Who would have thought that one of the most bitter periods of my expat life in China, during which I had to change both my job and my apartment (well… again!), and started to think that I had had enough of living in a big Chinese city, would have brought me to embark on one of my most enjoyable and surprising travel adventures ever: hitchhiking in China.
HITCHHIKING IN CHINA: HOW IT ALL STARTED
My former flat mate was at the time attending studying in Xiamen University and was quite stressed by exams and work but, inspired by my travel stories and enthusiasm, proposed to go with me on a trip to Shanghai during the summer break. I prefer traveling solo, but I do make exceptions. I was feeling so miserable about money, which was tight in those days, and I knew my cycle in China was doomed to end soon, so… what could have given me more energy and trust in the universe and in the future than another trip? Furthermore, Xiamen’s August heat was hitting hard, and I truly needed to get away for a while!
I was also excited by the idea of inspiring my friend even more. He was the kind of person who gets nervous about changes and the unexpected in general. and He was still thinking that every trip needed to be organized to the smallest detail. I invited him to hitchhike along the coast, from the place we where living in, Xiamen city ( off the beaten tourist tracks, but still one of the best places to live in China) and target destination Shanghai, stopping at a couple of interesting locations, roughly 1000 Km.
About hitchhiking in China, my friend was very unsure and in a few days started abandoning the idea of taking the trip altogether. That got me so angry! The morning of the day we had decided to hit the road, I packed my backpack as light as possible and went to his room. I threatened to break off our friendship if he didn’t pack immediately and go along with me!
I still remember all the excuses he brought up that morning, why it was such a silly idea to hitchhike, and why we would fail, and bla bla bla… I had a mission: to prove him wrong. And… I succeeded! We had the sweetest trip, and so many opportunities to exchange ideas with the locals. And we also got to know what the average Chinese thinks about hitchhiking!
Here’s what we learned: you’ll find it invaluable on your next hitchhiking trip in China.
FEEDBACK FROM DRIVERS WHO INTERACTED WITH US ON OUR HITCHHIKING TRIP IN CHINA
Drivers hardly understand what “hitchhiking” means to you, or even in general. Can you number all the reasons why you would hitchhike on your next trip? I’m sure I can relate with those reason, but the people who gave us rides didn’t… I wrote down a few of the conversation we had (I learned Chinese in China, and certainly that helped during the trip.)
Driver: “Why did you guys choose to travel this way?”
Us: “We seek to experience a real contact with the locals and a good chat while on the road.”
Driver: “That’s simply not enough reason, compared to the hassle!”
Us: “We really want to step out of our comfort zone now, challenge our own boundaries to improve our confidence.”
Driver: “You must be crazy!” (thoroughly shocked)
Us: “We are just happy to move from one place to another, going eco, doing our part to cause less pollution and traffic, and understanding how it feels to travel without reaching for our pocketbook all the time. And, deep down inside, we think that money is a crime, don’t you?”
Driver: “Come on, what kind of stories you’re telling! What does “hippie” mean? Why don’t you get on a bus, that’s very convenient!”
What to expect from your hitchhiking trip through China
Expect a lot of questions and a good dose of frustration when you try to let them know your frame of mind. Some drivers will insist to send you to the nearest train or bus station. Some drivers will expound to you about how cheap it is to get a train in China, convinced that you must not be aware of this, and that maybe you are just doing what you are doing out of confusion and frustration, because you aren’t clear on how the railway system works in China. They really need to be proactive and do what is best for you, taking you to the train station.
A few drivers make your trip a bit more complicated. They will refuse to leave you on the road, even if this represents a big disadvantage for you. This was the biggest issue we had to face while we were hitchhiking in China.
Some drivers, on the other hand, do not overthink it, and are happy to give you a seat in their car for a little money in exchange, like 10 Yuan (about a dollar and a half), and without asking any questions. Some others will be so excited to have you on board that they will go out of their way to take you exactly where you need to go.
Overall, our hitchhiking experience was positive.
The stops on our hitchhiking trip on the Chinese coast
Putian (Xianyou Nine Dragons Natural Reserve)
With all the due ups and downs, we reached Shanghai in 7 days. We’d probably have hitchhiked back home if we hadn’t decided to climb the Yellow Mountain and if our legs weren’t totally stiff after that…
Will you be hitchhiking in China? What places do you plan to visit? Let me know in the comments!