Jan 30th, 2016, 07:00 PM

Hitchhiking Across Europe

Image Credit: Facebook/ Elsa Klein
Three brave souls got from Scotland to Hungary without purchasing a single ticket, all in the name of charity.

"No money is to be spent on travel or lodging. 1500 miles, three ridiculous people, and canary-yellow t-shirts - what could be more fun?"

Three students from Saint Andrews University in Scotland raced to Budapest, Hungary in the name of charity. Begging for free lifts from trains, buses, and average Europeans (though the people they met were anything but average), the team crossed five countries and finished as one of the top ten to arrive out of more than 50. This is the story of Roisin, Cas, and Elsa: The Very Hungary Hitchhikers. 

The three boarded a bus in Saint Andrews to be dropped off "somewhere in Scotland" at 4 am without a GPS or so much as a compass to figure out which direction to head off in the first place. Kicked out of a service station for "haggling customers" they found themselves huddled under the golden glow of a giant all-too-familiar yellow "M" and flagged down a car to take them to Glasgow.

From Glasgow the team made it to Carlisle, from Carlisle to Manchester, and from Manchester to South Mimms - just north of London. On these exchanges they met three Irish electricians and a man named James who drove them five hours before dropping them off, only for the team to be stuck in South Mimms for 13 hours, forcing them to spend the night. 

"It turns out, hitchhiking is hard. And boring. And frustrating. And often a bit humiliating."

Image Credit: Elsa Klein

The following morning, the three took a city-bus to the center of London and explained their case to a Megabus driver, pleading him to take them across the channel no matter where it takes them, Brussels, Amsterdam, n'importe où. They made it into Paris and conveniently ran into the author of this article. I took the trio to metro Gallieni for them to flag down a ride, and sure enough, a kind taxi driver offered to take them 30 kilometers out of Paris to a service station they hoped was open, but upon arrival, wasn't. The driver then adamantly refused to let them sleep outside.

Exhausted to the point of near-comatose, they spotted a sign for a Euro Disney hotel. The rules of the race emphasize not to spend money, but it would be unreasonable to decline wicked-awesome discounts for pirate-ship-themed rooms from kind Disney employees. Employees whom, even after finishing a 12 hour shift, offered to drive the three the next morning 45 minutes away to a little village in central France.

"What surprised me [about hitchhiking] was how generous people were. It restores your faith in humanity."

What does raising money for charity have to do with teams of people racing against each other to a destination in Eastern Europe? Well, Saint Andrews leads a charity campaign eloquently named "Race2" (this year it was Race2Budapest), that raises money through individual donations and sponsorship leading up to the race, "to travel as quickly (and legally) as possible without spending any money." The participants also explain their cause to the drivers giving them lifts, who see these young kids entrusting perfect strangers with their safety and it moves some of them to donate to the campaign as well. Or at the very least, encourages them to take time out of their day to get them as close to their destination as possible. 

Image Credit: HungaryHitchhikers.wordpress.com

Race2 selects three charities (local, national, and international) for their program each year. This year they sponsored St-Andrews NightlineMaggie's Cancer Centre in Fife, and UNICEF.

The next day, they did a little more car-hopping, bouncing from town to town. Reims to Stuttgart, and Stuttgart to Munich, eventually crashing at a cheap hostel. The three woke up bright and early the next morning to blag a train to anywhere east. Dialog with the conductors was needlessly frustrating and heavily dependent on Google Translate. But in the name of charity, a sympathetic conductor was found, and sure enough they headed off to Vienna. Even after stopping in Vienna and before they could talk to the next set of conductors, the train started moving towards Budapest. The German conductors said they were simply willing to look the other way, and after a bit of sign language between the hitchhikers and the Hungarian conductors, they were eventually willing to do the same. 

Image Credit: Facebook/ Elsa Klein

The three arrived in Budapest, and after checking in, rewarded themselves on their safe arrival with a celebratory day of tourism, and a congratulatory week of slowly making it back to Scotland. "We expected it to take us about six days to get there, but we made it in four days and three nights." Elsa told me. Saint Andrews also kept a liveblog of info coming in from all of the teams on their trek. 

Elsa kept her own blog of her adventures updating readers (and her parents) on their whereabouts. It's a beautifully written and very lively account of the week filled with frustrations, small joys, and the bounces between the two.