A couple of days ago we posted a story written by Maria, a friend of ours and a solo female hitch-hiker. We didn’t expect all the controversy it might raise, but it did and after a fire-fight of comments under the post, we got an email from Paul who believes that hitch-hiking is too dangerous to be exercised by girls on their own.
But who is Paul and what does he have to say? Paul has been a faithful follower of the blog, commentator and a contributor to our Travel Photography Competition and we got to know him (in the realm of internet) as a wise and well-travelled guy who hitch-hiked a lot in the past as well. Therefore his opinion was very valuable to us and we thought it’s an important topic to hear other people’s voices, so…
Have a look at Maria’s story + the comments underneath.
This is the email we received from Paul:
Hi Jon and Ania,
For what it’s worth, guys, I really don’t think you should be condoning women hitch-hiking on their own by publishing stories like the one Maria wrote. It might make a nice read, but in the cold light of day, what she did (hitch-hiking alone) was stupid and irresponsible (especially allowing herself to be locked into a van).
You have a great blog here and a lot of followers. It might not be a bad idea to let your readers know that you don’t condone this kind of behaviour. After all, should something unpleasant happen to any of your readers, you don’t want to be accused of turning a blind eye when you had the opportunity to give good advice. I envisage that your blog will soon become the voice of hitch-hiking. That’s a big responsibility.
What you’ve achieved here is an excellent guide for hitch-hikers – the best I’ve come across. But if you allow people (young, inexperienced, naive people) to think that it’s perfectly okay for women to hitch-hike on their own, you may regret it one day. All I know is that publishing a story by someone like Maria will send the wrong message to a lot of people who rely on you for good advice.
If you stay silent on this one, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to remove myself from your Facebook page and distance myself from your blog. I’ve already said my piece in response to Maria’s story (and her response to me was very negative), but people will listen to you more than they’ll listen to me.
It’s been great fun and I hope we’ll have the opportunity to meet up someday in Barcelona, but this is important to me and it should be important to you, too.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
… and this is our response:
Thanks a lot for your message. It’s always very important to us to listen what people have to say about hitch-hiking and our blog, even more so if it comes from a wise and a well-traveller person like yourself.
We do agree with you that hitch-hiking for girls alone can be risky, but isn’t it so for solo male travellers as well? You should always be careful, no matter if you are a strapping male or a tiny girl.
We don’t want to encourage women to hitch-hike on their own (and we believe that we have made this clear on the blog), as we don’t do it ourselves, we always travel as a couple, but we also refuse to criticise people for the risks they take. Hitch-hiking is by nature a moderately dangerous way of travelling and not only for solo women travellers, but for male hitch-hikers as well. I recall reading a story last year written by a Polish male hitch-hiker who got nearly raped in Iran by one of his lorry drivers. Another story that springs to my mind was written by a hitch-hiker in South America who was assaulted by a pregnant woman and her husband. Later all his possessions were taken from him, all his credit cards cleared and he was left on the road, naked. So you never really know and if you decide to hitch-hike, whether you are a male or a female, you should trust your judgement, both before setting off on a solo trip, as well as before getting into a stranger’s car.
Maria is our friend, Ania had known her a long time before she met Jon and it was Maria who Ania first hitch-hiked with. We know Maria as a clever daredevil, but we would never call her irresponsible. She had planned this trip well and we knew about it before the story was written. We didn’t try to discourage her then and all the more, we are not going to condemn her decision now on a public forum.
It would be a great shame to lose you as a follower and a contributor, but we also feel it would be unfair on our part if we started criticising people for taking risky decisions. Hitch-hiking is never entirely safe, so where do you draw the line? Should we just discourage all risky decisions people take, whether it’s hitch-hiking, backpacking, rock climbing or paragliding? Or should we rather encourage all girls to stay at home or travel only with their male companions?
It’s a difficult one, but the one think we really dislike is scaremongering. All forms of independent travelling bear some form of risk and just because of that should we advise people to go on package tours instead?
Hitch-hikers’ Handbook was created so that other like-minded people could share their stories and knowledge. We’ve never wanted it to be a one-direction medium as we are not preachers by nature. It was a great compliment on your part saying that we might soon become the voice of all hitch-hikers, but we don’t view ourselves as hitch-hiking gurus. And our role here is not to preach but to listen, share and give some advice based on our experience. Personally, I (Ania) would never hitch-hike on my own and would never advise anyone to do it, let alone ensure them it’s safe, but if they do, so be it.
I hope that explains our point of view a little bit. We are planning to post this massage on the blog as well, so that other people could share their opinion with us. Thanks a lot for starting this debate, it’s an important question and we are eager to see what others have to say about it.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Ania & Jon
This is Paul’s final response:
Thanks for your detailed response. I’m grateful you took the time. In many ways you are right. Many activities in life are risky. I ran with the bulls in Pamplona for 22 years in a time before women were allowed to run. I’m pleased that those rules have now changed as I am a great believer in gender equality. I used to play high-level competition squash and remember (back in the 80s) being told that I would have to compete against a woman in a regional tournament. I was a little upset about that as I thought it would not be a fair match. She ended up thrashing me. I learned a big lesson that day.
In my opinion, it’s irrelevant that Maria is your friend (although I suspected as such). A female who hitch-hikes alone is irresponsible, as is the male who gives her a lift. When I said that you might soon become the voice of all hitch-hikers, I meant your website rather than you personally. Regardless of this, I feel it is important that you are shown not to condone people (especially women) hitch-hiking alone. I, too, have heard some awful stories first hand, but as with all risky ventures, hitch-hikers should be sensible and diligent, and advice on the matter from the two of you will be valuable for young people who intend to set out on their own. Times have changed. I believe that what Maria did was intrinsically wrong and rather stupid … especially allowing herself to be locked in a van over night.
Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind and friends need to be told that they did something silly. If they are truly your friend, they will appreciate and respect you. Maria’s response to me was childish and this is the way she will look to anyone with any common sense.
All the best,
Now it’s your turn
We’d love to hear what you think. Have you ever hitch-hiked or backpacked alone? Should girls do it on their own? We value your opinion as much as we value Paul’s, so speak your mind!
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