Hitchhiking Across Europe: My Journey

Posted May 9, 2013 by Jamie Bowlby-Whiting in Inspirational Stories
A Hitchhiking Englishman, an Irishman, and a Russian in a Truck...

A Hitchhiking Englishman, an Irishman, and a Russian in a Truck…

Walking away from a stable job and with my world on my shoulders, I asked my kind mother to drive me to a gas station I knew near a busy road. Coming from a small village, she was wary of my idea to hitchhike through Europe alone, but for the sake of one less ride with a stranger, she agreed.

It Begins (Badly)

It is often said that you should start as you mean to go on. For my hitchhiking journey, my initial 24 hours of journeying alone were not how I wanted it to continue.

My first ride was from a very nice gypsy who after several minutes, started complementing me on my eyes and then my face. After this, it went a little downhill. British people aren’t always keen on picking up hitchhikers, so as I stood on the side of the road, I was mostly ignored by the drivers that passed until a National Express coach pulled over.

“What are you doing?” the driver yelled at me. “Hitchhiking,” I shouted back. After telling me I was mad, he told me to get on the bus and I found myself riding for free amongst paying passengers en route to London. A big fear of hitchhikers, is being stuck in cities. Unfortunately, I found myself in London with no idea how to get out. London is a rather big city.

I walked in pouring rain for over four hours and not once did a car stop for me. Feeling like a complete failure, I took a train out of the city and wondered what the hell I was doing on this stupid directionless journey. A few hours later, the sun was shining, my clothes were beginning to dry, and I was in Dover. Everything was OK until I realized that I had missed the last ferry to France that accepts foot passengers. I stood outside the border police station and flagged down a ride from an English guy that was passing. His friendliness and stories persuaded me that I was doing the right thing and that I should carry on.

Sleeping Outside

That night I found myself sleeping outside an abandoned building in Brussels. I felt freer than I had ever felt before and after a difficult start to my journey, I knew it was a good thing to do. I started to pick random towns on maps and made my way to each place that I wanted to see, never planning more than a couple of days in advance. It gave me the opportunity to visit friends and family members that I haven’t seen for years and don’t know when I will see again. Not only this, but I slept in the houses of strangers that I found using CouchSurfing and made new friends that I can visit again sometime in the future.

When I didn’t have a house to stay in, I slept outside. I slept in orchards, next to the Eiffel Tower, under bridges, in barns, beside the motorway, on beaches, and wherever I found myself as night fell. I was so happy that my one month journey turned into a many month adventure that only became difficult as winter approached.

Sleeping Next to the Eiffel Tower

Sleeping Next to the Eiffel Tower

Trust Your Instincts

Many people told me that hitchhiking was and is dangerous. I disagree. When someone stops for you, you trust your instinct on whether or not to go with a person. I accepted most, but not all rides, and traveled around 24,000 kilometres with over 200 strangers and not once did I have a problem. The most dangerous part of hitchhiking, was the quality of driving.

Often I hitched alone, although at times, there were up to three of us hitchhiking together. I met people and if I liked them, I suggested that we travel together for some time. Many people agreed, even those who had never even thought of hitchhiking before. Through this, I learnt to trust people and they learnt to trust me. This trust continued to grow until it became almost natural with many people that I met.

Portofino, Italy: One of the Wonderful People Who Tried hitchhiking for the First Time With Me

Portofino, Italy: One of the Wonderful People Who Tried hitchhiking for the First Time With Me

Say Yes

By letting go of my preconceptions about the world, I found myself sleeping in squats, herding cows by midnight, taking food from dumpsters, washing in rivers, interacting with people from all walks of life, playing with trained rats, and generally living more than I had ever thought was possible.

Playing With Trained Rats in Estonia

Playing With Trained Rats in Estonia

One particular night that stands out for me was when I was stuck in Lithuania, late at night and far from civilization with an Irish guy I met on the road. We were contemplating opening our can of cold kidney beans and camping somewhere on the boggy ground because barely a car had passed in the few kilometres we had walked. As we were about to give up for the night, a car pulled over and a lovely family took us back to their country cottage, fed us, and offered us beds for the night. The next morning, I swam across a lake with someone I had only met hours before and filled up on delicious homemade pancakes and curdled milk (which is much more delicious than it sounds). Shortly afterwards I found myself at a hitchhiking festival and I knew, without a doubt, that life and people were wonderful.

This is How I Want to Live My Life

When I talk about this journey, it excites me. It always will. I have now learnt that this is how I want to live my life. Not as a hitchhiker, but as a do-er. Someone who finds something that they want to do and then does it. My hitchhiking journey may be over, but another is about to begin. I cannot wait. This journey has changed my life for the better.

Have you ever had a journey that has changed your life? If not, what’s stopping you?

About the Author

Jamie Bowlby-Whiting

Jamie is the creator of GreatBigScaryWorld where he shares his stories about his search for adventure and true happiness around the world. He recently wrote The Avant-Garde Life which helps others to do the same.

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