On a hot summer day in 1990, 24-year-old British backpacker Paul Onions hitchhiked on the Hume Highway south of Sydney, Australia. Paul was grateful when a stranger stopped to take him away. Little did he know that it would almost cost him his life to accept it. * *
Forced by the danger, Paul sat in the front seat of the vehicle and spoke to the driver. Within a few minutes, the seemingly benevolent driver became aggressive and argumentative. Then the driver suddenly stopped and said he wanted to take out music tapes from under the seat. He didn't take out magnetic tapes, but a pistol, which he pointed at Paul's chest.
Paul ignored the driver's order to remain seated, took off his seat belt, got out of the car, and ran down the street with all his might. The driver followed him on foot within sight of the other drivers. Finally he reached out, grabbed his shirt and threw him on the floor. Paul freed himself and ran past an oncoming pickup truck, forcing the terrified driver, a mother with children, to stop. At Paul's request, his mother let him in, turned the truck around the middle bed, and drove off. It wasn't until later that Paul's attacker was identified as a serial killer who killed seven backpackers, some of whom hitchhiked in pairs.
What made these victims so attractive targets for the killer? During the trial of the killer, the judge noted, “Each of the victims was young. They were between 19 and 22 years old. Everyone was traveling away from home, the conclusion was that if something had happened to them, they would not have missed it for a while. ""
Freedom of movement
International travel is now accessible to many more people than it was a few years ago. For example, the number of Australians visiting Asia has more than doubled over a five-year period. In search of experience or adventure, groups of teenagers and young people board airplanes destined for distant destinations. Many of these travelers plan to hitchhike to keep their expenses to a minimum. Unfortunately, in most countries around the world, hitchhiking is no longer the interesting and relatively safe means of transport that it used to be, be it for hitchhiking or picking up.
A positive attitude and enthusiasm for travel simply cannot replace practical and calm wisdom. “Enthusiasm for the trip often means that young people go ill-prepared and do not fully understand the dangers or their responsibilities,” reads a brochure for families looking for missing children.
The brochure adds, “People who travel with an organized group are seldom lost, on business or on well-planned itineraries. Whether in Australia or elsewhere, most of the people who ultimately end up missing seem to be backpackers and travel in the smallest of spaces. ""
Whether or not you are hitchhiking, traveling without an itinerary while attracting those who don't want to feel connected can leave you more vulnerable to danger. If relatives and friends don't know the whereabouts of a traveler, they can't offer much help in an emergency. For example, what if a traveler ends up unconscious in a hospital and no one at home knows where they are?
Keep in touch
In his book Highway to Nowhere, British journalist Richard Shears wrote of seven missing hitchhikers who "suddenly stopped communicating with family and friends". Of course, families in the beginning may not know if their loved ones are missing or simply not in touch. This can make them reluctant to alert authorities if they don't listen to travelers.
On one of the trips, phone calls with parents were cut off when the change was finished. In retrospect, their parents encouraged families to provide their children with business cards or other means of calling home. While regular communication may not have saved the young woman's life, it can often help the traveler avoid or at least overcome minor difficulties.
The seven backpackers who lost their lives may have read travel books that said Australia is one of the safest countries in the world for hitchhiking. Again, the ride proved reckless, even with two people and even in the "safest" countries.