Solo Female Traveler—An Indonesian Hitchhiking Solo in Europe

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Have you ever wanted to travel solo but couldn’t, because of either lack of money or fear of traveling alone? Well, read the story of this fearless solo wanderer as she hitchhiked in Europe for 5 weeks. Hopefully, her story will inspire you to take that first step in traveling solo.

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.

hitchhiking-Europe

Zuky in Trondheim, Norway.

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.”

dutch-friends

Zuky with gigantic Dutch friends.

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.

Belgium

Zuky with the older guy who toured her around Brugges.

“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.

ugur

Zuky with Ugur, a CS friend in Florence, Italy.

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.

Polish truck drivers

The two Polish drivers who made Denmark memorable.

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!


 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!


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Comments

  1. says

    This is such an inspiring story! I can’t imagine myself being this brave. Macau pa lang I was hysterical when my husband and I didn’t know how to get back to Taipan. XD Thanks for doing this series Aleah and happy 2nd anniversary to your blog!

  2. Hazel says

    Nice read, Aleah. That was a great adventure story. So brave of Zuky to have gone so far ALONE and with very little money! Almost kinda crazy really, so I’m glad it ended rather well. And that Belgian she met was so kind! Makes me proud (I come from Belgium!) hehe.

  3. Abdu Al Mukti says

    I’m extremely interested in zuky said that If you want to hitchhike, just go ahead and do it. She is a simple girl who has a giant expectation to around the world. No Guts No Glory..

  4. says

    OK to travel solo but depending on strangers for transportation is pushing ones luck too far, especially if you are a young female. I did some short distance hitchhikings when I was new in the US of A and all my experiences were positive but I would not recommend it to a member of the opposite sex – they are just too vulnerable.
    bertN recently posted..2011 Orange County Fair, a brief visit

  5. says

    @ bertN: That’s why a lot of my readers love Zuky’s courage. She defies such thinking that women cannot travel / hitchhike solo. Yes, the dangers are there, but I agree with her that we shouldn’t be stopped from doing it just because there’s a certain risk. :)
    @ Ysay: Backpacking in Europe is also in my bucket list. We can do it, girl. If Zuky can, why can’t we? ;)
    Aleah recently posted..Solitary Wanderer is Turning 2! (A Call for Sponsors)

  6. says

    This is awe-inspiring. Makes me want to conquer the world too—hitchhiking solo. :) One of my favorite posts. Thanks for sharing Zuky’s story, Aleah.

  7. says

    Super love this story Aleah. makes me wanna go to Europe and perhaps, do hitchhiking for the serious thought of it. I got friends there who can easily be of help and that day will soon come that I will be on my solo backpacking trip to Europe too.

    As for you, take care on your blissful journey throughout Europe. I wish you all the best!

  8. says

    I’ve been to 2 trips alone in my life, 1 week to Phuket and another one in boracay.. And I like the feeling of enjoying a new place and meeting new people it’s like starting afresh… ;-)

  9. says

    Zuky is right in her observation that people are not bad at all. It is people’s misconceptions that come from their mind and behavior, create fear and apprehensions of traveling alone to places.

    I admire the courage and the adveture-attitude of Zuky to go to places solo without intimidation. Though she experienced an usual and unexpected actuations of people around her, but yet she was able to overcome it by staying sober and relax. In fact, somebody came for rescue.
    Gil Camporazo recently posted..OL Mosquito Trap for Dengue-Carrier Mosquito Works

  10. says

    Congratulations to Zuky on her solo backpacking trip. This is something I would have tried in my younger days, or now if I could get over being the shy type. Thanks for this post. I actually wrote down names and links you mentioned. Maybe one day I will have the courage to travel solo. Love your post!
    Hazel recently posted..A taste of Arab attitude

  11. says

    Fantastic! I can’t imagine myself travelling and eating bread alone. No thank you. That’s why we save money for holiday and treat ourselves for a lovely holiday.
    Jenny O’Toole recently posted..Bucana

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