Have you ever been curious about hitch-hiking? It’s something I never would have envisioned myself doing…something that was completely off limits for me – it was forbidden in my head. I remember when the word came up, I would immediately think “it’s too dangerous, especially for a solo girl”.
To some degree I guess that could be true.
I have reservations about writing this because I have a feeling my family will read my blog and then negative judgment will follow…and then I might get “in trouble” – I guess that’s what happens when you come from a relatively conservative and cautious family. But I have to remind myself that these reactions simply just come out of love (and fear).
I don’t even know what inspired me to hitch-hike in the first place. I guess it’s a mixture of the things I’ve seen or heard about it ~ whether it’s from talking to people (especially other travellers), randomly watching something or reading about it. But actually I think my main “inspiration” was when I looked at my bank account before coming to Europe. I realised how little money I had and knew how expensive Europe was going to be, especially the countries I wanted to visit. Then with this realisation, my curiosity for hitch hiking quickly developed and evolved ~ from being stuck in my head to the idea of “I have to try this!”…even though I was scared.
How I built the courage to hitch-hike ~ the story
I think the courage really started when I returned to Brazil after touring around South America ~ I had a lot of time and was determined to try and cut costs and perhaps hitchhike all throughout Europe (as I said, my lack of money and the expensiveness of the countries I wanted to visit in Europe is what really drove me).
While I was in Cabo Frio playing housewife, I had all this spare time.
I started consciously (and subconsciously) searching for information about hitch hiking by actively paying attention to anything about hitch hiking. Then…the more I exposed myself, the more curious I became.
I started watching all these videos on hitch-hiking and reading about it to educate myself. This led to me asking about hitch-hiking to the online Facebook backpacking community ~ especially one girl which posted that she’d hitched through 80 countries or something. When I read her comment, I couldn’t help but be amazed and intrigued. Something told me that I had to contact her and pick her brain. I’m so glad I did. She ended up being so informative ~ so eager to share her wisdom with me. She gave me so many useful tips and resources I could use (yay).
I think talking to an experienced hitcher was the last straw of motivation.
After talking to her, I really felt confident enough to do it (looking back now, I also think making a declaration to everyone I spoke to probably helped too).
I’m not going to lie, a little curiosity prodded me in the right direction as well ~ I was just saying to my recent Couchsurfing host in Coimbra (Portugal) that I’m the type of person that when I’m curious about something, I will just do it. If someone plants the seed in my mind to do something, I will more than likely do it ~ I guess I’m too curious perhaps? But you know what? My curiosity has led me to doing the most amazing things during my journey…and I’m left not wondering about something (with the exception of riding a boat down the Amazon from Brazil to Colombia ~ something I truly still regret not doing on this trip)
Let’s go back to my hitch-hiking story.
I don’t know why, in my head, I felt determined to try hitch-hiking all of a sudden.
I also don’t know why but I felt that Portugal was ‘the one’. It felt like the best place to start. I just felt it in my gut. I think it was my perception of the culture in Portugal ~ more relaxed, safer and friendlier than say Spain or France…for hitch hiking anyway.
Everyone said France was virtually impossible…and I don’t know why I didn’t think to try in Spain at all. I got this good feeling about starting in Portugal. I guess maybe it was the rumours I heared from other people about the countries which are good to hitch in…and I kept hearing from others that Portugal was nice and easy (I mean, who wants a difficult first experience? It would have probably put me off for life).
When motivation and courage turned into a real plan
Ever since I decided where I wanted to start ~ everything was set…at least in my mind: I’d arrived to Lisboa. My flights from Porto were booked and hadn’t planned anything else – perfect (for hitch hiking)!
So what was my initial plan?
To stay in Lisboa for a few days and hitch-hike towards Porto on the 24th…stopping in at least 2 places along the way.
Of course at the time…I hadn’t planned where I would stop yet.
And of course things didn’t really go to plan (and OK I’m not going to lie to you…it’s also because I was starting to get cold feet. I was starting to get scared and seriously procrastinate ~ any reason to stay in Lisboa was good for me)
I ended up extending my stay in Lisboa for 2 nights…
I really couldn’t help it ~ I was having such an awesome time in Lisboa and meeting such a great group of people that I extended my stay for 2 nights (cutting into my time to visit another town in Portugal)….
And then someone offered to host me in Lisboa and I just couldn’t turn down his offer ~ we’d been chatting via Instagram for a little)
But I wasn’t going to NOT hitchhike even though I was scared and lazy (mainly because I’m so stubborn). I mean…I even went through the effort of preparing a sign saying “North” in Portuguese.
Ok…so I stayed in Lisbon for 2 more nights. Everything was great. I really could have stayed in for the whole time I was in Portugal but I knew I needed to push myself otherwise I’d regret not seeing anything else (kind of repeating my footsteps in Colombia).
But then when I suddenly received a Couchsurfing host offer in Coimbra… things set into motion ~ I’m pretty sure it was the main deciding factor for me to try hitch hiking.
I initially planned to go to some small fisherman village in Peniche (I wanted a coastal town) but my extra days in Lisboa kind of took this place out of my itinerary so I decided to skip it and go straight to Coimbra instead ~ another recommended place which looked nice enough on Google.
Then I received the Couchsurfing offer ~ it seemed a bit like destiny no?
As soon as I saw that it was a woman offering to host me, I accepted straight away ~ it’s a super rare opportunity!
Ok…so it was set – I’d committed to going to Coimbra and I’d already extended my stay in Lisboa for 2 days. It was time to go!
After a week of sleep-deprivation and constant moving from hostel to hostel, I miraculously was rewarded with a dorm room to myself. Nobody else had checked into the room. I couldn’t believe it.
Guess what? I had the best sleep!
I slept so much that I woke up at 10…(30 minutes before check out)
I slowly got ready, ate a filling breakfast with leftover food in the hostel and went out to buy some groceries (to stock up on food in case I needed to eat lunch while waiting for a ride). After everything was done, I quickly hopped onto the Hitchwiki website to check the details of where to hike (highly recommend this, it gives you all the instructions you need to hitch from any given area). I diligently wrote down all the information I needed and familiarised myself with the map of the area where I was going.
It was time.
I put on my backpack and made my way.
It seemed easy enough – catch the Metro to Encarncao Station and walk to the Galp Petrol Station closest to the entrance to the highway up north.
Hitchwiki told me that it was relatively difficult to find a ride…and to ask people at the petrol station in a specific way: “Hello, excuse me, sorry to disturb you but are you going to (the location) by any chance?”
I still remember how I felt when I was making my way.
Before I left, I had butterflies. I was so nervous about doing this. I was so worried. But I was determined…and I educated myself enough to mentally prepare for the situation ~ I knew that it might have been very difficult. I knew I could be waiting for 8 hours without any guarantee of finding a ride. I knew that I would be rejected by many people.
It was just so amazing how I managed to finally get a ‘private room’ the night before because I slept like a baby and felt fantastic ~ I remember thinking how happy I was to receive this blessing and to be rewarded. I thought: “this gave me the energy, motivation and positivity I needed to hitch”
It’s always awkward commuting around with my big luggage…but after 2 subways, I finally got to my destination
The station was quite empty ~ this wasn’t somewhere tourists would go. The area was only residential.
I searched for the Galp Petrol Station on Maps – it was a 15 minute walk away. I thought:
“That’s not too bad”
But typical me led me astray – I thought taking some short cuts would be a great idea but ended up getting a little lost around an apartment complex (Lol ~ it didn’t help that my Maps isn’t calibrated the best so I never know which direction I’m walking).
After walking around in circles for maybe 1 hour, I finally got close to the petrol station. On my way up, some guy came up to me and asked:
“Excuse me, do you speak English?”
Guy: “Do you need help? I saw you walking around in circles around here?”
Me: “No, I’m ok, I needed to get to the petrol station and I found it. I’m looking to find a ride to hitch hike up north”
Guy: “Oh, I thought you needed to get to the airport. Good luck. It’s not the easiest to find a ride here.”
Me: “Oh ok. Thank you!”
We walked separate ways.
The petrol station was right in front of me at the top of the stairs.
I remember…as I was walking up, my heart was pumping a little faster. The nerves were kicking in.
It was time.
I walked up to the first person in sight, filling up his car.
“Ola, disculpa por molestar voce. Voce falar Ingles?” (Hi, sorry to bother you. Do you speak English?)
Guy: “Sim” (yes)
Me: “I’m looking for a ride up north, are you heading that way by any chance?”
Damn. It wasn’t nice to be rejected. But I expected this.
“Don’t give up Mei…”
It was enough to make me shy though.
I retreated to finding a place on the side of the road nearby where I could tell cars could stop. I don’t know why but I felt more comfortable standing on the side with my sign and my thumb out ~ maybe it’s because I didn’t have to physically talk to people and get rejected to my face.
I put my bags down, got my sign out and stuck my thumb up.
So many cars went past…but nothing. Nobody stopped.
Occasionally, some would flash their lights and wave at me. And some drivers would really stare at my sign in curiosity. But nobody stopped.
After around 15 minutes, my arm was starting to hurt…
I contemplated waving to people instead of sticking my thumb out but thought it might be counter-productive.
I think 20 minutes had past and I hadn’t been so lucky. I decided to hold my teddy bear out as a gimmick to try and get attention (something a friend and YouTube recommended to me).
After about 20 more minutes, I thought I had a break-through.
There was a white van which looked directly at me and waved towards their mirror. They pulled into the petrol station. I honestly thought they were signalling me to come to them at the station so I grabbed my bags and walked back to the petrol station…but then, as soon as I started walking back, I had no idea where they went.
I decided to try my luck in asking people again.
The first guy was cleaning his car – he was returning it to the car hire company.
The second group was a group of 3, young ‘kids’ which weren’t going north. They seemed really nice though.
Then I saw this guy pumping his car up and decided to ask him
Me: “Disculpe por molestar voce. Voca falar ingles?” (Sorry to bother you. Do you speak English?)
Guy: “Sim” (yes)
Me: “I’m going north towards Coimbra, are you heading in that direction by any chance?”
Me: “Is it possible to catch a lift with you?”
He hesitated for a moment…but then said yes!
It was like music to my ears! I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I was so lucky! I was so lucky that they were going exactly to where I was going!
He let me put my stuff in the boot of the car and then sit in the back.
As soon as I sat down, this girl (his girlfriend) was looking at me with a big smile. I was shocked at how accepting she was of her boyfriend accepting to drive a stranger into the car. Her face had kindness written all over it and she started asking me questions straight away.
I remember being so over excited that I almost forgot to ask to take a picture with them and of their licence plate but when I did they answered:
I sent my details and the pictures to at least 6 friends of mine.
We ended up talking about our lives, ideologies and certain stories along the way…time flew by really fast and before I knew it, I was in Coimbra!
I don’t know if it was because I was super lucky or if this is what hitch hiking is like in reality but I get the feeling that the majority of the time, hitch hiking is exactly like my experience. I’ve tried it a few more times and have had nothing but great experiences 😊