Backpacking Across Europe Is For Pansies. We’ve HITCHHIKED.

This past fall, we did something we’ve never done before: we hitched a ride from Seville, Spain to Carvoeiro, Portugal. That’s right, this “prime of life”, empty nest, freshly grandparented couple hitchhiked across the Iberian peninsula.

We didn’t want to tell family lest they worry or be concerned about our financial (and mental) stability, but it was proving a genuine challenge to get from Seville to Portugal’s Algarve, the diminutive country’s gorgeous south-facing Atlantic coast. Portugal’s train system is, well, inextensive. We could have taken buses but only with a multitude of stops and changes, a departure in the middle of the night, or a day-long bus station layover (which, we can imagine, is a layover of the worst kind).

So we did what any dedicated travel-addicted nomad would do: stuck out our thumbs and hoped there weren’t any serial killers on the loose in Southwestern Spain.

Ok, so that was where my hyperbole kicked in. But it was a virtual thumb. Actually, I’m pretty sure I really did employ my thumb when I typed “BlaBlaCar” into my iPhone.

In the great cornucopia of travel apps, BlaBlaCar is unique. The concept is simple: if you’re going from Seville to Carvoeiro, have space in your car, and don’t mind sharing it with some strangers in exchange for some gas money, put it out there on the Interwebs. And if you’re looking to get from Seville to Carvoeiro, maybe you can find someone else on those same Interwebs who is planning to go sorta that way and you can volunteer to chip in on the gas.

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We happened to luck out this time. BlaBlaCar isn’t new to us, we’ve tried to use it before to catch a ride here and there, like from London (the largest city, and capital, of the United Kingdom, and one of the best cities on the planet) to Bristol (elsewhere in the UK) in 2015, but never managed to find a ride, or to find a ride before someone else claimed our seats.

Fortunately for us, Rodrigo and his girlfriend were headed to the Algarve in his Seat Ibiza (a teeny-weenie, itsie-bitsy European Shriner’s car in case you didn’t know) for some beach time. They were an amiable young couple in their low 20’s, eager to have us to practice their English with, so we booked it: the BlaBlaCar app handles the transaction and disburses the funds AirBnB-style after both parties confirm the ride is complete. And both are still alive, not cut up into little pieces and packed neatly into some dude’s Ironman lunchbox. Also as a precaution to customers getting hacked up—which is widely recognized as being bad for business—BlaBlaCar allows reviews of both drivers and riders alike. It should be noted here, though, that not only did we not have a single review (this was our first BlaBlaCar ride, after all), neither did Rodrigo have any reviews (he never having driven before, a BlaBlaCar ride, that is…he had, in fact, driven a car before, seemingly). So in anyone’s reasonable estimation, not only Lori and I, but also Rodrigo and his girlfriend were experiencing high likelihoods that this day we could, in fact, be cut up into little pieces.

Also through the app, we communicated with Rodrigo and arranged a time to meet near the Seville Cathedral on the designated morning. I had warned him we were old farts with more luggage than was legal in much of the 3rd world, but he was certain he could make it work. And sure enough, after greetings and salutations and much kissing of cheeks upon meeting, he and I managed to jam the larger suitcases in his trunk, our backpacks and smaller bags situated between us and on our laps, Lori’s steamer trunk of shoes tied to the roof, and we were off.

It was an interesting ride, sort of like the young newlyweds taking the crazy aunt and uncle they barely know across country to attend a family funeral. Their English was fine, not that much in need of practice. We learned they were from the north coast of Spain near Bilbao, they told us about their unique cuisine and language, college studies and newfangled jobs, and—as we’ve had to do too much lately—we answered questions about Trump.

It was great conversation, except for the pained and awkward silence immediately following my sudden rummaging in my backpack and yelling, “WHERE THE HELL ARE MY KNIVES AND THROWING STARS?”

Just kidding. It really was a great ride, about four hours, with the only hiccup occurring when we crossed the border. Cars are routed through automatic toll-payment machines because, well, Portugal loves their highway tolls. Rodrigo plugged a succession of bank cards into the machine without success. I was thinking “Old Uncle Chuck” was going to have to slip him a few bucks to cover the toll, but after a trip to the trunk to retrieve yet another bankcard, Portugal’s highway department was happy and we were on our way.

As we neared our destination, we settled on a town they would drop us off in. Carvoeiro was actually out of their way, which we knew to begin with so had planned to take a taxi or bus from their final destination. But nice youngsters that they were, they went out of their way and took us halfway from the highway to Carvoeiro. We shook hands with them, minded them to use SPF 50 or better sun screen and to eat healthy, and then manhandled our luggage to a nearby cafe where we called a cab and had some sort of danish or sausage, I can’t remember.

So all in all, we had a great hitchhiking experience with BlaBlaCar and will definitely use it again if we can’t find a better way to get from A to B.

Those kids were great, hope they didn’t get burnt.

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