UK to Belgium – For Free

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It’s not entirely impossible to travel for free if you’re in the know-how. I recently came onto the know-how with the help of my first CouchSurfing host Chris from London. I had known a little about the matter but he really helped shed some light on how it may be done. And once I did, I realized how easy it was. You just need some patience.

It was Thursday evening and Chris and I were sitting on the couch I was sleeping on and he had his Netbook dialed into Hitch Wiki. Hitch Wiki is a community of hitchhikers around the world that share information about the best spots to hitch from, and the not-so-good ones too.

It allows anyone to add a new spot to the map that they found helpful and share it with others.

The next day I set out with an idea of where I was going. I needed to head out to the city of Mottingham, London, and stand at a corner next to an old gas station. But when I got there it was brand new, having been remodeled and opened up just two weeks prior. That was OK, the point was to give enough room for a car to pull over in case they wanted to give me a ride. I found a piece of cardboard and wrote DOVER on it, with a smiley face. This would let them know that I needed to travel East, to the ferry town of Dover which saw hundreds of ferry crossings into France every day. Two hours in I was feeling a bit hopeless as numerous vehicles passed me. Some just smiled at my sign, some shook their head and a few even had some choice words to say. One being “Take the BUS!” I gave her the money symbol (rubbing fingers together). Oh well.

I had put my sign down and was just gonna sit in the grass for a bit to rest my tired feet when a car suddenly pulled over into the parking area of the gas station. The passenger (on the left side of course) looked at my backpack and then looked at me and asked “Where you headed mate?” I said Dover and he got out and said “Well it’s your lucky day, we’re headed that way and you can hitch with a lorry from the lorry stop where we’ll drop ya off” I was perfectly OK with that and I loaded my bag into the trunk and climbed in. The two made this commute every day home from work and had actually picked up a few hitchhikers in the past. They were interested in my travels, about where I was from, and where I was headed.

After about a thirty-minute drive we arrived at the lorry stop (truck stop) and we bid our farewells. I can’t for the life of me remember their names but perhaps they’ll enlighten me when they see this.

I immediately made my way over to where the trucks were parked. Most of Europe has a rule that lorry drivers have to take a break every four hours for 45 minutes each. That’s what they were doing and I walked up to each one so that I could see someone in and waved to them. When they slid their window down I would ask them if they were headed to Dover. No such luck this time around. I went back to the main building of the truck stop and bought some water and waited an hour. All the trucks at that time would leave and be replaced by others. When I walked back to the trucks the second time around, luck struck again.

He was a Russian lorry driver and spoke very bad English, but he got his point across. I could ride with him to Dover and we’d leave in a few minutes. I was excited as this all seemed too easy. And it was, for after a few moments we rolled away from the truck stop and made our way to Dover. The ride was quiet because of his limited English and my one word of Russian (“Da” for “yes”) wouldn’t make for a meaningful conversation, so we listened to the radio a bit, including love songs in Russian. He was headed from London all the way to somewhere in Poland and he made the trip at least once a week.

Just before it got too dark in the day, we arrived in Dover. Dover is a beautiful port on the South-East coast of England and sports a quaint little town. It’s also home to Dover Castle, a beautiful castle that can be seen from the main highway going into Dover proper. Just before we got into the ferry harbor, he pulled off to the side, looked at me, and said “OK”. I realized his meaning after a second. He thought this is where I wanted to get out. I signaled to the East and said “I can go with you? Ferry?” He understood and nodded yes. We drove on through a maze of passages and checkpoints where we had to show our identification. We eventually rolled onto the ferry and soon made our way to Calais, France, the receiving port.

The ride over was cold and misty, so we stayed inside a dining room on the ship which looked a lot like Ten-Forward (Star Trek: TNG) somehow. The large windows looked into darkness as the ferry gently rocked from side to side. I felt at home for some reason. After close to two hours, we docked in Calais and were soon on our way toward Gent, Belgium where he said he would drop me off. I had wanted to go to Brussels straight away, but this wouldn’t be possible. since it was 50+ km out of his way. I was just happy that I’d get a ride into Belgium, at the very least.

All too soon, we had made our way through the North-Western region of France (it was quite a small area) and we were in Belgium. He dropped me off at a gas station outside of Gent and we bid our farewells. It was a pleasant ride and I learned a lot about how the ferry system works. But the best part of it all, the entire trip, from there to here, was free. And that, ladies and gents, is what The Poor Travel Blogger is all about, saving money to the extreme, and that’s how I’ll be making my way around.

What was I dreaming of the entire time I was doing this? A friend had just booked Tenerife all-inclusive trip. So while I was kicking around this part of the world, without any money, trying to skip and save as much as I can, he was heading down there for the week of his life. Damn it.

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