In the first part of this blog post, I have told you that you don’t need to be filthy rich to travel. I’m far from rich, but luckily I can always find “travel hacks” to make my trips cheaper than they’re supposed to be. Two of them are CouchSurfing to find free bed & bathroom, and BlaBlaCar to get cheap and trusted rides from one city to another.
So after following my journey from Paris to Ochsenfurt, now let’s continue the road trip!
Ochsenfurt-Rothenburg ob der Tauber-Ochsenfurt: $10.8
Oh man, you must see Rothenburg ob der Tauber! It’s named as world’s most charming small town by so many travel bloggers & websites. So traditional, pretty, and relaxing. This town was my main reason to visit Bavaria. I took a 50-minute train from Ochsenfurt ($5.4 one way), and voila… these pretty sights appeared in front of me. The old town area is located inside a fort. I needed 90 minutes to walk around the area. There was also a Christmas market where I tried another version of glühwein.
I took a train from Ochsenfurt to Nürnberg for $7.6, and a bus from Nürnberg to Prague for $15. Yes, the bus was quite expensive. But that bus ride gave me one of the most priceless travel experiences ever. I don’t need to tell a long story about this trip here. Just click the link above.
Four months before this Eurotrip, there was a CouchSurfer couple came to my place in Jakarta. They were from a small Polish town called Lublin, that I had never heard before. Sawa and Natalia were at my place just to take shower and grab something to bite before flying back home, after having a three-week trip around Indonesia. Before goung to the airport, Sawa withdrew some cash from ATM machine but the card was rejected. They panicked, especially after I told them that they needed to pay such thing called “airport tax” before boarding to the aircraft. So of course, I had to give them my money. I didn’t expect them to return it to me, I just did it as a fellow human and traveler. After they arrived in Poland, they contacted me and asked for my bank account number. I didn’t give it to them. I jokingly replied, “I’ll take my money back by visiting you guys in Lublin.”
There was no direct bus to Lublin from Prague, so tried to book a bus to Warsaw, the nearest city. But this time, my credit card didn’t work. I contacted Sawa, “Can you book me the bus with your card? I’ll pay it when I reach Lublin.” He said okay, but then when I arrived at his beautiful home, he refused my payment. “We’re even now,” he said. So the good karma made my trip free! I only needed to pay for my BlaBlaCar ride from Warsaw to Lublin. A car owner named Przemysław charged me $5. It was also a pleasant trip with him. He was a very friendly gentleman who had so many stories to tell. He drove from Warsaw to Lublin for a Christmas party with his fiance.
Oh, you still don’t believe that BlaBlaCar is safe, do you? Take a look to the website, and you’ll see that there are rating system and reference box everyone can leave for their past drivers and riders. So you’ll know what kind of person the car owner is, if he smokes or not, brings a pet in his car or not, etc. Trust me, it’s trusted! And uhm, have I told you that it also has its own mobile apps you can easily download on your phone?
At 5:30 am in the morning, Sawa’s beautiful mother drove me to a gas station near the highway because I had an appointment with another BlaBlaCar driver that would bring me back to Warsaw after my three-day visit in Lublin. That guy, Adam, also charged me $5. But unluckily when I arrived in Warsaw, no BlaBlaCar driver available to bring me to my next destination: Berlin. So this is the perfect time to hitchhike!
I waited at a gas station near the highway, bringing my classic hitchhiking board. I wrote “Take me to Berlin” there. But after 2.5 hours, I gave up and went to Marriott Hotel (near the highway) to warm myself up from the dreaded weather and find a flight or train or bus. At the lobby, a very pretty hotel guess in blue dress approached me. “Do you need help?” she asked. Maybe I looked like a frozen Asian.
“Nah. I’m good. I only need to sit and find something on the internet.”
“Are you a hitchhiker?” she saw my board.
“Yes, but no luck today. I was looking for a ride to Berlin.”
“My husband just left to Berlin. Fifteen minutes ago.”
She grabbed her phone, “I’ll call him now to come back here and pick you up.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.”
“I do. It must be boring for him to drive alone for five hours. Please be his company.”
So hell yeah, that guy came back to the hotel and drove me all the way to Germany, for free! His name was Kamil, his wife was Agnes, and they saved my life! Kamil and I shared lots of stuffs on our way. He was an awesome guy. Thank God he gave me his business card, so someday I can visit this lovely couple when I come to their hometown in Kraków, Poland. I promise I will.
I got a confirmation from a BlaBlaCar driver named Freeman. He was driving from Berlin to Paris, so I tagged along. He charged me quite expensive, $70. It was acceptable actually, because the ride was very long: almost 12 hours. On our ride, I learned that Freeman wasn’t actually a European, not even African-European. He was pure African, Congolese to be precise. He took his two beautiful daughters, Amelié and Gdina, to travel acrross Europe for the first time. And they did it by car. “To keep their feet on the ground,” he said.
They started the trip in Spain, continued to Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, German, and France. We shared lots of stories about our trips and some personal stories, including why one of his daughters was white. So he was married to a Belgian woman. “God is so fair. I have one white and one black. And they’re both beautiful,” he said again. Indeed, they were pretty. And very cheerful.
We spent the fun day together, from eating fried chicken somewhere in German-French border until almost running out of gas when we arrived in a hilly side of France. I told him lots about Indonesia, and he told me so many things about Congo. But I didn’t know what I’d done to him and his daughters, until when he dropped me in my hotel in Paris he said, “No man, you don’t need to pay for the ride.”
“What?” I handed him my money.
“I don’t feel like taking your money. Today is too fun to remember. I don’t want to add any more ingredient to what we’ve put.”
I was stunned. It was another zero dollar. So I said thank you, goodbye, and took my first walk in the city where I started this all.
I can’t really believe it. Less than $100 for the 4,000 kilometers trip, more than 40 hours on the road. I have to repeat this kind of road trip one day. Join me?
Last winter when I went to Europe, I was too cheapskate to buy the expensive five-country rail pass. It was $678 for 20 days, not including Poland. Ridiculously overpriced, because even my Jakarta-Paris-Jakarta flight only costed me $750! I must find a cheaper way to travel in that goddamn continent, I said to myself. Traveling shouldn’t be this expensive, and I’m sure I’m not the only cheapskate traveler in the universe. I was correct. I found some other ways to wander Europe without spending extravagant amount of money, even without spending money at all! It proved once again that you don’t have to be filthy rich to travel.
I heard about “hitchhiking” so many times in my life. I knew it from some people who’d stopped a car in the middle of the road and got picked for free by a random driver who shared the same destination. I also knew it from a suspense movie I watched on HBO, where a psychotic hitchhiker brutally killed the hitchers (car owners). I’d tried hitchhiking once. It was accidental actually, when I was lost in Battambang (a tiny town in Cambodia) and had no other choice but stopping passing vehicles. Europe sounds “safer” than Cambodia, so I thought hitchhiking in Europe would be a piece of cake for me.
But no, it wasn’t that easy. After landing from my 17 hours flight, I’d waited for three freezing hours at Charles de Gaulle Airport’s parking lot in Paris but I couldn’t find anyone driving to Stuttgart (Germany), my first destination. Maybe I was just stupid, who drives all the from Paris to Stuttgart anyway? I gave up and went to a bus terminal in another side of Paris. Ticket to Stuttgart was sold out; the only available option was going to Köln (Germany), staying there for a night, and going to Stuttgart by another bus in the next morning. I took that option by buying a $21.5 Eurolines bus ticket to Köln. It wasn’t a bad luck, because Köln turned out to be an incredible city with amazing buildings, astonishing Christmas market, beautiful riverside, and friendly people. I even regretted why I spent one night only there. I’ll be back, one day.
A few months before this trip, I went to Kuala Lumpur with a friend. In the bus from the airport to the city center, I had a conversation with a Spanish guy who sat next to me. I told him I was about to go to Europe, and he told me to use Europe’s most trusted ride-sharing website if I don’t want to buy the expensive train tickets. The website’s called BlaBlaCar, it connects people who need to travel with drivers who have empty seats. It’s just like the Airbnb for transportation. We only need to sign up and input our travel plan (date & route). The website will show us some people who will be driving on the same route and date, plus how much they will charge us for joining their ride.
That morning in Köln, I got a confirmation from a German lady named Pia Rommel. She was about to drive from Köln to Stuttgart, her hometown, to celebrate Christmas with family. She charged me $15 for the four-hour ride (read: $70 cheaper than a three-hour train ride). She was very friendly and insightful. I told her about my one-week plan of Christmas market hopping in Germany and she gave me some food list I had to try. And that included glühwein, a hot red wine with citrus and various spices that’s only available during winter. When I arrived in Stuttgart and went to its beautiful Christmas market, I found love in my very first sip of glühwein. It was warm, spicy, and strong.
I really enjoyed Stuttgart and its dreamy Christmas market. My friend, Domey, is a Frisbee player (yeah, I had no idea that in Germany, Frisbee was more than a beach sport for dogs). He had a tournament in Karlsruhe, an hour from Stuttgart, and asked me if I want to see and stay there for a night with his rugby buddies. I said yes, then we departed to Karlsruhe (he drove me, of course it was free) bringing his sleeping bags because we’d sleep on the Frisbee court with more than 100 other athletes. It was never on my plan, but sounded so cool. And indeed, my night in Karlsruhe was pretty awesome. After the tournament ended, all of us took a tram to go to a spectacular night club. Why spectacular? The club played 90’s songs all night, including tracks from Spice Girls, Britney Spears, and *NSYNC. Once an hour, the bartenders did a dancing attraction with Backstreet Boys’ Everybody. They even named the cocktails Kool Kevin, Amazing AJ, Naughty Nick, Horny Howie, and Baby Brian. Too much fun, because I tried them all!
The morning after, I used BlaBlaCar again to get a ride from Karlsruhe to Würzburg ($9). My driver was a German woman who couldn’t speak English at all. Haha! We spent 3 hours in silent, with Beyonce’s latest album from the car audio. The trip was fine; and from Würzburg I took a 20-minute train ($5) to Ochsenfurt, a small town in Bavaria. There, I stayed at a local’s house for free that I found from CouchSurfing. The house owner was Max Langer, an amazing cook and tour guide. He brought me wandering the beautiful town and even partying in Würzburg as Ochsenfurt didn’t have so much things to offer at night.
Hey, don’t worry! The story doesn’t end here. Click the second part of this blog post to find out how I continued and finished the journey. The article will reveal how I got a ride from Berlin to Paris for $0 (normal cost: $310).
I signed out from Antiquities Museum after a magical three-hour date with those mummies. As I walked toward the main road, I saw some tanks and bunch of soldiers outside the building. It wasn’t a rare view in Cairo. Three years had passed after the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 but some important places still needed intensive protection, especially because one week prior my arrival there was a bombing that killed 6 civilians. I didn’t really care about those military units, until when I noticed the nearby metro station was closed. Their English proficiency couldn’t explain to me what was going on. So maybe another bombing terror, I said to myself.
I was about to see the pyramids and supposed to take a metro to Giza from that station. So I decided to take a cab to another station (5 Egyptian pounds or US$0.5), and transfer to a train there (1 pound). Oh right, it was an on-budget trip, so I had to calculate everything carefully. I stopped a cab owned by a non English-speaking driver. His name was Hassan, around 40. I sat on the front seat, opened my Google Translate, and showed him where I’d wanted to go. He nodded. I didn’t remember how it went, but his poor English managed to offer me a ride straight to Giza instead of the station. He said I only needed to pay 8 pounds for the entire ride, only 2 pounds more expensive than my actual plan. It was suspicious, because Lonely Planet said it would cost me at least 18 pounds from Cairo to Giza. But seeing his smiley face, maybe I had to ignore my doubt. So I nodded.
Hassan was kind. When we crossed a bridge over Nile River, he asked if I wanted to take a pic. I said yes, then we pulled over. I opened the car’s door and handed him my camera. We continued the trip mostly in silence. I was stunned when we arrived in the desert area. I always have a thing with desert, maybe because I had too much Aladdin movies when I was younger. I was busy taking pictures while he made several phone calls with a man in language I didn’t understand. The traffic was great; there was no other car around us. It was a perfect day until I realized there was a strange view in my sight: a man stood in the middle of the road, spread his hands, and tried to stop us. Oh fuck.
He was definitely not a hitchhiker. He was skinny, tall, bearded, wore a lousy black jacket And of fuck again, he wasn’t alone. There was another guy. This one was chubbier, shorter, no beard. Both were mid 30. I panicked. “Who are they?” I asked Hassan, but he shook his head.
They approached my cab. The skinny one went to Hassan’s side, and the chubby one was on my window. Skinny spoke something in Arabic to Hassan. He looked and sounded mad, and my driver looked terrified. I asked him what the guy was saying, but he couldn’t really explain. So I collected all my guts and asked him, “What do you want?”
“You go pyramid?” he asked back. The tone wasn’t very friendly.
He replied in Arabic. I asked Hassan again, but his English was too poor to explain. He shouted to me in Arabic. I was scared as hell.
“Call!” he challenged me. He didn’t believe someone like me had a local friend.
Shit. No answer from Nour. He told me this morning he’d be busy all day. I took a deep breath. Very deep, especially when I realized both Skinny and Chubby were on the back seat of my cab! I was afraid they’d do something harmful to me. I knew I couldn’t ask for help from anyone because there were no other people here. Everything I saw was only desert. Not even camels.
“Where your friend?” the Chubby mocked me.
I asked, “Why are you in my cab?” They answered in Arabic with an offensive tone.
Then I realized something odd. Wait, was is staged? Was it all staged by Hassan, my driver? He gave such a cheap rate to go to Giza, then he made some phone calls along the way. Were these cocksuckers his friends? But he also looked scared. Or maybe he was just pretending? Were they going to rob me?
I called Nour again. Thank God this time he picked up. I told him what was going on and asked him to speak with those assholes.
I handed my phone to Skinny, although I was afraid he’d not return that to me. They spoke for less than a minute, then he gave my phone back. With such a disappointing look in their face, they got off the cab. He yelled one more time before crossing to the other side of the street. We continued the journey. I felt relieved. Nour saved my life.
I called him again to ask what happened, and his answer kinda surprised me, “They know you’re heading to the pyramids, and want you to rent their camel for your trip there.”
What the fuck?
I suddenly recalled an article from USA Today I’d read months before, that Egypt pyramid vendors grew violent. After the revolution, the tourism business dropped. They were desperate to make money; hence they became aggressive to get tourists to give them some business. I didn’t expect I’d experience that. And until now I still have no idea if Hassan was involved on that incident or not. Well, that doesn’t matter now. Most importantly, I finally made my way to the Great Pyramids of Giza, rented a horse to wander from one ancient building to another, and took that very touristy picture. I just have to be more careful next time.
This post is aimed to inform my readers that it’s important to know a local when visiting a non English-speaking country, especially if the country is experiencing a hard time or conflict. I always make friends with the locals through CouchSurfing.org, a website for travelers that enables me to find a place to stay for free. Well it’s not only about the free-of-charge thingy, but also about the friendships I build with them.
In Cairo, I found Nour. He confirmed my request to stay just two days prior my arrival date. He’s a very decent guy, polite, and full of knowledge. He lives in an apartment with his lovely mother. These two beautiful creatures let me stay in a big room with large bed and lots of blankets (it was winter in Egypt). Not only that, they cooked me breakfast every morning and provided me with so many useful local insights. Nour brought me to meet his friendly friends, and wrote me some street directions in Arabic alphabet so I can just show it to taxi driver or people in case I get lost. I will also remember when he surprised me with a lemon cheesecake on my birthday night. He definitely made the cold Egypt a little warmer.