Czech champion hitchhiker says thumbing lifts is the best way to meet locals

photo:  (radio.cz)

Twelve couples hit the road this summer to compete for a title in the Czech Republic’s hitchhiking championship. The goal was to cover over 4,000 kilometers from Prague to Athens and back as fast as possible, and fulfill some rather unusual tasks on the way. How easy is it to hitch a ride these days? And what is so exciting about this mode of travel? These are just some of the questions I put to Jana Řezníčková, who was one half of the winning couple, but I first of all wanted to know if she had any previous experience with hitchhiking:


“I did have some previous experience but it was a long time ago, so I was a bit rusty. But I really wanted to try something new, something unusual, and I knew it would be fun, especially with my friend Honza.”

Was it up to you to choose your hitchhiking partner?

“Yes, we could choose basically anyone.”

And I guess there was a rule that you had to hitchhike in couples.

“That’s right. We had to make mixed couples for safety reasons.”

The journey that you had to undergo was Prague, Athens and back. How long did it take you?

“I think it took us about five days and 18 hours.”

And was there any specific route that you had to follow?

“We had three obligatory countries that we had to pass. On the way there it was Romania and Bulgaria and on the way back we had to pass Albania.”

You also had to fulfill certain tasks. What were they?

“I would say that most of the people who stopped us were hitchhikers themselves at some point of their lives. So now they were just repaying, let’s say.”

“There were five of them and I am not sure I can recall all of them. One of them was to milk some animal, a cow or a sheep, which is what we did. Then we had to ride some animal, a donkey or a horse. And then we had to cook a special meal typical for the specific country and we did that in Albania.”

So did you have to find people who would allow you took a meal at their home?

“There were two options, actually. We could cook the meal for them or they could make it for us, but we had to get the recipe, see the whole preparation process and take pictures of it. So we actually had the meal prepared for us, in the end.”

You said the journey took about six days, how many lifts did you actually take?

“On the way there it was very easy for us, it only took about ten or eleven rides. But on the way back it was way more difficult, because we had to go through Greece and Greek drivers are not very helpful and they are not really used to hitchhikers. So only in Greece we had about eight or nine rides. The return journey was difficult because of the situation with immigrants. It was hard to distinguish ourselves from the immigrants and people didn’t really want to drive people north. So it took us about thirty cars on the way back.

The reason why you won the competition wasn’t just the speed with which you covered the whole distance but it also depended on other things. How were the winners actually selected?

“The first thing was the speed, but it was only half of the things you needed to win the competition. The other half was votes from the public, and then there were votes from the jury. So it was ten points for speed, ten points from the public votes and five points from the jury.”

What was the jury’s decision based on?

“We were writing comments and memories from our journey and they could read it, because it was on the internet, and based on what they saw and what they liked they could send us good votes which would also support the Konto bariéry, an organization for handicapped people.”

You said Greek drivers were not really friendly. Which of the countries you passed were friendly towards hitchhikers and are easy to pass?

“I wouldn’t use the word easy. But I think that Romania was a very friendly country and Bulgaria as well.”

What about the Czech Republic?

“The Czech Republic was probably the worst. That’s where we waited the longest time. We waited two and a half hours before we hitched the first ride. So that was difficult. And Macedonia was not easy either.”

Who were the people who were most willing to take you? Would you say they were mostly truck drivers?

“If you travel with someone for a few hours, you get to know their mentality and get to see things that you would ever see if you travelled by plain or train.”

“I would say it’s definitely not women, especially single women. Basically any woman sitting in a car is not helpful, even if it’s a couple. But I wouldn’t say we hitched trucks more than regular cars. I think it was fifty-fifty. I would say that most of the people who stopped us were hitchhikers themselves at some point of their lives. So now they were just repaying, let’s say.”

What was actually the most difficult think about the whole journey?

“We weren’t really sure if we were going to make it back, so that was probably the most difficult part. We had big problems getting out of Athens. And then we were kicked out of the highway because you are not allowed to hitchhike there.

“So we found ourselves on some abandoned road, trying to hitchhike, which was of no use, of course, because the cars were going in different direction than we wanted. In whole of Greece it was difficult because we were hitchhiking at night and the few cars there were just wouldn’t stop for us.”

What exactly do you like about hitchhiking so much?

“Getting to know different cultures. If you travel with someone for a few hours, you get to know their mentality and get to see things that you would ever see if you travelled by plain or train. The locals know what is good and what is not worth seeing and they take you out of the tourist areas.”

Can you take part in another series of this competition?

“Because we were first, we were offered to try it again. I will definitely go for it, if nothing happens, but Honza is still thinking about it. And there will probably be another hitchhiking competition in September, to Paris and back, with most of the same people attending. It won’t be a championship this time, but we were all so thrilled about our experience, that we decided to do something similar as soon as possible.”

What about your parents? Aren't they worried? Aren't they trying to prevent you from hitchhiking?

“Well, I am a grown-up already, so there is now way they can stop me. But my mother actually hitchhiked herself for a very long time in her life, for three or four years. She hitchhiked to school because she studied in a different city than where she lived, so she cannot say a word, really.”

What kind of rules do you follow when you hit the road?

“I always travel with a partner. This is number one rule. For a girl especially, this is a thing you have to avoid, travelling on your own.

Any other rules you would recommend to inexperienced hitchhikers?

“Well at first try to stop cars that are not trucks, because they are very slow, so you won’t get to the destination very fast and they will always want to talk.

“Also, be active, don’t just stand there. Wave at the drivers and smile. You can’t look tired or exhausted. You have to show them that you are willing to repay them If you don’t talk with them, it’s like traveling for free.

“What is also important is to ask at the gas stations as well, because drivers there are quite willing to take you. They don’t have to react immediately; they can take their time and think about it. It happened to us many times that they said now and then they came back and said: OK, let’s go.

“And also don’t wear dark clothes, bright clothes are better!”

Author: Český rozhlas Radio Praha
Added: 05.09.2015

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