An Online Primer for Budget Exploration
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OK, all the previous jazz is just pro forma. My personal favorite mode of transportation is hitchhiking. There is no better way to meet the average citizen, to learn inside information and to discover true European hospitality. Europe is so compact you can usually cross most countries in a day or less, if you desire. Patience and an enduring smile are the hitcher's friends, and a flag (national or state) on your backpack may be a help in many countries. Rain is your bane, and not just in Spain.
You might get lunch, you might make a friend, or you might piss someone off. It's all part of the adventure.
Hitching in Europe does not carry the stigma that it does in some countries. Many people do it, and I have taken probably hundreds of rides with no dangerous incidents. The people who pick up hitchers are generally pretty interesting and personable; otherwise they would not have stopped. However, women alone are at a bit of a risk, and unfortunately I would not advise it. Couples get rides easily enough, although two males usually have long waits.
The best countries for hitching are Germany, Ireland and Britain. I have also had luck in Italy and France, and some interesting times in Turkey. Switzerland is good, Austria is fair, Scandinavia is tough at times because it's so big, and Spain pretty much stinks. In the east you'll probably be expected to pay a bit towards fuel.
Hitching tips: strive to look freshly bathed, stand strategically on the outskirts of town where the most cars can see you and will have plenty of room to pull off, use a destination sign, and be prepared to wait sometimes. Don't hitch at night. Bring some food along in case you get stuck. If you don't get a ride in a few hours, walk farther down the road, try another route or sit down and eat a sandwich. (This last one is sort of my own secret weapon. It almost never fails; get your fixings all spread out, maybe take a bite of something, and sure enough someone will stop just when your mouth is full.) It probably helps to have only a small amount of baggage. My huge backpack often stymied drivers, who tried all kinds of angles to stuff it in their trunks (boots).
The real hitchhikers stake out the truck stops at night and try to get long distance lifts with drivers going across a few borders. It gets you there, but I find it's more entertaining to travel by day with several drivers, while seeing some scenery to book. However, if you are coming to a ferry crossing, try to get on with a trucker; sometimes ferries have a special sleeper section on board for truckers where you can sack out.
There are a few websites online now that discuss the art and science of hitchhiking. You can also google the term or find links on the Yahoo travel directory. It looks like the motherload for hitching information is http://www.digihitch.com/, a US-based site with lots of international reports. There is also some interesting stuff at this Finnish site, http://www.cs.helsinki.fi/u/kjokisal/liftaus/, or this German page: http://www.hospitalityclub.org/veit/trampen1eng.htm. OK, now I am going to do something rather dumb and tell you about another online book, http://www.artoftravel.com/. This site is about backpacking around the world, and it has a nice section on hitching. Check it out, just make sure to come back!
Several countries offer ride share services to match drivers taking long trips with potential passengers. In German-speaking countries look for the Mitfahrzentral; in France it's Allostop, and in other countries look for Eurostop. Lists of drivers seeking passengers can be found at http://www.hitchhikers.org/.
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