Monday, February 7, 2011

Day 84: Ross' Hitch Hiking Tips

After three days of hitch hiking, I finally arrived in Barcelona. It was quite a trip. Hitch hiking is the most rewarding method of travel but also the most difficult. Meeting new people is invigorating – a fortuitous union between strangers. Hitch hiking is similar to Couch Surfing in that aspect but it's edgier and more exciting. Luckily, I've only had good experiences.

Barcelona is totally on the way to Madrid... Let's go!

Everyone that has given me a ride has been incredibly generous. One guy even let me stay with him for a night. He lived with his wife in Castelnaudary, a small town near Carcassonne. I made them a beautiful pie that tasted awful. We laughed a lot as we ate it – that was the only way to wash it down. Even the salesman from Monsanto was friendly, though I swear I could see horns sprouting from his forehead.

Sometimes toll booths have beautiful views.

It takes a special type of personality to hitch hike. Sometimes it's difficult to feel optimistic, especially when it's 0ºC and so windy I can barely hold onto my sign. While I was hitch hiking from Perpignan to Barcelona, the graphic designer that took me across the boarder dropped me off near a toll booth that only trucks were coming through. I tried for about 45 minutes to get a lift but I didn't have a good feeling. I ended up asking around at a gas station and found two Frenchmen who were moving to Madrid from Lausanne, Switzerland.

Eddie, will sell anything for the right price.

I learned a lot hitch hiking to Toulouse but this being the longest distance I've hitched yet, I learned a few useful things. Here are some hitch hiking tips that I learned during my three day extravaganza.

My first day I thought that I could make it all the way from Toulouse to Barcelona and stop to see Carcassonne. In reality I didn't even make it to Carcassonne, which is only an hour from Toulouse. My pathetic performance the first day was due to my location. It took me a long time to figure out how to get out of Toulouse and when I did, I ended up on a back road going to Carcassonne. Stick to the highway because that's where you'll find people going long distances. This seems like obvious advice but it's difficult to judge whether to take some rides or not. Even though you'll be closer to your destination, if you're in a good location, it's probably best to stay there. I had great success with hitch hiking near toll booths (peage in French).

Christoph and his wife. Thanks for your generosity!

There's no telling how long hitch hiking is going to take so it's best to not have any plans. The longer the distance the more variability. Because I thought I could make it to Barcelona in one day, I didn't plan any places to stay along the way. If it wasn't for the generosity of people along the way I would have been sleeping in the cold. It's best to have some sleeping arrangements at key stops along the way. At least take the time to look up hostels or send out some couch requests.

The French don't pair cheese and fruit for good reason.

The ride that took me most of the way to Barcelona was headed to Madrid and the highway forked off about 10 minutes away from Barcelona. We stopped for lunch about 30 minutes away and I thought I should just get as close to the city as possible. The problem was I was too close to the city and people were headed to towns other than Barcelona. If you have the choice between being dropped closer or farther from a city, go with the better location instead of trying to get as close as you can.

The castle at Carcassonne was well worth stopping for.

Gas stations are a great alternative to standing on the side of the road. Whether you can't find a good location or no one is picking you up. Try asking around at a gas station. This is also a great alternative for girls because you can be selective. If you do some research before hand you can also look at the location identification numbers on European plates to see where the car is from and ask accordingly.

Viva España!

Hitch hiking is my favorite method of travel. It's exciting because you never know what's going to happen, how long you'll have to wait, who's going to pick you up. For the same reasons, it can also be rather unnerving. It took me eight rides and three days to get from Toulouse to Barcelona. Secretly, I wouldn't have it any other way. Not to mention that I also saved about €70 for a train ticket.


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