Hitchhiking in Italy: The Worst Travel Decision I've Ever Made (Shocker, I Know!)
There I was, age 19, exactly 24 hours after setting out on a three-month tour of Europe, walking along the narrow shoulder of a busy freeway on the outskirts of Naples — then considered the most dangerous major city in Western Europe — bent under the weight of my backpack and the near-paralyzing fear that I would not live to see the sunrise. It was the middle of the night. My friend Angie and I had just been unceremoniously dumped from the cab of a transport truck onto the side of a busy exit ramp and left to fend for ourselves.
From the start, it had been one of those episodes that, if it had gone another way, would have been the sort of headline-making story fellow travelers shake their heads at in an “obviously, this is what happens when you’re an idiot” way and parents brandish as a dire warning to children setting out to travel for the first time.
In my own defense, the one good thing I can say about the worst travel day of my life is that I got all of my stupid out in 24 hours.
It was May 1994, and after living and working in England for six months on a working holiday visa, my friend Angie and I decided to spend the summer backpacking around Western Europe. We had in our possession overly stuffed backpacks, one tent, and a copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to Western Europe (the first edition having just been released a few months earlier).
A dog-eared copy of the author’s Lonely Planet guide. (Photo: Glynnis MacNicol)
We planned to give new meaning to its “on a shoestring” tagline with about $1,500 in traveler’s checks between us, plus one emergency credit card each with an individual spending limit of $1,000. Instead of planning out a route, we opted to meet at Gatwick airport, find the cheapest flight, and buy a one-way ticket, which, after 36 hours of hanging out in the terminal, is exactly what we did — to Corfu, Greece.
It was one of those unbelievably cheap package deals that are popular in England; in addition to the flight, the price included our accommodations for a week. Food and drink were extra, the expectation being that lodgers would imbibe on the premises at inflated prices and make up for the room price. Suffice it to say, our landlord was woefully disappointed. Having spent the plane ride hammering out a three-month financial plan that would allow us to get by on a $25/day budget, we spent the week subsisting on loaves of bread and hunks of cheese from the supermarket, along with oversized bottles of wine that cost less than a dollar (at age 19, my knowledge of wine mainly consisted of knowing it contained alcohol). By day three, our host refused to acknowledge our presence.