Is it safe to hitchhike alone?

Hitchhiking in South America? Is it safe? Read more about Veri’s experience on hitchhiking for the first time in South America.

Hitchhiking in South America

Traveling unconventionally

One of my favorite things to do during my trip in South America, was to travel in unconventional ways, to see the countries’ hidden sides, that tourists don’t. Thanks to that, I had adventures that I would have missed, if I only went to the most popular destinations. Me and my companions tried out many ways of alternative traveling. We bought fresh fish on the coast of Ecuador from the local fishermen. Cooked it on fire, sleeping on the beach under the stars in Peru, CouchSurfing every day in Venezuela or going from one place to the other by hitchhiking. 

Before this trip, I didn’t hitchhike much. Only in situations where I needed a ride for a short distance and I had no other option. I never used this method of transport for longer trips. I always thought that it’s unreliable and that you need a miracle for someone to take you. Yet, that’s the amazing thing about traveling with people, who are completely different than you –  you’ll do things that you normally wouldn’t even think of, and you can take each other out of comfort zones. 

Hitchhiking in South America

Nomadic Lifestyle

Our first experience hitchhiking in South America was on the coastal part of Ecuador, in Montañita. To be honest, I didn’t have much hope in our success. We agreed that if we won’t get picked up within an hour, we will go by bus. We waited and waited, however, soon we had to realize: in this heat we should probably find another kind of transport. Fortunately, destiny didn’t let us give up. At the very last minute a pickup truck full of people stopped in front of us – I can’t even describe the euphoria that we felt.

The twist in the story is, that when the people from the car got out to help us put our bags in the trunk, it turned out, that one of the passengers knew my teammate, they used to go to the same school in Spain! That was truly just an unbelievable coincidence!

Honestly, we didn’t even know where we wanted to go, so we just jumped into the roofless trunk of the car and told them to leave us in a village on their way somewhere on the coast. After saying goodbye to them, we continued our journey by stopping more cars. At the end of the day, we ended up in a village on a beautiful beach. Inside of a national park, a place with absolutely no tourists.

We decided to spend the night there in our sleeping bags, in the sand with the ocean just a few meters away from us. We enjoyed this method of traveling so much, that we decided to continue. For the next 3 days we lived this nomadic lifestyle, of hitchhiking and sleeping in absolutely random places.

At the end of our little trip, we hitchhiked through almost 250 kilometers. Traveled with all kinds of people and vehicles, and had a lot of fun together, even if we didn’t have the most comfortable and luxurious conditions.

Traveling in South America

Hitchhiking – 5 vehicles, 400km, 24 hours

After this journey, I separated from our little group for a short time. We agreed to meet in two days, in the capital of Ecuador, Quito. I decided to go straight to Quito and wait for the others there. I started asking the locals, how they think I could get there. They advised me to take a bus to a bigger town 30km away from me, to catch a long-distance bus there. I took their advice and started waiting for the transportation that would take me to the station. After a little time I realized that I am waiting on the side of the road anyway so why not try to hitchhike those few kilometers at least! 

First kilometers

First I was a little hesitant, because of course, especially as a girl, it might not sound like a good idea to hitchhike alone in a country. Even more so far away from my home. But then, the experiences of the days behind me gave me some courage. Soon enough, a motorbike stopped next to me and asked me where I was going. I told him my destination and although he didn’t plan to go there originally, he agreed to bring me there.

And if that wasn’t enough, around halfway on our journey he stopped at a house for a few seconds, went in, and brought out a helmet for me to be safe! When I said goodbye to him at the station, I checked the schedule of the buses and it turned out that the next one that goes in the direction leaves in 8 hours. So I thought, why not try to at least get a little bit closer to Quito and take the bus wherever I am when it starts to get dark.

Hitchhiking in South America

I put up my arm in the air once again to see if somebody can take me closer to my end destination. It probably passed 5 minutes when suddenly a garbage truck stopped next to me. I climbed up the stairs and joined the driver for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile I tried to get to know him with my best Spanish abilities. After I said goodbye to him, I traveled with some road maintenance workers who offered me a bed to sleep. One of the guys named Henry, even invited me for a meal at his family’s house. Unfortunately, I had to turn down these nice gestures, because I was set to arrive in Quito. Even though I knew that it was almost impossible to get there that day. It was already starting to get dark and I was still 4-5 hours away. 

How Policeman helped me to hitchhike

My last driver, Henry, insisted that if he leaves me at that time somewhere, he will take me to the police station so they can help me move forward safely. Although I didn’t think that I needed it. A policeman joined me on the side of the road and waved to a car to stop. A pickup truck with an old man parked in front of us and the policeman sort of pressured him into taking me with him. Luckily he was going to Quito anyways.

The guy, Humberto, said yes, even though he didn’t seem to be too happy about it. The policeman photographed his ID and license plate just in case. I got into the car, and in the first few hours of our journey, we didn’t talk too much. Suddenly the engine stopped, and it turned out that we broke down, in the middle of nowhere.

We waited there for a few hours until his sons arrived to save us and started to pull us with a rope. But after an hour or so their car started to break down too, so we were stranded again. At that point, my approximately 60-year-old companion started to get used to me and we sort of started to become friends. We ate some breakfast together and tried to talk even if it was not easy because of our language barriers. A few hours later, a towing car arrived and saved us again, finally we arrived at the house of Humberto’s family safely. Almost exactly 24 hours after I started my journey. Where he offered me to spend the night and finally rest a little bit. 

Travels from Canoa to Quito.

Memorable experience

Although this wasn’t the easiest or the fastest way to get to my destination, I am still happy that I chose to travel like this. It made this long journey way more fun than just sitting in a bus, since I got to know 5 incredible people on the way. 

I think these unique experiences make your trip special and memorable. And I am not going to forget this story anytime soon. I know that it’s always a risk when you are relying on strangers, but trust me, if you start having more and more connections with locals, you will realize how amazing and selfless people can be (at least according to my experience). And of course, let’s not forget how much money you can save by exploring other options, not just the ones that are presented to tourists. 

Veronika LTTL19

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BTP period – 3 months

Returning to school with heads and hands full of new knowledge and energy for Bringing it to the Public. Meeting with the team, showing, telling, exchanging experiences and making it common knowledge.

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The Project Work in Africa or India in cooperation with Humana People to People. In this period, you can work at:

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Arriving at the project in Africa or India, having left behind a courageous journey where fundamental human capabilities have been turned around, refreshed and energised by knowing that things such as travelling can be done in a totally different way than the mainstream tourist travelling.

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Making investigations, meeting people, visiting their workplaces, staying in their homes, understanding their problems, meeting their culture and values and sharing thoughts with them about the world and the future.

Telling people about your venture to a third world country, trying out bringing it to the public what you have so far experienced and learned. Putting up investigations on a higher level, asking tough questions to self and to the group, getting hold of more answers and putting up new questions.

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Finding good ways of sticking together in the Trios and in the group as such during the travel period.

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At this school, you will find that learning is not first and foremost about listening to the teacher.

The school’s Program consists of a range of intense and spirited activities, theoretical studies and experiences that constitute the sum of learning and life processes carried through by a group of people who for a considerable period of time share a Program with each other that demands cooperation and efforts, and which at the same time is sprinkled with elements that are inspiring and also quite out of the ordinary.

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