On the second Wednesday of the month, Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes a guest column featuring tips and advice on solo female travel. It’s an important topic I can’t cover so I brought in an expert to share her advice. This is her column this month.
It was February in China and, with the town of Lijiang’s elevation in Yunnan province, still very much a cold winter wonderland. Standing outside waiting wasn’t how I wanted to spend the morning. But Ya Ting had such enthusiasm for the idea of hitchhiking that opting for the bus just seemed boring at this point. She had been hitchhiking around China for months and considered it such a casual and obvious option that it took the fear right out of me.
China had been on my bucket list ever since studying Mandarin in Taiwan seven years prior. I knew from conversations with friends that traveling around China would not be as carefree and easy as in Southeast Asia. What I didn’t plan on was spending about a month without coming across another foreigner, hitchhiking over 1,000 miles, and learning more about Chinese culture and hospitality than I think possible from traveling by bus or train.
Ya Ting had taken me under her wing after hearing me speaking Mandarin in a hostel dorm in Lijiang. She was fascinated by my fluency and wanted to travel together, which was how we ended up on the side of the road with looking for a ride to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Within in twenty minutes, we had our first ride. I guess it wouldn’t take hours after all. He couldn’t take us all the way, and ended up dropping us at a freeway crossroads. I figured that would be the end of our luck, but almost immediately we got another ride.
Hitchhiking turned out to be more of a study of anthropology than a scary, irresponsible joy ride. It was astonishingly easy and drivers turned out to be incredibly nice and normal. As a new hitchhiker, I expected creeps and serial murderers I’d have to fight off with mace. In reality, they came from all normal walks of life – members of minority village tribes, university students, and businessmen returning home from a work trip.
Not once did I feel threatened or unsafe.
Our most noteworthy encounter was when a 20-something kid picked us up. He couldn’t take us the whole way so his uncle bought us lunch and a bus ticket for the rest of the journey. It’s as though he felt obligated to help us find a way to complete our trip. It brought tears of joy and gratitude to my eyes. This was the first time I understood the importance of generosity and the high esteem that guests hold in China. It was a selfless act that would repeat itself in the weeks to come.
Ya Ting’s theory had been we were so getting so lucky because we were a local and a foreigner together, and that had sparked intrigue. She didn’t think we would get so lucky once we split up. After a few weeks traveling together, we said good-bye and I would test her theory.