Hitch-hiking is a fun and adventurous way to travel. It gives you some of the best memories and stories to share. But, it can also turn into a nightmare, especially in remote areas of India. We have hitch-hiked almost throughout all the states in India; from Leh to Karnataka, from Gujarat to Darjeeling.
Over the good, the bad, the successful and the unsuccessful experiences of hitch-hiking, we jotted down five tips that are sure to get you a ride and an insane story you can always remember.
1. Finding a Host.
Finding a host for the first time can feel very overwhelming. You might feel anxious and doubt your decision. The first time I hitch-hiked, it took me an hour to find a host and I almost gave up. Listed below are a few points to make those blues go away:
〉 There is a higher possibility to find hosts in regions where the tourism is good. Tourism in Leh and Spiti, for example, is on a boom and people are more equipped to the idea of hitch-hiking in those lands.
〉 Pick a spot where cars are going slow.
To get a higher success ratio, try to approach probable hosts at petrol pumps, restaurants, dhabas; anywhere people are bound to stop. Try to spot people who look trustworthy. Try engaging them in a general conversation about the place or ask some directions, smile a lot, make eye contacts and maybe throw in a joke or two. Once the ice is broken, tell them you are hitch-hiking and looking for a ride. There is a good enough chance you will score that ride, Eureka!
Step one for hitch-hiking is, ask! Rejection is always a possibility. But with every yes you get, you get more stories in your book.
〉 Go near the Edge of a City.
Hitch-hiking in the middle of a busy city is not a good idea. Why? Because people are going in all the directions and mostly would remain in the city and not go far. Instead, prefer outskirts of the city where people are sure to go far off. We commonly call it the hitch-hiking sweet spot. Also, make it a point not to be standing in the middle of a highway; it can turn out to be a fatal mistake.
While I was hitch-hiking from Manali to Leh, I got on a bus till Rohtang pass where I was easily able to find a host.
〉 Avoid tight Deadlines.
It is more convenient to find a ride when you don’t have fixed itineraries or bookings. If you panic to reach some specific place on a deadline, you might pick rides which you don’t think are safe or make some irrational mistake which later costs further inconvenience. Tight deadlines also make you worry more about your destination and you kill the fun of the journey. Just let it flow because nowhere to be, is not a bad place to be.
〉 A sign can help, especially if there’s a major junction ahead.
Are you on a busy road and can’t make yourself stand out as a hitch-hiker? Make a sign. A big enough paper/board with ‘your destination or lend me a ride’ written on it. Make sure it is as big and as eye-catchy as possible; write something funny maybe (it gives the host a prior trust factor).
Harshit, who hitch-hiked from Srinagar to Leh with a signboard says it was way easier to find a host using this method. Though, even signboards fail at times as Harshit couldn’t find hosts and had to spend some nights at dhabas, but hey, that an adventure in its self, isn’t it?
2. Know when to opt for a Public Transport (there is a fine line between Adventure and Danger).
Hitch-hiking is a sort of gamble. You never know if you would get a ride or if you will have to spend hours waiting in vain. Every hitch-hiker has bad days when he/she fails to find a host and end up walking for hours to reach the nearest village/city. While on the road, one should always keep in mind the possibility of not finding a host and should know the route to the nearest village/city in case he/she has to walk the distance. In case the nearest human settlement is far and walking is not on the cards, you should not take the risk until and unless you are carrying a tent, sleeping bag and food supplies with you.
It’s not in your best interest to be stubborn about hitch-hiking. Sometimes its safer and more convenient to take a bus to get to a more approachable road, a highway or maybe even to your next destination, especially at night.
3. Safety First
Safety is the most important factor when you are hitch-hiking. You would be told repeatedly about the dangers of hitch-hiking. While those lectures come from people who haven’t personally hitched a ride before, don’t turn a blind eye towards their cautions.
First and the foremost is trusting your instinct when it says ‘no,’ because gut feelings are rarely proved wrong. If you don’t feel secure after meeting the host, just politely deny his offer and thank him for the effort. Most of the people who pick up hitchhikers are extremely friendly and not mind a rejection because they completely understand the situation you are in. Dodging risk is not being scared. It simply means you were smart enough to make the right decision at the right moment. Anyway, there are always enough hosts.
Next precaution is to carry a first aid kit. Roads are always prone to accidents no matter how pro the driver is. For any unforeseeable accident or injuries, the first-aid kit comes in handy. This is especially important when you are travelling in remote areas of India where medical help is scarce.
For feeling secure and confident during the ride, you can:
〉 Text or click a picture of the number plate of the vehicle and send it to a friend (or at least pretend that you did).
〉 Carry a pepper spray or a pocket knife. Though pocket knives are not a good idea in situations turned bad as, by the time you unleash your weapon, it might be already too late. Also, it can be used against you if the attacker manages to snatch it from you. As the primary motive is to get away from the attacker, pepper spray is probably the better pick.
TIP: If you feel something fishy and wish to get out of the vehicle, pretend to get sick. Ask the driver to stop because you need to throw up and ask the driver not to wait. As soon as you get out from the vehicle, get off the road and wait for another host.
4. Type of Clothing.
Just as important as the tips above, type of clothing plays as a major decision maker in your quest for finding a host. As the popular saying goes, ‘the first impression is the last,’ try making the host feel positive about picking you up. If you are dressed as somebody who might be seen harmful in any way, your chances of finding a host drop down by a good percentage. To avoid this scenario, one should try looking as trustworthy as possible to gain the host’s interest.
Since your primary motive is to get from place one to place two, without caring who picks or drops you, one should make completely sure that they give out the ‘happy go lucky, harmless guys’ personality.
To achieve that, you can be dressed in a very average manner, not coming off as loud with too many accessories or over the top clothing. If possible, wear local clothes which easily helps you to dissolve in the local picture of that area. If you are a woman hitch-hiker, be careful not to wear revealing clothes. Also, it is a good option to carry a scarf and just casually drape it around your neck.
In a nutshell, don’t look like the vagabond you are.
5. Work with the Weather.
You never know how long you will have to wait before you get a ride. So if it’s terribly hot, Choose a spot where you can get some shade and if possible, a constant supply of water.
If it is pouring, hosts may feel sorry for you and choose to help you out. But a minus to this situation is, you were soaking wet. Nobody wants their vehicle to get all messed up and hence, you might lose your ride. To prevent this situation, always carry a waterproof upper layer or you will have to wait for the rain to pass and spend your time at a local dhaba/petrol pump.
Hitch-hiking is a sport of mental composition and endurance. There will be moments when you will have to wait for hours under the sun, but if you are lucky, you will find a host within minutes. There will be times when the host becomes a forever friend, and at times the silence gets a little beyond uncomfortable.
So give it a shot, give the nomad inside you a chance at fulfilling its long rested excitement and you might get addicted to the uncertainty of the journey. Maybe even pick up a hitch-hiker and satisfy their need for adventure, it’s not as dangerous as you think.