Hitchhiking in Europe: Yay or Nay?

Hitchiker thumbing on side of a road

[Paffy69]/[iStock]/Thinkstock

After a weekend of backcountry skiing in the French Alps, my boyfriend and I caught a ride with a friend of ours down to the closest village. Our friend was in a rush and on his way home so he dropped us off with our anti theft travel purses and continued on his way. Planning to visit another nearby town, I assumed we would be taking a bus. That is, until my boyfriend picked up his bag, walked to the side of the road, and stuck out his thumb. Every hitchhiking horror story I had ever heard was suddenly flashing through my head. “Are you crazy?” I demanded. He laughed. Which, incidentally, is not a particularly reassuring response to that question. After twenty minutes of me ranting about how we were probably going to end up dead in a ditch, a very nice woman stopped and drove us–and all of our ski gear–to our destination.

Since that time I’ve occasionally relied on hitchhiking to get from point A to point B. It’s definitely not my preferred method of travel, but done sensibly, it can be an entertaining and eye-opening mode of transport.

Don’t Hitchhike Alone
For obvious reasons, hitchhiking alone isn’t the wisest choice. It’s best done in pairs as it can be difficult to find a car that has room for three or more extra passengers, particularly if you have gear. Always make sure you have a cell phone on you and it should go without saying that it’s probably not a good time to be carrying lots of cash or any other valuables.

Carshare Options
If you’re looking to either find a cheaper way to get somewhere or trying to get to a destination that doesn’t have train or bus service, check the country’s carshare programs. Usually a quick Google search will yield websites that will put you in contact with people looking to share the cost of gas while driving from one city to the other.

Location
The times I’ve hitchhiked have usually been in rural areas trying to get from one village to the next. It’s impossible to do this risk-free, but I’ve found in smaller towns with a more laid-back environment, the chances of being picked up by a generous, helpful, and down-to-earth local are pretty high. If you can take a bus or a train, that’s always the best option.

Use Your Head
If something doesn’t seem right about a situation, then don’t get in the car. Plain and simple. Travelers have a wide spectrum of opinions on whether hitchhiking should be undertaken or not. Some say they would never consider it while others rely on it as their primary method of getting from one place to another. There’s no right or wrong answer and there’s certainly plenty of debate about the safety of getting into a stranger’s car. With that said, I’ve met some incredibly interesting people while hitchhiking and it’s an experience that embodies the spontaneity and adventure of travel. The bottom line is that I wouldn’t hitchhike unless I really didn’t see an alternative option. It can be a lot of fun, but it’s best utilized as a last resort option.

By Nikki Hodgson

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