Leaving Belgium and the first few days of hitchhiking

There were two weeks between the day that we quit our jobs and our departure, plenty of time to prepare everything. Or so we thought.

Next to the obvious and exciting task at hand of packing our backpack, there are quite a few boring tasks. I’ll spare you the details, but they include unregistering your car, getting insurance for your travels and ending all sorts of fixed costs like your internet. We also had some visa insecurities with a planned interview at the Indian embassy in Brussels.

The hardest part: saying Goodbye

Off course you don’t want to leave the country for six months without saying goodbye to everyone. The most efficient and fun way to do this was a goodbye party, so we could have one more great night with our closest friends and family. We hosted the party at Backstay Bar in Ghent, which is also a hostel and fitted our travel theme quite well. We served Indian food and our friends Elise and Aaricia performed a truly amazing traditional Indian gypsy dance followed by a Bollywood performance.

The party doubled as a benefit for our charities. We asked guests to support our crowdfunding instead of giving presents we couldn’t take in our backack anyway. The support turned out to be quite overwhelming. After the party we collected a total of € 2900. Mostly from guests at the party, but also from people who have never met us. This anonymous support spiked after our press release and the newspaper articles that followed. We were so moved by this, it actually brought tears to our eyes.

Next tot the party we also had one more climbing weekend with our local climbing friends in the South of Belgium, around Dinant. If you are a climber and you are ever in Belgium, don’t forget to check out Freyr. It might be our only climbing area with international appeal, but it’s a true gem. With limestone crags up to 120m and over 600 routes from 3 to 8c we are glad to call it our local playground.

Next to climbing there were of course beers, grilled meat and some fun on the water.

Camping and climbing

The backpacks

We have decided to bring our climbing gear, as you have probably figured out by now. We knew this would add a lot of extra weight, but it seemed possible because we weren’t planning any long treks with our main backpack. We have light and smaller backpacks for those.

We were aiming for a total weight of 32 kg: 13 kg for Annelies and 19 kg for myself. We had a detailed spreadsheet of our most important gear with the weight in grams and what backpack to put it in. We only left out a couple of “small things” we still had to buy or collect…

So in the end we ended up with a total weight of 44 kg: 18 for Annelies and 24 for myself. A few days into the journey we noticed that this works, but we are still worried about aggravating Annelies’ chronic knee injury.

We will probably end up sending some stuff back home by mail order as we have noticed we could do with even less t-shirts for example. Once we have figured it out we will add a “gear” tab to the main site navigation. This gear page will feature the full contents off our backpack as well as advice on many items.

The first few days of hitchhiking: Belgium to Switzerland

Because we were both sick for a while (and not just because of the party :-)), the preparations took longer than we expected. But on Saturday June 15th we were finally ready to leave. We had an extended breakfast with our closest relatives and after an emotional goodbye we headed towards the highway in Waregem. This was the first time we were faced with the heavy weight of our backpack and this made us realize our trip might be harder than we imagined.

Leaving home

Our first goal was the Ticino region in Switzerland, but we had no idea how fast we could get there because of our lack in hitchhiking experience.

Luckily, after only five minutes with our thumps up, we got our first ride from Dirk. Dirk had lived and worked in India for the last five years, where he contributed to the construction of New Delhi Solar gardens and various other environmental projects. What a coincidence! So we were very delighted he was our first driver bringing us directly to Ghent.

Driver Dirk
Dirk just returned from India!

We were dropped off just after the last traffic lights before the highway ramp. Not such an ideal spot, since cars are accelerating and switching lanes. But in the past we saw quite a lot of hitchhikers standing there, so if they could do it we felt we had a good chance too.

Fifteen minutes later, Tim saw us with our white board indicating “Brussels” and decided to pick us up. He has had many experiences with hitchhiking, so he was glad he could return the favor. He actually passed us a first time, and turned around to pick us up again.

Driver Tim

From now on, we were following the highway and trying to avoid entering cities, since getting out of them can be rather tricky and time-consuming. Parking lots with gas stations were our new base of operations. In every new location, we followed the same routine, we put ourselves in an obvious spot with our white board indicating our desired destination and Kenneth approaching people asking if they were going in our direction and if they could take us with them. After a while we were quite successful. Sometimes people came directly towards us, sometimes a little convincing was necessary. Overall, people were very friendly and a lot of people were willing to take us, although they were not always heading to the right direction. Furthermore, we were lucky so far with our rides, all of them except one were air-conditioned. This was no luxury considering the heatwave in Europe was still going strong.

Just before Strassbourg, we decided to call it a day. We had a nice salad at the local highway supermarket and tried to find a place to sleep. Kenneth explored the area and found a small tuft of forest were we could camp undercover. Since the parking lot was full of truck drivers in party mode (Trucks can’t drive on Sunday in France), we decided to make a small detour so it wouldn’t be too obvious where we were sleeping. We pitched the tent and got ready for a good night sleep, unfortunately with a lot of creepy noises of cracking branches, but we managed ;-).

Sunday morning, we found a central spot and started looking for a ride to Switzerland. There was not a lot of traffic and the sun was already scorching the parking lot. A lot of families were going on an sunday trip, which means a full backseat and no place left for us. So we focused on cars with a Swiss license plate and an empty back seat. This strategy worked and soon we were heading towards the Swiss border with a couple returning from a wedding, that took us despite their heavy hangover after we promised to keep quiet :-). We couldn’t be more excited, it was the second day and we were already entering our fourth country!

In Switzerland, cars need to buy a vignette, so all foreigners stop at the border and this is exactly the place where we searched for our next ride. A lot of people reacted, although they could not take us, which is a lot better than just trying very hard to avoid looking in our eyes :-). After extending our smiles to a Colgate level to show our enthousiasm, we met a very nice Belgian couple. Katrien and Joris’ final destination was the same as ours: Bellinzona! We lucky bastards!! Back in the days Joris reviewed camping sites for a well known guide. He was so kind to help us to find a camping spot he knew in Claro. So after 15 hours of active hitchhiking we could take a refreshing swim in the evening sun surrounded by palm trees (in Switzerland!) and gorgeous mountains! Feeling blessed!

What we did next was a bigger challenge than we could have ever imagined. Our first big climb sure was something special. We’ll tell you all about it in our next post.

Annelies & Kenneth

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