Hitchhikers have this image of hapless hippies, too stoned to catch the bus in time. Or guys who just got out of the joint and ain’t got no money for no ticket to nowhere.
In reality, many hitchhikers are sociologists, geographers, psychologists, actresses, linguists, medical doctors or rocket scientists. And lawyers, like myself, as you may be able to tell from my standard hitchhiking attire.
Some hitchhikers also have a rather scientific or mathematical approach to this means of transport. They record wait times, average distances, speed, and plenty of other parameters. Then they upload the information to a database, for everyone to benefit. For free, of course.
Ábel Sulyok, a hitchhiker from Hungary and an atomic physicist, has gathered all the data on waiting times in Europe and compiled an interesting map. It shows the average waiting times in minutes from less than 30 minutes (green) to more than 90 minutes (dark red). Average waiting time is one of the most important factors by which to measure the “hitchability” of a country or region.
Obviously, many hitchhikers don’t contribute to such statistics. (Neither do I, to be honest. First, I often travel without a watch or a mobile phone. Second, I am much more interested in stories than in numbers.) Still, people who have hitchhiked much more than me, say that the map is a pretty good reflection of reality.
This map is especially useful if you want to go on a hitchhiking trip, but don’t really care where to. Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Albania, Montenegro, Romania, Moldova, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia look like very promising countries.
I’ve had quite good experiences in Eastern Europe, the Baltics and the Balkans myself. Hitchhiking in Belgium and the Netherlands also worked quite okay. I don’t know about Luxembourg, but as all trains, buses and trams are free in that country, you might as well make use of that.
Another thing I can confirm from personal experience is that islands are quite easy to hitchhike. The smaller, the better. I don’t know what it is, but on small islands, people seem more relaxed, open and friendly. And there are more drivers with pick-up trucks, which is always fun.
More than the difference between countries, I have noticed a difference in regions. Rural and especially mountainous areas are almost always better for hitchhiking than busy areas, let alone large urban sprawls, where nobody could guess where you are trying to get to. In the mountains, people often hitchhiked themselves as kids or teenagers, or they know that there aren’t many buses. National parks are also really good, because many people are in a good, relaxed mood when going there.
I have also had quite good experiences in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I really have no idea why the south of Austria is painted in such negative colors in the map. Obviously, it helps to speak the local language. And in these countries, the license plates indicate where the car is from (and possibly going to), in Germany even down to the town level. It makes it much easier to talk to drivers at gas stations, when instead of asking “are you going to Bavaria?”, you can ask: “Oh, I see you are going to Passau. That would help me tremendously, because I am trying to get to Austria, and you could drop me at the last gas station before the border.”
And once you are on the highway in Germany, the famous Autobahn, people are going up to 417 km/h, so you can get really far in no time. Germany – or both Germanies, to be exact – also used to have quite a hitchhiking culture, so you meet many drivers who remember it romantically. It happened to me a number of times that a middle-aged woman, looking completely normal and un-adventurous, would pick me up and start telling me about the time she hitchhiked to Afghanistan after finishing high school.
Among the countries with longer waiting times, I got a few theories. In Sweden, people are generally averse to any human interaction. (They might take you if you put “I’ll be silent” on your sign, for all I know.) In the north of Scandinavia, I guess there are simply fewer cars. So, while a wait time of 70 minutes sounds bad, it may translate into an acceptance rate of 100%. In the United Kingdom, there is often simply no space by the side of the road.
Why Croatia is such an outlier among otherwise very friendly Balkan countries, I have no idea.
And I am really baffled by Southern Europe, with the exception of the islands, of course. I haven’t tried hitchhiking there on the mainland (except in the German-speaking, mountainous north of Italy), but I have heard from quite a number of really experienced hitchhikers who say that Italy and Spain are the absolute worst. Allegedly, if you rely purely on hitchhiking, you’ll cross Russia all the way to Kamchatka faster than you will cross Spain from the Pyrenees to Gibraltar.
Anyway, I just wanted to post this map in order to ask you hitchhikers out there about your own experience. What did you notice? What are your tricks to get a lift?
And stay tuned for my own hitchhiking adventure this spring!