BY: TIM O’NEAL
Everyone has heard hitchhiking horror stories. Any conversation about hitchhiking inevitably leads to discussing the risks and inherent dangers, but these negative accounts are the rare exception. The vast majority of hitchhikers, even if their trip doesn’t go exactly as planned, end their journey safely with lots of stories to tell. The following are positive stories about incredible hitchhiking adventures around the world.
511 days to India
photo courtesy of Roving Snails
For more than 2,000 years, people have been traveling overland across Asia for trade and cultural exchange. The Silk Road was a major network connecting Korea and Japan to the Mediterranean, and there is strong evidence of trade routes even older than that. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the route across Asia and into India became a popular journey for hippy caravans.
Today, with modern political borders and instability in parts of the region, it’s very difficult to find a way into India by land. With border crossing access and bureaucratic rules shifting constantly, hitchhiking into India is nearly impossible.
That didn’t stop Boris and Marta. Believing that, “since humans have feet but no wings, one should be able to reach any corner of the Eurasian continent by road,” they spent 511 days hitchhiking across Asia, around India, trying to find that one open door into their destination.
They found that they needed a visa to get into Pakistan, one that they couldn’t obtain. Even if they could have they would have needed a military escort to safely cross 600km of the trip.
The volatility in Afghanistan resulting from the US invasion has left borders closed and too much uncertainty about safety in certain regions. There are stories about catching a ride on a shipping boat to Mumbai but Boris and Marta decided that was too unreliable.
They ended up on the ancient Silk Road itself in central Asia, still a long way from India but it kept their hope alive. On this ancient route, they hitchhiked through southern China into southeast Asia. Their efforts of nearly a year-and-a-half were rewarded in the Burmese mountains with an opening between Myanmar and India.
They say on their blog, “For 511 days we travelled east looking for a way to India, hitchhiking all sorts of roads and crossing every border overland, in a quest to reach the subcontinent without taking a plane, inspired by medieval travellers, nineteenth century explorers and probably more than we would like to admit, by the free spirited hippies of the ’60s.”
Hitchhiking for the first time through Europe
Toby Israel had been traveling solo around the world by bus and train. Seven months into her trip she arrived in Europe and became bored. She had begun this trip seeking adventure, but traveling the way she was no longer provided that. In order to stoke the excitement she decided to start hitchhiking in Croatia.
Ten minutes after finding her hitch spot she was picked up and taken nearly 150 miles to her destination, safely. Following that first successful trip she hitchhiked through Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France and Italy, taking more than fifty rides. She made friends all along the way.
“I had always wanted to be fearless, and now I had begun to actively seek out and defeat the things that scared me,” she says of her journey. “I tried to shake free of the platitude that, as a young woman, I must always travel with fear and caution.”
She knew that, statistically, she was safer hitchhiking than she was at a fraternity party at her university, but it was still scary. She embraced that fear and learned to overcome it.
“As the kilometers accumulated, hitchhiking reinvigorated not only my love of travel and my self-assurance as a solo female traveler, but also my love of humanity,” she says.
25,000 kilometres through South America
One day, while studying in Denmark, Iris felt the need to get to the coast. She invited a friend who suggested they hitchhike. She had heard him talking about his experiences before and was curious, so she went for it. At first, she didn’t believe a car would actually stop. “Who does that?” she thought. A few minutes later a car stopped and they were on their way.
It’s been over four years since that day and Iris has now hitchhiked through 60 countries around the world. She’s been through Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Central America. For more than two years she has been traveling through South America and has just passed 25,000 km of hitchhiking on the continent. She’s accumulated over 80,000 km around the world since she began.
Iris says of that first hitchhiking experience four years ago, “I don’t want to sound dramatic, but it has proven to be quite the life-changing moment.” She blogs about her travels and has co-written a couple of travel guides. She’s currently working on a book about hitchhiking through Iran. From the look of things she doesn’t seem to be planning to settle in one place anytime soon.
This only scratches the surface of positive hitchhiking stories out there. The internet is full of people sharing their amazing experiences. Finally, news of the negative doesn’t have to dominate our impression of hitchhiking.