There is one inherent problem with Eurail passes: they are mother-fucking expensive. So, while It would be great to get a two month, unlimited rail pass, I simply can’t afford it. (They do exist, for those of you with the money.) What I think is the most common is the Eurail Flexipass, which allows you 10 or 15 days of travel in a two month period. That’s also what I’m going to get. But it creates a little problem: with only 15 travel days, how do you make sure you don’t end up stuck in Slovakia for two weeks because you need your last day to get you back to the airport? And this is why I think hitchhiking in Europe might not be so bad.
I’ve read that train tickets are substantially cheaper in southern and eastern Europe than in the north and west. So while it might be cheap enough to pay for an individual train ticket from Rome to Milan, I might just not have the money, or the trains could be booked. Certainly it’s too expensive to take the train from Monaco to Aix-en-Provence without the Eurail pass. Out of 15 days, though, is it worth the trip? Sure, if you can get a ride.
It’s–apparently–only illegal to hitchhike while actually on a major highway in most countries. Which makes sense: you don’t want to be standing next to free moving traffic on the Autobahn. Cars on the highway itself will probably be moving too fast to size you up, consider stopping, and stop before they’ve passed you. The solution is gas stations and on-ramps, places where cars congregate and are going slower.
One thing you can get hitchhiking that you really can’t get anywhere else is a chance to talk to a native for an extended period of time. I don’t know how well that will work across the language barrier, but it still has potential, especially if an English speaker picks you up. You can also see different scenery than you would on a train, and different parts of a city.
There are downsides, of course. Less secure than a train; fewer people around to talk to. If you don’t like the driver, or neither speak a common language, I’d guess it could be pretty boring. And of course you get to carry your stuff on your lap for however long. (I’ve read that you should never let anyone take your pack away from you while hitchhiking. And it makes sense. It’s only too easy to throw a pack in a trunk and then drive away with it.)
Overall, I don’t think I’m going to seek out opportunities to hitch, but I also don’t think I’ll avoid it if it comes up. If I really need to get across Rome in a hurry and can’t figure out the bus, or don’t want to waste a train ride to go 70 or 100 km, I think hitching could be a really viable alternative.