24-Year-Old Tourist Tells Us Why She Chose to Hitchhike in Mexico
24-year-old Natalie Suen is originally from Vancouver, Canada. Last summer, she traveled to Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Valladolid, and Isla Mujeres. Natalie has met many women who travel alone and who have encouraged her to give it a try. During her time in Mexico she didn't travel alone, but she took it upon herself to hitchhike after meeting a young woman who traveled for two years and never paid for transportation.
We asked her how her experience was, who she met along the way, and if she ever felt scared.
You met someone who hitchhiked for 2 years and decided to test it out in Mexico. Did you find it scary at all? How did you communicate where you needed to go?
Hablo un poco de español. Surprisingly, I felt fearless. I was genuinely having so much fun, so happy and feeling thrilled about hitchhiking around. I was definitely stepping outside of my comfort zone. Although, I realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and I wish I’d done it sooner. The thing I learned from hitchhiking is that you have to go with the flow, you have to be patient, you have to take risks and you have to remain positive.
Tell us about one of your hitchhiking experiences:
After half an hour or so, my friend and I still couldn’t get a ride towards Coba and we thought we had failed, but we just remained positive and smiled until someone actually stopped for us! His name was Daniel and he was driving home from work to Merida. Daniel was an incredibly lovely gentleman and if we could, we would’ve stayed for longer. We were so grateful for his generosity and his company!
Where were you headed to in Coba?
We were actually going to Macario Gomez to stay at a jungle loft for the night! We had a really tough time hitchhiking to Macario (we were still learning the ropes), but we received some friendly advice from passerby's to try the road that leads to Coba. So we went and we succeeded.
What was your experience like in the car with Daniel?
Daniel picked us up in his van and we squeezed into the front. He travels to Tulum often for work, since he works in tourism. But both him and his family live in Merida, so he was driving home when he picked us up. Our communication was limited, as I'm still learning Spanish, but we talked about Mexico and how beautiful the country is. He also asked a lot about my home and said that Canada is beautiful and surely a great place to live. He told us about the wonders of Merida as well and invited us to visit next time! What a great human being. We reached Macario Gomez within 20 minutes but we wished it was longer. We had such a memorable time with Daniel and we're so glad it was him who picked us up.
Who was your favorite person to hitchhike with and what did you learn about them?
I mostly hitchhiked with my friend Rachel! She loves surrounding herself with people – travelers and locals; so I met a lot of people through her. While she doesn’t speak any Spanish, she did everything to communicate with our newfound friends who picked us up during our travels. She’s adventurous and spontaneous which made her an incredible hitchhiking buddy.
How many times did you attempt to hitchhike in Mexico?
I hitchhiked three times, while I was in Mexico; I experienced a failed first attempt as well. Our first attempt occurred when we were returning to Valladolid from Cenote Ik Kil. We saw three other travelers with their thumbs up and out and we chuckled at the idea. Neither Rachel nor I have ever hitchhiked before, it's something we've seen in movies, but we've never tried it ourselves. All of a sudden, a car pulled over and the three folks were off on the road and gone. It all happened so fast! Why not, we thought. I wish the story ended better, but sadly no one wanted to pick us up. We were on the next colectivo back to Cenote Ik Kil with a failed attempt at hitchhiking. We weren't discouraged by it though!
What's your favorite part about traveling?
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher
I love seeing the world and experiencing different cultures because it just puts into perspective how small I am in this world. When I look out on to the landscape, the ocean or cities and villages that have stood for hundreds or thousands of years, I can’t help but wonder who else has admired this view before me and what kind of stories they hold. This is why I love the quote by Mary Anne Radmacher. There’s something so magical about it because everyone sees the same moon no matter when, where or who they are. The mighty Greek philosophers probably stood at the top of the Acropolis and gazed up at the stars in deep thought and the Mayans might have carried out their rituals while bathing under the midnight moon. So when I’m standing in the same place where history took place (ie. Tulum Ruins, or Chichen Itza), I am forever changed by it. Simply put, traveling has a way of making you feel small – physically and in the span of history – but in a really wonderful and magical way.
What is your favorite place you've seen?
Tulum made me oh so happy! I felt so happy, so fulfilled, so loved and so present. I was happy doing everything and nothing in Tulum. It has beautiful beaches, great people and a nice, wonderful vibe.
My fondest memory was sitting up at the top of a spiral staircase and watching people go by. Unlike the bigger cities like Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, I felt like I was experiencing and seeing locals as they are – just playing with their kids or cheering on their soccer team with a Corona or two.
Where do you hope to visit in the future?
I definitely want to visit Mexico City, Oaxaca and Isla Holbox!
What memory in Mexico do you think you'll carry with you for a lifetime?
I was in a little local restaurant called Maria’s Gorditas in Playa del Carmen. It was our last meal before hopping on a colectivo towards Tulum and we were drawn to the delicious smell that was coming from this place. We intended to stay for only a quick bite but I fell completely in love with Maria and her daughter, Luis. We spent some time going through her schoolbooks, talked about my pet bunny at home and when it was time to leave, she gestured at my backpack and commented on how heavy it looked. Immediately after, I asked if she wanted to put it on and see for herself and she did so excitedly.
She looked so happy. She had a smile from ear to ear and her mom, Maria, looked like she was near tears. I told Maria that one day Luis will travel and see the world and she nodded in agreement. These are the types of experiences that make me want to travel more.
What was your favorite part about Mexican people?
I found the locals incredibly friendly and they genuinely wanted to help! When my friend Rachel and I arrived in Tulum, we wanted to head to the beach before we were able to check in at our hostel. We stopped a woman on the road to ask for directions to the beach, which was when we learned that bringing our bags with us would be difficult since the beach was quite far away. We thanked our new friend and continued walking but then she ran back to us and suggested that we drop off our bags at her daughter’s place and head to the beach together! We ended up spending the most amazing day with Mabel and Vanessa and left Tulum with newfound friends. I was so fortunate to have met them, as well as Maria and Luis, and other locals during my trip. While the beaches, the cenotes and the ruins are amazing, it is these moments that are truly meaningful and are easily my favorite experiences in Mexico.
What was the scariest travel experience?
I seriously didn’t encounter any scary moments during this trip. I felt completely secure, happy and at peace. I think the scariest part was having to part ways with loved ones and knowing that once I’m home I’ll have to settle into my full-time work.
What did you find the most surprising about Mexico?
There are more than just beaches and resorts. I know a lot of vacationers go to Mexico for a week and stay at their resort most of the time. There’s definitely no right or wrong way to travel, it’s just up to personal preference! However, I’m really grateful that I decided to travel to Mexico, the way I did, because there is so much more to see and to experience beyond the typical hot spots.
Follow Natalie on all of her adventures at @beyondbennett!
Would you ever give hitchhiking a try? Tell us in the comments below!