A method of traveling that I have never tried before: Hitchhiking. The concept is rather simple: Stand on the side of a road, put your thumb out and wait for a car that can give you a lift in your direction. In this blog I want to share my experiences with hitchhiking and what I learned from it. I also want to talk about the risks and dangers of this style of transportation. So, before my journey to the east – that you can learn about from Mattes Blog – I have never actually hitchhiked before. And to be honest, it was stressing me out that we were planning parts of our journey relying on “otostop”. So far, we have always traveled by bus. It is a certainty: You buy your ticket online and you know for a fact at what time your bus will depart and where you will arrive. It gives you a feeling of safety and stability for your travel planning. So now, given that it was Bayramlar, we weren’t able to book any bus we liked to, because they were all packed to the top with people wanting to visit their families over the holidays. So, with a huge detour to Ankara, we took the last available busses to get to Gaziantep. From there we said that we want to hitchhike for the rest of our GAP Tour. We were three people when we hitchhiked for the first time in the east. Toni, Mattes, and I were standing on the road leading outside of Antep. After a couple of minutes of showing our thumbs, a car stopped for us and told us that this is not a good spot to wait for people that go to Urfa, that’s why he can take us further down the road, where the highway traffic to Urfa is starting. A little bit outside of the city he let us out and we waited again for another car. This time we weren’t even ready with putting our big backpacks on, when a car stopped for us, seeing that we were travelers. The man who took us was an older gentleman who lived in Switzerland for some time and therefore could speak a little bit of German. We had some small talk, and he took us some time. But he wasn’t going to Urfa so he let us out in a small city, where we again … Stood on the side of the street, putting our thumbs up. The next man that stopped was a sweet and dessert vendor, playing loud disco music in his car, he took us to the Euphrates River where we stopped the last car for the day.
A very interesting character who was coincidently driving directly to the hotel we needed to go to in Urfa. But the way he was driving was beyond description: Speeding at 120 km/h through a 50 km/h zone, overtaking in upcoming traffic, drinking while driving, and singing so loud that I couldn’t believe he was actually concentrating on the road. With God’s good grace we arrived in Urfa without crashing into a truck or a tree. On the next hitchhikes it was just me and Mattes. From Urfa, we went to the outside of the city by a regular Bus. We waited not too long until a van picked us up and drove us down the highway for a couple of kilometers before he had to leave us at a gas station in the desert. We waited in the desert in the blistering heat for another car to take us to Mardin. There is really just a stony desert between Urfa and Mardin. From Mardin to Diyarbakır we were picked up by a bus from Germany and they even invited us to their house in the mountains. But I also want to give tips and advice on what I have learned on my journey! In general, the east of Turkey is pretty good for hitchhiking, the people are very friendly and helpful. We usually never waited longer than 15 minutes for a car to stop for us. But for safety reasons, you should never hitchhike alone, also that way one person can sit in the back of the car behind the driver. Also, it is important that you adjust to the climate. We had to stand in some landscapes with the sun beating down on us and no shadow in sight. So, caps, sunscreen, and lots of water are of great importance! Of course, when you hitchhike in winter you need to adjust to the cold, because hitchhiking is never a certainty, and you can’t be sure that somebody will pick you up. For this reason, we also brought a tent with us, so we could sleep in the fields if necessary. Also, you should position yourself on the outside-leading highways and roads of the city where you can be sure that the cars that are driving there are going in your direction. Inside cities, there are just too many optional roads, and it is very unlikely that somebody can help you with your destination.
Make also sure that you are very well visible to the drivers, for your own safety but also to increase your chance of somebody giving you a lift. Drivers have to see you for a long time before they are willing to stop, giving them enough time to decide if they want to take you. Usually the more they see you, the better your chances of getting a lift. That’s why you should stand in front or behind corners and also not on downhill roads. The best are long roads where cars have to go kind of slow and have a good place to stop for you.
You should also your maps before you hitchhike somewhere. For example, the east of Turkey is pretty simple to navigate. Antep, Urfa, and Mardin are all in one line, there is basically no other highway to go to different cities, that’s why you can be sure that all the cars that are on this road are going towards your destination. But if you are in different parts of the country, you should assess the highway situation and choose carefully which road you want to wait at. It makes your journey more efficient and less stressful if you prepare it correctly!
Of course, hitchhiking can be dangerous. There are numerous risks along such a journey. The climate we talked about and the uncertainty of actually catching a lift. These are things you have to think of when you pack your bag and prepare for your journey. My advice: Bring lots of water, the right clothes, a tent and a first aid kid with you.
You also shouldn’t trust all the drivers and you should be able to defend yourself if necessary, a person sitting behind the driver can intervene if something gets out of hand. Also, have google maps on and ask where you are going if you are not sure where your driver is heading to. It is always safer to ask somebody to stop and let you out, instead of going somewhere you don’t want to go.
Of course, I am not a professional hitchhiker, but I hope that my experiences can also help you on your next journey. For me, it was one of the greatest adventures to travel to this part of Turkey with “otostop”! I can only recommend this form of travel and suggest you give it a chance at some point!
Until next time!