“HITCHHIKING IS DANGEROUS. You’re crazy!” This is what I heard repeatedly when I shared my post-wedding travel plans. In 2006, recently after my husband, Isaac, and I got married, we left for a year of travel. In South America we hitchhiked around Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia. Over three days, we made our way from Puno, Peru to Copacabana, Bolivia.
We hitched rides with families, workers, and truckers — in the back of a dump truck full of sand, in the air-conditioned cab of a semi, on the tailgate of a truck. We chatted with farmers, young girls with long braids, and old men with gravely voices.
Between rides, we walked the dusty roads of the rural, northeastern side of Lake Titicaca. Hitchhiking allowed us to be immersed in Spanish and to share ideas with people from all walks of life.
Before our trip, I had no experience hitchhiking, even though I was a child of hippies and grew up hearing stories of how my Dad, his brothers, and their wives divided up their children and hitchhiked from Arkansas to Michigan for the 60th birthday of their mother.
However, as a woman, I never imagined that I would hitchhike due to the potential dangers. Several years before I met Isaac, he spent a summer hitchhiking from Massachusetts to California with a stop at the Burning Man festival.
During our relationship he told me stories from the road and the characters he met while hitchhiking. He convinced me that it would be a great way to get to know the people.
As we hitched rides we learned slang from locals, discussed our plans to have children, asked about local politics, or looked down on the world from the top of a dump truck. Just as we felt more comfortable hitchhiking as a couple, people seemed to feel more comfortable giving us rides.
Everyone wanted to know when we were going to have kids. They would laugh when I said I wanted two kids and Isaac said he wanted four. Often, families invited us into their homes for a snack or offered to host us for the night.
Most recently, in January of 2010, we spent time hitchhiking in Honduras from Tela to the Garífuna fishing village of Miami. A policeman picked us up and drove us a short way until his low-lying car got stuck in the mud, and he had to turn around. We then jumped on the back of a recycling truck. We also hitched from La Cieba to the mountain village of Las Mangas.
As we shared rides, I asked locals to teach me Honduran sayings and slang. I learned “El que anda con lobos, a aullar aprende” (“He that walks with wolves learns to howl”). One young boy who rode in the back of a truck with us invited us to his home and later took us swimming in the Río Cangrejal.
That afternoon, we shared plates of beans and rice with his parents and asked them about their life in the small village of Las Mangas. On their recommendation, we traveled up the dirt road to visit the women’s sewing cooperative in El Pital.
The tourist experience is often segregated or limited to meeting only other tourists or people of a particular socio-economic background. What I love about hitchhiking is that it breaks down barriers and reminds me how much there is to learn from others.
10 Tips for hitchhiking as a couple
- Speak the language if you want the kinds of experiences I’ve described above.
- Maintain a clean-cut appearance. Isaac usually shaves off his beard before we hitch. If you look clean, you are more likely to get rides.
- Travel light. Leave your belongings locked at a hostel, hotel, or apartment if you are making a short trip. If you are traveling with a big backpack, don’t carry many valuables.
- Be curious. Strike up a conversation with the people who offer you rides, and show interest in their daily lives and culture.
- Be safe. If you have any hesitancy about riding with someone, don’t get in the car. Isaac and I often try to hitchhike with families, as it feels more comfortable and safe to travel with children.
- Communicate. Work out a system to communicate with your significant other in case an emergency arises or one of you becomes uncomfortable with a particular ride.
- Have a plan of action for emergencies or discuss how to deal with difficult situations. It is wise to carry a cell phone and have an emergency contact in the area just in case you get stuck somewhere.
- Share your food with others. The stomach can be the quickest way to friendship.
- Improve your language skills by asking about local slang or popular sayings.
- Be prepared to wait. Have food, water, and a pack of cards with you just in case rides are scarce. Also bring a hat and a jacket to protect yourself from excess sun or rain.