I was almost hesitating to write this story as I don't want to unnecessarily scare people who have never tried hitchhiking, which can and usually is an extremely safe way to travel, but I think it is also important to share my idiotic mistakes so that others can learn from them. Also you should consider that I have been hitchhiking for around 7 years now, travelling more than 150,000km and gotten into 1000s of cars without any problems. But most importantly I consider this experience 100% my own fault, this time I really WAS a stupid foreigner. The thing that annoys me the most is that I KNEW THEY WERE GOING TO ROB ME before I even got into the car!! Here's what happened.
I was on my way back from Greece to my temporary home in Istanbul, and had finally made it to the edge of the city but unfortunately my driver wasn't going to the centre so I decided to hop out at a large service area and look for another car, despite it being 2am in the morning. I'd actually started my journey at around 7am the morning before with just a few short hours of sleep, but this is the only excuse I can give for the stupid mistakes I made on that night.
I asked one or two drivers and then a third car spotted me and came over to see what I was doing. They were 3 guys, covered in tattoos, and driving a very old car with tinted windows which I now know is the official symbol of Turkish wannabe gangsters. They actually approached me and asked me where I was going, which by itself is enough reason to be suspicious! I told them Taksim (the centre of Istanbul) and they told me they would take me.
TIP ALWAYS be weary of any driver who seems too eager to take you, I have turned down many cars for this reason.
I felt something was wrong, I even took a note of their licence plate, something I NEVER do... but I was so tired I thought to myself; ahh screw it, I'll be fine. Then as soon as I got into the car they started asking me to show them my camera, and to take pictures of them with it, although I luckily didn't have one with me at that time. At this point I knew for sure, I was about to be robbed. Luckily the car was dark enough that I managed to slip my iPod which also had my cash in it, out of my pocket and into the back of my jeans, just seconds before they started to tell me that they were actually police and they must search me for drugs. This might just be the most ridiculous story I have ever heard in my life, but I went with it, what else could I do?
They searched my small side bag, and found nothing but a packet of Greek mythological playing cards and some cigars, which they took. And in my wallet they found only 10 lira (€4) which they also took. Obviously they weren't very happy with my lack of any valuables and finally they stopped the car to search my backpack which was in the boot of the car and packed full of duty free alcohol! At this point I'd had enough, you can have my cigars but you shall not have my alcohol!
I waited while one of the men got out and opened the boot of the car, then as soon as my backpack touched the floor I shoved the guy sitting beside me, got out the car, grabbed my pack and crossed the highway. I did it all so fast that the 3 men just stood there looking at each other unsure what to do until they eventually got back in their car and just drove off. I went and hid behind some bushes in case they came back and to call my girlfriend and explain what had just happened.
At this point I was expecting to have a police car come and pick me up from the absolute middle of nowhere but no, they refused to help what so ever, so finally I had to walk for about an hour with a 25kg backpack to get to the nearest exit and back to civilization. As if the experience wasn't enough already.
So after this do I still hitchhike? Of course I do! In fact just last week I was at the exact same petrol station where I met those 3 guys, again at 2am in the morning. I am however VERY choosy about my drivers, as any hitchhiker should be. I turn down any driver I have even the slightest negative feeling about, especially if they are covered in tattoos and driver a car with tinted windows.
Has anyone else ever been robbed or had any bad hitchhiking stories like this? How did it happen, and how do you feel about hitchhiking after such an experience?
If you want to read more about hitchhiking safety you can also read my guide on how to hitchhike here.