gave up and took a ride to a city closer to the Dutch border. It was there, at a filling (gas) station, I met 2 other Germans from Berlin, hitchhiking to A’Dam too. We broke the ice instantly. They were going to A’Dam just to relax for a few days and get back to Berlin. Hitchhiking when you are more than 2 is not generally advised. It might not be easy finding a car that can take the 3 of you at the same time. I thought I shouldn’t be with them.
Soon afterward, one of them talked to a guy who got his tank filled up. And we were all finally on our way to A’Dam in one car, 29 hours after I left my apartment in Weimar. Had I taken a direct bus or train from Weimar, I would have long been exploring the city of bicycles.
Driving in cars with strangers was comfortable for me. I read how a few hitchhikers, got attacked, mostly ladies. It was unfortunate. For one reason I will not try it in Nigeria is the security situation. Kidnapping is a lucrative business for criminals in this part of the world. They ask for huge ransoms and they always get it. Although, it depends on your kidnap value. I haven’t calculated my value, but I am guessing I might be interesting to a few.
Even if you are driving alone, it is not advised pick anyone in Nigeria. Over here, people do not normally hitchhike on the road. Anyone who gets picked up knows she or he will pay. If you want to get a free ride, you had better checked with your friends in the city, before you get out on the road.
These fond memories really make me chuckle in retrospection. Perhaps, I might try this again with some friends, just for the fun of it. And you guessed right, that was the last time I hitch-hiked on my backpacking trip. I didn’t have the stamina I thought I did.
Have you hitchhiked before? I will really love to hear your story in the comment section below. Want to hear more about my backpacking trip, subscribe to my blog below.