Rolling into Istanbul in a truck was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Not only was it an amazing way to experience one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the sparkling skyline appearing over the horizon, but it meant we had made it hitch hiking from Tallinn, Estonia all the way through to Istanbul, Turkey.
Back two months ago, when looking at our funds and thinking how we could do this trip around Europe for another five months, we decided transport was the first expense we would be happy to see go. Buses add up, and are really no fun at all. We had dabbled in hitch hiking together through Thailand, and although I was really hesitant in the beginning I grew to love it by the end. READ HERE
Our plan was to leave Estonia, head through Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and make it to Turkey without getting public transport.
Our trip started off relatively easy, (posts about early hitch hiking are here, here and here!) and apart from a few hick ups and potential nights spent roadside, we made it out of Estonia, through Latvia and into Belarus perfectly in tact, just a little frozen.
Hitch hiking in Belarus, we didn’t have to wait long for our lifts, and although no one spoke English everyone who did pull over was more than willing to help us out. So much so, that when we tried to get from the capital Minsk, to Hrondna we waited no longer than seven minuets before a lovely young couple pulled up and offered us a lift the whole way. They even proposed to take us in for two nights with their parents, who looked after us enormously, cooking us traditional Belarusian food and fussing over us.
We found throughout our journey, how many more possibilities hitch hiking opened up for us. We had a man take us on a mini excursion to the war memorial in Belarus, we stopped in some incredible countryside in Romania that saw us walk 3-kilometres along a beautiful following river in the forest, we got to see more of each country we visited through the backseat window of cars, trucks and vans. We got to walk independently across border crossings; confusing border control guards with our friendly Australian laid back-ness and strange foreign passports they suspected as fake.
Mixed with couch surfing, we interacted with locals in every country we visited who took us into their homes, showed us their culture, food, towns and made some amazing friends. Via mixing with locals, we experienced the underground theatre in Belarus, had our asses saved from being deported from the country, climbed the highest peak of The Carpathian Mountain range in Ukraine, discovered hidden authentic restaurants in each country, crawled through the Odessa catacombs, visited the non-country Transnister, and made it to the old abandoned soviet monument Buzludzha and had to bribe our way out of Transnistria just off the top of my head.
Once we made it to Ukraine, we purchased our tent that made our hitch hiking trip twice as exciting. Now, if we found ourselves stuck on a highway in the dark, we could set up and spend the night. We slept under the stars, camped in the middle of nowhere, was constantly unsure where we would spend the night, some times afraid we wouldn’t make it to the next destination, but in the end everything worked out for the best.
Some times, when it was snowing/ raining/ stinking hot, we both questioned why we were even doing it. We got left in the middle of a highway with no walking pass on numerous occasions, left in the middle of nowhere with hardly any cars passing and stuck for hours, dropped in the dark and negative temperatures on a small road with no traffic and no sleeping equipment thinking we would spend the night in the cold under a tree.
Once, we accident got in the car with a drunk man who refused to focus on the road and drove us out to a small abandoned museum where we thought we would be killed only to turn out he was actually helping us greatly. We were unsure if we would make it out alive, but instead made it out with a bottle of Ouzo, block of cheese and a tomato.
More than a few times we considered giving in and buying a bus ticket, as we stood on the side of the road for hours, freezing cold. Some times, I absolutely hated it. As Tyral always says, hitch hiking is all about peaks and troughs.
As the horizon of Istanbul crept up on us, and the flashing lights sparkled in the distance, I was happy we never threw in the towel and made it the whole way. The experiences we had hitch hiking was completely different to anything I’ve had before, and anything I imagined on my ‘European holiday’.
In the end, after 52 days we had crossed over 2000 kilometers through 9 countries, one half country, about 50 lifts, saved about $1000 on transport and met countless kind hearted people who are now some of our good friends. If I could, I would bring every single one of them back home to Australia (sorry mum) and share every one of their stories with the world. For someone who was so skeptical of hitch hiking, it has completely won me over.