Hitchhiking in Spain: Can we do it or not?

Day 1 : Will we leave Barcelona?

After spending more than 10 days with our Couchsurfing host, who quickly became a friend, I must admit we were a little worried about leaving. During our stay, we had seen more than 2 couples who tried to hitchhike come back the same night or a few days later, with very bad hitchhiking experiences. Everyone told us ‘’There is just no hitchhiking in Spain.’’ Of course, we had to try for ourselves.

With that in mind, I estimated that the journey would take a week, at a rate of less than 200 km per day, and, in reality, expected to do less than 100 km. After less than 15 minutes waiting at Porta de Barcelona (great spot!), our very first ride took us all the way to Valencia, exceeding by far our expectations of. Yet, we stopped ourselves from getting too hopeful and kept modest goals. Again, after 15 minutes of asking people and waving our sign, we found another ride, all the way to Alicante! We could not believe our luck. We asked the driver to stop us at the last gaz station or rest area on the highway, as he was entering the city just before Alicante, in St joan.

As it would happen very often in the next days (yet, we never seemed to learn), we did not manage to find a place on the highway before his exit and we had to enter the city. He left us with directions to the train station, in case we found a place to sleep in Alicante. At this point, we were still happy. We had gone much further than expected, and it was getting dark, so we thought we might as well find a place to sleep. After asking around, and on Couchsurfing, we did not manage to find a warm shelter, but a local suggested us to sleep on the beach. We were trying to avoid the beach, as it is quite colder at night, but we thought ‘’Sure, a night under the stars, with the sounds of the waves. We’ve done this before, it will be fine!’’.

The only problem is that our material situation has quite changed since the days we were living in our tent. Mainly because we don’t have a tent anymore. We knew we needed something to be able to keep sleeping outside, but could not afford the good quality equipment we had before. So, a few days before, we had bought a survival blanket, a large tarp and 1 cheap X-L sleeping bag (for temperatures 5-10, the lowest temperatures we could find) for both of us. This was the perfect time to test our new equipment! In the middle of winter, nights are surprinsigly cold, even in Spain. We thought a XL sleeping bag would be more than large enough (we used to both sleep in 1 mummy sleeping bag), and that the closeness would help to keep us warm. Oh, how foolish we were.

After putting layer over layer of clothing, finding a dark spot on the beach and settling down, the night was off to a good start. It was quiet, empty and… cold. As we would soon find out, sharing the sleeping bag was keeping us close- but also made it impossible to close the sleeping bag. Luckily, it started raining a few hours later. So, we re-arranged our shelter, folding back the tarp over our heads, with the important bags inside and one bag protected by our hitchhiking sign, which also held the tarp a few inches over or heads in a sort of tipi. This made it much warmer, as the tarp protected us from the wind and trapped the heat by blocking the open side of the sleeping bag. Still, we were only able to really sleep in the first hours of the day, when it got warmer. So, when we woke up the next day, tired and sore from not being able to move all night, it was clear that we need a better solution- or warmer temperature!

Day 2 : Leaving Alicante?

Now, the real struggle started, what I had been fearing since we arrived in St-Joan; getting out of the city and back on the A-7. We found a gaz station near the highway and thought, easy! Not so much. First, we had to walk for an hour to get there. Ok. Only to realize that no cars were actually stopping there. Alright, go back to the previous gaz station, but people send us back to the other gaz station… Well. We keep trying, we only need a very short ride to get us back on the highway! But people are just doing their groceries and going home. We’ve been standing in the sun for 3 hours, reminiscing about our glorious days on the highway and hating ourselves for not paying more attention to the drop off point on our previous ride and then, miracle! Someone stops. He is still working, but we are such in a terrible hitchhiking spot that he offers us to come back in 1 hour and, if we’re still here, he will bring us to a better spot. Amazed, we keep trying with renewed strenght, hoping to be able to text him that we found a ride and, a few minutes later, we do!

The guy is not going far, but he also offers us to bring us to a better spot. We hesitate a few seconds (Is it really a better spot? Is it the same spot the first guy offered us? Would the first guy’s spot be better than this one?), but what the hell let’s go! He drops us near the Alicante exit, at a gaz station. Ok, it already seems better. After a few minutes of asking (with very basic spanish), we find a guy who is going to Murcia (80 km away, on the highway!), but he is not sure if he leaves tonight, and not sure when. If he does leave tonight, he offers us to come back here and take us- if we are still there. We offer to exchange phone numbers to tell him if we get a ride, but he refuses, saying he will come back anyway. At this point, it’s about 17h and the sun is setting. We are in a gaz station, so we can keep asking for 2 hours, but it gets colder and calmer, with only local traffic. Now, we have another struggle. We found a place to sleep in Alicante, but we need to leave the gaz station at 20h. The thought of going back to Alicante is not so soothing- to say the least. Not only does it imply that we wasted our day with fruitless efforts, but even worst, it means that we’re still stuck in the city! And what if the guy going to Murcia comes? But what if he doesn’t come?

So, after trying until the last minute, we decided that a warm place to sleep would be more than welcomed, and after meeting our guest and the 2 other couchsurfers, we did not regret it one second! At the risk of repeating myself, I think this is one of the most important advantages of people-based travelling. It makes regrets impossible (almost); if we had found a ride, we wouldn’t have spent the next day exploring Alicante and we wouldn’t have new friends to go visit in Poland! So, how could we feel bad?

Day 3 : REST.

After a night of joyful discussion, we woke up to a late pancake breakfast on a sunny terrace with our new friends and headed to a day of walking around the city-without the backpacks! We mainly explored the Castle and the museum of Contemporary art, all for free and finished the night with home-cooked polish food, travel stories and dominoes.

Day 4 : Getting out of Alicante!

This time, knowing what we were up against, we prepared accordingly and found a decent hitchhiking spot : the airport. After 45 minutes, and with fleetering optimism, we found a car going in the A-7! Victory! We stopped for coffee on the highway, at the rest area we had identified as our goal, but happily kept going with him as there were many other rest areas on the way-or so we thought. Our driver was a fellow traveller and was telling us about his own hitchhiking stories, when we missed the rest area. We thought, ok, we’re out the highway, but it’s still the right direction, it’s not so bad! Exept there was NOWHERE to stop. We told him to leave us anywhere, at the pay tolls, anything. But he felt so bad and decided to keep going, refusing to leave us in a bad spot. Which he relenctantly had to do 45 minutes later, when we insisted he leave us at a gas station in Cartagena. The euphory of leaving Alicante was a little watered down by our mistake, which had caused trouble to us, but also our driver. And what now?

Again, we waited about 45 minutes- in the full sun, until a car stopped. He was only going to eat at home, but he offered to bring us to a better hitchhiking spot, on the A-7! We jumped in, anxious to see what he meant. By then, we had learned that a better hitchhiking spot, for someone who doesn’t hitchhike, can mean almost anything, but getting on the A-7 could only help. When he showed us the spot, we thought we were misunderstanding his spanish. He couldn’t mean we were supposed to stand on the side of the highway? He did. Although we were very reluctant, standing on the few meters composing the shoulder of the highway, it took less than 5 minutes for a car to stop. This time, we were determined not to get out of the highway! After a 40 minute ride, he dropped us at a rest area, Totana Global Tank.

Although there were not many cars, all of them were going the right direction- but they were also all full. We waited for an hour, chatting with the guy working at a gas station, who told us it was better to go to a bigger rest area, just after Lorca. He told us we should accept any ride to Lorca, wait in the roundabout and get the first ride on the highway, to Puerto de Lumbreras. Sounds easy enough, right! A few minutes later, a guy took us to Lorca. Unfortunately, we quickly realized it would be impossible to hitchhike there. It was around 18h, the sun was setting, and the traffic was dense with people going home after work. Fortunately, we found a bus that could take us out of the city, a few minutes away from our oasis. We waited less than 30 minutes to find a ride to Almeciras, insisting to stop at a big rest area before the city, which we were able to do-yeah! The only problem, it was already 22h by the time we got there- and it had been a long day. Although there were still some cars, traffic was thinner and our energy was definitely lower. Thankfully, we found a couch in Almeciras, and after 1h30, decided to stop our journey for today and found a ride to our bed instead.

Day 5 : Final destination

The next morning, our generous host made us warm tea before we rushed out- we only had one day left to arrive in Málaga to meet Miquel, before he left for Sevilla. Thankfully, we were only 2 hours away. We’d be there in no time! While hurrying out of the city, we still had time to notice how beautiful it is, and would definitely recommend stopping there, with a long beach and a beautiful national park near.

The first spot we tried was not so good, as it was still in the middle of the city. After walking for about an hour, we stopped just before the entry on the highway, after a roundabout that slowed down the cars. Although it seemed like a decent spot, we waited for an hour, before a young traveller herself stopped to bring us in Aquadolce, to a gas station where we would have more luck. She even gave us her number in case we got stuck! Fortunately (and unfortunately, because we would have loved to spend the evening with her) she was right, and after 45 minutes, we got a ride half way to Motril! Yeah!

The two spanish who picked us up were really surprised to hear it is possible to hitchhike in spain, especially when we told them almost all our rides where from Spanish people! We were happy to share some positive stories and show them that spanish people are more open minded than they thought. As the kilometers between us and Motril decreased, our anxiety increased, why were there no rest area? On the 100 kilometers we did, we saw no rest area, no gas station – nothing. They had no choice but to leave us in Motril, near a roundabout leading to the highway. The only problem, apart from the lack of space and how unsafe it was, was that the cars going our way were in the right lane, and we could only stand near the left lane. We decided to move up to the other roundabout, hoping there would be more space for the cars. There wasn’t. Next, we tried a gas station. Then, another gas station, where it seemed more hopeful, until an agent security told us we had to stand on the street. We tried walking back to our original spot, and got sent back to another street, where we did find a decent spot. People were reacting to our sign, and a few stopped- so willing to help they offered to take us to the next village although they advised against it. But it was too late, the sun had set and nobody was going far. We were stuck. Really stuck.

I would like to tell you some miracle happened. That we tried longer, or found a ride the next morning, but we folded. Although it felt like a defeat, we resigned to take a bus- 9$ from Motril to Màlaga. A bus, for 90 kilometers, after doing more than 1300 kilometers by thumb, felt quite disappointing, like turning back just before reaching the peak of the mountain. This being said, and with all our mistakes, bad rides and terrible spots, we are very proud to say we hitchhiked 1058 kilometers in 3 days, in Spain!

Conclusion

Reading this, I realize that hitchhiking doesn’t seem really easy in Spain but actually, we had the most rides in one day (6 rides in one day), one of our best hitchhiking days with a total of 30 minutes of waiting time for 300 km. To our surprise, people were also very responsive in Spain, which makes it much easier for us to stay positive. It’s also in Spain that we got offered things the most and found people who really wanted to help- even when they couldn’t. That’s how we got offered 20$ for a bus, a coffee by our driver, a meal by a stranger who couldn’t take us, 5$ by a woman who was only going home, chocolates by the driver who took us on the highway, and countless smiles and suerte (we gratefully refused the money and the meal, as we are not really in need). Although people will tell you it’s impossible to hitchhike in Spain (especially while you’re hitchhiking), don’t get discouraged, it’s possible! The only problem is finding a good spot- and getting dropped off in a good spot! I would definitely recommend taking more care than us about where you get dropped off, and try sticking to rest areas on the highway. Unfortunately, highways in Spain (on the coast anyway) don’t have as much rest areas as countries like France, which makes it harder, especially further South. If you get in the region of Almeria, I would suggest finding a ride straight to your destination or making sure there is a place to stop before. I mean, I’m sure that hitchhiking out of Motril is not impossible, and if we tried at the right spot earlier, or longer, we could have made it. Or maybe it was just a bad day. Still, I’ll tell you one thing, in a very personal and biased note, don’t go to Motril! More seriously, I always recommend hitchhiking without deadline, which also explains why we had to take a bus, as we decided meeting our friend was more important to us than hitchhiking completely all the way –and we don’t regret as we also met Lindsey (who shared his van with us for a night) and Patrick (fellow Québécois).

Conclusion? Hitchhiking in Spain is possible, good even! And don’t worry about getting stuck in a bad position as people are even more generous than they realize themselves!

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