We had three days to reach the UK because of tourist visa constraints. We had left it quite tight, but confident it was going to be okay, it was always okay. We actually had more time than anticipated, having covered the wopping 950km in a day so with our remaining days we decided to visit a historic Belgium town. The options were out of Brussels, Ghent and Bruges. The decision was on Bruges due to it being the closest to the UK and apparently the most beautiful. First we needed to reach Belgium, a difficult task in itself because of the crazy highway systems of western Germany. We left our couchsurfers house in the tiny cute riverside town of Kattenes at 8am.
Our first hitch was only minutes of waiting and 15km up the Moselle river back towards Koblenz to where we swapped to a tiny road heading towards a major motorway. The next lift came without waiting as we were walking and quickly through our thumb out at a passing car. Thankfully the kind German lady had done some hitchhiking herself so dropped us right on the freeway entry ramp and where a bus stop sat. Then things slowed down.. We had two options to choose from, head back to Cologne and into the crazy highways or hitch the less used south west highway leading through Luxembourg to Belgium. The highways scared us so we made a cardboard sign with a town on the Luxembourg route. Almost two hours past with most drivers giving us apologetic lifted hands. Our goal was to actually reach Bruges this day, 450km away and being 11pm, it was seeming farfetched!
We swapped options. Quite often with hitchhiking it is not the quickest route but the most used, so we wrote a Cologne sign and sure enough was picked up in 15minutes. A German family man drove us right into the area where we needed to swap to a major highway leading to Belgium and finding absolutely no spots other than the actual entry ramp, a half car lane and grass for cars to pull into, we now held a sign reading the closest German town to the Belgium border, Aachen. Again it began looking worrying until some university students picked us up driving to see a friend in Aachen. They dropped us at a petrol station and now the Belgium border sat 20km away. Bruges, 250km.
Our hopes were dwindling away. The petrol station was becoming quieter by the minute, now nearing 3pm and a handful of Belgium cars drove by. We thought even reaching Belgium was going to be a struggle when a French car slowly drove by, eying us curiously and giving a look of sympathy. The driver was a young French guy travelling 450km home after visiting his girlfriend in Cologne. It was terrific news and as he was passing just before the capital of Belgium, Brussels. Through the lift he talked passionately about being vegan, something we could relate to as having been on such a tight budget, we were mostly eating vegetables and being accidentally vegan. He was also an incredible motivating believer of being kind and helpful to others and when he dropped us 30kms out of his way so we were on the correct highway, we left feeling elevated about life and hopeful of reaching our destination.
It was a terrible place to hitchhike. Having gone out of his way, which we were more than thankful, the first option to drop us at was a rest stop beside the highway. Only half a dozen cars sat there and most drivers were asleep. Desperate, we walked to every car with an awake driver and asked if they could drop us at a petrol station 5km up the road. We did not have time to walk. Excitedly, a pulled in businessman said it would be no problem and at the same time, a man in a van also told us he would take us near Brussels. He seemed eminent so jumping in, we were back onto the highway then dropped at a petrol station just before Brussels.
We were still a long way off Bruges, not by distance but in terms of hitchhiking because Belgium is heavily populated and manoeuvring around cities can be very difficult. There was no direct highway to Bruges. Our hitchhiking guardian angels were alined though. A super friendly young dad saw our sign now saying Ghent, the next biggest town after Brussels, and dropped us just before the city at another petrol station. Heavy traffic around the ring road of Brussels made the 50km trip take and hour and it was now bordering on dark. The city of Ghent laid 15km away and Bruges 50km. We agreed to hold a Bruges sign for 15 minutes and if we didn’t get a lift, change to Ghent.
It was crazy to take in when a business man told us jump into his car. He was driving past Bruges and said he would drop us on its outskirts. We had made it! And other than that one time in Slovenia, we had actually made it to every single designation we had hoped, as crazy or far away as they seemed. The lovely man decided to drop us right in the city and now completely dark, we walked to the cheapest hostel, which we had researched earlier for 14€ a night with free breakfast (braking the budget) and couldn’t sleep with excitement. We booked two nights, leaving the last day to hitchhike to the UK. A tight schedule, but everything was going to be okay, it always was.
Bruges was an amazingly beautiful and historic city. Flowed with river canals, cobble stone streets, medieval buildings and modernism. It was a city we didn’t feel out of place in for a change, as if holding onto its small town charm and we loved the entire day we had exploring it streets. We ate Belgium waffles, but not he expensive kind one buys from a street stall for 12€; from a supermarket with strawberries, chocolate, jam and it only cost us 6€ for 12. They lasted dinner, breakfast and lunch. The time came however that we had to reach the UK and on the morning of departure, we stocked up on the free breakfast and was walking by 7:30am outside the city.
The first lift came easy to a smaller town next to the highway leading west in a delivery van. In truth we had no idea whether hitchhiking to the UK was possible. Our goal was to hitchhike a car travelling in the Eurotunnel but having researched, due to refugee problems in the French the town of Calais (where the tunnel begins) we would need to generate a lift before there. That left us with the next closest service station, still in Belgium and 65km away from Calais. It was also forbidden to hitchhike through the tunnel so we needed a driver who would keep it secret. Perhaps we were asking too much!
Again we were picked up quickly when a man who had just come out of hospital for major heart surgery dropped us 40km and at a petrol station on the highway we needed to be on. We waited 10minutes for the next lift and this one got us to the petrol station which we were hoping would get us our lift to the UK. It was early, only 10am and everything was going brilliantly. We held a sign with the two large letter UK on it. Having allowed a lot of time, as we imagined the final lift across the tunnel was not going to come easily, it turned out we did not have to! Incredibly, after 15minutes of waiting a small van stopped and a lovely lady jumped out and said in an English accent “I hope you don’t mind dogs”. In the back of the van was four beautiful border collies and even while the car was crazily packed we admitted to loving dogs and convincingly told her there was plenty of space.
Crossing the tunnel was a breeze. Before we went through the visa and car check, the four dogs had to be checked in (similar to a person but at a pet check in building). We both took a dog each by the lead, walked them into a fenced off play area then into a building where their microchips were scanned. It was a humbling experience to be trusted so generously by a stranger to help look after their pets. Next we were off and down into the train. It almost felt as if boarding a space shuttle to another planet! The 45minute trip passed quickly while we chatted away easily and before we knew it, the space shuttle had landed and we were in the UK!
We agreed to be dropped at a petrol station directly after the Eurotunnel. Our lovely driver was heading south and we were hoping to reach London. An easy feat we imagined once crossing under the channel but we had no idea what catastrophic mess we had just created being dropped where we did. Walking to the exit of the petrol station we stood for only five minutes before a security truck pulled up beside us. Two officers stepped out and being stern but friendly, told us we were on restricted property and they have called the police. We talked friendlily until a police car emerged then they took our passports and asked how we had gotten to the UK. Being honest they took everything lightly and having found no criminal warrants on our passports, told us we were to be escorted to a nearby town and left to carry on.
It was not a good place to be. We were dropped at a tiny towns supermarket, then moving to be standing on the entry ramp to the highway we needed hitch, discovered nobody was heading towards London. Half an our later a man stopped and dropped us at the next bigger town of Ashford but it had absolutely no possible place to hitchhike from. We walked for an hour trying to discover somewhere and feeling defeat, London so close, we desperately stood back on an entry ramp again, this time no where for car to pull in, and through our thumbs out with a London sign.
We didn’t like hitching in the UK. People were yelling at us and blatantly rude. We were very thankful and surprised when a man came running up the entry ramp and yelled out for us to follow him onto the motorway where he had stopped. Feeling sorry for us because of the terrible spot, he had stopped where it was somewhat safe and drove us into the very centre of London! The entire time Kayla sitting on the floor in the back being growled at by two French Bulldogs! The bridge was only a 5 minute walk away. I got into contact with a friend i had stayed with in London the year before named Sam, and being the awesome person she is, allowed us to crash on her couch for the night. It was past 10pm when we arrived and we chatted for some minutes before she and her boyfriend went to sleep, having work in the early morning. Thanks for letting us stay Sam!
The next day we had slept in and missed everybody in the house. We actually stuck around until late afternoon being so exhausted from the previous large day of hitchhiking. We could hardly believe that everything had worked out and now being in the UK, realised our hitchhiking Europe journey was almost over. It was a sad thought, but also fulfilling. Almost 15,000km and not a single bad experience! All these months of hitchhiking and living off 10€ a day had becoming extremely exhausting though, not to mention bordering impossible due to the cold so we were looking forward to the next chapter. That afternoon we made our way to another friends in south London where we were going to lay low for a week and catch up with friends. This adventure had been the most incredibly aspiring and motivating experience of our lives. It is not over yet, but shortly, our stage of hitchhiking will be! So if you have followed along, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts and hope we offered some, if any, bounce of inspiration! 🙂
(51km walked, 735km hitchhiked)