I’ve always put travelling as my passion under the interests section of my CV. Name any European country and all I can think is ‘been there, done that’. But what have I really seen in all of those places? Fancy hotels with pleasantly warm swimming pools, crowded promenades holding gazillions of restaurants you’ve already seen in London, every minute of your excursions ‘kindly’ organised by a travel agency. It all merges into one commercial vacation experience – everything looks and feels the same.
I’ve been a volunteer freak since before I can remember, and “helping out anyone, anywhere” is my motto (and is probably the reason I’m studying Medicine). With this attitude in mind I was lucky enough to stumble upon the charity Link Community Development. When they sold me the idea of hitchhiking across Europe in addition to some worthwhile fundraising I was instantly bought.
Hitchhiking? I immediately pictured the 70’s: flower power, free love and crazy decisions usually made whilst ‘under the influence’. I was sure that no one did this anymore – I couldn’t have been more wrong. With LCD alone there have been almost seven thousand students who have thumbed their way across Europe in the past 20 years! That convinced me (and my parents) that if other people had done it, I could too. And with my frustration for package family holidays growing, hitchhiking seemed like the perfect alternative. Unpredictable and adrenaline-filled: exactly what you need when you’ve just hit your 20’s!
The two proposed destinations were Morocco and Prague: naturally I chose Prague, which is closer to my Polish heart. Packing my bag proved to be the first major challenge: I’m used to the luxury of applying tons of lotions, conditioners and other miraculous goo to every inch of my body, not to mention compulsory outfit changes at least twice a day. How to fit all of these essentials into one tiny rucksack… After much blood, sweat and tears I managed to pack ‘lightly’ and was ready to go. I grabbed my hitch partner and there we were, setting off from Bristol on what was advertised as the most epic journey of our lives.
Our first lift, a shiny Porsche, stopped just few inches from our feet. Inside was a handsome young man in a tailored suit. I was in heaven – “life can’t get better than this”, I thought! The only flaw in this dream of mine was that the happiness lasted less than 40 miles, and before we knew it we were on the hunt for another lift.
We quickly realised that hitching from petrol stations was the way forward. You don’t feel as lonely as when you stand on the side of some dodgy road, and there are always snacks and drinks available in the event of a munching crisis. Petrol stations are also the best place to talk to and meet more new people than you could have managed during your freshers’ week. We were approached by a lovely couple who spotted our Prague hoodies and a few minutes of chit chat later we were in their car, exchanging phone numbers and arranging our meet up in Prague, where they arrived a few days later. This rather unbelievable story ended up with an expensive dinner and countless litres of quality beer in Prague, which we didn’t even have to pay for – how many friends do you have who would do this for you?
A guy drove us all the way to Dover, over 16 miles away from his original destination
The generosity of strangers we met on the road was quite astonishing: people driving extra miles just to drop us off closer to our destination stopped surprising me rather quickly. But when a guy drove us all the way to Dover, over 16 miles away from his original destination, I have to say that I was truly moved. There is hope that helpfulness and selflessness are not extinct virtues in today’s world.
Less than two hours on a ferry and we were in Calais – on the continent at last! The real adventure began here, what with different countries and customs, and many drivers who couldn’t speak any English. If I had any affinity for foreign languages, this was the time for them to shine. Sadly I don’t, so instead I just smiled, nodded, pointed, waved and performed all kinds of weird moves with my hands trying to explain where we were headed. In the end, maps and our finger pointing proved to be the most effective method of communication. Many hours later and finger points later and we made it into Germany.
I’d hoped that those German classes at school would have paid off that I’d be able to lure drivers with ease, but unfortunately it wasn’t my time to shine. As the first car pulled over I eagerly jumped to the driver’s window, only to be confronted with Czech rather than German. Janek, who turned out to be our saviour, was a loving boyfriend going to visit his girlfriend in – yes, you guessed it – Prague. A few cute smiles and my seductive gaze, and we were in our final lift to the Promised Land. To the accompaniment of Czech Christian rock and plentiful snacks from Janek, we arrived in Prague later that evening.
Four crazy days, seventeen lifts, and countless new friends – an amazing hitch experience with truly unforgettable memories. I’m preaching to you all and I hope that you listen: ditch cheap flights, trains and hired cars – hitchhike! I can assure you that it’ll bring your travelling experience to a much more exciting level.