AMA: Were you afraid of hitchhiking alone in Central and South America?

A new question for my Ask Me Anything (AMA)! This person wrote the following message about hitchhiking alone in Central and South America:

Hello Iris, I guess you got million times this question but it’d be fantastic if you could help with your advice. I need to get rid of my doubts and I finally push myself to follow my dream of hitchhiking Central and South America. I’m planning to do a similar route to what you have done. However, as a solo woman, I’m concerned about safety in these countries. Were you ever afraid of hitchhiking alone? How did you find those countries for a solo woman?

Here’s my response:

Hey there! I hope I can help you a bit by telling you what I experienced. The short answer is: no, I wasn’t afraid of hitchhiking alone in Central and South America. I found all the countries in Central America quite pleasant once I understood a few things. Pleasant because when you cross a border, it’s usually not completely different, unlike in Europe for example when you keep crossing language barriers all the time.

I didn’t hitchhike through the North of Mexico. But after a couple of weeks taking buses and not having my old level of Spanish back, ‘the itch’ started. The itch is when you’re fed up with something because you know there’s a better option out there that brings you more utility/happiness: hitchhiking. It’s basically your opportunity cost. I started hitching from the outskirts of Mexico City because it felt right. My Spanish was back to its old level in no time.

It’s important to not force yourself to hitch. Some mornings I had a bad feeling so I would stay another day. I don’t know your experience with hitchhiking and whether the fear is about taking rides with strangers in general, or doing it outside your own culture/language area.

Speaking enough Spanish is a must, but you will improve with every ride so that issue disappears after some time. Every ride that goes well will give you more confidence. But it’s still important to be aware of your gut feeling when the window rolls down after stopping a car. You don’t need to use a sign in Central America; people will stop if you just use your “dedo” and then you have like one minute of conversation with the driver about where they’re going and if you can go for free (“¿No eres taxi?”) before you get in. If you don’t trust the ride, you can say you’ll find another ride. You can say they’re not going far enough or some other excuse.

You can be picky and wait for a ride with a woman or a child present. This is always a safer choice, but you won’t always get this freedom of choice handed out. If a guy starts flirting with you – which happens all the time – don’t get scared. Though annoying, flirting is quite standard there even for married guys. Don’t be afraid to ask for a stop on the road/a gasolinera and get out, while explaining your reason. I did this in maybe 1% of rides. The good thing about this area is that people don’t blatantly assume you’re a roadside prostitute (unlike the area where I reside currently); they will go through some sort of process of courting, which buys you time to get out at a good spot. A “no” is often seen as something to negotiate, so make clear nothing’s up for negotiation.

Ask if they have children and how old they are (maybe your age?). People love talking about their kids. It’s a good distraction to and simultaneously reminds them that they have kids and a wife at home. Be in charge of the conversation and you’re in charge of what happens next.

All in all, don’t force yourself to hitchhike, listen to your gut feeling and enjoy the scenery from the back of pick up trucks and old rusty cars. The people you’ll meet will ask you for your Facebook all the time and sometimes invite you to their homes. You can look back on your experience of the ‘Gringo Trail‘ in Central and South America in a total different way than most people will ever dare to give a try!

I hope this was helpful!

Peace, love and tranquillity,
Iris

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