Finally! It had been my dream for so long to do a big hitchhiking trip, but I was too scared to do it alone… When I found myself a boyfriend who loves adventures as much (or more) as I do, it didn’t take long to make my dream into a real plan.
Our first idea was to hitchhike all the way to India… but then I remembered how tired I was during my last trip when travelling over land all the way to Bali and we decided against it. Still feeling a little guilty about the amount of C02 we would emit by taking a flight to Asia, we decided we wanted to give something back to mother earth, before taking some of her ressources. That’s how our plan to volunteer in Greece started. We decided to hitchhike to Turkey, take the boat to Lesvos in Greece and help out in a refugee camp for 2 weeks. More about that in another post, first it’s time to tell you about our hitchhiking adventure from Belgium all the way to Turkey.
Our story day by day (for some quick hitchhiking tips, scroll down)
We left Antwerp on the 23th of March. We had exactly 9 days to make it to Lesvos, since our volunteer work would start on the 1st of April. After hugs, kisses and some tears when leaving my now ex-roomies behind, we got our first ride towards the South, from Elias’ dad. About one hour later, it was just me and Elias, starting our adventure together. We started at a gas station somewhere past Brussels, direction Luxembourg. For our first day we had a clear goal: making it to Strasbourg in France. We had booked a hotel room there. Last Christmas, Elias and I got a voucher for a one-night stay in a fancy hotel; dinner and breakfast included. So why not spend the first night of our trip in a nice hotel, we thought.
It started smoothly. We thought we might do a little photo session before really starting to hitchhike, and just as we were putting the camera back, a Dutch man with a shiny Volvo car stopped and took us to Luxembourg. Arriving at another big gas station we decided to have some lunch in the sun before continuing. We hardly had our thumbs up again and we were picked up by Julian, a Romanian van driver with a messy car who shared his sweets and drinks with us. He was very nice and we danced in his car while he put Gasolina on the speakers and then introduced us to Romanian folk and reggaeton.
He drove us to Metz and although we were still quickly picked up every time, we made the mistake of hitchhiking along the “Route National”, where only local traffic passed. This resulted in hopping from one village to another and kind of getting stuck in the countryside.
When a Frenchman on the way to his Saturday night party in Hageneau took us, we decided to travel all the way to his final destination with him and take a train from there. It was getting dark and Hageneau was only a 20-minute train ride from Strasbourg. Except for a night version of the beautiful dome of Strasbourg, we didn’t see much of the city, because after our hotel night we continued our journey Eastwards.
After a bit of a sleep in and a really nice breakfast we took the tram across the border to Germany. From Kehl, we would hitchhike on a nice route towards the South East of Germany. For finding these spots, we used Hitchwiki, an information page made for and by hitchhikers where you can find general information about hitchhiking in certain countries and find hitchhiking spots, marked and rated on a world map.
It took us maybe one hour, changing our chalkbord sign every now and then to what we thought was the most logical destination or direction for cars passing by. Our end goal was Munich, but for now we would be happy with Stuttgart. But then we got picked up by Martin. A Former German DJ (Döppelgänger, of whom I had actually heard) who drove a nice Mercedes car. Now having a job as a logistics manager, he was driving from his girlfriend in Kehl back to his home in…. Munich! With 150 to 180 km/s per hour (got to love German roads) and my favourite kind of house music playing, we made it to the South-East of Germany in just one short day. I decided to ask my German friend Anna, whom I once visited in Munich, for a place to sleep. She was happy to help and found us a spot just outside Munich. The couple that hosted us was so accomodating and welcoming that you’re afraid to be a burden, but then they are só nice that you feel guilty to leave because they enjoy your company so much. It was a soft spring night and they had an outside fireplace. They got us some beers, we played some music, we all cooked and then drank wine while watching the Germany-Netherlands game on a big cinema screen in the middle of their house. When they went to bed, they gave us another bottle of wine and some extra cookies and asked us to turn the light off when we were going to sleep. The world was already treating us with love and we hadn’t even started our volunteer project!
The next day our host, Stefan, gave us a ride out of Munich towards Austria and Slovenia. Our goal was to get to Ljubljana by that night. It was very cold and we had to dance to keep ourselves warm and hopefully get some attention because this was the longest we’d waited since the beginning of our trip. We decided to warm up in the restaurant area and to just ask people who filled up their petrol or came to buy a coffee, where they were going. This worked, because quickly I found Chris, a German from Bremen. He worked in gastronomy digitalisation and was on his way to a business fair in Villach. This was perfect, since Villach took us almost to the border of Slovenia. Unfortunately we drove through a clouded Austria, and we didn’t see much of the beautiful scenery you would expect from this country. We were dropped at a very quiet gas station near Villach. After having some snacks and a coffee we decided we were going to stick with our method of talking to people who were getting petrol. I quickly went for a last pee and when I came back Elias had already fixed us a lift to Ljubljana: a German couple travelling to the coast of Slovenia. Since we were going strong and Ljbuljana was (according to one of our rides) the most beautiful city in Europe, we decided to stay there for one day.
We had an Airbnb with Milovan. A long basketball player in a tiny red car. A simple room, a short walk away from the city centre. The weather was beautifully sunny and we enjoyed our mini citytrip and our time off from hitchhiking.
We were again dropped by our host, but at such an unfortunate spot, that we decided to spend 5 euro on a taxi to the nearest gas station, since those had been our lucky spots the past days. There, we found a sticker on a bin which stated ‘perfect hitchhiking spot’ so we figured we MUST be lucky today. And we got lucky. Very lucky. Although we had to be a little patient at first, after 2 hours we got picked up by the first (solo) female driver! A red haired, energetic Italian named Sara. She was also going in direction Zagreb and Belgrade, but after 1 minute we realised her final destination was Sofia, which was even further down our route and we’d never expect to get there in one day, certainly not in just one ride. With an average of about 170 kilometers per hour we made it to Bulgaria in the evening: having crossed Croatia and Serbia in just one day! I was super tired and another day of rest would’ve been welcome… Unfortunately, we discovered that we kind of had to hurry if we wanted to make it to Greece in time. The ferry from Ayvalik in Turkey would only run three times a week during low season and we would need to take the Ferry on the 30th of March, which was 3 days from now. We decided to skip Istanbul, and go straight down to Ayvalik after crossing the border.
We started our day slow, with a nice coffee and a croissant in a coffee bar close to our hostel (Hostel N1). I liked the look of Sofia: a bit of a raw city with beautiful churches and mosques, surrounded by high mountains, their tops still covered in snow during this time of the year. But we didn’t have time to stick around and we took a metro to the far East of Sofia and chose a hitchhiking spot at another gas station, on the route towards the border with Turkey. After about 20 minutes we got picked up by a Bulgarian chainsmoker, Atanas, taking us up to the right exit towards the Turkish border. We literally got dropped off in the middle of the highway. Our ride continued straight ahead, we had to cross to the other side. We’d hardly crossed when a truck pulled over and stopped for us. Souad was our Turkish truck driver. A kind and funny man who didn’t speak a lot of English but who’d travelled all over Europe and Asia with his truck. We had a lot of fun listening to Turkish music and playing some music ourselves, since the truck had space enough for Elias to get his guitar out and play.
About 4 kilometers before the border, we drove into a line of trucks and Souad advised us to get another ride or walk across, since it could take him up to 5 hours to get into Turkey. We got out in a slightly spooky place, where, apart from a couple of gypsies selling alcohol to waiting truck drivers, there was no one. The few cars that passed didn’t want to take us. It was sunny and we just started walking towards the border. That took us some time, considering the heavy backpacks we were carrying. Looking like gypsies ourselves we got stopped at least five times by border patrol. I guess walking instead of driving towards a non-European border doesn’t seem very normal.
We walked all the way to customs, and had to stand in line between the cars for leaving Bulgaria into Turkey, since there was no gate for foot passengers. By this time, the sun was already low and we were hoping to get a ride on the other side before it got dark. At the Turkish border control we discovered we needed to pay a 25€ visa for Turkey. What a bummer, we would only be there for 2 days… If we’d known this, maybe we would have taken the other route to Greece and we’d taken the Ferry from Athens to Lesbos. We didn’t have too much time to worry about that though because we first got a very thorough check at customs. Our passports were super carefully inspected and Elias’ bag had to be opened because the scanner detected a knife. They asked where we were going and if we had a hotel reservation and somehow I could understand why they were so suspicious. Who on earth travels all the way to Turkey hitchhiking, pays 25 euros for a visa, just to stay 2 days in Turkey while travelling to a ferry port to go straight back into Europe… Even more: to the same island that hundreds of refugees in Turkey try to reach.
Of course they couldn’t hold us from entering Turkey, so we finally made it!
But the sun was really starting to set now and as in practically any border town, the atmosphere wasn’t that great. I was starting to worry that we wouldn’t get a ride and had to stay the night in the motel at the other side of the road. But we had been told hitchhiking in Turkey was very easy, so we lifted our spirits and our thumbs. A white car stopped and a Turkish man who dind’t speak much English but really did his best to talk to us, offered to take us into Edirne, the nearest city. We told him we wanted to find a place to sleep there and hitchhike to Ayvalik the next day. He didn’t quite understand and called his 13 year old daughter to speak with us, because she was learning English. The family offered to host us if we didn’t take the night bus direclty to Ayvalik, which was a better option than hitchhiking, since we would have to hurry to make it in one day. He took us to his family, where we were offered food, chai (tea) and Turkish cake and cookies. He and his wife had 4 children; one 13-year-old girl, two boys (9 and 10) and a 10-month-old baby with such a cute face he easily got the attention from both us and his family. The little one received a great amount of hugs and kisses from his brothers, sister and parents. The children were well-raised, calm and they looked like a loving family. Our host called all of his friends to meet us and soon we were about 12 people in the apartment.
We made some music and tried to learn some Turkish and before we needed to leave for the night bus we made a picture with everyone together. “If you’re coming back through Turkey, let us know! You’re always welcome!” They packed us some fruits and cookies for on the way and the father drove us to the bus station. He insisted on giving us 100 turkish lira (almost 15€!!) for buying food supplies or anything we needed on the way (we couldn’t refuse) and helped us to buy a ticket… but then we discovered all busses for the night were full. A few phone calls later his friend/colleague/translator spoke to Elias on the phone and told us that everything was arranged: we would sleep at a friend’s house, the next day our host would take us to the bus station to catch the 8 a.m. bus. Incredible. Only a couple of hours in Turkey and we felt like the 2-day visa was totally worth it.
We got a ride (again) to the house in which we would spend the night, where our host Özgür welcomed us and gave up his room: he would sleep on the couch… There was also a German cyclist, who was staying there through the platform ‘Warm showers’: a kind of couchsurfing but for travelling cyclists! Özgür, his roommates, the German and Elias shared some cigarettes and cookies before taking a shower and going to bed. I felt I was tired, but couldn’t sleep immediately because I was so overwhelmed by the impressions of the day.
The next morning we all took a taxi to the bus station, for which we weren’t allowed to pay either. Nor for the breakfast we bought before getting on the bus. Feeling amazed and grateful, we waved our new friends goodbye, while the bus pulled up and took us straight to Ayvalik.
Turkey, you will see us again 😉 !
TIPS & TRICKS for Hitchhiking
Hitchwiki: general information about the ‘hitchability’ of certain regions plus useful maps with good hitchhiking spots.
Couchsurfing: Sleep at a locals place in exchange for cultural exchange instead of money.
Warm Showers: The same as couchsurfing but mainly for cyclists. Can be used by other travellers as well.
Airbnb: Sleep at local places. More personal and often cheaper than other hotels or guesthouses.
Maps.me: you can download maps of regions so you’re not dependent on your 4G. Very easy to use and save places you visited or places you still want to go.
* Gas stations are the way to go! You can go up to people, which also makes it harder for them to say no.
* Smile! (& dance 😉 )
* Use a chalkboard instead of cartboard! It’s light and you can use it during your whole trip!
Click here for the exact route we took.