Many people see hitch-hiking as a great adventure and a cheap mode of travel and in Bulgaria it is both common-place and accepted. You will see everyone from local villagers and school children to students thumbing lifts. Locals generally don’t go far, usually to the next town or village, but many young people choose to hitch-hike across the country particularly in summer when everyone heads for the Black Sea coast. Whilst most Bulgarians hitch-hike out of necessity, foreign hitch-hikers today view it as more of an activity with many now belonging to clubs, who set routes across the world for fun hikes.
Expect a bumpy ride
Bulgarians are very approachable regarding lifts and do not share Westerner’s fears of picking up hitch-hikers and hitch-hiking is legal here, but if you’re used to hitch-hiking down Germany’s super fast Autobahn’s then you’re in for a shock when you hitch across Bulgaria. There are few motorways and those that do exist are relatively short by Western standards, so most of your journey will be along the country’s notorious potholed roads. The best places to hitch a lift are from the service stations like OMV and Rompetrol on major highways or on the motorway and if a driver is not going to your destination then you need to get him to drop you off at one of these places otherwise you may find it more difficult to thumb the next lift. The outskirts of a city are also good places to hitch but in cities like Sofia during the summer you will be competing with other hikers although lone hikers will be happy to team up with you particularly if you can find a common language.
In summer hitch hikers sleep on the beaches and some take food from communal gardens at the roadside. If you are starving and can eat a red pepper then no-one will miss one! There are lots of rock concerts along the coast particularly around Kavarna; they attract big names and big crowds and are great places to meet other like-minded people of all nationalities.
Top tips for hitching in Bulgaria
1. Wear your seat belt at all times. Firstly it is the law and secondly drivers are a little crazy over here, overtaking on blind bends and the brow of the hill.
2. Not all of Bulgaria’s road signs are written in both Latin and Cyrillic script, so it is worth learning the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet to ensure that you are going in the right direction or get a map with the place names written in both Latin and Cyrillic.
3. Whilst hitch hiking at the roadside is commonplace, so is prostitution and girls hikers should be alert to this fact and choose their location carefully. Some roads are renowned pick up areas for prostitutes – if you see other girls hanging around, be sure that they are working girls and they will not take kindly to you affecting their trade. Girls – stick to garages for picking up lifts!
4. One of the most confusing things about Bulgarian body language is a nod of the head means no and shaking the head means yes. It’s so easy to forget and think that you have lift when the driver is really telling you no.
5. A mobile phone can act as a lifeline when you are on the road, but in Bulgaria you will need to buy a Bulgarian SIM card when you cross the border here because most phones will not work without one. They cost around 8 lv. and you can buy top up cards from 6 lv. Also ensure that your phone is not locked otherwise it will not work with the SIM card.
6. Bulgarians are extremely open about sex and girls travelling together or alone will be propositioned by male drivers; this is simply the norm here and would happen to Bulgarian females too. To avoid this it is far better to hitch with a male companion because drivers will automatically assume that you are an item whether you are or not.
7. Carry some Bulgarian Lev on you because Euros are not generally accepted here outside of the resorts. Most places now take credit cards and there are now plenty of cashpoints. If you pick up your lifts at garages like OMV you will be able to get money here from an ATM and pay for goods via credit card, but if you just want to grab a coffee and snack then you will need some local currency.
8. A good way to stay safe regardless of the country you are travelling in is to text details about the car and the licence plate of every lift you take to a friend.
Most of all stay safe, many people hitch-hike each year without a problem, just ensure that you use your common sense and follow our list of top tips so you know what to expect.