What does it take to be a single woman hitchhiker?
It takes a woman and a simple decision to travel alone. That pretty much sums it up.
The rest of the text is here to make you feel a bit more prepared for what’s coming if you’re planning your first solo trip and happen to read these lines.
Here is the list of situations you can expect, written to the best of my ability at this given point of time while hitchhiking from Croatia to French Polynesia.
This is certainly my own experience and yours may or may not vary.
So, let’s begin.
- You’ll be told it’s very dangerous for a woman.
That’s one of the most annoying lines and you’ll hear it over and over and over again. Don’t get spooked. Hitchhiking alone is NOT more dangerous for a woman than it is for a man if you adjust to the culture you’re in and pick your rides wisely. Staying in your comfort zone and only lurking at the world through a TV or a computer is more dangerous as it gives you that feeling of a false security while spooking you out about the real world…which only makes you stay right where you are, on your sofa in front of the TV consuming the messages that are directed at you. But that’s the whole other topic, so let’s get back to the present one.
This traditional view of a woman seen as being fragile and someone who needs the man’s assistance to go through life is still very present in many countries and it might be one of the reasons why people will try to help you rather than harm you. Thank them for their concerns, but follow your path.
Soon you’ll realise there are people like you and me, EVERYWHERE. There are no hordes of psycho killers just cruising the streets and looking to kill you. You are not in a movie.
I’m not saying that hitchhiking alone doesn’t come without any risk. I’m saying you shouldn’t give your fear a power. You might be weaker psychically, but not mentally. Be prepared and don’t let your fear in a way of your life. You will be all right.
- You’ll be told it’s impossible.
The locals will approach you on the street while you’re trying to hitchhike and tell you that you won’t get a ride, because it’s impossible. Don’t get discouraged. You will hear that from the people who have never hitchhiked before. Your ride will come. Be prepared to hear the same (impossible) line from your driver and again, you will only hear that from a person who has never hitchhiked before. Make sure to ask why did he/she pick you up if it’s so impossible to hitchhike. ☺
- You’ll be told it’s much easier to hitchhike for a woman than it is for a man.
The truth is no one has it easy. While men might need to wait for their ride to come a bit longer, once they get it there is (usually) no need for questioning, double-questioning and triple-questioning driver’s intentions. Women will (usually) get a ride without much waiting, but then starts a process of making the right decision whether this is a safe ride and letting it go if it’s not. I repeat, no one has it easy.
- You’ll be told it’s very easy to hitchhike when you’re a pretty girl.
Being pretty has nothing to do with hitchhiking. Being (reasonably) clean, (reasonably) smiley and sane while hitchhiking will take you further. Playing an instrument or juggling by the road won’t harm either. Being pretty won’t help you much if you look grumpy or scared shitless while standing by the road. And pretty by whose standards? I hitchhiked through China looking like a pregnant woman after massacring a candy store and I’ve never hitchhiked so many sports cars in my life. Tall, small, skinny, fat or whatever you look like, just remember that your ride will come.
- You’ll be told it’s very easy to hitchhike if you wear skimpy clothes.
It might be true and it might get you in trouble, but that’s not my area of expertise. I like to keep more covered while hitchhiking and that’s my personal choice. I rarely wait for the ride more than 15 minutes, so skimpy clothes are definitely not determining factor in hitchhiking.
- You’ll be told how brave you are.
In my case that can’t be any further from the truth. There were days and the countries where I didn’t feel 100% confident and I was actually shitting myself from the inside. Does putting a brave facade from the outside make you brave? I don’t think so, but I know I’m very determined and I love hitchhiking. Hitchhiking alone makes you mentally stronger, not braver, because there will always be a situation when you will shit yourself a little and it’ll make you stronger in the long run…and that’s a beauty of hitchhiking, too.
- You’ll be told how confident and strong you are.
Damn right, because you are. Both, confidence and strength will skyrocket with the experience.
- You’ll be asked why you are alone.
As if you were missing a body part, you will be asked why, why, WHY are you traveling alone, where is your friend, your boyfriend or a husband? As if you were completely incapable of breathing without anyone’s assistance. The truth is you will never be completely alone. There will be the locals that will approach you on the street, the drivers that will give you a lift, the travelers you will come across in a hostel, a bar, a street or via Couchsurfing or some random passengers/expats you’ll stumble upon when least expected. Traveling alone comes with a freedom to choose your way and change it in a split of a second just to have another change of a heart 2 minutes later only if you want it so and it’s mad brilliant!
- You’ll be asked what does your family think of you traveling alone.
It’s no one’s business what do you do with your life, because that’s your life, but it’s a great mental relief if you enjoy the support of your family. I’m lucky enough to have a great and supportive family in everything I do, but that also didn’t come over night. It was built on years and years of trust. Yes, they are worried and many times they miss me and want me home, but they also trust my judgement and they are very proud that I’m strong and persistent enough to do what feels right for me.
If I could give you one single piece of advice I would tell you to get off your ass and chase after your dreams even if you don’t enjoy the support of your friends and family. Their support will come by time and even if it doesn’t, it won’t matter much as you won’t regret living your life the way YOU wanted.
- People will try to feed you.
Whether is it because you are a single traveler on the road and you happen to be a woman so their traditional protective upbringing kicks in OR is it because of their natural motherly feelings… I don’t know. Sometimes they just want you to try the food you’ve never tried before and your reaction makes them happy. Sometimes they are so worried of you dying out of hunger that they will pack 3 bags of food even though you:
- clearly said you were not hungry
- explained how you have already gained 10kg during your journey
- did both of the above, plus you showed them the stash of food in your bag for the road
They won’t care and will feed you no matter what you say. My honest advice to you is to always hitchhike on more than half empty stomach with few pieces of fruit stashed in your bag and a small bottle of water. Why only a small bottle? Read the lines above and change the word „food“ with „drink“.
First you might think such treatment of the single woman traveler only applies to Balkan region, then the same will happen in Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos….20 plus countries and 10kg later you’ll figure out that some parts of the world kind of function like that and you will remember all the travelers/hitchhikers that you hosted or picked up before you went on your trip and surely you didn’t leave them hungry either. I guess that’s a humane thing to do and it makes me really proud to live in such world.
- People will offer you money and ask for nothing in return.
I’m not joking. People will offer you money because of a common misperception of a broke hitchhiker and they will try to help you. The truth is that not all of the hitchhikers are broke. Personally, the money (or a lack of it) is not a reason why I hitchhike and I don’t accept any money that’s being offered to me. Please keep a great hitchhiking legacy and don’t accept any money if you’re not in a serious need. Taking advantage of generous people is not what hitchhiking (and humanity) is about.
- You’ll be asked about your money/religion/virginity/married situation.
In some cultures it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the questions that would be considered more private in other cultures…and sometimes you’ll simply stumble upon some very curious people. Just because they ask, it doesn’t mean you have to answer and if you do, remember that the humor is probably the best way out of a delicate situation. Be aware that religion is a big deal in some countries and claiming that you don’t have a religion can get you in trouble where being irreligious is still illegal.
- People will try to set you up with a boyfriend, marry you (especially in the countries where a man can have more wives) or offer you a very direct „business-marriage“ proposal.
Especially if you are holder of EU passport that happen to travel in some of politically and economically more unfortunate countries. A simple ring around your finger and a convincing story about your husband that is waiting for you in XY city should get you out of (all of the above) trouble.
- People will offer you jobs.
It happens quite often and it’s a nice feeling that someone likes you enough to want to keep you in their country a bit longer. Most of the jobs I’ve been offered (out of the blue) were the teaching jobs.
- People will show you their penises.
Whether you are just walking on the street, hitchhiking or actually sitting in a car with a driver, you will get flashed in some countries, just like that. I’m not sure if that happens due to enormous amount of porn and a very stupid hitchhiking stereotype, but what I’m sure of is that you can get out of the situation with no consequences if you keep calm and explain loud and clear they misjudged you and the situation. Important thing is not to freak out as you might freak them out and then they might do something stupid out of the panic.
By the look on their face you’ll notice they don’t really know what the hell they are doing. It’s the look that’s saying „I’ve seen this ones on YouPorn and I wonder if it works…I’ll let my penis out for few minutes and see what happens.“. Tough news amigo, nothing will happen. So far I came across such situations in Muslim countries only – with Malaysia ranking as No. 1.
I actually hitchhiked a guy who has never picked up a hitchhiker before and the line „Once I’ve seen this on YouPorn“ was his answer to my question if he knows what the hitchhiking means.
- People will try to touch you.
Your hair, your hand or your leg just to test the situation. Make sure to stay calm and point to your fake wedding ring on the finger with a very clear and loud disapproving statement. That will be pretty self-explanatory in many countries even if your driver doesn’t speak any English. If that happens in a very religious country, make sure to bring some God(s) to the whole scenario by pointing to your wedding ring as well as saying God’s name and pointing to the sky – as if saying HIS God wouldn’t be very impressed with his behavior.
Make sure not to bring up Buddha’s name in Muslim country as it obviously won’t work. If the touching continues, get out of the car.
- People won’t let you out of their cars.
It happens very rarely, but it happens. Even though it’s a freaky situation, make sure to stay calm. If your driver speaks English, communicate clearly that there is a husband/brother/father waiting for you and he will go bananas if you don’t arrive safe and on time. It helps a lot if you show your driver a snap of his backside driver’s plates on your phone (that you have taken right before jumping in the car) and lie (if you have to) that you messaged the photo to your husband/brother/father that is waiting for you. He will pull over.
If your driver doesn’t speak any English, or if the tactic from above doesn’t work, show him your pepper-spray in one hand and count down 5 seconds with your other hand in front of his face, so it’s clear you will pepper spray him if he doesn’t start pulling over. Don’t hesitate to spray him if he shows no reaction to your countdown. He will stop the car, because he’ll be unable to breath. (The same as you, so be prepared.)
- People will try to trick you.
There are so many traveler scams in different countries that I could write another article to sum it all up. My best advice is to keep your heart and eyes open for the people, but if something feels dodgy – that’s because it probably is. Do a little research before going to a new country and trust your inner self when something doesn’t feel right.
- You’ll be asked if you’ve ever hitchhiked a paid transportation.
The longer you hitchhike the chances are you’ve probably done it all – taxies, buses, tuk-tuks, ferries…you name it. My personal rule for hitchhiking paid transportation is to get off the ride in case it’s getting crowded and I’m about to take someone’s place. Always have in mind that your drivers feed their families with their driving job. Be mindful and kind. Surely you’ll find another ride with all that positive energy in you! ☺
- People will invite you to their houses, dinners, birthdays, weddings, funerals, parties…
One of the most beautiful facts about hitchhiking is that you’ll be around locals all the time and get a great feeling of their culture, how they live, what they think…etc. Of course, you can pay and see all of that through the touristic arrangements, but you will lack that sincere feeling that you’ve been invited from their heart and not because of your wallet. These are the people you will most likely become friends and stay in touch with.
- People will laugh at you and your plans.
Don’t get discouraged. Laugh with them and carry on.
- People will give you some great, helpful tips and their knowledge.
Anything you can think of – from the history of their country to the latest happenings, the best ice cream in their city, the cheapest accommodation…and sometimes they will just share a laugh with you and that’s beautiful too.
- You’ll be given gifts.
One downside of solo or any kind of hitchhiking is that people you meet will often give you small gifts as a memory or a lucky charm for your travels, but you’re very limited with space. It’s a very memorable and nice gesture, but there is only so much you can carry in your small backpack. Most of the things I receive, I give away. A memory of a great people you meet is life-lasting and enough.
- People will send you in the wrong direction.
Sometimes by accident and other times because answering „I don’t know“ to your question is simply not part of their culture. Multiple-checking and having a smiling heart in tough situations usually eases the stress. In my case, swearing in Croatian does the trick.
- People will talk to you even when you clearly don’t speak their language.
They will and I think that’s such a beautiful thing! They will speak in their own language, they will use the translation app on their smartphone, they will try the sign language, they will draw on paper, call a friend who speaks English…I even hitchhiked one Chinese guy who thought I might understand him if he whispers to me in a very gesticulate way. He kept on doing that even though I was pissing myself laughing as whispering in Mandarin was not much of a help.
- People will take you to the bus/train/taxi station even though you told them you’re HITCHHIKING ONLY.
There are countries where hitchhiking is not common and people don’t quite understand the idea of hitchhiking. Your „knowledge“ of their language won’t help much either. You will get dropped off at the bus/train/taxi station only to be picked up again and taken to another bus/train/taxi station. After you get tired of riding in circles, you will find a person who speaks English and tell him/her to write you a letter in a local language explaining what exactly you are trying to accomplish. You’ll show this letter to your next driver and that will be the end of your riding in circles. Hopefully.
- People will try to hitchhike for you.
Whether they are Chinese cops, Burmese kids or half a village in Kurdistan, people will try to help you by hitchhiking FOR you. It’s kind of help you really don’t want, because there is nothing worse than 10 people standing around you with their thumbs up. Drivers won’t stop to pick you up because they will:
- get spooked by bunch of people by the road with their thumbs up
- think you are safe and sorted because there are locals that are already „helping you“
If you find yourself in that situation, try to explain you have much better chances while hitchhiking alone and if it doesn’t work, simply walk away from the people. (Yes, they will follow you, and yes, they will give up if you walk far enough.)
- People will try to hitchhike with you.
They will pick you up, fall in love with your story, leave their car and join one part of your travels. It happens and it’s beautiful.
- You’ll be asked “What’s that thing around your neck?”
It’s a “rape whistle” which is nothing else than a (very loud) whistle that might come in handy in case you get attacked on the street, accidentally lock yourself in a bathroom or against wild monkeys if you hike alone through the forest. Monkeys can be real bitches sometimes.
- You’ll be asked if you carry any weapons and if you know kung fu.
Personally, I don’t carry any weapons with me, but I also never reveal all of my secret „weapons“. Make them wonder.
- People will ask you money for a ride in certain countries.
Just because they ask for it, it doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Make sure they understand that you are hitchhiking BEFORE you get in the car. If they request the money, thank them for stopping and let them go. Your ride will come.
- You’ll be asked where you are sleeping tonight.
If you are a bit like me and not a fussy sleeper, there is a good chance you’ll have nothing sorted for the night, because you know that the possibilities are endless. From the hostels, guesthouses, Couchsurfing hosts, terraces, parks, mosques, temples, gas stations, cars and trucks of your drivers to the houses of the local people who invite you in. It doesn’t really matter where you sleep as long as YOU feel safe.
- You’ll be asked if you ever get lonely.
I think that greatly depends on what kind of character you are. If you are a bit of an extrovert, you might get lonely after travelling alone for a while. If you are more of an introvert like me, the chances are you’ll love your free space. I find it very hard to get lonely with so many people around me all the time. From the drivers that pick me up, the travelers on the street, in the hostels, in the bars, always curious locals, Couchsurfing community, random expats…the list goes on and on. Even in the crappiest places, you will always find yourself a company if you want one.
- You’ll be asked if you’ve ever rejected the ride.
Sometimes you will get a bad feeling about people who stop to pick you up. There will be something about the way they talk, act or stare at you. Something about it just won’t feel right. Don’t be scared to turn down the ride. Do it politely, but without much (or any at all) explanation. Another trick to get rid of (unwanted) drivers is to tell them you’re going to the city that’s in the opposite direction. They will tell you that you made a mistake, that you should stand on the other side of the road and they will drive off. ☺
- You’ll be asked whether you are scared of the police.
There are some more closed down countries, like Turkmenistan and Burma where I wasn’t sure what the police reaction was going to be on my hitchhiking through their territory. In general, the police should protect people, so if you’re not doing anything bad-ass they will probably check your passport and leave you alone.
In China, they’ll pick you up and take you to a better hitchhiking spot and in Iran they’ll get so worried about your safety, they’ll take you to the police station and 5 (wasted) hours later they’ll find a translator who will tell you “Don’t worry Miss, you are safe now”.
There are few countries in which it is illegal to hitchhike on the highway and the police will come to warn you about it (or give you a ticket), just remember that a smile and a polite & positive attitude goes a long way. Police should be the least of your worries.
- People will ask isn’t it very dangerous for a woman to hitchhike alone through (more strict) Muslim countries.
From my own experience, you should definitely be more careful, but it’s not impossible. Keep in mind that your presence and attitude is also influencing their culture and changing their opinion about women. Make your presence a worthwhile. Very old women’s trick for hitchhiking through strict Muslim countries is to always wear a period pad even if you are not menstruating. If you’ve been attacked and you’re about to get raped, this pad might be your life and health saver as most Muslims restrain from the intercourse during women’s period.
That’s all I can think of right now.
You’ve already seen ALL of Facebook inspirational, traveling memes and quotes, seen ALL of National Geographic documentaries, read ALL of the traveling books and blogs, secretly and publicly stalked other travelers on Facebook and Instagram. It’s time you stop living through other people’s experiences and make a few on your own. Timing will never be right, so you might as well start now. If you really want to do it, you will always find some way. Spare yourself another excuse and – go girl!
By Ana Bakran
Follow her adventures here