When we started to travel, we weren’t hitchhiking: Julien experimented hitchhiking for the first time by chance, and introduced me to the practice later on! From that first time we hitchhiked, who would have thought that we would have made hitchhiking our main means of transportation for our great world tour? Certainly not us at that time, and yet… Without this very special experience, we wouldn’t be here today!
First time that Julien hitchhiked
“Like surely many hitchhikers, the first time I hitchhiked wasn’t premeditated. In September 2013, I had just finished the famous “GR20” hike in the Corsican region with a friend, in total autonomy over 10 days. Our arrival in Calenzana was full of emotions and physical aches – especially my knees which I felt like I had damaged for life (fortunately not). From there, we had 13km left to reach the nearest city and camp for the night. No buses on this remote little road, and no strength to keep walking… I had the crazy idea of trying to hitchhike. We never thought about it before, and we never really had the chance to think about it… But this was almost a necessity, an automatism given our state of fatigue! We managed to stop a family car drove by a woman and then another one to get to our destination. A few minutes of waiting each time, and impressed drivers who listen, tirelessly, to the story of our hike. They’re locals but never have done this hike before. It was the very first time that I got into a car with strangers who wanted to give us a favor by lifting us! A very small start, but done in a very natural way and that will take me further the next day. But I didn’t know that yet…
After an extra night under my tent, I left to take a train (whose schedule I had carefully researched before my trip) to Bastia, where I had to take a ferry to Italy. But by chance (or fate as you wish), timetable was wrong, and once I arrived at the station, I’m told that there was no train or bus to get there before my boat departure… For 5 minutes, I told myself that the rest of my trip was ruined: I moamed, I swore, and panicked! When the reason came back, two solutions came to my mind: taxi or hitchhiking. I am one of those people who only take a taxi in exceptional cases, for ecological and economic reasons, and my experience of the day before motivated me to hitchhike again. So I left this possibility aside, in case of extreme emergency if I can’t manage to achieve my new challenge: hitchhike cars from Calvi to Bastia (~ 100 km) in less than 4 hours! I said goodbye to my friend, and walked towards the city exit to raise my thumb up for the second time of my life, but which will be for me the first real true experience of hitchhiking. I felt a little silly, even ashamed, but I persevered because, let’s face it, I didn’t have much choice! After 10 minutes, a car stopped: the driver, a Portuguese immigrant, was only going to give me a lift for about ten kilometres, but I felt like I’m growing wings, less ashamed… This was a new proof for me that hitchhiking is possible, that the driver is not somebody crazy who had pity on me, but just a normal person who wanted to do me a favour – perhaps in exchange for a bit of company. She left me in the middle of the city, and I had to keep walking, raising my thumbs but without success. I was not 100% reassured at this point, because if I was just hopping like this, I’ll never make it in time… But when I stood at the exit of a very small petrol station, I only waited 15 minutes: a big car gave me a lift. On board, a woman in her forties, going from vineyard to vineyard for her job, a former hitchhiker. She dropped me off at an intersection and shortly afterwards a local grandpa invited me to take a seat in his car and told me how difficult it was to find a real Corsican sausage those days. Finally, a young dog-lover was kind enough to make a small detour to take me to the port where my ferry was leaving. This mission accomplished has made me happy, proud. I had just tasted freedom and alternative travel, but most of all, a new chapter of life, full of adventure, had just opened up!”
How stopping a car easily?
… and when I did
“The first time I hitchhiked was in Norway, in March 2015, with Julien. I went on vacation with him and his family, a big first step for me! On the spot, we rented a car for 5 days to cross the Norwegian fjords. Nothing was planned in advance, nothing was booked: we drove through miles of snowy roads, crossing small villages that were ignored, but so charming… On the morning of the 5th day, while we were in Storslett, our paths must have parted: Julien’s brother, Clement, was going back to Finland while his parents returned further north to Alta. Julien and I then had 5 days to get to Stockholm – the city where our return flight to France was supposed to take off. At this time of the year, there was no public transport in Storslett. Our only option was to hitchhike down to Tromsø and take a night train to Kiruna, Sweden. That’s how, encouraged by Julien, I coyly raised my thumb up at the exit of a Norwegian petrol station, where Julien’s parents had dropped us off. The owner of the station had kindly agreed to give us a cardboard and a pen to write down our “Tromsø” sign. Traffic was scarce, but we left with confidence and a smiling face!
A first car stopped: the driver did not speak English but agreed to pick us up and drove us forward for about 50 km – out of the 478 km of the total route. In Olderdalen, we walked out of the village for a while and stood on the road, near a wide roadside so that any car could stop safely there… Bingo! We hitchhiked a white van. On board, a young telephone technician invited us to joyfully get in. He spoke an impeccable English, and had fun answering all our questions about life in Norway. He did not hesitate to deviate from his route to show us his region, and to offer us a piece of Brunost (a brownish cheese, very
disgusting intriguing)… He lifted us way ahead, and ended up dropping us on a corner of the road, an ideal spot according to him to continue our hitchhiking journey! But the snow was already starting to fall, and time went by without anyone stopping. I started to walk around the spot, trying to warm up… What am I doing here? Ok, now I have no choice but to wait! After an hour, a small car finally pulled: behind the wheel, a young mother nurse and at the back her one-year-old daughter, to whom I tried to introduce myself in English. She was on her way to Tromsø, a godsend! But halfway there, Julien offered that we get off, in order to find a ride on the road to Sweden: I let him decide, after all, he had experience in hitchhiking, not me! And here we were waiting outside, again, this time on the E10 road junction, so close and so far from our goal… We did not wait long: a Lebanese man stopped, he took us to Abisko, in Sweden! He told us that he used to go there regularly to do his shopping, as products (especially tobacco!) are cheaper on that side of the border. He taught us a lot about his life as an expatriate in Norway, how difficult it was for him to spend short days in winter. We were dropped off to Abisko as planned, under a never ending snow. We started to lift our thumbs up again, as we left the city, but soon I felt my strength was waning…. We hadn’t had lunch, and this bad weather was beginning to take its toll on my motivation. Julien suggested to visit the little mall next door for a hot chocolate: a very good idea! We spent our last Norwegian crowns there before leaving 30 minutes later, warmed up and shacked up. No way this time to wait any longer! We decided to create a big snowman, to hold our new “Kiruna” sign a few meters in front of us. People smiled, and a van stopped: yay, our strategy has finally paid off! And it was in the company of a Swedish professional snowboarder and his American sponsor that we arrived, after 8 hours and almost 500 km on the road, at our destination.
That evening, we celebrated our success over good Swedish food, not far from the beautiful church of Kiruna. This hitchhiking break in my holiday convinced me: unique memories and encounters, and a dose of adventure like I’d never had before!”
To go further…
“My first trip on the thumb: 6 bloggers tell all, by Astrid of “Histoires de Tongs” blog
* Post written according to our personal experience *
My introduction to hitchhiking was similar: I sometimes did it at the end of hikes, to get down into the valley where I could catch a train. Or when rain or nightfall suddenly set in and I didn’t have time to walk back.
Only by meeting real hitchhikers through Couchsurfing did I learn that you could also cross long distances, and how much fun it was.
And then, I had returned to university, and had to go home from a field trip – covering almost 1000 km -, I thought: Well, now is a good time to try it. After all, I am a student again and I really don’t have much money for the train.
It worked and it was super exciting: https://andreasmoser.blog/2020/04/13/ypres-hitchhiking/
Ever since, hitchhiking has become my favorite mode of transport.
What an incredible journey! Thanks for sharing your story and inputs about hitchhiking 🙂
Wish you many more hitchhiking success!