Notes from A Transnational Adventure #1

On our recent Transnational Adventure E&M cameraman Tim and I travelled 2,223km from Haugesund in Norway to Munich in Germany. With only 50 euros. To put this into perspective, we had to travel the distance of Calais in France to Minsk, Belarus, or even Paris to Berlin 2 ½ times, in 10 days, with little more money than can get you one night's accommodation in a hostel. Hitchhiking became an essential life skill in completing the race to Munich. What follows is some tried and tested advice that you can use next time you find yourself at the side of the road with nothing but other people's kindness to help you travel.

Photo: Mathew Shearman
Matt, displaying his controversial 'pathetic' sign technique (somewhere near Magdeburg).

Hitchhiking is... (mostly) Random

Forget all of your preconceptions: there is no ideal hitchhiker, nor is there the ideal person who will eventually pick you up. We were helped by a German student, a Swedish mother of two, a Romanian truck driver, an ex-hitchhiker herself, and three Norwegian-Pakistanis.

Their reasons for picking us up were all different, and we had actively done little to affect that. On the upside, if that's the case, you can just sit back, smile and simply wait because at least on the surface of it, hitchhiking is completely random, you just get 'lucky'.

There are some people who would never pick you up, there are others (fewer) who would always help, but then there are the third kind, a good number, who - given the right circumstances - will consider helping you out. These people are your target audience and so here are a few things that we think can make that little difference which tips the balance between the 'maybe' people either helping you or leaving you standing at the side of the road. 

1. Pick your spot

Hitchhiking from the middle of a city is much like hitchhiking inside a building; everybody is busy doing something and nobody is really planning to leave.  To the same extent, hitchhiking in a field means that unless you want to ride a cow to your next destination, you're probably not going to get very far. Picking your spot is crucial, you want the highest intensity of cars possible, a place where they can safely stop just after you, and a spot which leads directly onto the motorway to where you want to go. We were waiting 1 ½ hours at a corner before someone kindly stopped, told us we were standing in the wrong place, and dropped us off somewhere better. A junction is ideal, but make sure it's going in the right direction and that it has a high visibility so that cars have time to see you, make the decision, and stop to pick you up.

Sometimes you just have to sit back, smile and simply wait. Hitchhiking is competely random, you just have to get lucky.

2. The Sign 

The sign is the fundamental tool of the hitchhiker, in just one word it holds both your desires and your wildest dreams (basically, where you want to go.) There are two schools of thought. Tim's, which says the sign should be a piece of art, crafted beautifully, time spent lovingly drafting and cross-hatching the words so that it has the highest visibility and will make the biggest impression on drivers. And my view which states that the more pathetic the sign is, the more likely you are to engender sympathy in a passing driver and thereby get a lift to the next stop. In no way does this have any relation to the fact I can neither draw, nor sketch words effectively. Either way, cardboard is best and service stations are usually willing to lend you a pen to write the sign.

Next page: Why going to the wrong place can save you time and how to make a coach full of people laugh...

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