Solo Female Hitchhiking From Bucharest to Athens Part 1
So let me start off by saying: I am NOT an experienced hitchhiker. I’ve only done it a couple of times. But every time I had hitched, it had been an amazing experience. This was my first real solo hitchhiking trip (something over 20 km), and not a particularly short one at that (roughly 1,200 km, or 750 miles). But I needed to get to Athens, didn’t have the money for a bus, and figured I might as well give it a shot…Besides, I could always use some adventure.
This is my story of what really happened on my way hitchhiking from Bucharest to Athens… the good and the bad. Travel bloggers sometimes tend to omit the “bad” experiences, or the mistakes they made, from their stories. I sure as hell made some mistakes on this trip. It certainly wasn’t all sunshine and roses, and there were a couple instances that really freaked me out. But there were also moments that truly warmed my heart. You may be wondering…
Would I do it over again? You bet. Will I hitchhike solo again? For sure.
Part One: Bucharest to Sofia
I was in Bucharest to visit some family friends, with whom I had originally planned to stay about a month. But then after TBEX ’15 Europe, I managed to land a contract to write a travel guide for Athens, and I was so excited to start working on it, I left Bucharest after only about a week.
I woke up early, and after dropping the kids off at school, my friend drove me to the edge of the city and dropped me off on the side of the highway heading south towards Bulgaria. I was fueled up with coffee and breakfast, my friend had given me about two days worth of backpack-friendly food (which later saved my ass sooo much), and I was stoked to be hitting the road.
I had a sign for Sofia at first, but no one else had a sign (there was another hitchhiker and a few
people waiting for a car share), so after a few minutes I ditched it (car sharing is common in Romania, although if your thumb is not out you pay a share of gas). Within less than ten minutes, a car stopped for me. It was two guys in their early twenties. They were only going about 40 km down the road, but it was in the right direction and they seemed really friendly, so I eagerly got into the car. We were chatting animatedly- the boys were so excited to meet me and hear my stories, as well as share theirs. Too quickly, we arrived at their destination (the driver’s parent’s house, just off the highway) and they invited me in for a drink and some food. It was a beautiful farmhouse, with big gardens and chickens, and they gave me some pancakes with cheese that one of their mother’s had made and something to drink. We kept chatting some more, and were having a great time, but I knew I had to get back on the road soon.
View of the front gardens from the porch of the Romanian farmhouse
So, back to the highway I went. And waited. After 45 minutes or so, they came out to the road and saw that I was still there. They pulled the car out and said “get in, we’re taking you to the border.”
What?!? I was completely shocked, and gratefully got into the car. “It’s not very often we get to meet people like you. You’re having such a great adventure, we figured we’d help you out and have some adventure ourselves! If (the driver) didn’t have an interview later today, we’d take you all the way to Sofia just for the fun of it, but as it is, we’ll get you to the border.”
Wow. Talk about nice people! We kept chatting, and the conversation turned to driving. I mentioned I love driving, and have kind of missed it being on the road. After confirming I could drive a manual, they pulled over and let me take the wheel. Who gets to drive while hitchhiking? That’s just freaking awesome!!!
The boys dropped me off about 100 meters away from the border crossing, and headed back to the city. Within two minutes, another nice guy picked me up. He was heading the opposite direction after the border crossing (so we only had about ten minutes together), but got me across the border and pointed me towards the road to Sofia.
Another short wait (maybe 20 minutes), and I landed a ride with a truck driver heading towards Sofia. He didn’t really speak English, but understood I wanted to go to Sofia. After about half an hour, he managed to inform me we had to stop for a break (regular breaks are mandatory for many European truck drivers), which is where things got a bit dicey.
The road was in the mountains, narrow and twisting with no shoulder, but there was a little pull off near a field. We walked around the field a bit, and it was a bit rough, so he offered me his hand and I took it. My first mistake. We sat down and he put his arm around me. I was uncomfortable, but let it slide (mistake number two).
The next fifteen minutes turned into basically me pushing him off of me as he tried to hug, kiss, and grope me. I kept repeating “no, no, stop, not okay” and he kept repeating “okay, okay.”
His fat trucker body pressed against mine, his arms wrapped around me. I didn’t resist as much as I should have. I didn’t want to be left here on this dangerous road. I tried pushing him off of me (although not with full strength), and repeating “no,” but to no avail. He was bigger than me, and although I have a fair amount of self-defense training, I don’t like violence. Especially if I can find away around it… and definitely if using said violence could potentially result in worsening the situation.
Thoughts raced in my head. “Oh my god, what if he tries to go further with me?” “What do I do now?” “This is a really dangerous road to be stuck on.” “I could never run away with my backpack, it’s too heavy.” And more panicky type thoughts.
But then I found my strength again. “Well, if he tries to go any further, I’ll knee him as hard as I can in the balls, leave my big bag, take the small one and run. I don’t care if the road is dangerous, I won’t let anything worse happen to me.” I gathered my full strength, managed to push him off of me, and pointed my finger at him, saying “NO!” in my most authoritative voice. Finally, he grudgingly backed off and it was about time to continue the journey.
I definitely did not handle that well. It was terrifying to feel so vulnerable. And by being a little too friendly, I opened the door for him to behave inappropriately. I didn’t need to take his hand in the field, I’m perfectly capable. And I didn’t need to let him put his arm around me, but I was unsure of the cultural boundaries. Those first mistakes put me in a bad situation. Maybe I should have kneed him in the balls and run away. Teach him a lesson and get away. But maybe that would have made things a lot worse.
A little more than a half hour later, he was heading one way, and I another. I gratefully got out of the truck and almost kissed the road. It was a seriously unpleasant situation, but nothing seriously bad happened and I learned a REALLY important lesson about hitchhiking as a solo female: be crystal clear and rock solid about boundaries. If you start letting them be pushed, the situation could worsen. Mine could have been a lot worse. I’m grateful it wasn’t.
Within seemingly an instant, another truck driver pulled over and picked me up. Still shaken from my last experience, I was a bit nervous, but I climbed in anyways. “One bad truck driver doesn’t mean they are all bad,” I reminded myself.
And this truck driver was amazing. He gave me cigarettes, let me sleep in the bed, bought me two coffees, and some fresh fruit from a roadside stand. He also barely spoke English, but got me almost all the way to Sofia and was generally just pleasant and concerned for my welfare, making no advances whatsoever and reminding me that there are plenty of good people out there.
About 10–15 km outside of Sofia, he had to take another road, so I was left on the freeway. Sunset was fast approaching, and so was a storm. Half an hour went by, and no one had stopped. Theoretically, I could walk to the city, but it would be brutal to go that far with my bags, and I’d be walking on the freeway in the dark during a rain storm. “Well, I guess I should be pressing on… maybe at the next on-ramp I’ll have better luck…”
On my way towards the next on ramp, with no thumb out and no sign, a newer Audi pulled over and stopped for me. It was a gentleman in his 40s-50s who spoke very good English. He was so excited that an American was coming to visit Bulgaria, and he wanted to ensure I felt as warmly welcomed as possible. He drove me into the city, and let me use his phone to contact my Couchsurfing host. When I asked if there was an ATM or exchange place nearby, he gave me 5 lev (enough for two coffees and two metro trips) so I didn’t have to wander around after my journey. I was left about two blocks from the metro station, all sorted and ready to go meet my host and enjoy Sofia.
Despite the bad situation that happened, it was an amazing trip full of amazing, kind, and helpful people. Always pay it forward.
Distance: 360 km
Time: 11 hours
Rides: 5- 4 awesome, 1 pervy
Do you have any good hitchhiking stories to share?
Especially you ladies out there! Solo female hitchhikers ever had a similar experience, good or bad? I’d love to hear about it!