Hitchhiking Romania in October 2021
This is the story of one of our favorite hitchhiking days. Today the goal is quite ambitious: crossing half of the country to arrive in Iași, the bordering city with Moldova. Six hours driving by car are usually expected to be double the amount of time when hitchhiking. Waiting for a ride, be open to unexpected scenarios and unplanned destinations, wait again and repeat.
We leave Sighișoara in the early morning. A beautiful city in Romania listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its preserved walled old town. As every time we hitchhike, the initial goal is to walk out of the city to reach the best starting spot. One hour of walking and we are set.
We usually choose the best place to start by consulting Hitchwiki, a collaborative platform for hitchhikers, or by talking to locals and get their tips. The best spot is usually a busy but safe road, with high visibility and some space for cars to stop.
Ride #1: Facebook as a medium of exchange The day starts pretty smoothly. Thumbs out and after less than five minutes, a car stops. As a Romanian friend suggested, when we are not sure about the intentions of the drivers, we mention our intent to get a ride for free, the equivalent of Fără bani in Romanian. In this country hitchhiking is so common among the locals that you easily end up competing with other people on the road. The locals are usually expected to pay a small amount to drivers to share the fuel costs.
“Hello, Fără bani?” The driver nods weirdly and he is visibly not happy about our proposal. He turns on the car again and leaves without a single word. Thumbs out again. Another ten minutes waiting and we see the same car on the opposite direction, coming back. It stops again. He nods one more time and shake his arms as a sign of entering his car. We are unsure. There are three men in the car who look at us creepily. Not a single smile or any welcoming gesture. We spend 45 minutes driving together until the next big village. It is stinky in there and they only speak Romanian.
They ask us for a marker to write our Facebook name everywhere. On their phone, pieces of paper found in the car, on our cardboard. We show off the ten words we know in this language and make up random speeches. They finally smile and seem to appreciate our presence. The ceiling is covered with staples and the man drives way too fast. We finally get off. The price for traveling for free is to then receive daily video calls and messages on Facebook.
Two hours waiting in the middle of nowhere Thumbs out for a new ride. One car every ten minutes and competition: 50m away a Romanian woman tries to get a ride too. In front of us a young couple who keeps walking back and forth. He snatches a rose and gifts it to her, she realizes we are observing the scene and gets embarrassed. Right after, a Polish van stops and they disappear.
Without even realizing, also the hitchhiking woman close to us is gone. As we start to lose our hopes about getting a new ride for today, we start figuring out a good location to pitch our tent for the night. It is quite cold and we don’t even know where we are exactly.
A new car finally drives towards our direction. Disillusioned, I show my thumb without much expectation. The white van stops. “Flow, let’s not mention Fără bani this time”, I tell him while he’s running towards the van with our backpacks. We certainly can’t lose the only drive we’ve got.
Ride #2: Unknown private tour guide The driving guy invites us up without any question, then makes a big smile and says: “Romanian, English, Italian?” We are over the moon to find someone with whom we could have a proper conversation again. “Italian!”
We spend three and a half hours together and we forget to ask for his name.
He’s on his way back from Italy. A truck driver with an international business. More than Italian, he speaks an invented language between Romanian and South Italian dialect, which we have some troubles understanding. We feel so much at ease with this person that our eyes slowly start to close, despite our huge efforts to stay awake. We wake up realizing he put a pillow behind our backs to make our sleeping experience more comfortable.
The guy talks for the entire drive. Anecdotes about the places we see from the window, stories about his family, dreams and projects he is working for. We leave the beautiful area of Transylvania together to enter the Romanian Moldova.
Unforgettable landscapes, zigzag roads and unplanned detours to discover hidden gems. It feels easier now to keep our eyes open.
We wish him farewell and get the backpacks on to walk again. It would take us an hour to reach the outskirts of this new city, to find a new ride towards Roman, the last big city before Iași.
Ride #3: Home sweet home While we are still walking to reach the outskirts, a black car stops for us. He spontaneously offers to bring us to a good spot. This man lived for 15 years in Lugano, my hometown. We spend twenty minutes together talking about our favorite spots in the Swiss city and he melancholically describes those times as his favorite ones.
Ride #4: A free ride on a private minibus Thumb out one more time. A minibus stops for us. Direction Roman. We are not really willing to pay for a bus ride, he agrees on just giving us a free ride and for once, we enjoy the silence. Our minds can rest a bit and even listen to some music. It feels nice to be on a bus again. So nice that time flies and we are already in Roman.
Waiting with a Romanian grandfather We are finally almost close to our final destination. One more ride, one more hour driving. While waiting for someone to stop, an old guy opens his trunk giving us false hope for a ride. The car is full of grapes and he gives us a full bag of it. He’s afraid we’ll run out of food. A car with Ukrainian plates stops and he prevents us from accepting the passage. He wants to choose the right car for us, he looks worried. Finally a Romanian car stops, after almost an hour of waiting, Grandpa looks skeptical but grants us permission to board. We greet him.
Ride #5: Romanian folk music Without even know why exactly, we pretend to be from Poland. All fun and games until we ask him information to cross the border with Moldova. Here we realize we should have said we are Swiss in order to get accurate information. Whatever, too late. To our surprise, this guy doesn’t talk too much but rather turns up the volume of the music and we listen to Romanian folk for over an hour. Watching the sunset out the window. In silence. How wonderful.
The promised land In the meantime it has become dark. Here we are in Iași. We like to remember Romania as the promised land for hitchhikers. We go to sleep excited about the new adventures waiting for us in Moldova and grateful for this beautiful long day spent with Romanian strangers.