I always thought that hitchhikers were complete nutjobs. I mean, you are climbing into a stranger’s vehicle, hoping that they don’t kill you, but also wondering if they could take you to a destination of your choice!
And, also, knowing me and my terrible sense of direction, I’d probably end up hitchhiking in the opposite direction or better yet, end up hitchhiking straight into a ditch.
However, my brother and I arrived in Borneo with two goals, to climb the majestic Mount Kinabalu and to spend as little as possible, because we were saving for our trip to the UK later that year.
My brother suggested we hitchhike from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah city centre to the bottom of Mount Kinabalu, where we could begin our hike. Quite honestly, the first thought that came to my mind was ‘Nope! Getting kidnapped and killed wasn’t on my agenda for this trip, no thank you, not today!’’
But then it occurred to me that if I was ever going to try something new, now would be the perfect opportunity as 1) my brother is 6ft tall and is trained in Thai boxing 2) we can speak Malay, a language widely used in Borneo. I reasoned with myself that I could give them 10 reasons not to kidnap me in Malay if it came to it.
So I threw on my trainers and packed my red neck pillow with great gusto (car naps are the best type of naps) and decided to go for it!
It was an incredible and exhilarating journey, and I learned a few valuable lessons.
Do not hitchhike alone
There is a key difference between a dead and a living nutjob. You enhance the chances of being the former by hitchhiking alone. When you travel, your safety is paramount. Hitchhiking is already dangerous, so if you are determined to try it, do it with a few people, preferably male and if they have muscles like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, even better.
Find a long straight road
The first step, according to my brother, was to plan the route, break it up into chunks and look for a straight road where people could pick us up. It’s much easier to give someone a ride who wants to go the same direction as you i.e. straight, instead of some small road where the chances are, you want to go right and the driver wants to go left.
Don’t try and hitchhike in some obscure road where not many cars pass or right outside your hostel. Try and find a long straight road where many cars pass and where all the driver has to do is drive not navigate. You want to make it as easy as possible to give you a lift.
Bring a snack or food you can offer your drivers
Food is often the way to a person’s heart. When you are hitchhiking, you are relying on the kindness of drivers to help you get to your destination. Repaying their kindness with a small snack is a nice way of saying thank you.
Also, engaging with your drivers – even if you can’t speak the same language – will make for a more pleasant ride for both parties and they may just drop you further!
Wear comfortable shoes, sunglasses and be prepared to walk a bit
There is nothing glamorous about having blisters while you wait for a ride. When you hitchhike, there may be a bit of waiting around and walking as you try and find the right vehicle that will take you to your destination. Wear comfortable shoes like trainers, and remember to pack water, sunscreen, and sunglasses to make the wait more pleasant.
Bring a map (or have it up on Google Maps) so you can show them exactly where you need to go
When a driver stops to ask where you are going, they may not know the exact name of your destination. Make it easier for them to help you by showing them a map, or a map or picture from your smartphone. Human beings are visual creatures. It helps to remove a mental barrier and also you can say ‘See, it’s just here, not too far and easy to get to ‘. A bit like a hitchhiking sales pitch where you can exuberantly wave you map around.
My brother and I arrived on a straight road, I turned around to see him with a big cheesy smile, his thumb out grinning at every car that passed. His rationale for this was ‘ when you smile at people, it makes them smile, puts them in a good mood and they will be more likely to give you a lift.’
He was right. Once I flashed my pearly whites a car came screeching to a halt and asked if I needed a lift.
Our driver took us to the base of Mount Kinabalu. When he dropped us off, he looked sad, a bit wistful, and he told us to take care and thanked us for joining him.
I wondered if we were supposed to exchange contact details, spending 6 hours in a car with someone has a funny way of turning a stranger into a friend. But the moment passed and off we went into the mountain darkness waving our new friend farewell forever.