Hitchhiking Europe I: Western Poland

I embark on a journey through Bydgoszcz,
Many cars are passing, but with nobody stopping,
I fret and stare at my wristwatch.
The sun’s going down, I’m left with a frown,
This trip has become such a hotchpotch.
Oh just to reach this town, before my body shuts down
– such an outcome would be very topnotch!

Michael Alexander Job, 16.08.2023
The Brief.

After 6 weeks at Polish summer school, the clock was ticking. My time was running out. Shortly, I’d have to return to London for graduation. But I wasn’t done just yet. I wanted to stretch my legs, cover more land, see something more before returning to dreary London. I had decided to fly back from Rome (perhaps the 50€ ticket to LHR influenced my decision among other things) … But how would I reach the south of Europe from Poznań? The plan was simple, I would stick my thumb out and hope for the best. A practice commonly known as hitchhiking.

For those of you uncertain of Europe’s geography (*cough* Americans), Poznan is some 1300km from Rome. Given it was the height of summer, I wasn’t awfully keen on paying for extortionate airfares nor inflated Flixbus rides. The genius in me concluded the answer was to travel south for free; relying on the kindness of strangers, embracing vulnerability, trusting the innate morality of mankind.

How hard is hitchhiking in 2023?

A quick Google search will tell you hitchhiking used to be easy, safe and reliable. In the 50’s and 60’s it was a viable mode of transport – many governments even encouraged it! Even until the 90’s, hitchhiking was common. The golden ages are behind us, though. The trust in strangers has gone. People are no longer willing to risk getting their fingers burnt to help a stranger in need (in the West at least). But I was sure that it was still possible, even if it took 10 times as long to get a ride, fundamentally possible. Besides, regardless of societal developments and minor advances in evolution, how much could humans have changed in the last century?..

The conditions of the trip.

It wouldn’t be an MAJ adventure if I didn’t complicate things for myself – I decided to travel through the night and had a time limit.. two conditions completely incompatible with hitchhiking.

I’m sure you readers can understand why hitchhiking at night is considered more dangerous – you’re driving blind in the sense that you cannot confront the driver for veering off the agreed route, your judgement of character is impaired when you can’t properly see who’s stopping for you and the chances of there being witnesses when your body is found in a ditch are nil.

As for time limits, while hitchhiking may be considered free, the trade currency is time. You may hitch a ride within 5 minutes or 5 days. Hence the success of the trip is predicated on patience and perseverance.

Being murdered, unfortunately, is an uncontrollable variable…

Pushing my body to the limits.

Another complication in hitchhiking around the clock is sleep. Without any camping equipment, I had limited opportunities to nap. And when stuck in the middle of nowhere, where does one sleep? On top of that, kipping during a hitched ride is considered a faux pas unless the driver permits it.

I would have to sleep during the day, and drive during the night. What a fantastic use of my time. I’m sure my body loved every minute of this!

Cutting the fluff.

But before departing, I needed to work on the appearance I had to sell to potential drivers; I needed to look like a traveller, not a homeless, like an innocent bystander in need, but not in too much need. This meant only having one or two bags, no suitcases or duffle bags!

So the first call of action was heading to the post office to ship my suitcase, souvenirs and memorabilia back to England.

The Test Run.

Before heading southbound toward the eternal city, I decided a mini trip would give me a gauge as to how hard it would be to get to Rome. The initial route was quite short during the day. Poznań – Bydgoszcz – Toruń – Gniezno – Poznań:

Poznań – Bydgoszcz.

In retrospect, leaving Poznań was the hardest part of this trial run. As my friend Easton says, ‘Every urban area has a strong gravitational pull.’ In other words, a city’s infrastructure, road layout and mapping are designed to filter people into the centre of the city, not out. What this means, is there is no one place where you can hitch from that guarantees a ride out of the city. Combine that with Poland’s obsession with building new motorways, and you’re stuck with a few okay-ish options but nothing great.

I decided my best bet was to get to the edge of the city to join the A2 followed by the S5. I took a bus to ‘Torowa Wiadukt’. Here I tried a few different spots. No luck. 1.5 hours later, I changed positions. Another 30 minutes passed. Suddenly a black Peugeot saloon screeches to a halt at the zebra crossing in front of my hitch point

A 30-year-old debonair Pole signals at me and into the car I jump, hoping for a non-stop route to Bydgoszcz…

As it so turns out, he was heading in the opposite direction but wanted to help me out and dropped me at the first petrol station on the S5, MOP Czerlejno. He too had hitchhiked as a teen, so wanted to give me a lift just as many other motorists had offered him.

While some 120km stood between me and Bydgoszcz, it was progress. After the high had worn off from the first ride, I realised I was going to be waiting a long time. At MOP Czerlejno, I waited 2-3 hours. Moving positions between the entrance and exit to the service station, I eventually sat defeated at the exit.

Out of nowhere, a 35-year-old lady stopped in her 2005 Volvo estate and told me to get in the front. With a Filip in the back, we flew at 180km/h reaching Bydgoszcz in record time. I offer a melted Prince Polo Wafelek as a token gesture to the little boy, but the lady politely declines so I get out. She kindly brings me to the centre of the city – a request very few drivers honour.

Bydgoszcz – Toruń.

Perhaps the most successful hitch of the trip, despite a late departure… I stood waiting for a mere 10 minutes before a group of ethnically ambiguous folk with Russian heritage stopped for me in a tightly packed Golf.

The route was simple: Get to Fordon from Bydgoszcz and wait at the bus stop immediately before the right turn onto the 80 B-Road, directly to Toruń. To get there, I took tram no.5 to ‘Bajka’ and then walked the final 1500m to the bus stop. I arrived at the stop at 20:05.

With few daylight hours remaining, I was greeted by a mark 3 golf with one spare seat with my name on it, just ten minutes after arriving at the stop.

By 20:45 I was in Toruń (or the suburbs at least).

Toruń – Gniezno – Poznań.

After having researched Toruń on various hitchhiking forums, I concluded that Toruń was a city to hitch to, not from. An affordable train ticket took me back to Poznań via Gniezno.


All in all, the test run was successful. Poles seem to welcome the idea of giving a stranger a lift from city to city and while waiting time at the time seemed like a lot, I later came to realise that it can get much much worse…

As with every trip, there is always some collateral damage. On this trip, I lost a lens cap on the bus to the outskirts of Poznań and a film-developing tank in the first car en-route to Bydgoszcz. Buggar!

In part 2, I set off towards Southern Italy with a stop in Bratislava.

Lessons Learnt:
  1. Invest in a good marker – in Poznań alone, about a dozen motorists told me my sign was rubbish and laughed at me!
  2. Get to the waiting point as early as possible. 9/10 times, getting a ride will take longer than expected.
  3. Smile and make eye contact with all passers-by. It makes you seem more human.