Always wondered what hitchhiking would be like in a foreign continent? Petrina Thong shares how she braved through her journey of lifting rides in Europe.
When I was 15, I lost in a game of one, two, jus, and the penalty was to eat ice-cream from the trash. Unintentionally, I just took my first step into freegan-ism. Since then, I have dug through bins for food, drank from water bottles left on the ground, and pounced on scraps left over by people who ordered too much. This scavenger hunt is mostly applied when I’m travelling; but even KL isn’t an exception, much to my friends’ disdain.
In June 2015, I flew to Sweden despite having minimal savings. My budget was €200 for six months. My plan was to hitchhike, but I grew nervous at the thought. So I became desperate for a hitchhiking partner. I wanted to get to the elusive European rainbow gathering in Lithuania and agreed to anyone who offered me their companionship; which occasionally led to me being stuck with someone who annoyed the living daylights out of me. And yet, I would rather suck it up and play nice than be alone.
I was finally pushed into hitchhiking long-distance by myself when I had to get from Poland to Croatia for a festival. My nights were spent sleeping on cardboard boxes at petrol stations, but my days were pleasant enough with generally friendly rides. My fear of hitchhiking soon ceased to exist.
Come September, when I was entering the Balkan region, I felt it was time to up my game once more. I heard about people travelling without a plan, but I couldn’t imagine it being done. I previously always had a couchsurfing host in places where I had no contacts. I gave it a go anyhow. I stood by the side of the road, thumbed, and followed the drivers to whichever city they were headed. I have no data on my phone; I had no idea where I was going to sleep; I couldn’t speak the language. It seemed disastrous.
I remember being in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Bosnia; I looked around, knew I was utterly lost, and yet, fear was absent. It was the most liberating feeling – to know that I could be far from home, know no one, have no money, and be completely alright with that.
Opening myself to such vulnerability, I experienced an unimaginable amount of kindness from strangers. I haven’t gone a day without eating, I’ve seen places I never knew existed, and at the end of every day, someone invites me into their home. Even with the language barrier, or wondering if I’m an odd-looking refugee, people have still been so hospitable. Of course I faced my fairshare of creeps and dodgy drivers, but nothing life-threatening.
After Europe, I extended my trip and continued hitchhiking to Turkey because I couldn’t imagine flying home after finally getting used to this style of travel. However, it is winter now, and being outside can be rather dreadful. For tonight, I have a bed. For tomorrow, we’ll see how it goes…
When you hitchhike solo:
1. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
No matter where you are, if at any point you feel unsafe, yell for the driver to stop and get out. Another car will pick you up.
2. CARRY A SLEEPING BAG AND TENT
It’s always good to have a “home” even if you’re stuck outside.
3. DOWNLOAD OFFLINE APPS
Maps.me serves as an excellent offline map. When you don’t have internet on your phone, offline apps are your saviours.
1. FOCUS ON THE ISOLATED CASES
Paranoia is created because people focus on that one horror story. What about the hundreds of other positive feedbacks?
2. PACK ALL THE JUST-IN-CASES
A couple of additional pounds makes a huge difference if your trip requires a lot of walking. Keep clothes to a minimal. Prioritize necessities like duct tape.
3. FORGET ABOUT THE WEATHER
The rain can be a huge bummer and getting everything soaked is no fun. Get a water-resistant bag cover, or pack all your things in zip-lock bags.