Interview with Anick-Marie Bouchard from Globestoppeuse
Today we’ve got something special for you – an exclusive interview with Anick-Marie Bouchard, the founder of Globestoppeuse.com, one of the most important francophone hitchhiking blogs; a Lonely Planet author, an adventurer, neo-nomad and a solo female hitchhiker.
1. Anick-Marie, you are a Lonely Planet author, blogger and alternative travel personality widely known to francophone backpackers. Would you please briefly introduce yourself to our English-speaking travel community?
Well, I’m a French-Canadian from Quebec and Acadia living the neo-nomad lifestyle since 2002, mostly across Europe and Eastern Canada.
I’ve Couchsurfed, Wwoofed, foraged, stealth camped, dumpster dove, been an Au Pair in Germany, a volunteer cooperant in Peru, a working holidaymaker in the UK and a language assistant in the Arctic archipelago… Most recently, I biked solo from France to Kazakhstan with a solar bicycle. And of course, I hitchhike a lot, spanning around 140 000 km in 25 countries.
I’m mostly known online as a member of the French travel blogging community since my book “La Bible du Grand Voyageur” (The Great Traveler’s Bible) got published in 2012 with Lonely Planet (and in Spanish in 2013 – La Biblia del Viajero), but before starting my blog Globestoppeuse in 2011, I was only active in English-speaking networks.
I was involved early with CouchSurfing, from 2007 to 2010. I was a community ambassador, volunteered for their Safety & Abuse Team, coordinated their Translation Team and moderated the CS Hitchhiking group. I organized safety workshops and took part in female-only meetings where we would discuss issues and, more importantly, strategies and solutions. This inspired my first non-CS talk about Female Solo Travel and Hitchhiking at the Road Junky Festival in 2010.
2. Many people are of the opinion that women shouldn’t travel, and above all hitchhike, alone but you have visited many countries as a solo-female traveller. Were your experiences always positive? Would you recommend this way of travelling to others?
I think adults should be able to make decisions for themselves regardless of their gender. Travelling alone means taking responsibility for every choice you are making and can sometimes be safer because you won’t be taking as many risks if you’re on your own than if you are accompanied.
I’ve also witnessed many car & truck accidents, but that’s not what people are afraid of, right? I believe it to be the main risk I expose myself to when hitchhiking. My experiences were overwhelmingly positive, but not always so. Still, I think talking about the bad experiences help us understand and prevent them. Hitchhikers tend to avoid it because it reinforces the stigma and the clichés but there is a lot to learn from them.
I have had to get out of two trucks and one car, and I was kidnapped once in Germany, of all places! That first incident shaped a lot my approach to hitchhiking safety: I tuned my bullshit-o-meter up and I’m quicker to react when I hear sexual bullshit. The key is to never take a victim attitude, however nervous you are. That’s why I believe being mentally prepared is crucial: you stay on top of the interaction.
3. What should you keep in mind as a solo-female hitchhiker?
Criminological studies tend to prove that hitchhiking alone is ten times riskier than hitchhiking with a partner and that’s just as true for men. Of course, women are generally more at risk to experience crime (especially sexual offenses) while hitchhiking than men. You have to take that data into account when making hitchhiking choice. You may want to reduce your risk by taking other risk-reducing decisions such as only hitchhiking during daytime or long-distance rather than around cities, by avoiding hitchhiking when too tired or hung-over, etc.
There are also hitchhiking spots to be avoided as they are hot spots for prostitution and people might be confused with your intentions. In any case, be ready to decline sexual offers and clarify your situation as a hitchhiker. It doesn’t have to be a big deal – some people play their luck without being complete assholes. Remember that it’s better to have a clear request without subsequent harassment than to cope with a horny driver making sexually charged comments every other minute…
4. What country would you say is the best place to hitchhike and why?
I’m a big fan of Turkey and it’s my all-time fav! The hospitality is simply amazing, the wait is never long and the scenery is fabulous. I just wouldn’t recommend it for solo beginners as the sexual taboo in Turkish society makes it sometimes difficult to handle safety issues. It’s a pity, because Türkiye çok güzel!
I think beginners would dig the long summer days and the safety of the Scandinavian countries.
5. And what about the worst, most difficult or dangerous place you have ever hitchhiked in?
Ukraine was a tough cookie, mostly because the roads were rough and traffic was slow. That made it hard to estimate how fast I could go from one place to another. There’s also all sorts of trafficking, from diesel to roadside corruption. I found it hard to navigate all these things. Also, I do not master the Russian language and sometimes it was harder to determine the limits when I got sexual comments or people trying to flirt.
6. You have been a nomad for 12 years now. When did you first start hitchhiking and what was your motivation?
I come from a small archipelago in Eastern Canada where hitchhiking is normal, even from teenagers. When I was 16, I went on a trip to meet up with online friends using rideshare services to cross Quebec. Back then, I hitched for the first time with a friend, and fell asleep in the backseat. We tried to hitch a second time but did not manage to and gave up.
I tried to hitch a few times after that, with little success, until 2004 when I was on a student exchange in Europe. I researched hitchhiking online and started to do it in France, in Sweden and in Ireland. I must admit I was fascinated by it and it made travel accessible for the penniless student I was back then. It was also an opportunity to brush up my English skills and meet people – it was easier done on the road than in hostels!
7. What does hitchhiking mean to you and where does it stand compared with other forms of travel, e.g. bike travelling?
Oh dear, I am a hitchhiker, heart and soul! I’ve experienced bike travelling, barefoot hiking, ridesharing, train hitchhiking… I reckon that all these means of transportation have their perks, but I really feel part of the so-called hitchhiking family or “tribe”. Sticking my thumb out is my first option when I need to go from one place to another, unless there’s no road to get there like in the Arctic or there’s an ocean in the way…
For me hitchhiking is easier than figuring out public transportation and complying with its schedules. It’s cheap, it’s rewarding, I meet interesting people with varied social backgrounds and life stories. It challenges my prejudice and pushes my boundaries while forcing me to reassess them constantly. I simply love it.
8. I’m sure many of our readers would also like to know how you first became a Lonely Planet writer. What does it take to write for such a big and renowned travel publisher?
My own experience is a bit odd – we were 3 people with a book project, wrote over 160 000 words over the course of a year and started approaching publishers with a finished book. At first, we thought we’d have to self-publish because our subject seemed too radical, but our book caught their attention. At the same time, one of my co-authors learned that his reality TV show project about alternative travel was taking off, and it gave us leverage. We landed a deal. After that, they approached me to update some of their book about Quebec, where I am from. They knew I could write well and it made a lot of sense.
But Lonely Planet seldom publish books they did not commission, so that’s not the best way to get to work for them. Most of my colleagues have a journalist or communications degree and sent in their resume or got referred by an acquaintance. You have to be meticulous, autonomous and efficient because you will get very little support while writing. The field work is quite an experience, but I found the writing long and strenuous. I’m glad I had an opportunity to try myself at it, though.
9. And what about the present? What occupies your time at the moment?
I am still involved with the solar bicycle rally I took part in last year, The Sun Trip. Next summer, 43 participants from 14 countries will go from Milan’s Expo to Astana in Kazakhstan. I am coordinating the event from my nomadic office. I have a few book projects on the shelf, but for now I’m mainly working on developing my business, giving lectures and workshops on sustainable mobility and alternative travel.
10. What’s going to be your next adventure? I’m sure many of our readers would love to follow you on the road.
I will be hanging out around Montreal until the end of the winter, then I will be moving to the Alps until early June. My schedule will be tied to the next Sun Trip and I will be stopping one month in Ankara and end the summer in Kazakhstan. Then… who knows?