Day 1

One of the many wonderful things about hitchhiking somewhere is that it doesn’t matter if your plans change or you end up running late. This works well for me as after a year of living in the woods, my time keeping is particularly dubious!

Last night, I had a Hello/Goodbye getogether on Brighton beach that ended up moving to a friends house and continuing until the early hours. Needless to say, O and I were a little late starting the day and also had some last minute organising and packing to do before leaving.

As we walked out of the door of our friend’s house near the seafront at 4, we knew it was very unlikely that we’d make it to Portsmouth for the 5 o’clock ferry, but we thought we’d head off anyway. We could be extremely lucky and get a lift immediately all the way there! Whatever happened, at least we’d be on the way.

It’s not generally a good idea to try and hitchhike from within a town or city, people tend to be more likely to pick you up on the edge of town near an entrance to a main road. However, it was a sunny afternoon and having resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d missed the evening ferry – we weren’t in any rush. We decided it’d be much nicer to stand on the pavement by the seafront than to walk for ages through town to the main road. We chose a spot that was before the turning to go through town and join the A27, thinking we’d catch people taking that route as well as people carrying on along the coastal road.

We salvaged some sturdy cardboard from a skip on the way, wrote a sign and stuck out our thumbs. We were feeling optimistic and excited so it was easy to smile at the passing drivers. We got some acknowledgments – some positive, some less so – and at one point a taxi driver pulled over and offered us a ride. We had to explain that we weren’t looking for a taxi and he seemed to find the whole thing hilarious. We patted ourselves on the back for having provided him with some entertainment for the day.

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Soon it was 5 o’clock and we were still in Brighton. We could easily have gone back to our friend’s house for another night but turning back felt wrong. There was another ferry leaving Portsmouth for Spain early in the morning, so we decided to continue. We started walking, again choosing to continue along the coastal road rather than head up to the dual carriageway. O had our sign attached to his backpack, and we stuck out our thumbs as we walked.

Before long, we were in Portslade and hungry. I popped into a chippy whilst O stood with our sign outside. The man behind the counter and the one customer in the fish’n’chip shop were very interested in what we were up to.

“How far have you walked?”

I wished I had something more awe-inspiring to tell him than ‘Brighton’ and looked forward to answering similar questions later on in our journey!

“Where are you going?”

I told him we were headed for Spain eventually, to which his jaw dropped.

“You’re walking all the way?!”

“Hopefully not!”  I laughed and explained our adventure. He seemed to find it a bit strange but wished us luck nonetheless.

After our snack stop, we continued walking in the general direction of Portsmouth (west along the coast road). We weren’t really trying to get a lift at all, both of us on our phones – O checking out route maps and me searching for Couchsurfing hosts in Portsmouth and other towns en route – so were quite taken aback when a convertible pulled over and a man beckoned us in.

It was my first ever ride in a convertible, on a lovely Spring evening and we felt great. Our driver was actually on his way home to Hove but when he saw us he decided to go out of his way to take us to a good spot near Lancing College. He used to do a lot of hitchhiking in the past and him and O compared experiences in the European countries they’d both travelled through. He was really friendly and excited about our trip, offering tips from his own adventures.

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We didn’t wait long at all for our next lift from a woman on her way to Worthing. It was a fairly short distance from where we were but with afternoon quickly becoming evening, it felt better to keep moving than stand still. Another friendly ride, we chatted easily during the short journey. She told us about how her and her partner were saving to buy a van so they could travel around with their young kids selling vegan pizza.

She was going to a shop, so we told her not to go out of her way. We said goodbyes and wandered from the car park, quickly finding a good spot just after some traffic lights and just before a little parking pull-in. We always want to make it as easy as possible for people to pull over as that could be the deciding factor for someone who’s unsure.

It was getting dark and a bit chilly by this point, so I dashed to a restaurant over the road to use their loo and put on a merino wool base layer underneath my clothes. O started making a new sign, telling me that this had brought him luck in the past.

“Often, you’ll start writing a new sign, taking lots of care over it… and then you’ll get a lift before you can finish it.”

And that’s exactly what happened!

Similarly to with our first ride, we were not actually paying a lot of attention when our next lift pulled over. O was focusing on writing a sign, and I was contacting Couchsurfing hosts on my phone again. We joked that it seemed like drivers preferred to pick up people fiddling on smartphones! Maybe it made us look less homeless and more like functioning members of “society”?! It amused us anyway.

Our next lift was one-of-a-kind – a professional hitchhiker’s friend! He told us he often picked up hitchhikers, as he enjoys the company, conversation and helping people out. He drives around the country a lot, having set up a business a few years ago delivering lost luggage from airports to all corners of the UK.

He was originally from Pakistan but had been in England for twenty years and seemed proud to tell us he was a British Citizen. He’d originally trained as a lawyer and worked for several years in the City at a bank. The job involved a lot of responsibility and pressure, he earned a lot of money but was very unhappy. So he left and went on an adventure, cycling around Scotland for two months and sleeping by the side of the road. This experience changed his life for the better.

“I realised I was a traveler!”

So, he started his business and now he drives everywhere and sometimes sleeps in the back of his van and takes his time between jobs. He was a great talker with a dry sense of humour and we really enjoyed our time chatting with him. His phone kept ringing at the beginning of the journey.

“Do you mind if I use the phone? It’ll be in another language!”

We told him of course we didn’t mind and he answered and spoke a bit but the conversation seemed to cut out quite quickly. When it rang again, he handed the phone to me.

“Can you answer this and tell him to shut up and stop phoning?!”

I did as he requested (though too politely apparently!) and he chuckled that he loved winding his friend up by getting strangers to answer his phone.

When he originally picked us up, he told us he could take us to Southampton but wasn’t going via Portsmouth. We’d gone for it, thinking we’d hitch from there or stop for the night and maybe we could even get a ferry to France or Spain from there. But at some point on the journey, we realised the GPS was taking us towards Portsmouth. Our new friend directed us how to check his list of delivery addresses and it turned out he was actually going to Portsmouth – perfect!

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Our new friend sent us the selfie he took

We got to Portsmouth around 10pm. We said goodbyes, taking a selfie and exchanging numbers and Couchsurfing details so we could link up. He told us he was often driving from London to Cornwall and to contact him if we ever needed a lift in that direction.

What next? We weren’t sure. We found a supermarket that was open until 11, so we took our time browsing for food for dinner (it was the perfect time for reduced bakery goodies) and used the Wi-Fi to download some maps of Spain for the next part of our journey.

We were very tired by this point, after not enough sleep the night before. We found some big pieces of cardboard in a skip near the supermarket and set off to find somewhere to sleep. Ideally, we wouldn’t set up camp in Portsmouth but we also want to be able to get to the ferry port as early as possible so we can catch the traffic going on the 8am ferry.

We eventually found the perfect spot (well, as perfect a camping spot as is possible to find in a city!) behind a block of flats, next to a children’s play area. I’m not sure what it was actually built for, but there were three walls ready and waiting for us to create a fourth wall and a roof with our tarps. We laid down the big sheets of cardboard under our base blanket to cushion the hard grass ground, ate a bit of bread and hummus, set an alarm and went to sleep.

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