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Spain is a member state of the European Union as well as the Schengen Agreement.
Spain consists of 17 administrative units called Comunidades Autónomas. Some of these administrative units also represent historical nations that vary in traditions, culture, gastronomy and even language. Although all citizens of Spain speak Spanish and are politically recognised as Spaniards, you will be more liked by locals – especially in the nationalistic Basque country and Catalunya – if you learn the basic distinctive features of each region (i.e don't expect sevillanas and bullfighting in Girona, and don't be surprised if you see bagpipes and celtic-like stuff in Santiago de Compostela!).
In Spain, hitching isn’t a very common concept and mostly done by foreigners. However, the thumb will be understood. An effective best method can be ask people directly whenever possible, even if your Spanish is very poor. The Spanish phrase vas a... ? ‘are you going to...?’ is a good starting point. Because Spain is a touristic country, at some large service stations you can find drivers from all over Europe, who are more likely to take you than the local people. However, this strategy is not advised in the far south of Spain (Andalucia), as service stations there tend to be deserted and sometimes off of the main road.
Even if you hitchhike alone or in groups of two, be prepared to make much fewer kilometres per day than in e.g. Germany or France. Waiting times of over an hour are common, and 500–700 km a day may prove a real challenge. The first time you hitchhike in Spain, it might be a good idea to only plan for 300 km a day.
During the "the siesta" (from 14:00 to 17:00), there tends to be less traffic. In the summer, the sun can be very powerful at this time of day, so it may be best to avoid standing on the road during the siesta hours.
When entering the country from France you should try to get a lift as close to your destination as possible. On the Mediterranean side, a good place for this is La Jonquera, one of the biggest truck stops in Europe. You’ll find plenty of international truck drivers all over the country, because Spain is a centre of the fruit industry, exporting their oranges and tomatoes. On the Atlantic side, there is another huge truck stop near Irun.
If you arrive by the ferry from Africa you should try to get a ride on the ferry or at the port. There are lots of people from Morocco, who went to visit their families and now return. You’ll see number plates from many other European states.
The north of Spain has a well developed system of Autopistas. Autopistas are very similar to French autoroutes, and so similar rules can be applied when hitchhiking. Autopistas have two or more lanes in each direction, accessed after passing through a peaje (tollgate) and have large rest stops along the way.
When hitching at peajes, usually people have great success, and can obtain long distance rides, even at night time. Usually the police and motorway staff do not interfere, but some stricter police may request that you leave. It is important to note that large peaje sections are usually split by a concrete wall; 2 or 3 lanes for cars, on the inside, and another 2 or 3 lanes for buses and trucks on the outside. The concrete walls usually carry on some distance after the peaje, and end once the vehicles are travelling too fast to stop. It is up to the hitchhiker to decide which lanes to take, however sticking to the outside and waiting for a truck may attract less attention from the authorities than standing further inside waiting for a car.
When hitching long distances it is a good idea to stick to large peaje sections or rest stops. Bring water and food, since these áreas de servicio are expensive. It should be noted that hitching at small peaje sections, on motorway exits, is not recommended, as often there is one peaje for both directions, automatically ruling out many vehicles as possible rides.
In the south of Spain, the motorways are smaller and the petrol stations are usually further away from the road. It is best to be patient at these places. Be careful when people promise you to drop you off at a "very busy" petrol station, as it might turn out to be deserted. It is better in these cases to find direct lifts from one town to another (use a sign when thumbing).
As mentioned above, the Comunidades are not only administrative districts; many of the regions have their own culture, language and some even are reluctant about considering themselves as a part of Spain. For example the dominating language in Catalonia is Catalan, so be aware of that. Nevertheless, everyone speaks castellano (Spanish).
Aside from Spanish, other recognised spoken languages are Galician, Basque, Catalan, Aranese, Astur-leonese and Aragonese. Only the first three are legally official and have a considerable number of speakers. But don't panic! Everybody speaks perfect Spanish and won't feel uncomfortable talking to you. Younger Spaniards will easily understand you in English as well. Obviously big co-official languages like Basque, Catalan and Galician are widely used in their respective regions, and learning a handful of words or at least showing your interest in local languages may make the driver loosen up.
Also, you will find that some Catalan, Basque and Galician cities can appear in signs and maps with two names: one in its local language form and the other in Spanish. For instance: Donostia (in Basque) is also known as San Sebastián (in Spanish), Lleida (in Catalan) is Lérida (in Spanish), Rianxo (in Galician) is Rianjo (in Spanish) etc. Whatever your map says and whichever language you are speaking —even if you are speaking in Spanish— , hitchwiki encourages you to use the local language form better than the Spanish one if possible, also in your sign, in order to not mess with politics. Spaniards all across Spain understand both forms.
Note: Although the signs on the road and other kinds of key information (i.e: restaurant menus) are translated into Spanish in bilingual territories, you will definitely need help in small towns and non-touristy places in the Basque Country and Catalonia, especially because Basque is an isolated language that does not resemble anything you have heard before. In case of doubt, ask the locals. In Spanish Disculpe, ¿qué signfica... (Excuse me, what does ... mean?) works fine everywhere. Mariam , who does not speak Basque, walked from a small town following a sign in Basque that she thought would guide her to the next town and ended up in a recycling plant.
Spanish for the Hitchhiker
The Spanish phrase ¡Hola! Vas a... ? (Hello, are you going to... ?) with a wide smile is an excellent starting point. Remember most Spaniards actually meet the stereotype of being loud and friendly, but aren't used to see hitchhikers on the road. Therefore, you'd better be extra familiar and polite by saying things like "¡Gracias, buen viaje!" (Thank you, have a nice trip!) after your driver drops you off or when they make excuses to not pick you up (this way they will think twice the next time they bump into a hitchhiker). Check the Spanish section in the phrasebook for more basic words.
In Spanish there are only five vowel sounds and, conversely to French or English, you should pronounce all the letters that you read as an independent sound. So say phonetically with a clear distinction of each sound "autopista" [ aw to 'pis ta ] (motorway), not ottopista, or otpist . Other difficulties that foreigners usually face:
The letter Ñ as in España and "mañana" (morning or tomorrow), which is the equivalent of the Portuguese digraph NH and Catalan NY. If you struggle with it just pronounce it as an N and an I like when you say "Estonia" — it is not the actual sound, but it will work for a tourist. The digraph "LL" as in "calle" (¨street) and "valle" (valley) is pronounced in most places as a strong "y". You would say "ka-yeh" and "ba-yeh". The digraph "CH" is always pronounced as in church in English.
There are other tricky sounds like the Z and C, the double RR... but you can get away with these brief tips pretty well. Spanish is easy!
Wild camping and Bivouacking
It is legal to wild camp for free in Spain as long as you camp when the sun sets and leave early in the morning. This is called pernoctation and the forest guards will not bother you if you explain that you know what you are doing. Remember that lighting a fire is forbid in most of the Spanish regions.
If you go to Spain during the summer months (June-August) it will be warm enough in the night to bivouac (sleep outdoors without a tent). However, it is recommended to take a thick sleeping bag because temperatures can drop to 10 celsius degrees in the north, the meseta, and hilly areas. Although it might seem very bohemian and romantic, avoid sleeping in a beach. Especially if it is populated by drunk people and guiris (Spanish despective word for stereotypical north-European tourists that come to Spain for cheap alcohol and street sex). Chances are you will get stolen by pickpockets who go to those beaches to take advantage of the wealthy, drunk guiris.
Despite the fact that many houses have been shut down lately, Spain has a very active squatting scene. It’s quite easy to find a place to crash by asking around for a casa okupada.
Hostels and Pensions
There are plenty of backpacker's hostels in big and not-so-big cities in Spain that you will find online through sites like www.hostelworld.com . A cheap hostel you can find online might cost between 10 and 20 euros depending on the season and the region (Basque Country, Catalonia and Madrid are usually more expensive than the rest of the country).
Now, here is the little secret that Spaniards know and you don't, A vast majority of cheap pensiones do not appear on the internet and you will hardly find any information on google or tourism offices. This is probably because the owner of the "pension" or hostel might be an old lady that rents a room in some kind of not very legal way. Pensiones can vary in cost and luxury, depending on the number of stars you find under the "P" sign. The best thing to do is to go to the city hall and ask for the yellow pages book Páginas amarillas, call the pensions and ask for the price. You will need to speak Spanish here, or find someone that can speak Spanish for you because most old ladies do not speak English. It is a good idea to ask the locals if they know a cheap place to stay, or even ask so to other pension owners.
Pilgrim hostels (Camino de Santiago)
Camino de Santiago is a legendary long hiking pilgrimage trail that can be started from almost anywhere in Europe. It ends in Santiago de Compostela, a beautiful city in the heart of Galicia. Obviously, this trail reaches its highest fame rate in Spain, where it is known by everyone and is even part of folklore. Nowadays, pilgrims that go to Santiago are backpackers from all around the world with varied reasons for walking (some religious, some for fun etc). There is a broad net of albergues de peregrinos (pilgrim hostels) all around Spain for the pilgrims to spend the night after a day of walking. Those are undoubtedly the cheapest accommodation in the country. The price can vary from 5 to 10 euros and even some religious centres offer it for free or the will.
In most cases, to use the pilgrim albergues you will need to prove that you are a pilgrim with a credencial, a passport with the stamps of the towns that the pilgrim has passed by in his journey. You can get your credencial in any church/city hall through which the Camino passes. Lately, people do the Camino in many different ways and directions, Some even by car. So do not be shy about asking the albergue owners for a bed or help. If you are friendly, they will be too.
From any tourist-info around country, you can find good roadmap of the region and/or the autonomous area for free of charge.
- Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya
- Donostia-San Sebastián
- Madrid, the capital
- Santiago de Compostela
Robino hitching from Valencia to Granada.
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