A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Traveling Alone as a Woman

 

Rebekah Giersiefen has hitch-hiked all over the world, and here she provides some of her rules of the road.

I’m a Woman and I Hitchhike Around the World
The Rewards Outweigh the Risks, says the author

By Nina Nooit

“Nina Nooit” has hitch-hiked all over the world, and here she provides some of her rules of the road.

I have hitchhiked for almost fifteen years, in over 60 countries and on four continents. During those years I have lived many adventures, and I have had the time of my life, as simple as that. Yet, people you meet randomly often assume hitchhiking is a death wish. Hitchhikers of both genders are usually aware that hitchhiking carries a potentially serious risk.

We are not saying this risk does not exist. We are just saying that hitchhiking is by far not as dangerous as it is perceived by public opinion and that the rewards for taken this small risk

A women on the road. photo: www.artoftravel.com
A women on the road. photo: www.artoftravel.com

are far greater than most imagine.

Being a woman, there is an additional burden. A large segment of society thinks whatever women do is up for public debate. What they wear, what they do with their bodies, sexually, or in the case of pregnancy, and whether they should travel by themselves, let alone hitchhike.

The discussion should be stopped right there.

Every human being is entitled to make decisions about their own life, it’s simply not something anyone else except the person herself concerned is entitled to have an opinion about, provided she is an adult. Anyone who is saying “women should not hitchhike by themselves” in fact saying that my mind is not fully developed for me to make informed decisions about my own life based on my experiences so far.

Reckless?

Hitchhikers, especially female hitchhikers, are sometimes perceived as reckless and without a sense of reality, and as if disaster is waiting just around the corner at every moment. Sometimes people inform me that what I do “is dangerous!” as if they assume I’ve simply never thought about this possibility before.

That is by far not the case. Like in the rest of life, as a female I am overly aware of possible dangers, and I actually have a lot of strategies aimed a self-protection when hitchhiking.
If describing almost any solo hitchhiking trip, but especially my recent trip to Borneo, which send me hitching through overwhelmingly beautiful, but remote rural areas, I could give a detailed account of the stream of thoughts running through my mind at all times attentive to every word and gesture of my drivers, so that I could react appropriately if needed.

“Hang on, how was that meant when he asked if I was married? (Cultures differ, and in Indonesia, this question is often casually asked as a conversation starter.) Is that just normal curiosity?… okay, he “admits” he is married and has two kids -that’s a good sign.” etc. This type of commentary to every little interaction is something a guy just wouldn’t have on his mind.

Another Adult Women Present

One very specific thing I do, for example, is accepting lifts if an adult woman is present only. In many places where I hitchhike, often majoritarian Muslim countries like Tunisia, Turkey or Iran almost every car stops. In places like this, my technique is a perfectly practicable. In other places where I’ve been like Europe or North America, it’s harder to get people to stop, so this is not really an option, I admit.

These are precautions that my male counterparts spend little or no time even thinking about. Men grow up in cultures of security. “This cannot happen to you, you are a man” and similar things are what men sometimes say to each other That statistics for men being killed on the streets are much higher than for women (who are most likely to be killed in their own homes) and that things like robberies on the road are actually more likely to happen to men, they simply don’t think about. Women, on the other hand, grow up with a sense of fear and danger since childhood.

As woman dangers are always present on my mind, I am always attentive to my environs to signs of it. Because of the long list of precautions I take, I think that in many situations I may actually be safer than male hitchhikers. But I know a good amount of male hitchhikers who just hitchhike “blindly” along, without, for example, even trying to learn the local language, and never turning down a ride.

Second Nature

Just like any woman carrying her car keys as a weapon between her fingers, or looking over her shoulder when walking in the night, I have internalized certain ones of my strategies to the point where they have become second nature to me. Ever so often, when sharing a piece of the road with a hitchhiking rookie, I notice how in a decade and a half of doing this I’ve assimilated quite a lot of things into my behavior that is actually not necessarily obvious to others.

Here are a few “tricks”, things that I do to be safer when hitchhiking by myself:

Make conversation.

I alway start conversations with my drivers, which is starting to build a relationship with them. Once a person has told you all about their spouse and kids, they are much less likely to want to destroy the good image they’ve just created (for example by attempting to rape and kill you). Likewise, once you’ve told everything about your medical studies and your brother, the fireman, you’ve become a person in the eyes of your interlocutor, and it becomes harder for them to want you any harm.

If hitching in places where your mother tongue is not spoken, learning the local language is essential. Be assured though, even the basics can be enough! The main thing really is the willingness to communicate.

Show pictures.

It is good to show that you know exactly what you are doing, and for whatever “noble motives” you are traveling. When accepting rides with solo men, or men in pairs, one thing I always have my supply of fluffy travel stories at the ready. I sometimes keep photos on my phone especially for this purpose, to show pictures of the family I stayed with in the village or the young couple who took me hitchhiking and then invited me for dinner by the lake side.

Be Positive.

To a certain extent I pretend as if everything about my trip has been perfect, the food, the people, the landscapes, without a single blemish. Drivers will not want to spoil the good image you have of their country. The thoughts and feelings in my head are always a lot more complex than what I will typically divulge to drivers.

Be Confident.

I don’t show or talk about fear. I’ve tried and tested it, and if you verbally admit to fear, this creates a disbalance in the relationship with your driver that you are building up. It creates a feeling of power over you in the driver – not a good thing.

Play upper class.

While male travelers often state openly that they have no money, I never do that. It is, unfortunately, true that in many regions of the world saying that you travel with little or no money at all triggers a lot of men to offer you to “earn” some, meaning they are proposing you do sex work.

Poor people bear the brunt of things like racism, sexism, and homophobia, and, unfortunately, there is something to gain by lying and “playing upper class”. When asked about work, I say that I am a professional translator, which is not far from the truth. You could say you are a junior university lecturer, still finishing your thesis, for example. They’ll respect you more and will not want to “offend the posh lady”.
I can understand if you say you don’t want to lie, and everything is a personal choice, of course. Most female travelers will do it at some point. When hitchhiking around Turkey a friend of mine tells men who pick her up that she is Muslim and a virgin (even though neither are the case).

Personally, I don’t like to lie about matters of faith, and I honestly prefer to simply steer clear of ‘virginity’ or any related topic, but I’m not here to judge my friend. We all face the same bullshit behaviour of men, and almost all coping strategies are valid.

The “I Have a Husband” lie

On the other hand, there is one lie that sometimes is advertised by guide books as the be-all-end-all cure to any harassment, one that I personally use very little, almost never: The “I have a husband” lie.
If a guy cannot understand a “no” coming from me straight, without of a non-existing person, I try to get out of the radius of this person. If possible, I end these kinds of situations before they begin.

In the rare occasion that I will say that I am married it is often for other reasons: I like to counter the perception that I’m doing what I’m doing, that is, travelling the world, because I am not “taken” yet, and that as soon as I will find a mate, I will let him control me, put his needs before mine and be generally busy making him dinner and wiping his ass.

Before I digress too far, there is one more tip I would like to share:

Don’t put politeness over my own comfort and safety.

I don’t hesitate to refuse a lift, or to ask to be let out of the car (in a village, or another place where there are people), and that not only in emergency situations. Most of the times I do get out of the car, it is because I just can’t be “arsed”. After many years of hitchhiking, if a guy says something rude, or if he makes advances, even if relatively polite ones, I get out of the car.

Not because I think that every guy who hits on me is automatically a danger, but because when I travel I want to enjoy myself, feel comfortable and surround myself with people who are worth my time. I may spend more time waiting by the roadside, but I don’t waste my time on trying not to offend douchebags anymore. Over the years, feeling good with people has become more important than “getting there”.

If a car full of men asks me why I refuse the ride, I’m straight forward and say that I only travel with women (even though in other cases I may get into a car with men).

Space is confined and this “overview” about ”hitchhiking as a woman”, and this is in no way complete. I’ve written guidelines for female hitchhikers before. If you are interested in this topic I invite you to read my “Hitchhiking guide for girls” on, or my travel blog, which has a lot about hitchhiking, as well as other types adventures. And let’s not forget, that there are almost as many techniques, as there are hitchhikers! Many of my friends and other women have a lot to say about this topic.

Is hitchhiking right for you? More Travelers’ Tips on Hitchhiking Etiquette

It’s nice to offer to pay for gas. Most of the time they tell you not to worry about it and when you do pay it’s minimal. AJ
When hitchhiking across Germany, a good map that indicates autobahn service centers and roadside stops is invaluable. Have the driver drop you at one of these, instead of an exit, since they are by far the best hitching spots. Also, the first few letters on German license plates indicate where the driver is going about half the time. Jason, San Marcos, Texas

Always carry a flashlight when hitching or walking at night. In rural areas when the moon isn’t out, man, does it get dark! Les, Waco, Texas

Summer hitchhiking in the extreme latitudes is great. It doesn’t get dark until midnight, and then not very, so you’ve got plenty of time to get where you’re going, and everyone is in a cheery mood. Turbo, USA

As a woman, I get rides quickly but turn many down. When I do accept, I always insist on keeping my pack on my lap, no matter how hot or uncomfortable or safe the driver seems. If you must get out quickly, the last thing you want is to have to get the trunk or back door open. Elly, USA

Read more Hitchhiking stories at Hitchhikers Handbook

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