Sunday, October 9, 2016

Safety Guide: Hitchhiking Tips for Solo Travelers

Hitchhiking? Are you crazy? 
True enough, hitchhiking is said to be a risky act. Although I was afraid as well, I finally tried hitchhiking during my trip in Central Europe… of course, I always put safety first, by applying a few rules. 
Hitchhiking solo female

1. Petrol Station or Car Parks. 

Although most people choose to stand at the roadside holding a cardboard with destinations written on it, I found asking for rides in Petrol stations and car parks safer. Reasons? 
1. You don’t risk being run over signaling at the roadside.

2. You won’t expose yourself to direct sunlight, preventing heat stroke

3. You choose your drivers instead of them choosing you.
Yes, I am telling you to “Judge a book by its cover”. Carefully profile your potential drivers, be careful not to get into the car of an alcoholic (look for signs of alcohol consumption). Although our judgments might be wrong. 

2. Always ride with family or obvious tourist

Families make me feel safer. Other than that, I believe no one (or at least no one in the right mind) would think of committing a crime during a supposedly flawless vacation. I might be too naive, please correct me if I am wrong. 

iceland rent car

3. Communication Is Key

If you are the only passenger, it is always polite to sit in the front of the vehicle with the driver. Talk to the driver about the drop off location. Try to be specific and if a driver can only drop you off at a crossroad which is probably dangerous for you to wait for the next ride, then it is wise to look for other drivers. 

female driver

4. Never Hitchhike At Night 

I don’t know what is with hitchhiking at night but I just don’t feel comfortable doing it. On second thought, everything sounds dangerous at night in an unfamiliar city.  I remember missing a ferry from Capri and I ended up arriving at Naples at 11pm! I couldn’t find the bus as described in travel forum so I tried to ask a family for a ride since they are the only bunch of people I felt safe being with. Unfortunately, this Norwegian family of 4 was also on their vacation and they were thinking to call a cab. I had no choice but to walk (probably takes 20 minutes to my hostel). I was lucky that the family still remembered me when their cab arrived. They managed to track me down (wasn't too far from where we met) and give me a lift. I offered to pay up but the kind family said they just want to make sure that I was safe (note that I look like a kid), so I guess that was a form of hitchhiking? If you asked me, I probably WON'T do it again. Hitchhiking at night scares me.  

5. Think positively but at the same time, trust your instincts.

Have you heard of the “Law of attraction”? Positivity attracts kind souls. Not everyone out there is out to get you, so try to be open minded and accept that there are still a lot of good people out there who are willing to help whole-heartedly. However, if you smell something fishy going on, trust your instinct and turn down the offer. 


6. Backpack. 

Your backpack goes into the car after you during pick up and when you reach your destination, put your backpack out of the car first before stepping out. This prevents an episode of backpack theft. 

7. Psychological Play

a) The surveillance card 
If there is someone near the pickup location, wave and say goodbye to them even though they are total strangers. Once you got into the car, message a friend about the car plate number and model. Even if you have no one to tell to, pretend that you are talking to someone on the phone, telling them this information. These make the driver aware that He/She is responsible for your safety now. However, be polite and don't let the drivers feel that you do not trust them... after all, they trust you enough to pick you up at the first place!   

Say something like this on the phone: 
"Dad, a kind gentlemen had offered to drive me home, don't worry. 
(pause) Yes just wait for me at the station. 
(pause) Just keep an eye for a silver Toyota. 
(pause) the car plate number? If I am not mistaken, XXXX. Just look for a silver Toyota, dad! There aren't that many Toyotas on the road! Okay, see you! "

b) The guilt card
Try to highlight how kind your driver is in the conversation. Use one of this phrase "Faith in humanity restored" "Great to be picked up by a trustworthy person" or "Thanks for being so kind, going out of the way to help". This invokes guilt in those who had bad thoughts (doesn't work if the person is cold-blooded). 
Hitchhiking solo female

8. Always have a plan B in mind. 

Fight or Flight?
a) Flight Mode
If for any reason you don’t feel safe anymore halfway through the ride (for example if the driver drives like those characters in "Fast and Furious" ), make an excuse to get out of the car. Faking motion sickness works well, stay calm and polite. Always keep your most valuable possession near you. In case you have to abandon ship, at least you still have your documents, cash, bank cards and cell phone. 

b) Fight Mode
Keep a Pocket Knife or pepper spray (if it is legal in the country) in your pocket. Make sure you know how to use it though (please don't put yourself in a worse situation... like spraying pepper on yourself.). If unfortunately, you don't have anything to defend yourself with, and EXTREME measures have to be taken STAT, pull the parking break and get ready to jump out of the car. 
Hitchhiking solo female

Hitchhiking as a girl

       After talking to some men hitchhikers, I found out that hitchhiking as a woman is actually a lot easier (sorry guys!). There was once when I came out from Vintgar Gorge, I saw a guy at the roadside. He told me he had been standing there for an hour. I was very worried when I approached a family of 4… If they turn me down and I end up having to wait an hour, I would not be able to get back to Ljubljana on time for my train. To my surprise, they said “Yes”… everything happened under 5 minutes! I looked back at the guy just now, wide-eyed. And I can never forget his “If I were a girl” face. 

       Also, other women and families tend to take care of female hitchhikers more (from what I see). Let me give you another example: I was waiting for the bus near Plitvice National Park. There was a guy standing 10 steps away from me holding a cardboard that says “Zagreb”, exactly where I was heading to. Then after some time a car slowed down and eventually stopped right in front of me. The female driver in her 50s wind down the window and the first thing she asked was “How old are you, girl? 16? ” I haven’t got a chance to answer. “Where are you going? We are heading back to Zagreb,” she said while pointing to her daughters (I assumed) at the back. “Thank you for your offer, I am actually waiting for the bus. I’ve bought my bus ticket.” “Oh, I thought you are hitchhiking like him,” pointing to the guy in front. “I think you are standing at the wrong spot, the bus stop is back there under the sky bridge.” All that while I did not realize that I was standing at the wrong place, glad I did not miss my bus! After saying goodbye to the kind lady, I thought she will pick up the guy so I signaled the guy to come. Unfortunately, I assessed the situation wrongly as she drove away after telling me to “Take care and don’t make your mom worried about you.” I felt so bad for that dude so I ended up telling him a white lie “she only has space for one, your backpack wouldn’t fit”, just to make him fell better.    

Hitchhiking solo female

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Thank You for Reading! This post is based solely on my honest opinion or personal experience. If you have more hitchhiking tips to share, feel free to comment below!

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