Getting into Cars with Strangers

“What did you do last night?”, mom asks me as I'm skyping her from Medellin, Colombia.

“Wellllll”, I reply, “Last night I went to meet some dude from Facebook, that some girl who came into the hostel said I should meet. So around 8 pm, I went to a metro station a few stops away, but the guy I was supposed to meet wasn't there. So instead I started talking to some other guy, who was hanging out at the metro stop, but didn't really speak English, then a car came with 3 other guys to pick him up, so I jumped in with him, then we picked up some other guy, then I rode around for like 20 minutes, and ended up somewhere I didn’t recognize and couldn’t get back from on my own.”

“So did you go to a band rehearsal or a band concert?” my mom asks, unimpressed.

“Rehearsal”.

It's not even a surprise anymore. I am so known for getting into cars with strangers, particularly dudes from bands, that my own mother doesn’t even flinch at hearing my stories.

I know, it's irresponsible. It's unsafe. I am a girl. I'm a photographer. I travel alone most of the time. I like to go to places that others think are dangerous (and may or may not actually be). I like to do so while carrying thousands of dollars worth of expensive camera equipment on me.

I know the rules: Don't talk to strangers. Don't get in cars with them. And for heaven's sake don't go off with a group of guys, alone, at night, to somewhere where no one knows where you are, ESPECIALLY in a foreign country. But really?

I get 'kidnapped', as I affectionately call it, whenever possible. Why? Because it is fun and makes interesting travel tales! Plus getting into cars with a bunch of people you don't, or barely, know is a great way to see places that no guidebook will ever tell you about. You get to try great food, learn about the local culture, and make lasting friendships. Although I am constantly aware of the potential dangers of what I’m doing, I always end up seeing and experiencing something awesome!

One time I jumped in a car full of locals and ended up at a tiny fair, about an hour outside of Quito, Ecuador.

We arrived in this tiny town, no more than a few blocks around a main square (like you'll find many South American towns are set up), where they hired this metal band I’m riding around with, to play for a rural town full of 6 year old children and 60 year old women.

There is a pop-up stage, but no microphones, amplifiers, power, or even a drum kit. Comically horrible Spanish pop-dance music is blaring out of a couple of speaker stacks, and two green laser lights are drawing random squiggly lines on a wall. It was hilarious.

It was not a place you would ever expect to ask a metal band to play, plus, with no power or equipment, the band couldn't play! But since I, a random foreigner, was there, instead of turning around and going home, the whole band decided to hang out so I could experience a real Ecuadorian town festival.

We laughed at the language barrier, drank some warm homemade moonshine-ish liquor that translates to something like “bluebird” in English, and watched women sell unidentifiable grilled meats on sticks, one of which I am pretty sure was from an animal I used to have as a pet.

Going on adventures with local people is just as fun for them as it is for you. They get excited to show you their culture and their favorite hangouts, because so few travelers take the time or have the bravery (or idiocy) to get away from the safety of the guidebook listings.

I've jumped into cars with strangers all over South America. I've done it in the USA. I even hitchhiked from Boston, Ma to Tampa, Florida when I was 17 just so I could finally get out of New England.

Although please understand, I don't recommend jumping into cars with any random person on the street. I'm just saying use your judgment, and don't be afraid to throw caution out the window from time to time when traveling. The best way to see the world is through the eyes of a local and you can't get that if you never get out of your comfort zone and be a little irresponsible!

About the Author

Dani Blanchette is a music and travel photographer, foodie, adrenaline nut, and as you can tell, loves getting into cars with strangers.  She writes the travel blog GoingNomadic.com and hosts travel videos on GoingNomadicTV You can find her under GoingNomadic on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

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