Hitchhiking: according to the Merrian-Webster Dictionary: to travel by securing free rides from passing vehicles by holding out your arm with your thumb up as you stand on the side of the road.
Starting point: Bad Nenndorf 2pm Friday June 29th.
Destination: Munich. Estimated arrival time: 10pm Friday June 29th.
The train departs at 2:05pm but because of me, we miss it. Fight number 1.
The first step was: taking the train to the next town and first Autohof (usually a resting area off the highway with a gas station, a couple fast food restaurants, maybe even some supermarkets). So instead of waiting 30min for the next train, we started hitchhiking from the train station. The first car stopped and drove us to the Autohof, even though it wasn’t on her way. The fight ceased.
Once there, the real hunt starts. We start asking people at Macdonald’s but in vain. So we head towards the gas station and there, the first person I ask – a young man our age – is on his way to Berlin. He will take us. Success! This hitchhiking concept isn’t that complicated after all.
During the first couple of minutes, I thought: ‘he doesn’t really want to take us on board. Maybe he’ll even change his mind after paying for gas’. But he was a great host, genuinely interested by what we were saying and eager to share about his own life.
Second stop: a Rastätte (resting area on the highway, usually a gas station and maybe a couple fast food restaurants). This one is small, somewhere on the way to Berlin, which is where everybody is also heading when we want to go direction Leipzig. This one is a tricky one and I start thinking that we might have to go to Berlin for the night. It takes us about 1 hour of hard work to find a nice hippy lady with her daughter, driving to the countryside and willing to welcome us in their vehicle.
I was hoping she’d be a massage therapist or yoga teacher judging by her fashion style (Pocahontas shoes & braid + crystals around her neck) and all the Boho feathers in her car but it turned out she never even took a yoga class in her life. So we small talked our way to the next Rastätte.
Quickly after arriving at our third stop we realize that, here too, everybody is heading the other way, everybody but one person who is driving home, not sure anymore about the name of his town. All I remember is that he had a crazy German accent. The rolling ‘r’ kind of accent.
We had dinner in his car and a nap, the constant asking if people were going our way, exhausted me.
At about 9pm we arrive at our fourth stop, an Autohof again (this one has it all, MacDonalds, Burger King, Gas, DM, Liddl and more), the sun is setting, there are beautiful pink colors in the skies but the smell of gas counter-balances all this beauty. I’m tired of asking people who are going the opposite direction, people who are simply enjoying a coffee or meal, people who are getting gas or going on a toilet break. Some people are nice, some people are less nice. It’s getting dark. I suddenly think of staying at a hotel for the night and hope that my hardcore hitchhiker BF will like the idea because he usually doesn’t stop until he reaches his final destination.
The destination though was still 2 hours away and it was getting late. So at around 10pm, I declared forfeit. On the Macdonald parking lot, I logged into the free wifi, researched nearby hotels, made a couple phone calls, asked a couple people if they could give us a 6 min ride to town.
And en route to our comfortable night of sleep + delicious breakfast. The whole package cheaper than a train ticket with the Deutsche Bahn.
The next day at 10am – yes we took our time – we start the second and last part of our journey.
After only a few steps out of the hotel, the first car stops and drives us to the same Autohof as the night before – a little déjà vu feeling – but this time we are lucky. It must be the effect of the good vibe dance we did at the hotel.
I was standing for a good 30 min at the exit of Burger King, showing a cardboard sign that said ‘Munich’ to every person who would want to look. Some people shook their heads no and smiled and some people tried their best not to make eye contact.
At some point, straight out of Burger King, a car pauses. He didn’t seem thrilled at first, although he was the one who stopped. He opened up a few kilometers later, sharing his travel & family stories. He told us that he usually takes hitchhikers to have conversations. Another friendly encounter.
Last Rastätte: We get to work right away and it pays off. Again someone our age going straight to Munich! Victory!
Before getting into his car, he apologizes that his car doesn’t go as fast with 3 people.
So 140km/h was the maximum speed limit. Only one of the many differences between France and Germany.
One hour of career dreams and book discussions later, we finally ARRIVE after 15 HOURS on the road + hunting time.
I’m so happy I almost cannot believe we are finally there.
Actual arrival time: 3pm on Saturday June 30th.
Here is what I learned:
- When you hitchhike, your expectations have to be thrown out the window. You won’t know when you’ll arrive nor when you’ll depart.
- Patience is key.
- ‘Focus on your breath’ will finally make sense if it didn’t yet.
- More gratitude for the simple things (like getting where you wanted to go).
- More likely to take hitchhikers now.
- More compassion for the people who need to ask for survival basics in everyday life.
- I will be pickier about which itinerary to take even if it means waiting longer to find someone driving the better route.
- People seem closed or even mean at first glance but they open up after a few minutes, sometimes hours, even to the point of sharing their whole life story with complete strangers.
- You don’t have to be a Yoga Teacher to wear crystals, just kidding, again it’s about not judging from first encounter and not putting people into boxes. After all we are infinite beings 😉
At almost 30 and as a car owner, I experienced hitchhiking for the first time last weekend. Of course I hitchhiked in the past but only very short distances. Will I do it again? Maybe, but only with a lot of time, nobody expecting me at point B and if public transportation is too complicated or the price of a downpayment.
A couple movies on the topic: Weit and Into the Wild by Sean Penn.