PETALING JAYA: Finding yourself alone in a foreign country surrounded by strangers with a measly RM800 in your pocket may not be everyone’s idea of a perfect holiday but for one Petrina Thong, 29, this experiment was one she embarked on to test her own limits at surviving in the big, bad world.
And survive she did, hitchhiking alone from Sweden, traversing across Europe and the Baltics to travel through Albania, Kosovo and Bulgaria to Turkey where she made her way into Iran, Pakistan, India and Thailand, to reach her home in beloved Malaysia.
Speaking to Daily Mail UK about her wildly adventurous travels, Thong, who is a freelance scriptwriter said when she arrived in Sweden way back in June 2015, all she wanted to do then was “challenge” herself to experience hitchhiking and spend about three to six months travelling until her RM800 ran out.
She found herself penniless in three months, but ever the optimist, Thong decided on a new challenge instead – to travel with no money and no plans.
“I would stand by the road, thumb out, wherever the car went, I’d go.
“Only upon arrival I’d allow the Universe to reveal where I would be sleeping and eating,” she said, explaining that to keep her belly full, she resorted to “digging out food from the trash”, waiting around eateries or eating people’s leftovers. Fruit sellers at markets also gave her what they could not sell.
“Once evening came, I’d look for places to camp or get invited into a home at random,” she told Daily Mail UK.
She said while most saw hitchhiking, especially for a woman who was alone, as dangerous, she surprisingly met many kind people who helped her willingly on her journey.
Security was tight, however, in danger zones like Iran and Pakistan, and police and military personnel helped get her from point A to point B in one piece.
The highlight of her travels, Thong said, was meeting a group called the “Rainbow Gathering”, who are a counterculture gathering in the mountains of Lithuania.
“Money has no value, food is equally shared among all, everyone is family. There is no hierarchy, no alcohol or drugs allowed, so one can only be high on life. It’s very back to basics.”
She also noticed how people from different cultures reacted differently to her travels as a woman hitchhiking alone through strange lands. She said Asians in general had a harder time appreciating why she was travelling alone.
“I was constantly questioned, ‘Why are you alone? Where is your husband/brother/boyfriend/parents?’; ‘Aren’t you scared?’; ‘Don’t you get lonely?’
“In Asia, it’s not common for people to travel solo, especially women,” she explained.
Looking back on her adventure, Thong said she would still recommend hitchhiking alone to other single women despite encountering those odd moments when she second-guessed herself.
“My greatest lesson is that the world or the unknown isn’t as scary as you make it out to be. People everywhere are unbelievably kind and willing to help.
“Now I know that even if I’m lost in a country where I can’t speak the language and I have no money, I will still be alright.”
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