How to hitchhike to Australia
Most people think that hitchhiking to Australia from Estonia is impossible. “It’s an island on the other side of the world,” they say. “Also, hitchhiking to Australia would take weeks. Spending €1000 on a plane ticket is more practical.”
Nonsense. First of all, every destination on Earth can be reached by hitchhiking. And once commercial space flight becomes viable, hitchhiking will infiltrate the cosmos. No distance is too vast to be hitchhiked. A true traveler’s thumb knows no boundary.
Second, only a moron would ever exchange their money for a plane ticket. To anyone who says it’s easier, faster, and more sensible to pay for travel than it is to hitchhike, I say: open your eyes and look out your window. Do you see cars? Are they moving? Why would you buy a plane ticket if you could simply hop into one of those cars with a complete stranger and ride with them for as long as they’re driving in the general direction you need to move in? It would be foolish.
Given that summer is the time for travel, I decided to dispel the greatest myth plaguing Estonian college students: that Australia can’t be hitchhiked to. So two weeks ago, I packed a bag, stood on the side of the Tallinn to Tartu highway, and stuck my thumb up. This is my story.
Getting to Riga
Any seasoned hitchhiker knows that women get picked up way more often than men. So to save myself some time, I wore a skirt, a wig, and tall, stripper-style high heels while hitchhiking. I reasoned that, while most drivers wouldn’t find me attractive, they’d probably all assume I was desperate and offer me a ride. It worked. Out of 15 people standing on the side of the road near the airport, I was picked up first. The rest were men – wearing men’s clothes. They must have felt really silly as they watched me hold my skirt to climb into an Audi.
Getting to Riga was the first big leg of my journey to Australia. I chose Riga as my first stop because it’s such an awful dump that I wouldn’t want to stick around for any longer than absolutely necessary. The driver I caught a ride with from Tallinn was named Timo. He was heading all the way to Riga and would be staying there for quite a while, judging by how fast he drove by the Estonian highway speed cameras. He pretty quickly picked up on the fact that I’m a man, but he didn’t judge me for wearing women’s clothing, speaking with a terrible, fake Estonian woman’s accent, or reading Marie Claire. Nice guy.
Getting to Kiev
I had Timo drop me off on the side of the highway leading into Riga and wrote “Ukraine” on one of the many pieces of cardboard littering the area. I expected to have to wait a while, but I was picked up in less than 30 minutes by a trucker. He said he was going all the way to Kiev, so I hopped aboard his big rig. The driver’s name was Igor and he was evasive when I asked him what he was hauling, which made me a little nervous. When we stopped at a truck stop 8 hours later, sores has broken out on my ankles and patches of hair were falling out of my scalp. “Still better than paying for a plane ticket!,” I thought as I made a travel pillow by stuffing my discarded hair into a paper bag.
The drive to Kiev was pleasantly uneventful. Igor was an entertaining driver, cursing in a vaguely Slavic-sounding language whenever he got cut off. And I think Igor enjoyed my company, too. He said I was his favorite person to watch sleep.
Getting to Tehran
I said my goodbyes to Igor on the outskirts of Kiev and made a new sign: “Tehran”. I began to lose faith in my mission as hundreds, if not thousands of trucks passed me over the course of what felt like a century. Many times, a truck would slow down as it approached only to throw discarded soda bottles or McDonald’s wrappers at me and speed up again.
Finally, after more than 14 hours on the side of the road, a trucker stopped and offered me a ride. He worked for a military contractor: he couldn’t take me to Tehran, he said, but he could give me a ride to Mosul, Iraq. I accepted
his offer and hopped in the cab, thinking it’d be easy to find a ride to Tehran from Mosul.
It was a long three day drive to Iraq, and Mosul had a much more pronounced “war zone vibe” than I had anticipated. The military contractor dropped me off on the outskirts of town and I wrote “Tehran” on a rock I pulled from the ruins of what looked like a school. I waited for hours in the sweltering heat before seeing a single car, and when one finally did approach it sped up and tried to hit me. I was able to dive out of the way in time, but the incident didn’t leave me very optimistic about my chances of getting to Australia.
Three days later, a military convoy heading to Afghanistan stopped and offered to drive me to Tehran. And two days after that, I was writing a new sign – “Calcutta” – from the side of a highway in Iran. To think that I almost caved in and bought a plane ticket while sleeping under a bullet-riddled piece of iron siding in Mosul!
Getting to Calcutta
NOTHING INTERESTING HAPPENED ON THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY. IT WAS COMPLETELY UNEVENTFUL AND THERE’S NO USE IN DESCRIBING ANY PORTION OF THIS LEG OF THE JOURNEY IN DETAIL. SUFFICE TO SAY THAT IT WAS PLEASANT AND QUIET.
Getting to Hong Kong
After my stitches healed and I was able to eat solid foods again, I posted myself on the side of the highway outside of Calcutta and drew my next sign: “Hong Kong”. A driver named Hintao picked me up after only a few minutes and offered to take me all the way to the port of Hong Kong, where he was dropping off some shipping containers filled with toxic wastewater. I asked him where that toxic wastewater was being shipped to and almost jumped out of my seat in excitement when he responded: Sydney, Australia! Jackpot!
I struck a deal with Hintao: I’d drive the truck the rest of the way to Hong Kong if he’d let me stow myself in the shipping container and ride – for free – to Sydney. He agreed, and I climbed behind the steering wheel. Maneuvering a massive truck was harder than I thought: I took a turn too quickly at one point and the cargo hit the truck’s loading door so hard that it burst open, spilling six barrels of wastewater into a nearby stream. Hintao and I had a good laugh at my driving skills as we lit the stream on fire to burn off the wastewater and fled the scene.
Getting to Sydney
After driving together for four days, Hintao and I had developed a strong friendship. He didn’t want me to leave for Sydney: he thought we should open our own trucking business together. I had to decline his offer, and Hintao and I exchanged emotional goodbyes as he locked me into a shipping container before driving to the port. The next six days are a blur, as the inside of the shipping container was pitch black and the fumes from the wastewater caused me to pass out frequently. But I very vividly remember the elation I felt when the door to the shipping container was opened and the bright Australian sun warmed my face. Unfortunately, I was arrested on the spot by the Australian port authority and spent the next two weeks being interrogated every day by Australia’s version of homeland security.
Once the Australian authorities deemed that I was not a terrorist but rather an exceptionally thrifty idiot, they released me – and I was free to enjoy Australia with the knowledge that I didn’t pay a single cent for transportation to get there. By this point, however, my hair had completely fallen out and I had developed a severe case of rickets, so I wasn’t able to do much sightseeing. I did, however, manage to send Sydney, Australia postcards to both Igor and Hintao before starting my journey back home. But that adventure will have to wait for another article – partly because it’s rife with interesting anecdotes, and partly because I’m barred from discussing it publicly by the Malaysian government.
But the absolute best part about my trip to Australia – the thing that put a smile on my face each of the four mornings I spent there before having to leave – was that I got there for free. I overheard some tourists talking about their flight one day in a park. “Fools,” I thought I as I applied rubbing alcohol to the open sores on my ankles. “Don’t they realize that they could have hitchhiked for free?“