Poland is sometimes being regarded as a bad country for hitchhiking, but it can also be a great pleasure to hitchhike there. Most drivers generally believe that others do not stop and that hitchhiking days are over in Poland, which however does not prevent hundreds of them from stopping. A positive factor in hitchhiking in Poland is that some 20 to 40 years ago it was the most common way of travel for the majority of young people - and most of them have cars today, so very often do they repay the debt.
- The common way to hitchhike in Poland is to stand on the side of the road with your hand extended and thumb pointing upwards. Most hikers also wave their hands up and down, though this is not obligatory.
- Unlike in Western Europe, hitchhikers in Poland very rarely do write their destination on a sheet of paper or some piece of cardboard. Waving is usually enough to make a driver stop.
- There are two main groups of hitchhikers in Poland. One is typical tourists (usually youngsters), and the other is the villagers, usually elderly people, who commute from their village to the nearest town or back. It is customary that the villagers leave some small tip to the driver (usually some 10% of the bus ticket price). However, tourists are not expected to pay anything for the ride, unlike in southern Europe. There is also a category of drivers who never stop by the villagers, but very often do accept tourists. Because of that it is a good idea to place your backpack in front of you.
Avoid hitchhiking in Poland at all costs if possible. It's very difficult to get a ride and although people used to pick up hitchhikers it's not so common today anymore, because people don't trust hitchhikers. Many hitchhikers are drunks or bad behaving people and that has seriously damaged the overall reputation of hitchhikers.
Even though the Polish road network has improved gigantically over the last 1.5 decade, by Western European standards, Poland has a poorly developed infrastructure of roads (droga, plural - drogi) and expressways (autostrada, plural - autostrady). The vast majority of roads that form an extensive net covering all of the country are single lane. There are very few main expressways, and some express roads with lower speed limits than motorways but with many of their features.
Except for the few expressways, it is generally accepted to hitchhike on the side of the road in almost any suitable place. Unlike many European states, the police are generally friendly towards hitchhikers as long as they behave properly. On expressways the best place to hike is either an exit or, preferably, one of the filling stations.
See also: Roads and expressways in Poland (wikipedia)
According to a 2001 survey by CBOS (Polish survey office), roughly 42% of Poles speak at least one foreign language fluently. Generally, 23% of Poles speak Russian, 16% speak English and a similar percentage speaks German. Other languages often spoken are French, Czech, Slovak and other Slavic languages. According to the same survey, among the youngsters (students and pupils) the percentage to speak at least one foreign language fluently reached 66, as compared to 50% of those under 35 and 40% of those between 35 and 54 years of age . According to a similar survey prepared in late 2005 by TNS Opinion & Social for the European Commission, the percentage of people who speak one foreign language decently is 57%. At the same time roughly 32% are bi-lingual and 4% tri-lingual . Except for younger people, foreign languages (mostly English) are commonly spoken by businessmen and educated people (87%), urban populations (50%) and small business (48%). However, it is hard to predict the knowledge of languages of a driver by his car as educated people in Poland are generally poorly-paid.
Apart from the people who speak foreign languages, a vast majority of Poles do understand some basic constructions of other Slavic languages and of English. Due to World War II history and the number of war films created afterwards, also some basic words of the German language are commonly known.
Although the data above is probably accurate to some degree, it's hard to find a person on the street who can give you directions or help you either in Russian or in English. Younger generation speaks English, but usually it's very limited. More limited than in Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. A person speaking in Russian is even harder to find and like one driver said, he learned Russian 40 years ago at school and hasn't used it since.
Communication & Dictionary
The Polish language is generally hard to learn for most native English speakers. Even the most basic constructions you might need while on the road require the usage of quite complicated grammar and the use of grammatical gender, proper declension and a number of other categories non-existent in modern English. However, contrary to French or German people, Poles are generally friendly towards foreigners who try to speak their language. Because of that do not be afraid to commit mistakes. They might at times sound funny, but most Polish people would be astonished by the fact that you tried.
Apart from the basic set of words and constructions found in every guidebook, there are some words hitchhikers might find particularily useful. Check also the Wikipedia articles on Polish language and Polish phonology for more info on proper pronunciation. You can buy a decent guidebook or dictionary in any major town in Poland.
- hitchhiking - autostop / stop - [awto-stop]
- hitchhiker - autostopowicz - [awto-stopovich]
- we're travelling to... - jedziemy do... - [yeh-dzhye-mee doh]
- Where is the best place to hitchhike to...? - Skąd najlepiej łapać stopa do...? [skont nay-leh-pyey wapach stopa do...]
- Where is the nearest...? - Gdzie jest najbliższy...? - [g'dzhe yest nay-bleezh-shee]
- motorway exit for... - zjazd na... - [zyazd nah]
- phone booth - budka telefoniczna - [boot-ka teh-leh-fonn-eech-nah]
- bus stop - przystanek - [pshee-stah-nek]
- train station - dworzec - [dvoh-zhets]
- filling station - stacja benzynowa - [stats-yah behn-zee-nova]
- dictionary - słownik - [swoh-v-nick]
- guidebook/guide - przewodnik - [psheh-vod-nick]
- map / plan - mapa / plan - [mah-pah] [pla-n]
When entering Poland at the border from Lithuania (and possibly from other countries too) it is a good idea to get a long long ride if it's getting dark. Often there are miles and miles of trucks and it's better to try to get a ride straight to where you're heading then to get stuck somewhere in the middle of the night.
If you are stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere and it is already in the middle of the night, prepare yourself for a long waitingtime. But after a couple of hours somebody will eventually stop.
During hitchhiking it might be possible that drivers use CB radios to ask other drivers to take you.
It's easier to get a ride along the route that leads from the Lithuanian-Polish border to Warsaw and more difficult from Warsaw to Krakow, because the train connection between these two cities is extremely good and as a result there seems to be very little traffic on the highway connecting these cities.
- Gorzów Wielkopolski
- Zielona Góra
Registration plate code system
Here is a MAP with a car registration plate codes of Poland. It facilitates hitching at spots where you can see a car registration plate (gas stations, borders, traffic lights)and choose the proper one.