I'm an original Berliner, born three months before the Wall fell, and have discovered my love for travelling early on.
Hitchhiking is perhaps the most enriching way of transport while travelling, so I want to spread the word and assist fellow hitchers with my experiences. Thumbs up!
The first time I hitchhiked – although only for a distance of approx 5 km – was on Stewart Island, New Zealand. Since then, my thumb (often accompanied by signs) got me further rides in:
- New Caledonia
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- Shortest wait: Several spots in South Korea and Malaysia, always less than 5 minutes.
- Longest wait: Approx 3 ½ hours at a petrol station in Carseldine, Brisbane, heading for Hervey Bay (Australia). The guy who eventually picked me up did take me all the way to my destination!
- Shortest lift: Approx 3 minutes (1 km) from Buada Lagoon back to Boe, Nauru – since I couldn't be arsed walking back in the heat.
- Longest lift: More than 11 hours (578 km) from Litang to Chengdu, China (with a rich local couple in their brand new Audi SUV).
- Easiest country: South Korea. One time my girlfriend and I even got picked up within a dense urban area at a random bus stop (we had a sign though).
- Hardest country: Laos. Of trying to hitchhike six times in prime locations, only two times we were picked up – both times by Chinese business travellers, not locals.
- Highest speed: 210 km/h on the A 24 Autobahn from Hamburg to Berlin.
- Lowest speed: About 10 - 15 km/h on a pothole-ridden dirt road in East Timor.
- Cameron Highlands towards Ipoh (Malaysia): After waiting for a good 30 to 40 minutes, a truck passed without stopping. Before it went around a corner about 200 metres away, I can see the truck stopping and reversing towards me. I realise they're coming back to give me a lift: Three young Malaysians, who don't speak any English – but I'm able to convey my destination to them. It turns out I have to ride in the back of the truck. Its only content? A wooden chair that I'm sitting on the whole ride while I'm holding onto some metal lock bars!
- Kampot towards Kep (Cambodia): A scooter with an attractive, young Cambodian women stops for me and my girlfriend. She's willing to give us a lift; for me it's highly questionable though how she intends to do this, being three people with four bags (one of them a huge 85 L backpack) now that go on a vehicle designed to carry two people without luggage. With one foot on the exhaust, the other one hanging in the air and the 18 kg backpack intending to kill me by permanently pulling me to the road behind us, I'm now sure this is an experience I don't want to make again...at least not with luggage!
- After walking more than half an hour in the heat, with a heavy big backpack, a smaller one and a full food bag attached to it and – since everyone needs challenges, eh? – a box of beer cans in my hands, a white rental SUV stops near a bridge on the Bruce Highway several kilometres outside of Townsville. The girl is probably in her late twenties, and she cheerily invites me to join her on her way to Cairns, where she's going to see family of hers. We have the usual get-to-know-each-other-conversation, and I soon notice a number of scars on her upper legs. One or two hours later, having had a lively conversation with some laughs in between, we change the topic and she tells me she's working on fishing boats around Australia, that she had to fend off numerous rape attempts on the boats being the only female, and thus always sleeps with a knife now. Shortly after this unsettling revelation we fall silent, and it doesn't take long until she announces: "I don't think you should be here anymore. You'll get off now." Mind you I didn't enquire further about her work environment, or anything personal afterwards for that matter. Fortunately we had reached a small town by then and I didn't mind getting off. Oh, the characters you meet while hitchhiking...
- A young, well-groomed local giving me and my girlfriend a ride from an intersection near Den Chai to Chiang Mai, Thailand. We talk using Google Translator, and find out he's working in the "film and beauty industry", however he doesn't get more specific than that. He's very keen to learn more about our travels, but as we reach his booked hotel in the outskirts of the city, he starts to completely ignore us once we got off the car, puts his sunglasses on and checks into the hotel (still wearing the glasses, which he didn't wear while driving). Perhaps he was a Thai celebrity who didn't want to be seen with random backpackers...we'll never know!
- Going from Kampong Cham towards Siem Reap, Cambodia, a sedan with a government number plate stop besides us – inside are a driver, three young Cambodian women and a chock-a-block boot which certainly has no space anymore for my massive main backpack, the two smaller ones and the food bag we're carrying. Yet they're too happy to take us part of the way, and I'm beginning to understand how people from developing countries manage to get so many things in a relatively small space! One of the women speaks pretty good English, they're on their way to a graduation ceremony or something. Soon the talk revolves around handsome men, so I leave my girlfriend and the other ladies to it and smile, just as the (male) driver does.
- Going from Battambang to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we're picked up by a local family in a Toyota Hilux with an old man on the front passenger's seat. First we think it's the grandpa, but later it turns out he's a rich neighbour of the family and pays them to take him around Cambodia for leisure and business. They take us to a memorial site for some Cambodian king, to a random waterfall (complete with big food market, entrance fees to the swimming/picnic area and heaps of local families) as well as a plantation: There we buy organic palm juice, which, after a night in the fridge and thanks to fermentation, tastes similar to Fanta or other soda pops – only that it's natural and good for you. How awesome is that?!
- At the Raststätte Biegener Hellen Süd, near the border of Germany and Poland, I get picked up by a little, weird pensioner and his "friend", an even weirder guy in his late thirties/early forties who looks like a classic football hooligan. As my previous wait took nearly three hours and I was getting tired, I even agree when the old guy asks me if I could contribute a little money for taking me over to Poland. During the short drive to the motorway intersection towards Słubice, I learn that they come to Poland almost every weekend exclusively to buy alcohol...and I'm thinking the old dude might as well be drunk now by the way he talks and his driving style. His hooligan friend meanwhile boasts with all the expensive vehicles he allegedly owns: Harley Davidson's, a Ford Mustang, you know. I'm rather happy to get off soon, and as I want to give €5 to the guy upon arrival, he waves dismissively and proclaims (after having heard I'm travelling by hitchhiking only): "Schon jut, du bist 'ne arme Sau!" (English: "Nevermind, you're a poor bastard!")
- The attractive mum with her primary school-aged son who picked me up in the outskirts of Kaliningrad: She, a native Russian with no family ties to Central Europe, speaks very good German but no English – the only person I've met so far with this constellation.
- After waiting for more than one hour for a car that can take me and a guy from Kyrgyzstan, whom I've met randomly a few hours earlier, across the Russian-Lithuanian border on the Curonian Spit (walking is not allowed), a minivan stops and agrees to take us all the way to Klaipėda. There's three guys of different nationalities already in the car, and at the immigration booths, the officials collect one passport each from Kyrgyzstan, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.