See the world on a shoestring
For months you’ve been saying you’re definitely going away for summer. Unfortunately, you’ve squandered all your DUO cash. Planning a vacation with your friends is practically impossible, and the deadlines for summer schools abroad have all passed.
Still, you’re itching to get away. It doesn’t matter where, as long as it isn’t Groningen. You might think your empty bank account presents a major obstacle to your travelling dreams. But some adventures don’t require any money.
Hit the road; stick out your thumb. The great thing about hitchhiking is that you don’t need a destination – which means you don’t need to spend any time planning.
Are you worried about getting in the car with a stranger? People are much more friendly than you think. Let the landscape pass you by and make some new friends, from random biology professors to friendly folks who will be happy to drive fifty kilometres out of their way just to drop you off.
Last weekend, a friend and I hitchhiked to Liège, Belgium. We were quickly picked up at the designated hitchhiking spot at the Emma viaduct, and drove from Zwolle to Nijmegen with a biology professor from Radboud University and her daughter. Unfortunately, we got stranded in the Venlo city centre when our next driver, who was high on weed, drove straight past the petrol station where he was supposed to drop us. We had to take the train to get to our final destination.
Hitchhiking might sound risky, but apart from weed guy I’ve never had any bad experiences. And if you’re travelling with a buddy you can have a good laugh about it.
Apart from weed guy, I’ve never had any bad experiences
Nevertheless, it might be a good idea to take a picture of your driver’s licence plate and send it to a friend. If you don’t want to travel alone – which is smart – there are Facebook groups to help you find hitchhiking buddies.
Hitchhiking rules apply throughout the European Union: you can hitchhike from petrol stations and designated hitchhiking spots. If you want to travel beyond the EU, don’t forget your passport. Make sure you don’t get stuck somewhere you’ll have trouble finding your next ride: have your driver drop you off at a petrol station or other hitchhiking spot.
Once you’ve reached your destination you can look for a hostel. Google Maps can help you out here: it often mentions how much each room costs (which is usually around twenty euros a night). If you don’t want to leave things up to chance, you can check beforehand through HostelBookers or Booking. You’ll definitely meet new people at a hostel, and they might take you out for a night on the town. And if you didn’t have a good time, you can just stick out your thumb and see where you end up next.
If you’ve only got money for the trip but not for a place to stay at your destination, you can always try to find a local to take pity on you and let you stay with them for a while. You could offer to cook for them in return, but often all they want is your company.
CouchSurfing has an overview of people who are offering their guest room or couch to weary travellers. If you’re still not sure, check out your potentials host’s profile. The website allows travellers to review them, so you’ll have an idea of what you’re getting into.
You can also rely on your social networks. For his trip to the Caucasus, student journalist Lars found a place to sleep with a girl in Tbilisi through his student association AEGEE. You can probably find a place to stay as well. Maybe you know people who are studying abroad, or you’ve got family in faraway places. A quick Facebook message can work wonders.
You do run the risk of spending the night on a park bench
If you’re particularly adventurous, you can try to find a free place to sleep once you’ve made it to your destination. But beware: you do run the risk of having to spend the night on a park bench.
You can also offer your own couch to other people travelling cheaply. You can show them around Groningen and you’ll hopefully make some interesting new friends who you can introduce to the Dutch culture and food. The review system means you’ll have an easier time finding a host if your guests give you a good rating.
You don’t need to study during the summer, so you’ll have plenty of time for work. Working in your own city isn’t very adventurous, so why not go abroad to pick grapes on an organic farm or help someone renovate their house in exchange for room and board?
At Workaway, people from all over the world list jobs they need doing. In Geneva, there’s an old lady who needs help around her house. She’s looking for someone who loves animals and can teach her how to use her iPad. You can stay with her for free if you cook for her.
A strict vegan is looking for someone to watch his eight cats
Cat lovers who need a place to stay in Bangkok can hit up a strict vegan who is looking for someone to watch his cats five days a week. The other two days are your to explore the city. But: ‘Never forget that the house belongs to the cats. You are guests’, he warns. At least you know what to expect.
Another website to check out is WWOOF. That’s not a website for dog lovers, but an organisation seeking to promote sustainability. Through WWOOF, you can work at organic farms all over the world, together with other travellers interested in sustainability. You can stay for free at the farm or plantation as long as you roll up your sleeves to help out. It’s also a great way to get to know your fellow travellers.