This Pakistani woman spent half of 2020 hitchhiking all across the country

This Pakistani woman spent half of 2020 hitchhiking all across the country

Maria’s mode of transportation depends on whatever she can find on the road – cars, wagons, rickshaws, jeeps, even tractors.
Updated 09 Sep, 2020

Don’t you miss the beginning of quarantine? Baking banana bread, making dalgona coffee, playing Ludo online and catching up on all the web series on our lists?

Now it feels like we're all just dead inside, with no eagerness to create, bake, write or learn new skills anymore.

However, while things may have been monotonous for most of us, that's not the case for Maria Soomro, an ex-banker and a full-time backpacker, hitchhiker and trekker by passion.

After spending years in a bank cabin, Maria realized her calling couldn’t be found behind the screen. She resigned from her job to follow her dreams and soon found out that her heart is on the road.

Beginning of the hitchhiking journey

Just before the lockdown began, Maria packed her bags from Karachi to come to Islamabad and began a journey for the mountains. What sets her apart from the rest?

Unlike most travellers, she has been hitchhiking (travel by getting free lifts in passing vehicles) across Pakistan.

Although intimidating and challenging at times, Maria gets a high from hitchhiking.

“Traveling is an indescribable experience in itself but hitchhiking is a life-changing experience that makes you find yourself. You get to meet interesting people from diverse backgrounds who share their life stories with you when you open up to them. At the same time, you save money on transportation while having an exciting and unpredictable travel adventure," she told Dawn Images.

One wonders how Maria got the courage to leave home - but five years of traveling with groups had given her enough courage and confidence to venture out on her own this time.

Convincing her parents was the first challenge she encountered.

“They had confidence in me but they were worried about what other people would say and it took a little convincing for them to let me go," she added.

Another major challenge awaited Maria when she reached Islamabad. “Just when I was about to leave the capital, the lockdown was enforced and I was stuck there exploring surrounding areas like Bani Gala, Barakahu, Shadrah, Chattar and Padhana Village.”

Maria waited till the lockdown eased and ventured up north. She hitchhiked to Nathia Gali and then Miranjani, Mushkpuri, Mingora in Swat to Dir, Chitral and Kalash. She then hitchhiked all the way to the Rakaposhi Base Camp, Astore, Rama Lake, Bulan, Gorikot, Tarishing, Rupal Valley and Nangaparbat Base Camp.

How does Maria ensure safety?

“Hitchhiking is not as risky as most people believe. if you avoid traveling after sunset, it's safe. I have met some of the kindest Pakistanis during my hitchhiking adventures and have never faced difficulties but it’s important to listen to your intuition that will help you stay away from trouble,” revealed Maria.

When asked how she ensures her safety, she mentioned that besides trusting her gut feeling, she makes sure she has downloaded offline maps with her and keeps a knife with her at all times.

Maria’s mode of transportation depends on what’s available – cars, wagons, rickshaws, jeeps, even tractors. She makes do with whatever she finds on the road.

“I always initiate conversations to know the person and if I feel uncomfortable, I just ask them to stop at some petrol station. Whenever I sit in a vehicle, I send my live location to any trustworthy friend of mine with vehicle details,” she added.

The thrill, network and kindness that comes with it

When asked if she was ever scared, Maria told Images that in her earlier travels, she once took a lift from truck coming back to Karachi from Hyderabad with a friend.

“That’s when I realised hitchhiking is not something everyone wants to do; it's crazy waiting on the road for free rides so I decided to challenge myself and pushed my limits to do something different. Pakistani people are so supportive and they find my travels and stories interesting. I have made hundreds of connections during my adventures and all of them are now in touch with me on social media,” she said.

For Maria, hitchhiking is simple and easy. She stands on the road and faces the direction of incoming cars, extends her thumb (a sign of hitchhiking) and people notice.

“There are very few chances that you’ll meet people going to your final destination so you always need to make more stops for your destination. I check maps and ask them about my final destination, if no then I complete my journey by making more stops to reach destination," she told us.

Sometimes people find it weird that she’s standing on the road. Others think she doesn’t have money to travel. Once, a guy came and gave her 1000 rupees thinking she needs money.

Another time, she requested to hitchhike on a local wagon from Mastuj to Laspur but there was no space in it.

“The people on the wagon made space for me. One guy stood throughout to make room for me," she recalls.

It’s this kindness that makes Maria go on for months with a small backpack and a few essentials that include a flash light, knife, sleeping bag, tent and mattress, comfortable shoes and markers and cardboard to write the name of destinations one wants a lift for.

Dream come true

Hitchhiking across Pakistan has not only been a dream come true for Maria but has also given her the confidence to dream bigger. Currently, she is in Astore, hitchhiking towards Skardu and exploring small valleys and villages crossing Deosai Plains - but once she’s done, she wants to go all the way to Iran when the border opens.

The journey has changed Maria in more ways than one.

“For me, traveling is an act of self-discovery. When you're in contact with different cultures, religions, places and people, you start to understand better how you think and who you are. The more you travel, the more you realise that there's no such thing as right or wrong. It's just the way you perceive things and everyone has a different perception”.

Hitchhiking and traveling solo around the country has also made Maria register that anything is possible.

“I'm the only girl from my family who's traveling and exploring all alone and breaking stereotypes. My aim is to encourage and motivate girls, particularly those from a Sindhi background."

Being on the road also helped Maria understand that change doesn’t come overnight. “It takes time, effort and focus but once you set your mind to it, nothing is impossible”.

Next time you begin to feel monotonous whipping some coffee, baking banana bread or taking an hour-long course, remind yourself of Maria and her daring journey hitchhiking across the country exploring some of the most beautiful valleys and towns in Pakistan - maybe she inspires you to do the same!


GM Sep 08, 2020 04:04pm
Good job, excellent. Girls should come out of four walls and show their hidden talent. Appreciated
Imran khan (Mardan) Sep 08, 2020 04:35pm
She’s one brave girl and inspiration to so many across Pakistan. Good on you big girl. Bravo
Hasan Sep 08, 2020 05:20pm
Sorry to say, but this is a very risky idea in a place like Pakistan. Kudos to her for going on this epic adventure. Traveling in groups is safer.
ABE Sep 08, 2020 05:21pm
A brave and courages soul! Good for you Maria. Never limit your horizons. The more you explore, the more you will find is worth seeing. In life, don't always go where the path may lead. Go instead where there's no path. And leave a trail.
PAK-UK Sep 08, 2020 05:24pm
Pakistan is hidden gem for tourism.
Khaled Sep 08, 2020 05:31pm
Great, wish her good luck in her future endeavors.
SR Sep 08, 2020 05:47pm
Maria, you are among very few. Geo to aisay! Stay Blessed.
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Sep 08, 2020 05:51pm
Well done, keep it up and hang on tough.
Mahmood Ayub Sep 08, 2020 05:53pm
Bravo exciting young lady. You are a brave trendsetter.
John Bolton Bhutti Sep 08, 2020 06:00pm
How many times she got ???
Rajinder Mohan Sep 08, 2020 06:19pm
Great , courageous lady.
AbdulHaque Shaikh Sep 08, 2020 06:20pm
It takes big courage and intelligence to do what Maria has done and she should be appreciated . Without bold move of people like Maria human would be at stand still in knowledge. However I was just wondering it is easy for us to applaud, how her parents and loved ones have felt about her safety. They should be appreciated more for their courage too.
Brownflower Sep 08, 2020 06:34pm
More women in Pakistan should be going on such adventures.
well-wisher Sep 08, 2020 06:53pm
Bravo! She is one powerful person inside and out. Now she must write a book for the world to understand the beauty of PK and its people from different backgrounds. Dawn, please follow her progress and encourage her to document her travels and discoveries.
Haris Sep 08, 2020 07:05pm
Oh, and I thought there is a pandemic and people should stay home and avoid unnecessary travel. During this time, of course hitchhiking and traveling with random people is a very responsible thing to do, good job!
Vijay B. Sep 08, 2020 07:18pm
Maria is of course one brave lady. I'd feel better about her safety if she was travelling with a companion.I I wish her "Be well, and be safe."
Ehsan Sep 08, 2020 07:20pm
She is something special, wow.
Aafia Sep 08, 2020 07:34pm
Well done Maria , proud to be Pakistani. This is our great Pakistan with great people.
Aafia Sep 08, 2020 07:34pm
Love ❤️ Pakistan
Tariq Sardar Sep 08, 2020 07:38pm
Well done Maria, your are inspirational to millions. Nothing like hitchhiking to exiting places and mingling with people from all work of like. Naya Pakistan
waqas murad Sep 08, 2020 07:49pm
You are simply awesome. No words
rana1 Sep 08, 2020 07:59pm
this proofs that the many men of pakistan who may not respect their household women folk but definitely have respect for the other woman.
Huzaifa Sep 08, 2020 08:11pm
That's Great
Google PK Sep 08, 2020 08:12pm
Asim Sep 08, 2020 09:07pm
@GM Don't you worry at all cuz they are already showing their Hidden Talents well enough.
naha Sep 08, 2020 09:47pm
@Imran khan (Mardan) Brave girl! think!
Zafar Sep 08, 2020 10:41pm
Prove that Pakistan is among the safest country if you observe limits, helping people around, very few exceptions which is far more in so called developed countries.
bhaRAT© Sep 08, 2020 10:56pm
Good adventure. In a neighbouring country, women travellers are warned not to venture out alone.
M. Saeed Sep 09, 2020 12:37am
Great courage and faith in self.
Usman Chaudhri Sep 09, 2020 12:41am
wisdom! Great.
Adil Jadoon Sep 09, 2020 01:28am
Stay safe and 2 is also better than 1!
AQ Sep 09, 2020 01:53am
Super! that's how our youth make me a proud Pakistani!
Zia Sep 09, 2020 02:03am
Thanks, you completed your journey safely, to be safe next time travel in group.
Raja hasan Sep 09, 2020 02:24am
She is brave,courageous and motivated. It takes guts to do that. Wow. Good luck on next project.
Sara Sep 09, 2020 05:16am
Multani Sep 09, 2020 06:06am
Things can go south very quickly, I won’t encourage any women to do this alone
Shujaat Khan Sep 09, 2020 06:33am
Good going Maria. Keep doing thing's which make you happy.
Monishad Sep 09, 2020 09:06am
Nice photography, Send more pics of Valley.Love frm
Amir Khan Sep 09, 2020 09:50am
I think this is a very inspiring story that should be replicated all over the country. The soft, humane, generous and hospitable side of Pakistan also needs to be showed to the world. This will change their views, perceptions and mindsets about the country and the people. In addition this will encourage and motivate other girls to explore their ambitions and aspirations. Pakistan is a beautiful country with some of the most hospitable, charitable and sympathetic people in the world. It's about time that tourism is promoted as an industry, that will serve to create jobs, improve infrastructure, create brand recognition, improve security and channelize the people's energies in a positive, constructive and creative manner. As for Maria, the world is a basket of opportunities, mysteries and secrets to be explored. Make the most of it.
THE MORNING STAR, MD. Sep 09, 2020 09:56am
Make a documentary. Write a book.
Syed Irfan Ali Sep 09, 2020 10:29am
Wow, she must be an inspiration for the girls of my country. Bravo Maria Soomro!! We wish you all the safety in your explorations.
Alih Sep 09, 2020 02:11pm
Treavelling is fine but hitchhiking is no for me. Kudos to brave lady.
Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Sep 09, 2020 03:18pm
Where these is a will, there is definitely a way.
Akhtar Banbhan Sep 09, 2020 09:48pm
Ravi Sep 10, 2020 12:23am
Who took all those marvellous photographs. He/she should also be acknowledged, great photos. Being in those places must be life changing experience.
T-man Sep 10, 2020 04:52am
Who take these professional looking pictures?
wow Sep 10, 2020 08:35am
@Haris so there is pandemic, but where in the world there is no travel allowed. Especially if one travels within their own country. Please get some sense before making comments.
Humayun R. Ali Sep 10, 2020 10:07am
All the best and keep it up.
Babar Channu Sep 10, 2020 11:11am
@Hasan. Bro if your name hasan u know great people are pakistani if u dknt knkw visit your self.. U find out as a honor pakistani we bealive humanity first no matter where u from.. I speak for all pakistan... Pak zindabaad
Babar Channu Sep 10, 2020 11:12am
@Hasan shame
Muhammda Raza Sep 10, 2020 01:10pm
I am totally inspired by maria, such a daring girl, a girl with dreams and courage to achieve glories.
Syed Quadri Sep 10, 2020 03:18pm
Like to chat but not it is sleeping in NY when situation become of coronavirus then I travel to the area in Pakistan is wonderful country in world for tourists