Starting point: Groningen, Destination: the World

You want to know why you should hitchhike and how it works? Read our tips here.

Thoughts on Hitchhiking in Europe from the Dutch Norththumb up

In the age of cheap plane tickets, bus offers, fast trains and carpooling platforms, hitchhiking as the common cheap travelling means of our parents’ generation has lost its popularity. Hitchhiking from one city to another, often across the whole of Europe, was very common in the 70s and 80s with hikers recalling large queues at the gas stations on the highways.

Today, at the official “liftplaats” (the official hitchhiking spot) in Groningen, there is no big crowd of travellers visible. The weather is pleasant, being sunny and warm – a rather great surprise in the beginning of October.

The hitchhiking spot is located right next to the train station, at the Emmaviaduct– the access to the two highways A7 and A28. Official pick-up spots for hikers were introduced when hitchhiking was still very popular in the Netherlands. Six locations still remain until today in the bigger cities, one of them in Groningen. Hikers here can expect to get a lift in basically all directions: East to Leuwaarden, west to Germany, or south to other Dutch cities.

Daniel, 39
Daniel, 39

At the spot, we meet Daniel, a 39-year old local. Daniel looks young for his age with his long, bushy orange beard and friendly face. Two years ago was the first time that he hitchhiked. “I think it is an interesting, different way of travelling. Trains here are very expensive, so it is a good alternative. It is also very creative, you meet people and you come into new situations. That’s why I like it.”

A while after Daniel got his ride, Steven comes to the spot. He looks like a hitchhiker prototype with his sign saying “Utrecht” in large, easily readable letters. Steven is rather short, lean, with a five o’clock shadow and longer brown hair. His friendly appearance makes it easy converse with him. “I hitchhike a lot actually, once a week I would say. I go to Berlin or Antwerp and to cities around the Netherlands. Today, I am heading home to Utrecht.”

Steven, 26
Steven, 26

The 26-year old freelancer says that he always reaches his destination: “Hitchhiking is really energizing. It is very exciting to know that you just have to want it, that getting to your destination is not a question of if you’re gonna make it but it’s a question of when you will be picked up! It is really awesome to meet all these kinds of people on your way who all have different stories to tell.”

Vania, exchange student from Jakarta, Indonesia, has also used the hitchhiker spot to start her hike to Amsterdam. “I heard that hitchhiking is very popular in Europe, so I tried it out when I came here. I went to Amsterdam and it was great. One guy even made a detour for me!”

Asking other international students at Hanze about hitchhiking leads to very different opinions.Pili from Spain has never hitchhiked before. “It scares me”, she says. “In terms of driving abilities and because you don’t know who is stopping for you, who they actually are.”

Bastiaan from the Netherlands adds that there is a difference between boys and girls in hitchhiking. “For me personally, it depends on the situation. I have never done it before. I would only do it if I don’t have any money and my OV-card is broken”, he laughs.

This shows that especially in the Netherlands where students get a free travelling subscription for trains and buses together with their study finance, hitchhiking is a niche means of travelling.

Concerning the best way to get a lift, some hikers like to approach people on service areas on the highway, as this ensures a friendly, personal contact which makes it easier to get a ride. Miglė from Lithuania, a second-year student of international communication, has a different approach. “I don’t really like to ask people because I feel that I am forcing them. I do that only if I am in a hurry. But mostly, I wait with my sign at the exit of the service area. Like that, it is the people’s own choice to take me or not to take me.”

Miglė always hikes on her own, all the way from Groningen to her hometown in Lithuania and back. Read more about Miglė’s hitchhiking experience in an interview with her.

While most girls prefer not to go alone, Vania went to Amsterdam all by herself.

Vania, 21
Vania, 21

“I heard that it is much easier to get picked up as a girl alone. I am not afraid because I believe in Karma. So if I don’t do something bad to people, people will not do something bad to me. I don’t know why but I just feel safe to hitchhike here. Maybe I am too naïve but I think Dutch people are nice! So far, I didn’t have bad experiences. So I am very optimistic about hitchhiking!”

Steven also thinks it is no problem to travel alone. “You always have to trust your gut feeling, of course. Once in a while, I reject a ride because it doesn’t feel right. But I have never been in dangerous situations while hitchhiking.”

Asked about tips for hitchhiking, Daniel suggests not being too picky: “My tip is to take the opportunity and act quickly. Don’t reject a ride because it is maybe not perfect. Just go for it! Like that, you will make it easily to your destination.” Steven adds to always have a sign stating your destination, to make eye contact with the drivers and to make sure that you have a lot of time.“Like that, you can relax and are not in a rush”, he says.

Students in Groningen who would like to try out hitchhiking themselves can join the local ESN group. The ESN “Thumbs up Commitee” organizes several hitchhiking battles to different European cities each year. Teams of two (always including one male) can sign up and try to be the first arriving at the respective destination. To combine fun with help, ESN also arranges for the possibility of joining a social or environmental project there.

For internationals in other cities, the websites Hitchbase and Hitchwiki inform about the best places to start from in each city as well as current hitchhiking battles and events around the world.

This article was first published in Unlocked Magazine in January 2015. 


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