You read right. I hitch-hiked from Leeds to Paris if I might say so smugly. And it was all in the name of charity. And what’s more? We didn’t spend a thing so essentially this was a free trip!
(However if you do want to get to Paris in a bit more comfort, make sure you check out these great deals on ferries to France)
It all started off when I grabbed Ann at the Fresher’s Fair when we both were at Leeds Uni. We weren’t actually freshers but second-years and other than Ann going to check out the new talent (she will deny this), we actually looked for some societies to join up to.
I was determined to join up to some societies as I really didn’t in my freshers year as I was so unbelievably shy and wouldn’t say boo to a goose. I felt like I really missed out on a great experience at the end of the year and being homesick and depressed for the first six months of the fresher year really didn’t help me out.
But new year, new start as they say and as the doors opened, I pulled my housemate, Ann, into the freshers’ fair and set about listening to the awkward pitches given by committee members of each group. But one group caught my attention, RAG which stands for Raise and Give. Coming from a fundraising/charity background, I thought this would be perfect for me. And I wouldn’t have known then what a huge blessing this group would have turned out to be…but that’s another story.
But at the stand, I listened to their plans for world domination and I was very impressed and signed up to their mailing list and paid in membership. I smiled at the cutie behind the stand and glanced across the stand for any other material until I stopped on 3 words that would kickstart my wonderlust of independent travel. I rushed to grab Ann from chatting up the rugby team (again she will deny this), and pushed her forward to the stand. ‘You HAVE to do this with me!’ as I pointed out the 3 words. She stared at the words and glanced back at me ‘Really?!’
What we both read was:
‘Hitch-hike to Paris!’
She signed up to RAG and paid in the membership fee and both us armed with information to come to the intro meeting later on that week.
I really wanted to do this. This was totally outside my comfort zone. Here I am, a 19 year old and I hadn’t done anything so independent! I needed this! I remember the first time I boarded the train to Leeds from Hull and I was so scared that I would be lost and I wouldn’t be able to get to where I wanted to be. Now? It’s just a normal, everyday journey for me that wouldn’t make me bat an eyelid.
At the intro meeting, we were told in order to qualify to hitch-hike to Paris, we had to do the following:
- Give in a £50 deposit to help with the journey back from Paris.
- Raise a minimum of £150 in sponsorship and receive your deposit back so at least £100 goes to charity.
- Sign a disclaimer form that anything that may happen during the course of the hitch-hike is not RAG’s fault.
- And get into a hitch-hike duo or group for safety reasons e.g. Male/Female/Female or Male/Female. There had to be a male in each group.
So as Ann and I ticked off the list, we got together in a threesome (careful) with Sarah as there wasn’t that many males compared to the number of females. But nevertheless, Ann and I were more than happy to travel with Sarah as we got to know each other really well through other fundraising efforts with RAG.
So on a cold November evening, armed with our bags, our hitch-hiking sign and our insanity, we trooped into the RAG office and signed ourselves out at 10pm on a Thursday hoping to avoid the rush of the other groups. So far, so good!
Showing off our oversized charity T-Shirts so we could wrap up warm with layers and layers to keep warm…layers are sexy…and emblazing the Charity Hitch-hike sign at the front of Leeds University. We managed to get a car! We climbed in and hey presto! It was Sarah’s friend! How random! How weird! Such a small world! Amazing! What are the odds?…okay..okay, we actually arranged this.
If you ever had the misfortune to drive into Leeds, you would know how much of a black hole this is. Once your drive in and into the inner ring road…there’s no escape. You just go round and round and round until you find a rare exit.
So you can imagine, flustered drivers wouldn’t want to stop to pick up random strangers!
As we speeded away, I regretted the choice of material for the sign. It was cardboard but like wood and you couldn’t fold it up. So in the small car, both Sarah and Ann in the back hunkered down under the sign but me? Being taller meant that I had the sign pressing into the front of my neck. A crash on the road would meant my decapitated head rolling around. But I didn’t want to panic like a running headless chicken (hey hey!)
But we finally got to the service station on the M1 about 15 miles away from Leeds to which Sarah’s friend dropped us off only after drivng full pelt into the slip road about 100mph and going over a speed bump…leaving me with a red mark on my neck and a slew of profanities.
As we walked to the exit slip road from the service station, we became keenly aware that there were groups of people huddling behind the tree line. Unsure, we hung back and still tried to make them out in the dark. That we did until a car rolled by and pandemonium unleashed.
Ann saw the car and stuck out her thumb and Sarah danced with the hitch-hike sign while I hung back (let’s face it, late night drivers would rather have sexy young ladies rather than a bumbling, eyebrow-overgrown, monkey arms man in the car with them). As the car rolled on, a scene reminisce of Braveheart, a cry leapt up from the treeline and groups of twos and threes ran forward from the treeline to this car from all directions. Now, you can imagine the sheer look of terror the male driver had when faced with all this and he pressed down on the pedal and off he sped leaving a trail of people in his wake running behind like zombies gurgling with the disappointment of uncaught human remains. (Yes I know Zombies can’t run).
Okay, what is going on? It seems like the other 90 students who signed up to theParisHitch-hike had the same idea as us, get a friend to drive them to the nearest service station and get a lift from there. How bad this idea turned out to be. There was hardly any cars coming into the services and if there was one, how the hell is the driver going to agree to take anybody if 90 people were crowding around the car, pleading and begging!
After a few cars going the same way, I could have laughed but it wasn’t funny at the time. Sarah and Ann walked into the services in the hope of asking someone inside but to no avail while I carried on trying to flag down a car on the exit road.
Several groups managed to get lifts at different points of the services and Ann and I realised there was a golden untapped opportunity. The petrol station. There were groups hovering around the services itself and on the exit slip road but not the petrol station. We were there for an hour before being chased away by the petrol store attendant. He thought we were trying to blow up the petrol station…as if! We wouldn’t be getting any cars if we did!
After most groups have gone, we began to despair. It was 1am Friday and we still hadn’t got anywhere. Only 15 miles out of Leeds.
That is until an AA Van took pity on us. The driver could see our efforts and had been watching us for sometime. As he was due to drive to the next services, he offered to take us. I cannot remember all their names so I will go by the basis of what they look like. Alan the AA driver told us to act nonchalant when walking to the services and then immediately jump into his van before the hoards of Scottish Celts emerge from the treeline. We did this and with a cheer we passed the others and saw the betrayed looks shoot in our direction. This Edward, the Hammer of the Scots, have truly smashed them!
Feeling a lot more relaxed now, we settled into the back seats and we wanted to get some shut-eye. But that was short-lived. Way short-lived. In fact, we hardly left the services. Alan, was being friendly but perhaps too friendly. Not in that way but he wanted to talk to us all the time. And how could he talk to us, by looking behind his shoulder and hold his head there for a very long period of not looking at the road.
Tensing up, we nearly shouted at him to look at the road a couple of times, and he would divert his attention back on the road if his vehicle went over cat’s eyes on the fringe of the outside lane.
After 45 mins of tensed gripping of the chair, we finally arrived at the next services further south on the M1. It was about 2am and we needed a drink. Waving off Alan the AA Man, we searched the services for any other people. Thankfully, the Scots weren’t waiting for us for their rebellion but we did see 2 other groups milling about.
We talked to them and they bemoaned that this services was even worse than the last one. They had been there for 3 hours. They were lucky at the first services as they were the first ones to get out. This didn’t bode well for us.
Getting coffee, we purveyed the services. It was extremely quiet and there wasn’t a headlight in sight. Off we trundled to the exit slip road. We saw the two groups mercilessly abandoning us to get into a minibus and they sped by. We were the only ones left. By gum!
An hour later, Ann suddenly had enough. Grabbing the hitch-hiking sign she hunted across the car park and chased after some cars. This provided some merriment for Sarah and I seeing Ann’s attempts. She was cold, hungry and certainly had enough of the place. But to no avail.
All of us sat down on the side and waited for the next car. But suddenly!
A roar of a lorry came to life and massive beams of headlights were switched on. WE HAVE LIFE! But where was it coming from? It drove past us on the other side of the road at quite some speed and there was no way we could have stopped it with a thumb stuck out. After Ann and Sarah giving disappointed groans, I immediately grabbed the sign, holding it high above me, I ran like…hell…and screaming as I went along! ‘WAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTT!’ ‘WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIT!’
Luckily, the road bends and the lorry slowed down to navigate these whereas I could vault these bends. Soon I was running alongside the lorry. Imagine the surprise on the lorry driver’s face when he saw me puffing along side the cab door with a sign yelling ‘Hitch to DOVER!’ (we changed it to Dover as we thought drivers would be put off by Paris) in his face! He slammed the brakes on and listened why we were hitch-hiking. And woo woo! He offered a lift!
Climbing in the cab, he directed us to his bed…no, not like that. All lorries have a bed inside them for them to sleep on. Baldrick, as I shall call him, was quite enthused to hear what we were doing and setting off, we were relieved to see that he kept his eyes on the road while he talked.
As we rested, especially on a bed, we were slowly lulled into a false sense of security until Baldrick abruptly said ‘DO you have kids?!’
This perked us up. What an odd question. Then for the next hour, we would be getting deep and personal questions from Baldrick. Very awkward. So he discussed how to bring up children the right way, religion, if we were married etc. The questions may seem sociable but he was actually forcing his beliefs on us which made us uncomfortable. Every answer we gave was immediately slapped down and we started questioning his sanity. Oh god!
Arriving inMilton Keynesservices, we were all tuckered out from debating. Thanking Baldrick on his way, we needed coffee. And pronto!
We were barely in the coffee shop, when a man asked us what we were doing. Frank listened and immediately offered us a lift! Woo woo! Could our luck be turning? Yes it certainly was as he offered to pay for our coffees as well! Great guy! He was another lorry driver and we jumped in onto his bed as well. We desperately prayed he would be a decent guy and yes he was! He offered to skirt around London on the M25 for us as well to get onto the M20, which was the motorway to get to Dover! Woo woo!
We all had a banter in the vehicle and had a good laugh about everything. He told us of his travelling experiences and let us picked the music. He didn’t have any S Club 7 damn! He offered us cigarettes and food and sweets. What a great guy!
That is…until Sarah asked, ‘how long have you been driving today?’ to which he casually replied ’22 hours’…..erm….what?
Sarah clarified ‘I mean on this driving trip’…22 hours he still maintained.
‘How many breaks have you had?’
He replied, ‘oh just the one, when I met you guys.’
Freaking heck, he’s been driving for 22 hours solid with only a 10min break?!
Noting our confusion, he explained that he had to do a round trip of the UK and he wanted to get back to his family in time for the weekend.
‘Surely, your company can’t allow you this’ I blurted out, ‘aren’t they tracking you?’
He patted a box holding a CD that is a tracking device and shows how long he’s on the road. He explained that he managed to cheat the CD into believing that he had been taking regular breaks and that he would arrive much later than he would.
I’m not too sure of the specifics but I do remember thinking, ‘christ! We NEED to get out fast before he falls asleep. My feeling was further compounded when he said.
‘that’s why I picked you guys up, I wanted to keep awake which I knew you guys would do.’
So for the next half hour we excitedly talked to him as to keep him awake and I firmly said that could he drop us off at the next service station. By then we were on the M20 so luckily we were where we wanted to be.
Waving Frank off and praying for his life, we trooped into the services for more coffee! It was 5am and we still hadn’t reached Dover. We needed to be at Dover by 9am in order to catch the ferry so that left us with 4 hours to go.
As it was just getting light, there were more cars that were pouring into the services so we had a more plentiful selection. Just get a sane, safety conscious one please!
Sarah got chatting to a man to which I’ll call Greg who had a Bluetooth headphone strapped to the side of his head. I couldn’t help comparing him to Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek and absentmindedly hummed the theme tune at times. Yes! He agreed to give us a lift further down the M20 woo woo!
We saw his vehicle. A small Toyota Yaris. And we had bags, 3 people and a large bloody sign that wouldn’t effing fold! I had to hunker down underneath the sign in the back seat but it was a blessing as I fell asleep as he drove us and left the girls to talk to him.
I woke up and I peeked out over the sign to find an annoyed Greg. I glanced across to Sarah and Ann to find they, too, fell asleep. Oops! I tried talking with him and both girls woke but it was too late. He dumped us outside Canterbury on a road where we did not know! Luckily, there was a petrol station up the road so we checked it out and figured that we were on the wrong side ofCanterbury. All the traffic was going into Canterbury! Serves us right for falling asleep!
But 7am, 15 miles away from Dover, we were utterly stranded. No one would take us across Canterbury to get to Dover. Does this mean we had to get a lift to go back to the motorway?
This proved to be our darkest hour and we were repeatedly harassed by the petrol store attendant who told us to move along as she didn’t want us solicting attention. What a witch with a b she was! Sending charity volunteers away!
But in our darkest times, comes light. There an Angel by the name of Kathleen arrived in her lorry for petrol and we explained our plight. She told us that she couldn’t take us to Dover as she had to deliver her stock in Canterbury at a chip farm. But that’s where she lived as well. After a few thoughts, she changed her mind and said she would take us to Dover if we went with her to the chip farm first to finish her shift and then by landrover, she would drive us there. What an angel!
Her bubbly attitude lifted our spirits and we were greeted at the chip farm by all the staff who were very interested in what we were doing. By then it was 8.15am and our ferry was in 45 mins! We are piled into the landrover and she drove like a madwoman to get to the port! But by heck, she was a good driver!
We screeched into the port with 15 mins to spare and she told us to hurry along and we gave her some chocolates to say thanks. Rushing into customs, we got stamped through and blimey, we made it onto the ferry just in time!
Collapsing in the lounge, there was no time to lose. The journey isn’t over yet! We still had to travel from Calais to Paris.
Following our theory that girls attract rides more than blokes, Ann and Sarah went to find someone who could transport us from the ferry toParisitself. Surely, there are people who wants to go to Paris direct! Meanwhile, I went to grab some food and drinks for all of us whilst carrying everyone’s bags.
Pretty soon, Sarah and Ann excitedly returned saying they found a ride direct into Paris itself. Success! Expecting it to be another lorry with a man driving behind the wheel, I was very well surprised when they told me different…
A coachload of Chinese speaking people.
So throughout the ferry ride, we explored the decks and chilled out, pleased that we finally sorted everything out. Also, we bumped into the other groups who made it onto the ferry and they were definitely jealous that we got transport sorted! They would have to get off at Calais and wait to catch transport from the usually unfriendly French locals!
As it was time to disembark, we found the coach and got on and we were met with blank stares from all the Chinese ladies on board. The tour leader started explaining in Mandarin who we were and what we were doing but no smiles were offered. Oh dear.
There were 3 seats left and both Ann and Sarah rushed forward to claim the 2 seats next to each other, traitors, and left me to take a seat next to a young Chinese lady who stared at me as I settled into the seat next to her. Needless to say, she wasn’t impressed. Probably more so that I hadn’t washed or changed into a new set of clothes since we started. And I smelled. She looked over out of the window and crinkled her nose. Oh god, I smelled bad.
Starting the journey, we passed by the forlorn looking hitchers at the side of the port and I looked behind me to find Ann and Sarah passed out on the seats. I looked back forward and saw the Chinese lady to which I’ll call Wen, staring at me again. I probably gave the weirdest smile and she rolled her eyes back to the window. Attempts to converse with Wen was met with silence. Oh well. But I relaxed into my seat, bemused, listening to the Mandarin that the tour guide was giving and before I knew it I passed out as well.
Soon later, my shoulder was being shaken by the tour guide and told me to go outside of the coach..were we in Paris already?! Then I thought, oh dear, have I done something offensive during my sleep? I didn’t snore did I? But as I looked across, everyone was getting off. Ah, a rest stop. It’s 2pm already and I guess I needed another coffee,
But it wasn’t a rest stop. It was for everyone to see an attraction and take photos of it. Dishevelled, Ann, Sarah and I got off to see what the big deal of an attraction would be. Paris now please! And our mouths gaped open.
I rubbed my eyes, I could not believe what the tourists were photographing…was I dreaming?
No word of a lie, they were taking pictures of a MacDonalds sign. Standing in front of a MacDonalds sign. MacDonalds sign in all angles. What the f$*k?!
Leaving them to grab a coffee, we boarded back onto the coach and waited for everyone else to get on. No, another half an hour was needed. How many pictures of a MacDonalds sign did you need?!
Anyway, we were on our way! I passed out again from tiredness and I woke up to find Wen asleep, slowly hugging me and drooling on me. Nice! But as I looked out, we were finally in the suburbs of Paris! I looked back to see an awake Sarah and a sleeping Ann and both Sarah and I did mental high fives! We were finally here!
Pulling up in the centre of Paris at 4pm, the tour guide told us to get off as our hostel was nearby. We thanked her profusely and again and again! We were finally here!
As we walked with our bags to the hostel, we were in amazement to see Paris alive and busy! Lovely!
Signing in the hostel, we discovered that we were one of the last groups to arrive! How was this possible?! We caught the best transport from the ferry! Turns out there were a slew of cars who offered rides at Calais and went direct into Paris. It was all because of the bloody MacDonalds stop that stopped our lead! But mustn’t grumble…we were finally in Paris!
It was long, 30 hours in fact to hitch-hike from Leeds to Paris, but you know what?
It was absolutely totally bloody worth it!
So what did this hitch-hike do for me?
1) Started my wonderlust!
2) Made me independent more!
3) Knowing that I can deal with situations in great humour
4) I got a free trip!
Check out later to find out about my time in Paris!
Have you ever Hitch-hiked?