Backpack Hitchhiking

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Travel the world cheap and fun. It’s all about following a few simple guidelines, being nice and packing light. When you want to see if you’re proficient at this you might try to resort to something extreme like taking only laptop / camera backpacks with you.

The most important rule is to pack light. Of course you won’t manage that the first time you try, this is an art, not an exact science. But you can learn to master it in time. At first you feel the need to be ready for everything, like a wedding, a triathlon, helping a nun with a flat tire and high altitude mountain climbing, but as you go through your first trip and then the second you start realizing that most of the time you only need a change of casual clothes and basic gadgets like a telephone and a digital camera.

Tip #1: basic traveling kit includes: 3 t-shirts, 3 pairs of underwear, 1 pair of shorts/pants, socks (if your shoes require them) personal hygiene kit; telephone; photo camera (optional)

Next thing is to plan exactly where you’re going, and where you can sleep during the night. Be it a hostel, a friend or a friendly stranger from couchsurfing.org. Generally in Europe you couldn’t get yourself in so much travel that it would look like an episode of Survivor if you didn’t arrive at your planned destination at night, but it could definitely ruin a lot of fun. So allot realistic time frames for each segment of your trip, sure you might get lucky and travel the distance much faster than anticipated, but my advice is to play it safe here. And one other thing you might want to consider when scheduling your trip is that drivers are not as keen on picking up hitchhikers at night.

Tip #2: have the next stopping point confirmed and keep the distances realistic

Most countries have laws against hitchhiking on the highway, but I hope you don’t need to be told not to hitchhike on the highway. Other places not to hitchhike would be in bus stops or in intersections. And from personal experience at the entry in a city. That was a no-brainer once I realized what I was doing. And of course that leads us to the other side of the road, meaning the exit from a city, which is a great place to make yourself available for a fast, on the road, get to know each other session. And if you feel like cheating you could position yourself in a gas station and talk to people. I’m not sure if that’s technically hitchhiking, but I’ll allow it, because especially for long distances you want a nice driver.

Tip #3: hitchhike at city exits (or in gas stations at city exits)

So far you are able to get from point A to point B, and to make sure that point A and point B are suited to your taste. But let’s see what happens in the car. You are in the car with somebody that has done you a favor by picking you up. The car smells nice, you pay nothing on transportation, there’s AC or heating and a really nice radio station that you don’t understand from time to time because it’s in French.

OK, so maybe now it’s time for you to pay the favor back to the driver. Be interesting! There’s going to be a language barrier sometime, yes, but you have to work through it. Let’s suppose you manage to communicate, which in itself can be made fun for you and the driver. You might consider taking an interest in the other person, in the words of Dale Carnegie “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

If the journey is long you’ll also learn to moderate a conversation and make sure you both have a good time. Also for some people taking hitchhikers is just as much of an adventure as it is for the hitchhiker, so a few pictures that you could send by email later on could be a nice touch. The list is pretty much endless of the things that you could do, but make sure you make the other person feel good during the ride, because that will make the effort worth it for him/her as well (and there’s even a chance of them making a detour just for you).

One more thing we have to address here is money. If you plan to travel on a budget, especially in Central and Eastern Europe money is no issue, that being said, in Easter Europe the customs are a bit different. Some drivers take hitchhikers for the money, so they might expect a ‘tip’ and in my experiments the breakup wasn’t as warm as the ride, but they didn’t say anything, it was just the attitude that betrayed their expectations. I encourage you not to pay, in any circumstances for hitchhiking, because it’s an art not a trade and if you’re interesting enough you’re even when you get out of the car.

Tip #4: be interesting!

And last but not least you might consider if you travel alone or with a friend. I’m afraid that the industry discriminates against men. Sorry guys, but it’s much harder for two guys to catch a ride than most any other descent combination. Exception being two teenage guys, which will have more than reasonable chances if they look friendly and clean. Two girls, or one guy and one girl will have no problem, again if the friendly and clean conditions are met. So you might take this into account when you plan your trip. That being said, I did once catch a ride for me, another guy and three girls, but that was a lucky shot in lucky circumstances. So you can expect miracles, but you shouldn’t plan a whole trip based on them.

Tip #5: choose wisely whether you travel alone or with somebody else

Alright, here we are, these are the basic ingredients for a successful hitchhiking trip. Make sure you travel light, organized, and that you have a great time along the way. If the trip is long enough, you might even dedicate a blog to it and give the link to the people that pick you up. Enjoy your trip and document it well.