Solo Female Traveler—An Indonesian Hitchhiking Solo in Europe
Have you ever wanted to travel solo but couldn’t, because of either lack of money or fear of traveling alone? Well, starting September 2011, coinciding with this blog’s second anniversary, I’m starting a series on fearless female travelers—those who have learned to let go of their fears and traveled by themselves for at least 4 weeks or more. Every month thereafter, come back and read another story of a solitary wanderer who doesn’t let anyone or anything get in the way of her desire to go places. Hopefully, they will inspire you to take that first step in traveling solo!
Update (January 2012): Zuky is my inspiration for my upcoming 2-month solo backpacking trip to Europe starting February. Do come back for updates on my epic journey!
Like most Indonesians, Zuky, 26, had dreamed of going to Europe when she was a child, of walking the cobbled stones in Italy, admiring the scenic views in Belgium, and wallowing in the riotous colors of the flowers in Netherlands. Quite pragmatic, she knew it was out of her financial capacity—she had a good job as an engineer in Jakarta, but thinking of the transportation costs alone to travel across countries was enough for her to think of going there as nothing but a pipe dream.
Sometime in 2009, however, Zuky met Yuri (not his real name) through Hospitality Club, a website geared to connect travelers around the world. The Rumanian was a master of budget travel, and he shared with Zuky his tips in saving money. One of these is through hitchhiking, which, he said, can drastically cut her travel costs.
“That was when I seriously considered going to Europe,” Zuky said in an interview. “Yuri told me I can go visit 6 countries for just €1,000, and I thought I could certainly afford that.”
Inflamed by the thought of finally making her dream come true, Zuky prepared her documents prior to applying for a Schengen visa. Deep inside, she didn’t really think she’d get one, but she strove to be as thorough as possible. She asked a very good friend in Netherlands to provide the requirements needed by the German embassy—from financial accounts to the invitation letter—and produced supporting documents from her employer.
Needless to say, she was completely floored when she learned that she had been granted a visa. She wasted no time in looking for cheap flights to Frankfurt and arranging her leave of absence from the office. “The plane tickets were actually my biggest expenditure,” she said. “I scrimped on everything else.”
Thus, armed with a huge backpack, a daypack and her trusty jilbab (veil), Zuky set off for Frankfurt in June of 2010. She used Couchsurfing for accommodations; hitchhiked in Germany, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Belgium and Holland; and ate only bread to save up on food, especially in expensive countries like Denmark.
Prior to her solo European trip, Zuky hadn’t tried hitchhiking before and had never been out of Asia. Strangely enough, she never found it scary. “The people were generally very helpful,” she said, telling of stories of the kindness of strangers shown her way during her five-week trip in Europe. She had very nice CS hosts in Germany, had an excellent time going around in Norway (although she never did succeed in hitching rides there, as it had been too cold to stand outside for hours waiting for a car to stop), and had met an unforgettable man in Belgium.
“I met this old guy in Ghent first, and he was so kind and told a lot of stories,” she remembered. “Then I went to Brugges, and I was just sitting there outside my host’s house when I saw him again. He treated me to a meal and guided me around the city. He was an excellent company, so full of anecdotes about the sites he was showing me.”
The clincher was that, at the end of the informal tour, the guy even gave her €80 as contribution to her travel fund! “He really made my stay in Belgium memorable,” she added.
Zuky knew before she left Indonesia that traveling solo could have its risks, especially for her who wears a headscarf. Knowing this, she never told her parents that she was going to hitchhike across Europe, otherwise, she said, “they would tie me up and would not let me leave!” She only told them she would visit friends in Norway and Holland.
While most of her experiences were good, there were some which did give her a bit of a scare. When she was standing by the road going to Norway, for example, a car stopped and the driver gave her the finger. He was with an older woman who looked like his mother, and she just stared at Zuky without any expression while her son shouted expletives. A little bit scared, she chose to just ignore him until they went on their way.
Then, when she was in the train station in Florence, a drunk guy kept coming on to her. Thankfully, though, a CS member, Ugur, met with her there and drove the drunkard away.
The only time that Zuky felt real fear turned out to be another memorable experience. She was on her way to Aarhus when she got picked up in Alborg, Denmark. The two Polish truck drivers who stopped for her were very friendly; unfortunately, they didn’t speak English, and Zuky didn’t speak Polish. All throughout the trip, they just laughed and used sign language to communicate with each other.
It was already dark when Zuky noticed that they were no longer going in the direction of Aarhus. She couldn’t make herself understood when she asked where they were going. She had almost panicked when she remembered she had a local SIM, which she then used to call her hosts who talked to the Polish drivers. From the conversation, she understood that they were going only on a brief detour to pick up something but would eventually proceed to Aarhus, their destination.
Looking back on her five-week hitchhiking trip, Zuky felt that she had made the best decision in her life when she decided to backpack solo. “I learned that despite warnings from everybody, the people there are not bad at all,” she said. “Our misconceptions come from our mind and behavior.”
She had been warned prior to her trip that the Danish and Italians are racists, especially to Muslims, but although she encountered a few, “I mostly met very kind and very nice people,” she added. “They helped me out a lot over there.”
She has just two tips for women planning to hitchhike in Europe:
- Before going out on the road, check out HitchWiki.org. It has very important information on how to hitch, where to hitch, and how to be safe while hitching, among other things.
- Keep smiling. When you travel alone, you depend on the kindness of strangers, and they are more likely to help you when you appear friendly.
At the beginning of her solo hitchhiking trip, Zuky admittedly felt afraid and very nervous about what she was doing. But when she started standing on the road and extending her arm, asking total strangers to stop for her and give her a ride, she couldn’t describe the happiness and excitement she felt.
“There’s no need to be afraid,” she said. “If you want to hitchhike, just go ahead and do it. People are kinder than others give them credit for.”
Today, Zuky is back in Indonesia. She doesn’t know when she’d go back to Europe, but her memories of those five weeks of solo travel will always remain fresh in her mind and keep her longing to be on the road again.
Do you know of any fearless female traveler who would like to be featured here? Please leave a comment or use the contact form to let me know, and I would be more than glad to write her story!
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!