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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why can't Indians hitchhike and solo travel like others?

Can Indians do hitchhiking/solo travel like westerners?

Earlier this month in Bali, I met Karol. While I was returning from Basakih temple somewhere deep in northern Bali, he waved his hand asking for a ride. I got him as a pillion and we rode together for an hour or two till our destinations were in different directions. Karol is from Poland, Europe. He was hitchhiking in Bali- for about a month. Hitchhiking is a mode of travel where one travels from one place to another by requesting ride from others, usually from strangers and typically without paying anything. Add to that this guy had no hotel bookings, no cab bookings, lives in a tent that he is carrying (which he pitches on the hill or by the beach as required). This way, with very little money, he can survive for several days, spend as much time as he wishes at each stop, be extremely flexible with his plan and take home lots of memories that regular tourists can never get. Back home, Karol does architecture consulting- he works for 2 to 2.5 years, saves as much as possible and then goes on 6 month long travel to different parts of the world- travels till he runs out of time or money. Before reaching Bali on this trip, he had already spent lots of time time in Nepal, Myanmar and Malaysia.

We spent some time exploring the Bukit Jambul rice terrace, clicked some pictures. He was heading towards Virgin beach for that night while I had to ride towards my hotel in Kuta, so somewhere on the way we parted ways. I forgot to ask him how he charges his phone and camera-my guess is he is carrying a solar charger. He eats local food, buys bare minimum stuff as needed and if no one gives him a ride, is prepared to walk all day with his heavy backpack.
This way of traveling is very popular in Europe and many parts of the world, where people travel with one big loaded backpack on extremely low budget. In return, the amount of experience and memories they take back is way beyond any regular tourist- one who spends only a few days at each destination, usually covering only the most touristy attractions in the comfort of a taxi or a tour bus.

Unfortunately India is NOT one of the countries where this kind of free spirited travel is encouraged. Our priorities in life seems to be totally different. As I pondered why Indians can’t/won’t travel like others, below are the potential obstacles that I could think of.

1. Family and social concerns: The idea of being free bird or exploring the world is never in the list of priorities for Indian society and family. From the age of 10 to 70, none of their priorities involve travel, adventure or exploration. 10 STD is said to be a very important milestone in a student’s life, so he/she should focus on studying. Then comes the class 12th - Very important to score high so that one can get into best of the colleges. Then it is the graduation- most important to graduate with distinction so as to secure a job in top company. Within few years into job, the pressure for wedding begins. People manage to resist it as much as they can but eventually are forced to fall in line. Within years of wedding, pressure to start a family mounts. Then onwards everything needs to be centred around kid’s comfort, convenience, education, future etc. There is no phase in life where an Indian is encouraged to do whatever that pleases him or her. Between the golden age of 25 to 40, (this is the age bracket where one will have some money, good health and should be able to pull out some free time) one should be allowed to spend at least 4-5 years as per their will, so that they can try out whatever that interests them- starting a company, music, travel, writing books or anything else one may be passionate about. But this is totally missing in the Indian culture and anyone trying follow this has to survive so much family and social pressure.

2.Food habits: A good part of Indians are pure Vegetarians by eating habit- this brings lots of complexities when abroad. Non availability of veg food, not knowing the ingredients or how it is prepared often limits our options and flexibility.

3. Leave from work: Most Indians have regular office jobs with limited leaves every year (may be about 10-20 days and weekend maybe). The idea of sabbatical is not existent in most offices (a few IT companies do have it though). Even the idea of freelance consulting is not as popular as the west. Being away from job for months at a stretch is very hard for those who have office jobs in India. Some people manage few weeks/months break while changing jobs and few are lucky to have a job that can be done from anywhere in the world as long as there is internet connection- but this won’t fly while hitchhiking.

4. Visa issues: Unlike an American passport of EU passport, Indian passport holders will need visa for most countries. Few countries give visa on arrival- but usually for short duration of 10 or 14 days. Whenever you have to apply for visa, one of the common requirement is proper flight & hotel bookings and proof of funds. You can’t skip hotel booking by saying “I will pitch a tent on the hill”, you can’t skip return ticket saying “I don’t know how long I will be staying- I will roam around as much as I like and I will return when I feel like”. All these means you can’t hitchhike as freely as an American passport holder.

5. Skin Colour: Americans and Europeans are easily recognized in Asian countries by their skin colour and may get good treatment in terms of relaxed entry criteria, support from locals/police etc. An Indian male with dark complexions is not likely to receive same level of acceptance and treatment from locals and officials in Asian countries when they are hitchhiking. I have tried asking for a ride once in Lithuania and once in Bali (At Tegalalang rice terrace, my exit was 2 kms away from parking lot) but wasn't lucky, so had to walk.

6. Savings pattern: Most of the middle class and upper middle class families fall into the trap of buying a car and a home as soon as their job stabilizes. This means a good part of their salary goes for EMIs, leaving very little for discretionary spending. Many Indians also indulge in various expenditures- such as parties, shopping, home appliances, functions etc, either to maintain their status or because of peer pressure. This leaves very little for travel & adventure. In summary, many of us spend on things than experiences. Even when we save, we have to save in rupees and spend in dollars- which isn’t an exciting proposition. Western people however, are open to the idea of living on a shoestring budget, can afford to save better and even a small % saving can get better holiday for them, as the salaries are higher and currency has good value.

7. The culture/Preferences- Even within the limited time and budget we may have at our disposal, the very idea of adventure and exploration is missing in the minds of most Indians. For many, success is buying car, house and settling in life. If you try to spend 30 k on skydiving, everyone says that is too much money being wasted, while all families conduct several pujas, functions and other events every year where lot more money is spent. For many the idea of free spirited exploration seems exciting, but when they plan the vacation, they simply go with package tour offered by the MMT or the likes, visit touristy places and come back. Some are keen to be on the adventure mode, but rest of friends/family members prefer comfort and convenience over adventure, so this person has to sacrifice his/her preferences.

Among the people I know, Sankara Subramanian has done extensive long term solo travel and hitchhiking in several countries.  Shubham Mansingka also seems to be in the same league, though I haven't met him yet. There are many other bloggers, travelers who have traveled extensively- solo and for long duration, but I am not sure if that is as basic as what Karol was doing- no fixed plan, no hotel/transport booking, living in tents and walking/hitchhiking between destinations. Priyanka Dalal, Neelima Vallangi Nisha Jha and Shivya Nath are the names I can think of, who have done hitchhiking or something very close to it in terms of adventure travel abroad. Anyone else you can think of?

What do you think? Does the idea of hitchhiking excites you? Would you go on such a trip if situation permits? What can be done to encourage more Indians to undertake such explorations?
Indian Bloggers

34 comments :

Priyanka said...

Thanks for mentioning me and this is an interesting topic. I also met a hitchhiker in Australia :)
Overall you have highlighted differences in culture of India and western. I think this is the case with a lot of Asian cultures - where we are community driven cultures as opposed to the western culture which is more individualistic. I read about some Japanese travellers who travelled a lot but when they returned back home it was so weird for them, because they were out of the community and they couldn't conform either.
So typically Indian society also does not really make space for individual pursuits but rather promotes community living - you have highlighted good examples of the same.
Having said that I think things are fast changing and the travel scene really picking up in India.

Secondly I got to know a few different Australians out on my trip and it is also not always easy for them to go traveling as it seems to us from outside. Within their society too there are peer pressures and cultural aspects that make things difficult. Especially in the smaller towns where there are more Norms. What I feel is a more impactful factor is the fact that their healthcare is paid by the government!! This changes the entire basic survival mechanism. We poorer countries are busy saving enough for a decent old age.

Also with regards some points you have mentioned,
1) I have gotten good visas by showing my camping route map. So Indians can go impromptu camping. Anyway who is to stop you from changing the itinerary you showed in your visa ....
2) also vegetarian is not such a big problem in a lot of places. If we are OK just roughing it (I mean eating less) for a day or so then vegetarian is OK. Also if we are camping then we can carry cooking equipment and make our veggie (even vegan) meals.

:)

divsi said...

Fabulous post! You have listed some very valid reasons that prevent Indians to hitchhike.
Another one could be our inherent fear of safety.
With the kind of safety standards Indians are subjected to, there could be a hesitation on this front as well.

I would love to hitchhike at least once in my life. I loved the point that you have highlighted regarding poojas and money spent. So true.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Divsi- Thanks. Not sure if safety is a showstopper- we are so careless in many terms (not wearing helmet for example)

@Priyanka: Thanks for the detailed comments and valuable inputs. yes, I have lived on fruits and biscuits, so it is possible to survive a few days, but not sure about months. Good to know on the visa front.

nomad writers said...

Valid points here. I had met a lot of people a yer back in Chile who hadn't booked their stays and had no idea how they would get to their next destination with hardly any money left. They were on long breaks from 3 months to 12.

While I don't fall into this extreme way of travelling, and I have just stepped out :D but I usually get locals to drop me if it's less than 5km in different parts of India. I haven't tried it outside (I already looked too suspicious I suppose) But meeting people, locals, strangers, and whiling away time chattering is an essential part too!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks. Yes, making friends with locals helps a lot

Thanks for the comment..

Bhushavali N said...

Awesome post. I was just thinking about writing something similar... Personally for me currency conversion is a major issue...

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@bhushavali- thanks... It is not an issue if you have lots of currency (in pounds!)!

Shubham Mansingka said...

Absolutely brilliant post; the points that you have mentioned are all valid. Thats just how we are and how we as a nation are brought up. But every once in a while there comes a time when people go against the flow and try something different.

When I lived without a home for 20 odd months in 2014-2015, hitchhiking came easily in Himachal Pradesh; people were kind and happy to take me along with them. And there are good days and bad, there are so many lessons life on the road teaches us - and hitchhiking enables us to meet so many people.

Also, I ought to mention the scenario is quickly changing in India too and you can see more and more people trying this way to travel more and more; because the less money you spend - technically the more you can travel.

Thanks for thinking about me when you ended the post. :) Also, incidentally a post that I uploaded today has part details of a truck ride - maybe you 'll like reading it.

Shubham

Priya Pathiyan said...

Super points made. And some of them are true even about regular travel, not just solo travel or hitchhiking. I remember how my publisher would very publicly pull me down in front of the whole office for taking every single day of leave that was allotted to me as he resented the fact that I travelled so much by carefully planning trips around those precious holidays! Also people's attitude to spending money on travel as opposed to more socially acceptable channels such as weddings and religious ceremonies has always sucked. I recall how often, when I travelled to exciting places with my parents as a kid, people would often ask us, 'Why are you going there? Do you have relatives there?' The concept of travel for pleasure was so alien to them! Luckily, such mindsets are changing slowly and travel for travel's sake is now being acknowledged and even appreciated.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Shubham. Yes, I am reading your truck post... Great to read from your experience. Good to see the trend changing with more Indians opting for solo/adventure travel despite heavy resistance from family.

Abhinav Singh said...

Well written. However though I agree with all the points but I could not identify or relate to them. All my life I had fought to have my own individuality (I am not even a Hollywood fan) and a strong need to find my calling in life. It was not easy to not fall in line and follow the path almost all my friends and families have taken. I have come close to what Karol has done except I have tried hitchhiking only few times, never stayed in an unguided tent. But I have eaten at locals homes, slept in the most shady places, sometimes sharing room with shady characters, getting stranded in the middle of nowhere. Damn, I miss that. I was more of a risk taker than I am now. Need to revisit that side of mine again. In future I would love to try and set up my own tent solo, cook my own food and just laze around. Would love to give hitchhiking more chances too. Maybe I start with India. Again, I agree most of Indians would spend a bomb on unnecessary (to me) material things or family functions bit would not encourage such adventures.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Abhinav Singh : Thanks for your comments. Good to know you've had considerable solo travel and adventure in your life. Best wishes to your future travels. So true on the social angle. Thanks again.

@Priya: Thanks for sharing your experiences. Yes, many see travel as an unnecessary burden that drains your money and energy. Lots of people think of traveling a lot but never manage to execute it, end up envying those who do

At most offices lots of people take leave in the name of family member or self not feeling well or some functions etc which is deemed normal, but asking leave for travel is looked down upon... As you said current generation, exposed to more possibilities through internet is trying to break free.

Best wishes to your future travel.

Nisha said...

All very valid points. And that is how we Indians (most of us) are made to think and behave.

Hmm I don't remember hitchhiking many times in India while traveling solo (just once or twice) but abroad have done so in Australia and some European countries. I still remember a German hitchhiking girl whom I met in Thailand. She was also traveling solo but when we met, she accompanied me for next 1 week before parting ways. And yes, we hitchhiked mostly. :)

Chandra Shekhar said...

As usual, i loved this article. While I agree with all points given here, I would like to add one from my side. It is 'taking risk'.

We tend to avoid taking risks. We want every single information in hand before even stepping out. I remember well, in year 2013, when I want to drive down to my native place in Kanyakumari, I was seeking your advice, whether to drive in 800cc Hyundai EON is advisable or not. Basis your suggestion, i made that trip and later one more to native and two trips to Goa by EON.

I want to take risks, but secured risks... like a typical Indian. :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@nisha- didn't know about your Solo adventures. Thanks for sharing.

@Chandra- we take risks where we shouldn't- like not wearing helmets, seat belts or buying cheap cars without much of safety features... But worry about safety elsewhere

Thanks for your comment.

Amrita said...

A wonderful post with valid points.I can relate to all of them. Yes, we Indians do fall in the vicious cycle of 'what will people say' and 'you have to do this for your family'. Its not that I am against family, but amidst this we somehow forget to live for ourselves and often die regretting.
I too have been told to concentrate on 10th, 12th, college and getting married and now kids! But somewhere I have discovered my own passion and have started following them slowly, but steadily. Thanks for sharing such an insightful post.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Amrita- good to know you have managed to follow your passion. Yes, Living for others is never going to help in long run. Thanks for the comment.

Jyotirmoy Sarkar said...

u have covered almost all the valid points.

Me And My Suitcase said...

Very good post and the points stated by you are true to the core.

Soumya Nambiar said...

Interesting post and something that I keep telling people. Even though I have traveled solo, I have never had the courage to hitchhike. When we were younger (20s), we were too broke to go traveling to those countries where hitchhiking is the norm. Now that we are older (yes entered the 30s), we have more money to spend. I think it has a lot to do with our upbringing too and the fact that I am too conscious of the fact that I am a solo female traveler.

I was initially apprehensive of hostels as well. But once I got rid of the inhibition, I loved the experience. I think we as Indians, take more time to just let go of all our inhibitions and things that have been taught to us till date.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Soumya-Correct. We take much longer to change our thinking and embrace change or try new things. Good to know about solo travels- will take a look at your blog.

@Stuti- Thanks

@Jyotirmoy - Thanks

Neelima Vallangi said...

Apart from all the very valid points you have mentioned, I think the biggest reason I'd be wary of hitchhiking in India at least is safety concerns. I've occasionally had to hitchhike and take lifts from men here, safe to say, I wasn't at ease at all. Doesn't particularly reflect on these men as much as it does on the constant fear women in India are taught to live with. That said, I've done some hitchhiking outside India where I didn't have to worry about the safety aspect. It was good to have that option, but frankly not my style. :)

About solo travel and open itineraries, Indians are catching up real fast. It's just that we're only now crawling up the basic hierarchy of needs and can even afford to think of leisurely vacations. But now that disposable income's rising, attitudes are slowly changing.

Also, cool post!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Neelima for taking out time and commenting on my post. There is lot to learn from your experiences. I sort of missed comfort and safety factor for women in my post.

Yes, almost everyone have noted that the trend is beginning to change.

Indrani said...

I don't have the courage, but it does seem like a great idea. How much you learn and save through this immeasurable!
Would you have given lift to a woman hitch hiker?

Dhananjay Murthy said...

All points are valid except point no. 2. In India people will think those who travel extensively either they think traveller is much money or does not a have brain, they keep thinking keep buying land, plot house(s), one way they are correct in indian context. Very few people encourage.

When comes to food if someone very strict with veg they need to struggle, i always prefer to eat the local dish of the country.


Shrinidhi Hande said...

@indrani- true- lots of cost savings, great experiences

On your question, I do not mind giving a ride to woman hitchhiker, but I do my own risk assessment on a case by case basis. In case of Karol, he was walking alone, turned after hearing my vehicle to ask for a ride, had a big backpack and he introduced himself as a hitchhiker-The area had no public transportation and I didn't see any risk or flaws in his story.

There are instances when people asking for ride end up robbing the person or assault the driver and steal the vehicle, so this risk aspect need to be checked once before stopping.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Dhananjay: Yes, perceptions can't be helped with

Why do you think food (veg food habit) is not a problem? It is possible to survive a few days, but for months- I am not sure.

Divya Srinivasan said...

Such an awesome post. Every single point was apt n true. Travelling solo never even pops up as an idea.

divsi said...

I meant safety for women Shrini.

Kavipriya Moorthy said...

Beautiful post Shrinidhi. I also envy foreigners. Even when I met 2 germans at Hampi, they were inspiring! I definitely want to travel solo and hitchhike once!

Krishnendu, aka Ken. said...

Travelled solo, travelled with a girlfriend, travelled alone with a 2 year old kid across continents without prior bookings, in a rented car, on a motorcycle and am still doing it. Not a big deal. It is all about where you place your priorities. Now I organise travel for Europeans and Americans coming to India in the domain of luxury travel. :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Kavipriya _ yes, it is an adventure everyone should try once..

@Divsi- Yes, there is a risk factor- even in solo travel where hitchhiking may not be involved. Everyone should do their risk assessment and be prepared to sense trouble or handle minor issues.

@Divya Sriinivasan- Thanks

Nilanjan Saha said...

Forget hitchhiking, I love to tour on motorcycles and people stare at me as if I'm an alien when they first hear about my hobby. "Pagal ho kya!? :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Nilanjan- True- anything out of ordinary, people have trouble accepting

@Krishnendu
Good to know about your activities and work. If there is a will, there is a way- for many identifying right priorities and sticking to it is the challenge.

Thanks