Guest post: My First Hitchhike – by Surya Bhattacharya (Perpetuallyperipatetic)

In this week’s guest post… we meet the wonderful Surya as she battles her fear and the darkness on her first ever hitchhike. The braveness she demonstrates is a source of inspiration as missing buses, language differences and finding herself on a border at dusk are all problems she faces with a smile…    

My First Hitchhike

The first time I hitchhiked was completely out of compulsion. Even though I talked to everyone about trying it out, I had absolutely no courage to actually go through with it. So when the chance did present itself to me, I was far more horrified than excited, and actually preferred the idea of WALKING the 100 km to my destination than to actually hitchhike.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let us rewind a few hours…

It was my last day in Kraków, Poland, and I was saying goodbye to my hosts before I left for Zdiar in Slovakia. Zdiar was going to be the halfway point of my trip and I wanted it to be my ‘stop-and-catch-my-breath’ destination for 2 days after almost 3 weeks of nonstop traveling.

My hosts in Kraków were among the best people I’ve met. And I don’t just mean in relation to people I’ve met on Couchsurfing… I mean they’re among the best people I’ve met in my life. I know, I know that’s a tall claim to make since I literally met them only for 2 days, but I was so comfortable in their house, and felt so welcome, I can’t not place them way high on my list of awesome people.

So, well, even though I knew I had a long journey ahead of me (about half an hour to get to the Krakow bus station, a two hour ride to Zakopane, and then another two hours to Zdiar, and, of course, all the stopovers which would probably take another two hours or more), I was lingering at their place- all packed up and ready to go, but taking the last few pictures, playing with little Kloe for the last few minutes, and exchanging the last few stories with Veronika and Alban (Hungarian girl + French boy + 2 year old toddler living in Poland– how cool is that?).

When I finally did make it to Zakopane (a small Polish town, popular with adventure tourists, at the foot of the Tatras), it was about 6pm, and I found that the last bus to Zdiar had left 1.5 hours ago. Say whaaat?!

As usual, I hijacked wifi from some non-password-protected hotspots, and saw that Zdiar was JUST 100 km away. Facepalm and facepalm. The only way to get myself out of this mess was a 50-ish Euro cab, or to find a place to spend the night. Neither option appealed to me, so I just started walking (in retrospect, yes, I realise I’m a dumbass).

I walked for a long time and finally realised that I would have to resort to hitchhiking.  I was terrified. I took out the journal I had in my bag (at least it came in handy here!) and held up a sign I quickly made for Zdiar.

Zidar hitchhiking sign - by perpetuallyperipatetic. My First Hitchhike

Most people just drove on. Some completely ignored me. Some looked at the sign. Some gestured (what seemed like) that they didn’t know what I mean by Zdiar. So I changed my sign, and asked for a short lift instead. 10 rides of 10kms each. That would be fine too!

10 km hitchhiking sign - by perpetuallyperipatetic. My First Hitchhike

Still no success. Suddenly this really old toothless man came up to me, and I guessed from his wildly flailing arms that he was asking me to follow him. He spoke no English. I was so excited to be getting a ride, and went with him. We kept walking till I realised he had no car. He led me to a bus stop, and soon found out, like I already had, that there was no bus I could take. Just then a cab rolled up and as a family of almost ten people bargained with the driver and clambered in, this man (I assume) convinced them to take me with them. It really was very nice of him, and he drew these little birds for me because (I think) I was looking really tired and sad.

animals in a notebook - by perpetuallyperipatetic. My First Hitchhike

One of the girls in the car and the cab driver spoke some English, and between their halting phrases, I understood the driver would drop me off at the PolandSlovakia border.

Once I was there, I still had a loooong way to go. What could I do, I was literally in the middle of nowhere. I continued walking. It was beautiful, and thankfully a cool day. But the sun was starting to set and I did NOT want to be this lost once it got dark.

Landscape on the Poland-Slovenia border - by perpetuallyperipatetic

I must have walked for an hour. People kept zooming by, and I found myself making excuses for them. Oh this car is too full. This one has kids in the car, they probably don’t want to expose their children to dirty hitchhikers. These people must be racist, maybe they’re unsure of brown people. Ah, this car is going too fast, going to the hospital for an emergency? Oooh, I think these people don’t speak English and aren’t stopping because they don’t know how they would communicate with me. 

JUST as it began to get really dark, and major panic started creeping in, a car finally stopped. A stocky man got out, opened the back door and started making space for me. It was a family, with a (I’m guessing) 12 year old girl. All the excuses I had been making for earlier cars were voided. Family. With a young child. They MADE space for me. And they didn’t speak a word of English.

Surya with her drivers' daughter - by perpetuallyperipatetic. My First Hitchhike

So this German family picked up this Indian girl in the outskirts of Poland. I showed them the address I needed to get to, they let me use their phone so I could find out the exact location, and in less than half an hour, I was there.

Of course, once I got there, I couldn’t find the hostel. These people almost refused to leave, till I literally forced them to go after assuring them I’ll be fine.

Surya with her drivers - by perpetuallyperipatetic - by perpetuallyperipatetic. My First Hitchhike

It took me a while, again, to find the actual hostel. Thank God for the lady at the random restaurant who spoke English and could point me in the right direction, I had been walking in circles for the last 15 minutes while the hostel was barely 200m away. I don’t think I have ever been happier than I was at the moment I saw those lights.

So that was just a little recap of how I was sucked into the world of hitchhiking. Have you ever tried it? Will you ever? Do you want to? Coming up in Part 2… Reactions, realisations, tips and the story of my second attempt. Make sure you come back for it. Subscribe and the post will come to you ;)

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written by: Surya Bhattacharya

Surya Bhattacharya is an Architect from New Delhi, India, and currently a Design student in Milan, Italy. She wants to travel a lot more than she actually does and can now be found trying to blog regularly about her ‘adventures’ at  perpetuallyperipatetic.wordpress.com.

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5 comments

  • Great story Surya. I admire your adventurous spirit because I can’t see myself ever hitchhiking, but I do like to read what others are doing.

  • Great post, I liked Krakow and Slovakia is such a nice country too… I loved Zakopane too especially Morskie Oko and Czarny Staw, have you visited?

    Such a cool adventure… reminds me when I got lost in Sevastopol, Ukraine and I took the wrong bus in the wrong direction and then when I got off I realized I had no more money… Had to walk all the way back in the rain…

    You’ve got a great blog!!

    • Thank you, Tom!! I haven’t been to Morskie Oko and Czarny Staw, and I just passed through Zakopane. I’ll add them to my list if there is a next time. (I hope there will be)
      Walking back in the rain with no money sounds scary. But all is well that ends well, and you got a great experience (and story) out of it, right? :D