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Thumbs up to the latest travel deal

By Yang Yijun (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-02-01 07:54
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 Thumbs up to the latest travel deal

Hu Beilei poses on the roadside in Jiuquan, Gansu province, during his journey back home. Photos provided to China Daily

To beat the festival rush, a university student in East China hitchhikes 13 days all the way to his home in Urumqi. Yang Yijun reports.

While most of his classmates were worrying themselves sick about getting a ticket home during the Spring Festival rush, Hu Beilei managed to hitch 25 free rides over 13 days to reach his hometown safe and sound.

Hu, 23, is a senior at Nanjing Normal University in East China's Jiangsu province, and his home is nearly 4,000 km away in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in the Northwest.

"I was inspired by a documentary I watched last September called To Berlin by Thumb, in which the lead character hitchhikes his way all the way from Beijing to Berlin - 88 free rides in all," Hu says.

"I thought: why not give it a try," he says.

But Hu did not spend much time on packing or researching his route. "Mental preparation is most important," he says.

"I had decided that if mugged, I would simply give up all my belongings. So I stuck a 100 yuan bill in my sock, just in case."

On Christmas day, the brave student with a lean build, armed with just an extra pair of shoes, a sleeping bag and a tent, set off.

The first day proved to be tough as he walked for three hours before finally getting the nod from a truck driver.

"Although the driver only took me to the northwest suburb of Nanjing, I felt delighted at this first success," he says.

Things went more smoothly after that.

"It's easier to get a free ride in the rest areas along the highway than at the gas stations. But if you are refused, you shouldn't feel embarrassed," he says.

"What's more, you can even give some souvenirs like postcards to the drivers and chat with them along the way."

His happiest experience, he recalls, was the free ride offered by an Audi driver in Hefei, capital of Anhui province.

"At first, he hesitated. But after checking my ID card and student's card, he agreed to take me. Later he told me he had been cheated once and dared not take strangers but felt I looked sincere and honest," Hu says.

The driver soon began to warm up to Hu and shared stories of his self-made fortune while Hu talked about his university life.

"We got so engrossed in our stories that we drove the wrong way for more than 100 km before realizing our mistake," he says.

When it was time to say goodbye, the driver left his name card with Hu and told him he would be happy to recommend him to any future employer.

The journey back home, Hu says, felt like a vacation. He usually spent one or two days in the cities he passed, visiting friends or sightseeing.

Most of the time, he would stay overnight at his friends' dormitories or hostels. And when these were not available, he helped himself to the highway rest areas. On his last day in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, he slept in his tent.

"Actually, I could have stayed at my friend's place, but I had carried the tent all the way, and felt I had to use it at least once," he says.

"It was interesting to experience the city outside during the night. I could hear some homeless people chatting outside my tent."

Hu kept a record of everything he saw and felt along the way, carrying a mini camera tripod to take pictures of himself.

Hu did not mention his adventure to his family, calling home just once on New Year's Eve.

"As you can imagine, when I reached home and told them the truth, my parents were quite upset," he says.

But his recent hitchhiking was not his first adventure. In the summer of 2010, he traveled from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, to Tibet autonomous region by bicycle with a friend.

"We were a bit apprehensive at first as many people had warned us of the risk of getting robbed along the way. But we found these fears to be groundless," he says.

"When you ask people for a free ride, it's really all about establishing mutual trust," he says.

"I believe most people are kind and willing to help others. We can't become estranged just because of a few unfortunate incidents."

Hu is already planning his next hitchhiking adventure.

"I think this is something that will catch on," he says.

 Thumbs up to the latest travel deal

Hu Beilei rests at a service center along the highway in Xinyang, Henan province.

(China Daily 02/01/2011 page20)

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