Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Hitchhiking Attempt in Europe

posh cars in Switzerland

I've heard stories of travelers hitchhiking all over the world, but never tried it myself. It seemed a scary thing to do, for a solo female traveler like me. But most of the stories I've heard have been nothing but wonderful experiences. I've been wanting to try it, but have just been waiting for the perfect elements to come together.

Together with two male travel buddies, I booked a train ticket from Bregenz, Austria to St. Gallen, Switzerland. For this trip, our goal was simply to visit Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It didn't matter which part, as long as it was Switzerland. Besides, our host even recommended that St. Gallen was a beautiful town compared to the bigger, noisier cities. We would've wanted to go to Zürich, but a €34 ticket for a 2 hour ride was too steep for us to cough up. That's almost the same price we paid from Vienna to Bregenz (8-hr trip).

Arriving in St Gallen, my travel buddies suddenly had a crazy idea of hitchhiking. My entire system quickly battled against each other. The sane part of me wanted to just stay and explore the small town; on the other hand, the curious part of me was saying, "heck, why not?". 

I gave the men a deal: we'll try to get a ride for an hour, otherwise, we'll stay in St. Gallen.

Instantly, they asked the tourist office for a piece of paper, and scrawled "Zûrich" on it with a pen. We asked a local where the nearest exit to the highway was and we were pointed to a nearby location right after the bridge. We stood there and waited. Actually, they stood there, and I hid under the shadow of a building. It was too hot for me in midday. 

preparing our sign

Several minutes passed. Nothing.

from our point of view: street empty of cars

They asked me to come, as it would've increased our chances if the drivers saw that there was a female hitchhiker, meaning it's safer than just two men. 

So I stood with them for a few minutes, keeping an eye on my watch. "Ten more minutes and we're out of here," I thought.

Just then, a black car pulled over, and I was disoriented. Would this actually be our ride to Zürich? Or did the car stop only to get some money from a nearby bank machine?

Then a lady got out of the car, opened her trunk and with a smile asked us to put our bags in. My mind was racing and was simply amazed, "This is really coming true! We succeeded in our attempt to hitchhike! We're going to Zürich after all. "

We chucked our bags and were told to all sit at the back. That's because her baby was strapped in the front passenger seat. How sweet for a mom to take us in!

After short pleasantries, I asked her what made her stop. She said that it's because we were young, and in her younger days, she also did the same. Paying it forward :)

In less than an hour, we were welcomed into Zürich by the Limmat river, teeming not with fish, but with people swimming! The mom told us that we came to Zürich at the right time, because they were celebrating the annual "Limmatschwimmen"-- the only day in the year when people are allowed to swim in the Limmat River. 

the mom we hitchhiked with;
to the right is the Limmat river

I am glad I gave hitchhiking a chance. What a delight to have arrived here on a perfectly clear, and sunny day, through the warmth of a total stranger. 

locals participating in the annual Limmat Swimming

Your turn, tell us about your hitchhiking experience. Or if you haven't done so, what's stopping you?


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