Hitchhiking — It’s a way of traveling I would have ditched a long time ago if it was as dangerous as people think it is.
As much as others try to convince me that it’s “dangerous” (especially for a petite person like me), it’s not as scary as they think. In fact, hitchhiking has given me all kinds of memorable tales; from a free dinner to spending a night in a local’s home. These experiences will always have a place in my heart….
1. You get to meet new people…nice people!
My hitchhiking experience started in Malaysia, when I hitchhiked for the first time with Lee, a Dutch traveler I met in Kuala Lumpur. Lee travels everywhere by hitchhiking. He thinks that it’s the best way to travel – at least for him. I asked him before why he’s into hitchhiking and he told me that it’s one of the best ways to meet new people. I’d have to agree with him on that.
I don’t remember the names (or even the faces) of the people I met on the road; but I remember all the wonderful experiences I had with them. I’ll never forget their good deeds, generosity, friendliness and uniqueness. We also exchanged knowledge about our own cultures and points of view.
I remember this Thai man who gave us a ride in Thailand. He showed us his YouTube videos where he played rock songs on his guitar. On New Year 2016, he sent us his regards! What a character. And what a privilege to have met him.
2. You can choose your ride
Hitchhiking is not much different from taking a bus trip. You get to make choices at the bus terminal if you intend to get from point A to point B. You get to choose which bus, what time, which kind of ticket to buy, etc. The same goes for hitchhiking; you get to plan your route and choose with whom you’d like to travel.
From Malaysia to Thailand, I hitchhiked with about 30 cars in total. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? That’s because many of them were short-distance trips. During my journey, I tried not to be too picky, but if the driver looked ‘odd’ (based on my gut feeling), I’d decline the offer.
Lee is an experienced hitchhiker. I learned a lot from him, and after a while, it became easier for me to determine the right person to give me a lift.
3. You don’t necessarily have to do it alone
I have heard about female travelers traveling alone – the entire way! I mostly travel alone too, but I always like to travel with another person if I’m going to hitchhike. The world isn’t always a big, scary place, but with a small body that anyone could easily lift like mine, might need more than just pepper spray in my pocket if something happens.
Luckily, I’ve always had someone to hitchhike with. Should there be an emergency and I am forced to hitchhike by myself, I will. You can choose yourself. If you’re going to hitchhike for the first time, try to do so with another traveler, just to be on the safe side. It’s normal to be nervous, and identifying who is good and who is bad can be tricky at first.
I once took a ride with a complete stranger when I was traveling back from Padang Bai to Kuta, Bali. I met a French guy on a local ferry, had a 2-hour conversation with him, and decided to join him on his scooter since he was also heading to the same place. The point is, I took a ride with someone I barely knew, and whether it was through hitchhiking or from a small talk on a ferry, it’s all about putting your trust in somebody you don’t know! You just have to trust your guts. People can amaze you sometimes.
4. Hitchhiking is like life…full of surprises!
You can’t really expect everything to go your way when hitchhiking. The only thing you should expect is to get to your destination –that’s basically your primary goal. Just like in life, hitchhiking is full of surprises.
You never know what’s going to happen next. When sitting in the car, start a conversation with the driver and try to ask as many questions as possible. That’s one of the best ways to get to know the person who picks you up. This is the process by which trust is slowly built, and once you’ve completed the journey, you’ll realize that the people who pick you up genuinely just want to help!
For instance, I was picked by a man from New Zealand who later bought me dinner. He was a hitchhiker too, so when he saw me he was reminded of the good old days when he was just as adventurous. Now that he drives his own car, he picks up hitchhikers like me and shares his stories.
There was also this one time when a group of Thai travelers gave me a ride, got me some snacks (I was starving!), and then invited me to their house for dinner. Eventually I spent the night in their house. (Well, that may have been because I told them that I was going to sleep at the gas station.) They made a delicious meal and even bought me a loaf of bread. I was not scared at all and I didn’t think that they’d do anything bad to me. They had very good energies and I trusted them. That’s how it usually goes; the more hitchhiking trips you take, the better your hitchhiking skills get.
5. You know if you’re going toward the right direction
Hitchhiking is beloved by most travelers. It’s part of the adventure! We don’t just do it because it’s FREE. We do it because we want to have control over our own journey. “Not all who wander are lost” – that’s true. Wherever I go, I always follow my instincts, but a map is the one thing I must have when traveling, especially when traveling like this! It’s not surprising that many people don’t actually know how to read a map. Previously, I didn’t know how to read a map either, but hitchhiking has improved my sense of direction.
I remember using a GPS when I was in a taxi in Bangkok. The taxi driver tried to scam me and he even tried to convince me that the GPS was wrong. How absurd!
Another note to remember: Don’t neglect signboards. They’re very useful, so always keep an eye out for them!
6. Hitchhiking is just as risky as anything else
I think it’s silly when people tell me that hitchhiking is dangerous even when they’ve never tried it themselves. How is that even considered advice? Experiencing is believing – and that’s enough to make me hitchhike regardless of what others say.
Here’s what I think: The world can be both safe and dangerous, depending on where you go and who you meet. But you can’t be stuck in your comfort zone all the time, can you?
In some countries, hitchhiking is illegal. I know. And I must admit that I don’t do hitchhiking all the time. In fact, I still pay for bus rides, flights, and even boats. But at least I know why people still do hitchhiking and why for many (like me), hitchhiking is not as scary as everyone thinks it is. 🙂