Homeless and Abroad: The philosophy of hitchhiking

“You’re insane.”

I had that said to me multiple times during my two month excursion throughout Europe from people who’d traveled much farther than I, and most frequently, from the kind people who picked me up on the side of the road. They were amazed mostly because I had so little money and no planned places to sleep, but also because of how far I’d gone solely on my thumb.

Photo by Andrew Fraileli
The red line on this map of Europe is the path I took, all thumbing. It starts in France and goes to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany again, then Denmark at the end. | Photo by Andrew Fraileli

When I was asked where I was from, I told them America and get the same look every time of, “What the hell are you doing here?And usually “here” was a tiny town in the countryside. But that was the best part!

Hitchhiking is without a doubt the best way to travel, at least in Europe and for me. First of all, it’s free — which is important for my humble budget of $600 for two months — but it also pushes you into the real culture of the country in a way you can’t do being a hotel-staying, car-renting tourist.

There were days I spent five hours in 90 degrees waiting for a ride and getting flicked off, days where I spent four hours in the freezing rain and days where I spent seven hours just hoping to get picked up. But I’d do it again.

When you get picked up by people, not only do you never know what the trip will entail, but you learn.

I got to experience beautiful Italian villages in the countryside because a guy shipping frozen fish had to make a stop before he could drop me off. He told me how he used to be in a band and toured all over Europe but retired for his wife and future child because all the drugs and drinking was not a life worth pursuing.

My thumb allowed me to travel from the northernmost point to the southernmost point of Switzerland, being dropped off and picked up in between mountains. I was picked up by one woman who has never hitchhiked in her life but said she always picks them up because she imagines they are her son, and if her son was out there with his thumb out she’d want someone to pick him up.

Photo by Andrew Fraieli
One of my stops between the mountains in Switzerland, at the end of a small town on the eastern side of the country called Thusis. | Photo by Andrew Fraieli

I was brought to and fed at a small farm restaurant in the middle of nowhere in Austria by an older couple because they were so interested in what I was doing and why. They wanted to help me any way they could simply because they were amazed at what I was doing. They gave me ten euros (about $12 at the time) and it got me a bus ticket to Prague, leading me to a place to sleep that night – which isn’t always easy.

Hitchhiking truly makes the adventure about the journey as much as the destination because, honestly, most of the time I didn’t even have a destination.

I just wanted to be free. I wanted to see people as they were day-to-day, not how tourism or movies or media represents them. I wanted to live in this crazy world of cultures and languages and people.

I wanted to go anywhere. And about two weeks in I noticed that with the hitchhiking, I could. And I did.