Hitchhiking in China: from Xiamen to Shanghai

24 Mar, 2018

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.

My former flat mate, who had helped me out by taking care of my cat while I was traveling out og China, and who had taught me a lot about Hindu culture and Indian food (we used to enjoy delicious curry and pasta fusions) 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, sometimes. However, I was feeling so miserable about money, which was tight in those days, and because I knew my cycle in China was doomed to end soon, but… 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!

Hitchhiking china: coastal highway from Xiamen to Shanghai

Me in Shanghai, highlight of our hitchhiking trip in China

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 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 city we where living in, Xiamen, 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.


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? And what do the Chinese think about them?

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 that you would choose such a strange way to travel)
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 “hippy” mean?”

Expect a lot of questions and a good dose of frustration when you try to let them know your frame of mind.

Some drivers want 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, even if your Chinese is actually good, and you’ve been talking with them for half an hour. 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 highway, even if this represents a big disadvantage for you, because they think that what you are doing is crazy, so you must be crazy as well, and what if somebody sees you getting out of their car, and what if you do something crazy afterwards?

This really made it hard for us, because the coastal highway goes directly from Xiamen, our starting point, to Shanghai, our destination, and even if we wanted to make a couple of detours through the countryside, sometimes we just wanted to look for the next ride right there on the highway, where two foreigners standing and showing a cardboard sign and a thumb would be more noticeable.

After a driver had left us in Fuzhou almost at sunset, we had to wait for a couple of hours, immersed in the pollution of the city streets and feeling hopeless, before we managed to find another ride.

Some drivers are more reasonable.

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. The two guys who picked us up in Xiamen on the ramp entering the highway were headed for Putian, but made a point of taking us right to the nature reserve we wanted to see near Xianyou.

Overall, our hitchhiking experience was positive

With all the due ups and downs, we reached Shanghai in 2 and a half days, spending nights in Xianyou’s Nine Dragons Natural Reserve and in Wenzhou. We’d probably have hitchhiked back home if we hadn’t decided to climb the Yellow Mountains and if our legs weren’t totally stiff after that.

**Coming soon: photos from that beautiful adventure across China**

Annalisa, Travel Connect Experience Blog

In Zen philosophy, travelling is considered one of the most efficient techniques for getting to know oneself, letting go of reference points, of the balance we have built around ourselves for the sake of a deeper balance, of the essence which has always been our center and will stay with us until the end.

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  1. Kathleen

    You’re so brave, but what an experience. I lived in China for a year, in a polluted town about 100 KM south a Beijing. Just taking the taxi made me nervous, but it was probably the traffic that did me in. That and the fact that somehow, all of the taxi drivers knew were I lived. Freaky, but I digress. I’m glad you had a positive experience.

    • lizanna3891

      I feel you! I was in Beijing for three months studying Chinese, and I didn’t miss it when I went back home, but Xiamen, and the South of China in general, it’s very different. I’m sorry for the freak taxi drivers!

  2. GiGi Eats

    What a friggin’ AWESOME experience. I have been to Asia however not main-land china and this girl WANTS and NEEDS to go!! And your excursion only heightens my desire ten fold! 🙂


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