"If I saw you hitchhiking, I'd smile and return your thumb's up, just for you doing such a great job of being a positive roadside influence."- Jarod Kintz
Simply put, Hitchhiking is when you take lifts to travel between places. It is also known as hitching, thumbing or autostop. It is a fairly common practice in many countries, with countries like Netherlands even encouraging it. The legal status of hitchhiking in India is pretty obscure in that it is not illegal. But it is very rare and not encouraged. Due to high rates of crime in some states, it is not considered safe.
The car wielding bourgeois in India are not amused by the sight of a hitchhiker, and your chances of riding with them are pretty slim. Most of the time your only hope of getting a ride is with truckers. They are a curious bunch and easily pick up hikers. They travel long distances and are always looking for a good conversation with people to kill boredom.
I was introduced to hitchhiking when I first started taking lifts from college to my apartment two years ago. Sometimes just to bunk classes or most of the time when I had no money. And it felt good. It gave me a sense of adventure. Traveling that 20-kilometer stretch gave me that pleasure which even hundreds of kilometers of traveling by buses and trains couldn't give me. I decided to up the ante and during these Durga Pooja holidays; I hitchhiked to Vishakhapatnam from Berhampur and back. Detailed below are my first impressions of hitchhiking for such a long distance.
1) I Was Scared
One night before leaving on my trip, I found myself twisting and turning in my bed, unable to sleep. The Swedish have a word for this, Resfeber. It is the restless race of a traveler's heart before a journey begins, when anxiety, fear, and anticipation are tangled together. I was frantically googling if state highways of Andhra Pradesh were safe, how were the people, tips for hitchhiking, safety and what not. Disappointingly, not much is written about hitchhiking in India on the internet. I think it is because hitching doesn't offer any higher incentive than other modes of traveling. Though it is cheap( not always free), it is time-consuming and sometimes uncomfortable. Only a few adventurous souls prefer it.
Coming back to my point, I soon realized that I was scared for nothing. If there are a few bad people on the road, there are many good ones too who genuinely want to help you. Also, it is not wise to categorize people into extremes of bad and good like black and white. There are gray areas too. In the end, you just have to trust your gut feeling.
2) Safety Concerns
As I mentioned earlier, you should always go with your gut feeling. If the driver offering you the ride looks creepy or acts suspiciously, and you don't have a good feeling about it, refuse politely and move on. I know looks can be deceiving, and he may actually be a nice guy, but you don't know that. What if he is not? Your safety comes first. Many articles online suggest fake calling a relative or a friend and letting the driver know that your people know about your whereabouts. I think it might be a good way to dissuade a perpetrator.
In my case, I made it a point not to take rides after dark, not consume alcohol, having a saved map of my route, carrying sufficient water and munchies, keeping my backpack close and engaging in a pleasant conversation with people.
3) Luck Is An Important Factor
Sometimes I had to wait for an hour to finally get a bike for 10 kilometers and sometimes I got rides back to back. I must accept I was extremely lucky to get rides in long distance vehicles. Your outer appearance is an important factor too. People will hesitate before picking you up if you look shabby and dirty. You need to make sure the drivers believe that you can be trusted for not being a highway robber. Yes, you are not how you look, but again, the people don't know that. When they are driving towards you on the road, how you look is the first observation they make. They may not stop to get to know you better.
You also need to plan your place of action carefully. Stand at places where there is enough space for the drivers to park their vehicles to pick you up. No one is going to stop for you in the middle of a busy highway. I have also noticed that most people generally don't stop in populated areas and intersections. They just assume that even if they don't give you a lift, someone else will. Or you can just find an auto or a bus. Move away from crowded areas and your chances will increase as they feel you have very little options. Always flash a smiling face and you are good to go. Some people also expect you to pay so it is better to clear things beforehand.
It is easy and fairly common to get frustrated when you don't get hitched. But you need to realize that you can't expect anybody to stop for you. They don't owe you anything. They might be in a hurry or their first impression of you is not that charming. You shouldn't take it personally. You can hardly control it. The best you can do is hope.
4) It Opens Windows
As I have mentioned earlier in How One Year of Travel Has Changed Me; I am a big introvert. I suck at small talk. I take a lot of time to open up to people and that too after a lot of cajoling. Now, it's not that I don't like talking to people, I just feel anxious.
When two gentlemen picked me up in their truck, I didn't say anything for the first few minutes. After answering their questions in one syllable, I finally opened up to them and had a nice conversation with them throughout the journey. I asked them about where they were from, their lives, their families, etc. They were very courteous.
For lunch, we had rice( which they had prepared themselves), sambar and mushroom curry. They had me take three servings of rice and fed me to the point of risking a burst stomach. Even my mother stops at two! People like them make you feel that chivalry is not dead yet.
After all, this is what hitchhiking means. Travelling from the road into people's hearts. As this was my first hitching trip, I don't have many tips for you. But as I gain some experience in this art, you can expect some good tips. Hitchhiking is definitely going to be my major style of travel from now on. And I urge you too; please hitchhike once.
Share your hitchhiking experience with me in the comments. Any useful tips?
This blog was originally published on 'The Travel Banjara'