Hitchhiking is nature’s way to introduce you to amazing people, farting animals and hitchhiking grannies. If you’re really lucky, you might find your totally non-adventurous mom encouraging you to hitchhike!
A friendship forged on the road
I expected my first ever hitchhiking trip to be fun and provide an interesting story, but I didn’t expect it to be life-changing. It was.
My plan was to thumb it directly from Guča festival in southern Serbia to Sofia, Bulgaria, where I was hoping to buy a cheap car and embark on a European road trip. After two luckless hours in the baking sun my patience was waning, until an unassuming hero named Vesko picked me up in his trusty (air-conditioned!) Mitsubishi steed. Vesko not only drove me all the way to Sofia, but then invited me to stay with him and his family in their beautiful house. The family fed, boozed and sheltered me, and even helped me buy the Citroen that would eventually take me to England and back.
Fast-forward seven months and I found myself standing outside the Bulgarian embassy in London, dressed in a borrowed suit and preparing to perform the best man duties at Vesko’s wedding. Now, several years on, I’ve visited Vesko and his family in Sofia too many times to count and, exactly a year from now, will become godfather to his first-born son on the day little Lubtcho turns three.
Puppy with a catch in Slovakia
In the summer of 2016, I was hitchhiking to a hippie festival in Slovakia when a car pulled over and offered to drive me to the next city. It was a man with the cutest puppy ever, which I got to hold on my knees for the ride. It was one of those huge white shepherd breeds – the dog was about three months old, but was growing fast! He was white and fluffy and was destined to guard his owners’ workshop when he was fully grown. There was, however, a catch to his cuteness. It was the first solo trip for the puppy and he was obviously feeling car sick: after a few hairpin bends on the road, the car filled with a putrid smell. We stopped and examined the snow-white fur, but fortunately, they were just farts. We rode the rest of the way with the windows down while the pup whined a little each time he let his noxious gas escape.
Getting from Tripiti port to Ouranoupolis, Greece
1. Ask any of the passengers on the ferry who have arrived with their cars. Probably most of the cars are full of families with kids or companies of friends.
2. Find two Greeks with two free spots in their car. They will unkindly point you to the “bus station”.
3. Go to the so-called bus station – on the main road, but with no signs or anything.
4. Spot the police car with two policemen performing their regular road checks. The policemen will tell you that you’ll probably see a green bus and you should wave at it so it will stop for you.
5. Wait for 20 minutes or more. Policemen still doing their checks, no bus coming, no car willing to stop when there’s a police car right there.
6. Police decide to help by stopping a decent-looking car with two people.
7. Ask the lady from the car if they can drive you to anywhere in Ouranoupolis. She says OK. Jump in with your beach wear and hope not to leave wet marks on the seat.
8. Talk with the nice couple – is it worth it to drive from Thessaloniki for a weekend in Chalkidiki?
You are there! You’ve reached the town center in 8 “simple” steps and 8 kilometers. What a cool hitchhiking experience in Greece!
Fruit and fish pick-up truck in Belize
Whilst in Belize, I stayed in a cute (although a bit strange) little town called Crooked Tree. The town was 3 miles from the main bus route down a dirt track. My guesthouse had offered to drop me at the bus stop but as we were leaving decided to charge me $15 for the short journey. Since they overcharged me a kayak hire on a lake with no water, I declined to give them any extra money.
So with my heavy backpack in the middle of the day (it was about 40C/104F), I started walking to find a good hitchhiking spot. I was now thinking maybe I should have just paid! But after 10 minutes I reached the main road out of town and saw a pick-up truck. He stopped and I jumped into the back. There wasn’t much room as it was full of boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables – and some fish! But hey, it was a free lift. And the breeze was amazing as we whizzed along the bumpy dirt road.
A truck roller coaster experience in Cambodia
A hot summer day. Or since it is Cambodia and the summer is eternal I should just say: a regular tropical day. Me and him standing on the road – sunburned faces licked by the heat, scarfs around heads, a big sign reading “Rattanakiri” in my hands. We drew it 5 minutes ago with the watercolor pencils whose main purpose is always the same – to create hitchhiking signs.
15 minutes on the side of the quiet road and there it is – the first vehicle. A huge, roaring truck. As trucks usually do, it stops in the middle of the Cambodian heat to take the weird looking boy and girl. On the front seats – three men and a woman. Wide smiley faces. They know no English and we know no Khmer. But one thing is clear – they like the watercolor sign and they are going to our destination. Moreover, they have space for 30 hitchhikers in the carriage on the back of the truck. Before we know it we are enjoying a free roller coaster experience, conveniently hidden from the noon sun.
This hitchhiking trip was one to remember – starting with travelling in an open-air carriage and ending with a lunch stop with our friendly hosts at a local restaurant. A fresh coconut, please!
Canada is not as big as you think
I’ve accumulated many cool hitchhiking stories over the years! But my favorite by far was in the Canadian Rockies. My friend and I were pretty keen on going to Calgary Stampede. An old man picked us up. He was going all the way to Calgary, so it was a win-win. He told us about his wife and how they fell in love. This man was lovely and super interesting. He asked us what was our plan in Calgary and we told him about the stampede, which is a big rodeo event. It turned out his wife had free tickets that she wasn’t planning on using. He said he could actually go home to pick up the tickets and then drive us to the stampede.
Normally I would have said no, but we had a good feeling about this. We met his wife, we had a snack at their place and then we left for the stampede with free tickets in our hands. He was a bit worried we wouldn’t be able to find a ride back later on that night and gave us his business card so we could call him if we were desperate for a lift later, but in the end we didn’t need to call him. However, the best part of this experience was still to come!
Two weeks later, we were hitchhiking in another direction altogether. We were in the middle of a pretty remote town in British Columbia when an old lady started yelling at us. We were wondering what was going on and then she ran in our direction to talk to us. It was his wife. She recognized us and they invited us for lunch. What were the chances of seeing them again in another Canadian province! Bless them!
The hitchhiking grannies in Bulgaria
As much as I love hitchhiking, I also enjoy earning good karma by picking up hitchhikers when I’m driving. One of my favorite such stories happened when I was in a small town in the mountains of Bulgaria, struggling to find the road to a nearby mountain lodge.
While I was wondering whom to ask for directions, I saw three grannies waving by the roadside. I stopped to ask them, only to realize that they were actually hitchhiking, not waving, and in mere seconds all of them had already crammed into my car. It turned out they owned potato fields high in the mountains and they hitchhiked every single day to get there and take care of the crop. One of them took a particular shining to me and spent the whole journey trying to set me up with her grandson – with the aim of marrying me off to him, of course!
When I stopped to let them out, another threw a banknote into the car and dashed away. At my perplexed look, the third granny explained that the runaway hitchhiker had just received news of a newborn grand-grandson that morning and wanted me to drink a coffee to his health. So I did. Then I called my mom and told her that obviously hitchhiking is not as dangerous as she thinks – after all, these three ladies do it every day and they’ve reached a ripe old age!
Warm meeting during the cold winter in Sorrento
Winter. It was getting dark. My husband and I were near the railway station of Sorrento, Italy, not even on the outskirts of the city, trying to catch a ride to Naples. My hands were buried in warm black gloves and nobody could see I was hitchhiking, so I decided to take them off. But then my hands turned blue from the cold, like a real-life Facebook “like” button. We spent more than an hour waiting in the cold, until finally an elderly couple stopped and picked us and immediately offered us some candies. They spoke only Italian, while we didn’t speak a word, so our conversation consisted entirely of gestures and mimicry. When we reached our destination, we took their address and later sent a small present to our saviors.
Hitchhiking with my mom
My mom and I were on a vacation in a small village in the Rhodopes Mountains in Bulgaria and had to get to a bigger town, Smolyan, 30 mi (50 km away). It was Saturday and there were no public buses running to our destination, so we hopped on a bus to the next village where, the locals swore, there was some kind of transport going to our destination. After having arrived in this other village, we were approached by a local elderly man who informed us that there were actually no buses for the next few hours. “So, let’s hitchhike,” my mom said (my mom is not the kind of person who would usually say this, so I was pretty surprised and amused). She raised a thumb by the road while I was taking photos of her. No car stopped. Then we swapped roles and I managed to stop the local bread delivery truck. It turned out that the driver had seen us in the first village and, with a slightly offended tone, asked us why we didn’t ask him to give us a lift. All the way I was holding a box of eggs so they didn’t break. The best part: when we hopped out of the truck, our suitcases smelled like freshly baked bread!
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