Hitchhiking Country Guide
Because of the abundance of minibus taxis here, hitchhiking is rare. This is not to say it’s impossible because we’d been picked up by four people before we were given our ‘golden ticket’ in Situbondo.
The natural generosity and kindness of the Indonesian people will eventually get you a ride if you wait long enough. We were very lucky here. If Michael hadn’t had the inspired idea to go to the police I think it would have been very unlikely that we would’ve made it to Jakarta on time.
We raced through Malaysia in only two days, in half the time we’d planned for. Apart from a two-hour wait near Pinang, it was rare to have to linger around anywhere. The fact that many people spoke great English also added to the richness of our journeys in terms of conversation.
Malaysia Hitchhiking Rating:
Thailand is maybe the best country to hitchhike in the world. We never had to wait very long for a ride here and sometimes people would even turn off the highway, circle back around, then re-join the highway so they could pick us up having missed us the first time. Not only was it trouble-free, but the people who picked us up were keen to engage with us, often by taking us back to their home for some food.
If anyone is thinking of recreating a portion of our adventure, I would definitely recommend from Singapore to Bangkok. The route has everything a traveller could ask for. The jungle scenery of South East Asia, bordered by pristine beaches, is connected by three distinctive mega-cities: Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Although I’ve said that the treasures of Thailand lie outside of Bangkok, it’s still well worth a visit. Moreover, the combination of fantastic food, accommodating people and a constant feeling of safety gives the peninsula an atmosphere that’s impossible to forget.
Thailand Hitchhiking Rating:
Laos was problematic. With considerable difficulty we eventually managed to hitchhike through the northern part of the country to the border in three rides, two of which we had to pay for.
It only served to emphasise how spoilt we’d been in Malaysia and Thailand.
Laos Hitchhiking Rating: (4/10)
China is such a diverse country it’s difficult to consider it as a whole. South China is a hitchhiker’s dream. It was easy to secure rides and the people were always hospitable and friendly, especially Ryan, in Huize, who took such characteristics to new heights.
After Xian, as we followed the Silk Road west, it grew more difficult. People were less likely to stop and if they did a large sum of money was expected. This said, there was never a single day where we failed. For this reason, combined with the fact that pristine new highways have been built to connect the numerous mega-cities, we regard China as an excellent place to hitchhike in.
Everyone hitchhikes in Kazakhstan.
As there are no taxis, every private vehicle can, in effect, pick up hitchhikers and charge them a fee.
Almost everyone we met in Kazakhstan had a finger in a business pie. It was impressive. Ainur, for example, who was about 25, had her own shop and rented her living room out to 6 students, whilst Ali, who was 27, had opened his own private school.
Impressive as the entrepreneurial spirit is, it made it difficult for us to hitchhike in Kazakhstan, at least without paying for it. As we were European, the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and we could almost see the dollar signs spinning in their eyes when they saw us.
Our hosts were invariably disappointed when we refused to pay the astronomical prices they quoted us.
Although it's easy to hitchhike in the cities, it’s difficult to find a fair price
Once out of Almaty, the roads seriously deteriorate and the traffic becomes very infrequent. The infrastructure, however, is changing, as the revenue from oil money starts to trickle into the State’s coffers.
We found the best way was to get to truck stops and ask as many truck drivers as possible.
Azerbaijan is hard to judge because we didn’t really have to do anything because all our rides were arranged for us.
The fact that the staff in the service station in Baku went so far out of their way to help us, and then so did Charmin and Rafael, driving us all the way to the Georgian border, demonstrates the kind of altruism that facilitates hitchhiking.
The people in Azerbaijan are so friendly and accommodating, even in the capital city.
Georgia is more difficult than it's neighbours, Azerbaijan and Turkey. There were times when we had to wait a long time to get anywhere. The myriad roads exiting Tbilisi made escape from the capital particularly difficult. The people that did pick us up though, despite appearances, were really helpful –especially Yurgen and Pesk who bartered the price of our hotel room down for us.
Turkey is fantastic for hitchhiking - up there with Thailand, Malaysia and China. The people were friendly, accomodating and we were picked up many times –even when getting out of the huge capital city, usually the most arduous of tasks. The Koran states that good people should help wayfarers, and it’s a maxim that had been observed to a sometimes humbling degree throughout the Islamic countries we’d travelled through.
Greece was impossible. We’d found what we deemed to be a great road, with all the traffic heading in our direction.
The only people that helped us were foreign: a Russian, the BBC and an Albanian bus company.
In 2011, Greece was in turmoil, still reeling from the 2008 recession. Although most European countries were affected, nowhere was as bad as Greece. 20,000 Greeks had been made homeless just that year, and 20 per cent of shops in the historic city centre of Athens were empty. In all, the Greek economy suffered the longest recession of any advanced capitalist economy to date, overtaking the US Great Depression. Greece's credit rating was the lowest in the Eurozone and half of people under 25 were unemployed. There had been riots against government measures throughout 2011, over 1 a month, in multiple cities. There were many violent clashes with the police. Only four days before, thousands of people had marched on the Parliament building, throwing Molotov Cocktails at the police, who responded with tear gas.
In tandem with these devastating financial woes has been an increase in illegal immigration from Africa, Asia, the Middle East as well as other European countries. Tough immigration policies in Spain and Italy and agreements with their neighboring African countries to combat illegal immigration have changed the direction of African immigration flows toward Greece. At the same time, flows from Asia and the Middle East — mainly Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bangladesh — to Greece had also increased. By 2010, Greece had become the southeastern "gate" of the European Union and 90% all illegal immigration to the European Union flows through the country's porous borders, the most significant of which was the Turkisk-Greece border, the very one we had just crossed.
History tells what follows when a country experiences either economic crisis or a huge increase. But in 2011, Greece was experiencing both of these at the same time, at higher orders of magnitude that had been seen before, anywhere. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, became the third largest party in the Greek Parliament.
Crossing the border into Greece, at this time, trying to hitch a ride on the highway must have made us look like refugees. Considering what was going on in 2011, it’s the national sentiment wasn't altruism. It was survival.
The key to hitchhiking in Europe is proactivity. Unlike Asia, where you can generally just wait at the side of the road until someone stops, in Europe you have to be way more direct. The most effective method we found was to get to a highway service station and ask every single driver that comes in and out. Again, location is everything. It’s imperative to be on the correct side of the road, with the direction of traffic flowing your way.
Hitchhiking in Europe has become a tricky business. Very few commercial vehicles are allowed to take passengers these days and everyone else seems possessed by a suspicious breed of
Hitchhiking League Table
How easy is it to hitchhike in each country?
Click on a country on the left for more information.