Hitchhiking is one of the more unique and truly transformative ways to travel between places. Taking free lifts from passing vehicles can be both challenging to get and yet pave the way for a truly rewarding experience. Requesting strangers to join a free ride on their vehicles is not commonly accepted in India, in fact, at times it is frowned upon.
Hitchhiking can be an anxious experience, but at the same time, it can be an exciting prospect to meet new people and understand their way of culture and sense of self. However, for all the great experience hitchhiking can bring, one also needs to be mindful of the risk factors that exist. Luckily, the risks are pretty manageable if you are well prepared. Here are some foolproof tips that will get you prepped to ensure you have a fun & explorative nationwide hitchhiking experience.
Arjun, AKA Dirtyboot Traveller, has hitchhiked from the southernmost tip, Kanyakumari to Ladakh in the north. The main motive behind this great longitudinal traversal is to motivate the younger generation to try to travel as much as they can. Through this blog, we are going to share his learnings, incredible tips, and everything you definitely have to know to safely and joyously hitchhike across India. This is an extensive account of his experience.
Hitchhiking In India
Table Of Contents
- Preparations And Planning
- Network Coverage
- ATM Availability
- Charging Electronics
- Language Challenges
- Packing Carefully & Prioritizing Essentials
- COVID-19 Precautions
- Hitchhiking During Night
- Easy Spots For Hitching Rides
- Initiating A Conversation
- Getting The Right Ride
- Additional Hitchhiking Tips
- Mandatory Advice For Women Hitchhikers
- When Things Go Wrong
- Frequently Asked Questions
Preparations And Planning
While setting the budget for your trip, keep two things in mind. One – the expenses that you make before you start your journey for buying accessories and Two – the other while on the road. Commonly, any expenditure that you do during travel is mostly for food, shelter, and transport. There were instances where I bought food for the drivers as a token of gratitude as they covered me for the transport.
You have to be comfortable in accepting that hitchhiking journeys are flexible and involve a lot of speculations and spur-of-the-moment decisions, unlike planned trips. To better tackle this, I always plan my next food source or shelter for the day. Also, skip during the festival days as your journey might be delayed by a day or two in traffic.
Do your research and stay alert to the climatic conditions across states. Choose your route and destination based on factual information.
Preparing mentally for the trip is a prime aspect as I had to make decisions instantly and often overcome challenges.
Petrol Bunks On Highways
Petrol bunks found on the highways have ample parking space and clean toilets. Few petrol bunks have closed bathing rooms. Another advantage is that most of the petrol bunks operate 24*7 and are much safer with CCTV surveillance. I got permission from the person in charge and pitched my tent.
Sometimes, the truck has two drivers who take shifts along the journey. In those cases, the truck will be on the move the whole night. This provided me with the unique opportunity to stay overnight in a truck.
Dhabas are highway rest stop motels where truck drivers can park their vehicles safely, stay for the night, have food, get refreshed the next day, and leave. Most Dhabas provide a bed to sleep in for just Rs.50 to 100. Dhabas are frequently found along the highways and they will be your go-to stay option during your hitchhiking journey.
They store water in large containers which are used for bathing in an open area nearby. The toilets in the Dhabas are often cleaned and are well maintained.
Highway toll gates are busy 24*7 with continuous traffic of vehicles constantly passing by. Toll gates have an ample amount of space on either side of the rest lanes. I saw drivers sleeping beside their vehicles, and this convinced me to pitch my tent there, and fortuitously I enjoyed a sound sleep. Although, it is wise to keep in mind that while some toll gates might have toilet facilities, it is rare to find a usable bathroom.
Villages have panchayats and they prescribe rules that the residents abide by. Get permission from the village officer/ any senior person from the village or at least from a home that is nearby the place you are planning to stay. The villagers regardless of the place are hospitable. One of the hosts I encountered even gave me comfortable blankets.
I found it very prudent to carry a tent and sleeping bag along with me. It was of great aid during my stay in villages, around toll gates, and in situations where I did not find any suitable accommodation. Tents are definitely a life-saver and are the only reliable option for any and all circumstances.
Prior booking hostels/ hotels is a bad idea as hitchhiking might not go exactly as planned. If you are in a certain place, check online and choose the nearest & safest option available. Since you’re going to be hitchhiking, you shouldn’t drift away from the planned route by searching for hotels.
Fortunately, I have never experienced food poisoning during hitchhiking. I’m used to Indian food from birth, so chances of Delhi belly were minimal. Another trick I use is, that I always keep my stomach half-empty while on the road and have some food stocked in my bag which I would rely on until the next stop.
I often had at least 1.5 litres of water with me. As you know, it is always safe to use a water filter as tap water is not safe to drink in India. Also, please be aware that if you are at extreme temperatures, exhaustion arrives early thereby leading to insufficient water. To avoid this and to find alternates, use instant energy boosters like energy bars and Glucon D, and do not start your trip without it. Ensure you carry vegetables, fruits, and other easily digestible foods with you.
When it is difficult to find a place to prep the food and eat; bread and jam come to the rescue. I also carried small quantities of pepper, sugar, and salt with me to boil eggs or add more flavour to the food you’re going to be cooking.
Open toilets are not advisable as you might end up in trouble if the land is private property. Women can practice squatting or use a portable funnel device to stand and pee.
I bathed where I stayed or in any water bodies like rivers or lakes, that I come across. It is safer to know the depth before stepping in. It is also advisable to check if the water is as clean as possible. Having a cotton Lungi or a veshti makes it easier to change clothes in public for both men and women.
An Important thing to note is that prepaid subscriptions will not work in the states of J&K, Assam & North East. Signal strength on the move is average to good. In very few places like Jam in Madhya Pradesh, and Thoppur near Hosur, I noticed no signal at all. This is something to be very mindful of especially if you are a female travelling alone.
Ensure you carry enough cash for one week. I did not carry huge sums of money, for fear of theft, or displacement. I used online payments and swiped cards where I had that option. ATMs in India are widespread across the nation. They can easily be located on Google Maps or you can even request the locals to direct you to the nearest ATM. Do not panic when you run out of hard cash, you have alternatives.
One of the predominant challenges I faced was the charging of my electronics on the go, as I was on the road for most of my time. I recommend you charge them in the vehicle, in shops, or at your place of stay, as often as you can. I also carried 10,000 MAH and 20,000 MAH power banks with me to use.
Although India is a linguistically diverse country, I found that using body or sign language makes it easy to be understood by anyone. Alternatively, I also used Google Translate and even drew pictures of my needs if I’m not familiar with the language spoken. It is important to keep in mind that, language is not a barrier at all if you are ready for it. When in doubt, remind yourself, that people have done it before, and so can you.
Packing Carefully & Prioritizing Essentials
It is advised that you pack your essentials based on the number of days you are going to be on the move. Keep in mind that with every bit of weight that you add, you’re going to be the one hauling it. So, ensure you are carrying only the essentials and don’t overpack. Importantly, use a waterproof bag to store some of your valuables.
- Multi-use utensils, compact stove, and gas
- A plate and a cup
- A hard copy of a map if you know how to read one
- 3 t-shirts
- 3 pairs of pants
- 3 sets of inners
- 1 towel
- 1 set of weather-protection garments like a raincoat, or a hoodie.
- 2 reusable water bottles (1 and a half litre minimum)
- Self-defence & Survival tools
- Knife or any sharp objects
- pepper spray
- A loud whistle
ensure that these are kept in an easily accessible manner so that you can easily reach them during emergencies.
- Power bank – 20,000 MAH + 10,000 MAH
- Compact small wallet with 2 ATM cards (to ensure I have an alternate, in case I misplace one) and hard cash (only as much as necessary and better if it’s in smaller denominations).
- Easily digestible foods (read food section)
- Head torch (greatly helpful to me, particularly, when I pitched my tent at night).
- Tent – a must-have
- Headset/ earphones
- Comfortable slippers, gloves, and socks (water/snowproof if needed)
- First Aid kit – band-aid, gauze, tablets
- Newspapers for various uses like starting a fire to cook, cleaning dust, etc
- A pen and notebook
Given the fickleness in the severity of COVID-19 variants, I highly recommended taking all possible precautions during your travels.
- Get fully vaccinated
- Have a sanitiser handy and use it frequently
- Wear a mask at all times
Hitchhiking During Night
It is not wise to hitchhike during the night. Not to mention, regardless of safety, I needed rest and sleep. I settled for the day before 7 PM or 8 PM at the maximum. Most of the eateries are closed during the night from 10 PM – 6 AM, particularly on the highways.
Police patrols are not so frequent and are very limited. Keep your torch and safety equipment handy, especially at night.
Easy Spots For Hitching Rides
Finding the right spot to get rides makes your travel much easier. I got rides where there is more frequency of the passing vehicles or in places where the vehicles slow down. Some of these places include
- Petrol bunks
- Speed breakers
- Junctions/ signals
Initiating A Conversation
While hitchhiking, it was always me who initiated a conversation to get rides. I greeted them with a warm smile and respect. Namaste Sab/ Ji, Hello Sir! works in most cases and then I explained to them what I was doing and my purpose for doing so, and how they can help. Had written notes handy which helped me in situations when I was unfamiliar with the language.
The way they interrogate or treat you gives the first clue in guessing if you are going to have a comfortable and pleasant ride with the stranger.
During the journey, ensure you talk often, listen to their stories, share yours, and have a good time. It is better to avoid topics such as personal, and political matters, and most of all avoid arguments at any cost.
Getting The Right Ride
Intuition plays an important role in decision-making. Chiefly in getting the right ride for your hitchhiking journey. The initial conversation that I made helped me in deciding on the right vehicle. You will gain confidence through experience over time. Some kind-hearted people don’t expect anything in return and some might even end up friends for life.
However, it is good to be cautious, and remember, that appearances can be deceptive.
Additional Hitchhiking Tips
- Carry 2 separate bags to split the luggage weight. One bag with all your essentials which can be carried by you at all times. The other bag with not so important items which you can leave in your room when you go sightseeing.
- Initiate conversation.
- Utilize lift even if it is a small distance. Village people offered me short rides in their two-wheelers and tractors whereas lorry drivers offered me long-distance rides.
- Download offline maps.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for the ride. Ask almost all people who pass by for a ride.
- Although hitchhiking is 60% cheaper than other modes of travelling, always ensure to keep aside a bit extra money than the estimated one.
- Don’t keep your bags in the back seat while you sit in the front. You should always be able to grab your bags and run. Always keep your belongings near you, and stay aware of your surroundings.
- Keep your self-defence tools in an easily accessible place.
- Dress up neatly.
Mandatory Advice For Women Hitchhikers
- It is not that all alcohol consumers are bad and non-alcoholics are good. If you are uncomfortable, check with them before the ride begins.
- It is advised to have a quick conversation before jumping in for the ride. Never take a lift while the vehicle is on the move.
- If someone asks your contact, ensure you get theirs too and note it down. Tell them you will call later or give your temporary contact number if you don’t feel like sharing.
- If you feel like something might go wrong, share the details of the vehicle with your friend or family. At least pretend like someone knows your whereabouts and you are being tracked.
- Most of the rides which I got are from males. I shared my stay with them. So, be careful in choosing your ride.
When Things Go Wrong
Although I did not use my pepper spray or land in bad situations, it is safer for you to know what should be done during these times. Use Pepper spray, knuckles, or any sharp object that you have. Call Police (100) or your emergency contact number from your contact list. Make noise so that people in the neighbourhood can hear you. With all the strength that you have, kick and run as fast as you could until you reach a crowded place.
If you know that you are off-routed, be alert and ask the reason for taking the off route. Grab your bags and be ready to escape when you get the slightest chance.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many vehicles have you hitchhiked from Kashmir to Kanyakumari?
Total of 88 vehicles – 7 long-distance trucks, 4 cars, 2 tractors, 3 mini tempo trucks. The rest are bikes.
Breakdown of the total expense?
It cost me around 27k for 55 days, averaging about Rs. 502 per day. Also, I spent 3k on souvenirs and gifted them to my followers, friends, and family.
Is it safe to hitchhike in India?
This question has been answered gender specific due to many mishappenings in the country. It is safe for men. Although there would be many challenges for women, it is surely possible and many women have done it across different Indian states.
Does the thumb-up gesture or signboards work in India?
Signboards and Thumbs-up are not used much for hitchhiking in India. However, waving your hand and asking for the vehicle to stop works well. Some signboards of what you are doing like the one that I carried on the bag will definitely help in getting rides.
How welcomed were you?
People were extremely warm, supportive, and friendly. The hospitality was really great. For instance, Manoj Kumar, a lorry driver accepted to share his ride with me for the second time after waiting for one whole day until I reached Maharashtra from Hyderabad.
Is hitchhiking legal in India?
Yes. Extra permissions are not required to hitchhike across the country.
Do you have any questions about hitchhiking? Ask in the comments section below and get it answered from the DirtyBoot traveller, Arjun himself. He has vlogged parts of his adventure across social media. You can follow and support him on Instagram and YouTube.
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