Meet the Woman Who Hitchhiked Across the World: An Interview with Ana Bakran

“It takes a woman and a simple decision to travel alone”. In Ana Bakran’s words, that is all she needed to embark on a trip from Zagreb, Croatia to Bora Bora, French Polynesia. In the 3 years and 8 months she spent on the road, she’s crossed over 70 000 kilometers and visited 25 countries. Her only rule was: no paying for transportation. Hitchhiking only.

It’s not every day that you hear about a woman who decided to turn losing a big client into an opportunity to fulfill her dream. Ana Bakran is a businesswoman, a traveler and a fellow Croat whose story I have followed for years.

Completely honest, Ana uses her blog to discuss the realities of being a solo female hitchhiker, and she gives tips for hitchhiking through different countries and making your own pepper spray. It’s exactly her no bullshit attitude paired with open enthusiasm about the world that makes her stories and her journey unique. For her, travelling is no longer just a matter of taking trips. It’s her life now. From hitchhiking boats to wearing space suit lookalike sleeping bags as she (you guessed it) hitchhikes through West Australia.

Ana is currently working on her book in Polynesia. In our conversation, we touched on the subjects of overcoming fear and what it felt like to finally reach her destination. She arrived after more than three years and plucking eyebrows as a cure for boredom.

Oh, and hitchhiking helicopters.

Ana en route from Zagreb to Bora Bora
En route from Zagreb to Bora Bora

An Interview with Ana Bakran, the Woman Who Hitchhiked Across the World

Lana Rafaela Cindric: How did your love for hitchhiking start in the first place?

Ana Bakran: My 1st hitchhiking attempt happened in the States, where I was on a scholarship to study and play tennis for the university. I was a broke student without a car. After the 2nd tennis practice that day, my job and the classes, I was exhausted to walk another 40min to Walmart along the highway. So, I lifted my thumb for the very 1st time. It was terrifying, but luckily one of my classmates stopped to ask what the hell was I doing and gave me a lift to the store.

I didn’t give hitchhiking another try until many years later when my friend organized a hitchhiking race from Zagreb to Istanbul. I joined the race with 14 other hitchhikers, a parrot, and a dog. After that interesting experience, I continued to hitchhike on the weekends, when I was free from work, to the neighboring cities and countries around Croatia. I had a business company at that time, so hitchhiking kept me sane from the work. It was my own escape. The people that I was meeting and the experiences on the road were so amazing that it got me hooked.

How Losing a Client Became a Sweet Escape

Lana: You spent 3.8 years on the road, hitchhiking from Zagreb to Bora Bora. What pushed you over the will-I-won’t-I edge, finally made you pack and get going?

Ana: As I’ve mentioned earlier, prior to my journey I had a company with Austrian business partner. We were doing digital marketing and selling copyrights for digital photography. Due to the financial problems, our big international client decided to close down the offices all around Europe – my city included. As bad as losing a big client can be, I took it as “now or never” chance for my sweet escape and never looked back.

So far I’ve hitchhiked several sailing boats, few ferries, and few fishermen boats.  When you’re in the middle of the ocean, you can’t just say: “Excuse me, I would like to get off your boat.”

Lana: One of the most interesting stories I’ve read from you was about hitchhiking a boat. I don’t think many people realize you can actually do that. What was the experience like?

Ana: My “boat-hitchhiking” experiences range from very positive to very negative. So far I’ve hitchhiked several sailing boats, few ferries, and few fishermen boats. They all had different twists to it. My most positive experience was when I hitchhiked a catamaran for 7 months from Malaysia to Australia with three 70-year old Aussie men. They were great people and we became friends. We still keep in contact.

Ana hitchhiking on a boat in her space suit sleeping bag
Hitchhiking a boat in her space suit sleeping bag

Hitchhiking on a Boat for 34 days…with a Nudist Sailor on Drugs

Ana: My worst experience has happened just recently, when I hitchhiked a catamaran from Panama to French Polynesia for 34 days without seeing any land. The sailor was very irresponsible and also happened to abuse drugs on the boat. He was a nudist, but that part was rather funny and didn’t affect me in any way. It was very challenging to get over his constant mood changes and irresponsible sailing decisions.

There was a French hitchhiker with me on the boat, so the two of us kept each other sane during that terrible ride. We couldn’t possibly pick a worse ride for such a long ocean crossing. When you’re in the middle of the ocean, you can’t just say “Excuse me, I would like to get off your boat.” The French hitchhiker got mentally pushed to the point where she wanted to call a mayday on a radio, but there were no other boats around us for the next 10 days. Rides like that are real character builders.

Ana hitchhiking by helicopter
Who says you can’t hitchhike a helicopter?

Boat-hitchhiking is interesting because the rides can take from several hours to several months and the mix of characters within a very limited space plays a big role. Personally, my favorite ride was not a sailing boat, but hitchhiking a helicopter in West Australia. It’s not my usual form of transportation, so it holds a very special place in my memory.

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Not a Superwoman

Lana: I love that you acknowledge real dangers and speak about incidents you’ve experienced. So how come your curiosity persists? Is it a scale thing; the need to travel is just stronger than the fear?

Ana: It’s not the need to travel, it’s the need to live that’s stronger than the fear. There’s one saying that I very much agree with and it says that the fear doesn’t stop death, but it stops life. There were incidents and there will always be some kind of incidents. I accept them as part of my life cycle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a superwoman and I get frightened often, but I try to make a conscious decision to move through that fear. It makes me feel alive.

It’s not the need to travel, it’s the need to live that’s stronger than the fear.

Lana: You’ve seen so many countries and cultures. Did that make you more aware of stark contrasts between them, or did you start noticing similarities?

Ana: I couldn’t notice one without the other. There are general similarities between the people and I felt that by the way the majority of unknown people treated me with the love, kindness, and respect. Sometimes they treated me as their friend, many times as their sister or a daughter. This might sound like some hippy-rainbow shit, but everyone is thriving on the acts of love, kindness, and respect, no matter the country people are from, their color or the shape of their eyes.

Thriving on Love, Kindness, and Respect

Ana: Usually, when I stay in smaller places, I make an effort to greet everyone on the street who’s passing by me. I do it with a big, sincere smile. There is always one grumpy-looking person who doesn’t say anything back for several days. If I persist with this simple act of respect, that grumpy-looking person will look less grumpy every day and eventually greet me back with a smile. We all thrive on love, kindness, and respect.

Ana Bakran is a Croatian woman who hitchhiked across the world
Making friends along the way

Of course, along with these general similarities come a whole lot of contrasts and they can be very challenging. Sometimes the only way to deal with contrast is to remind myself of all the similarities I share with my fellow humans and practice tolerance.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of accomplishment when you stubbornly go towards your goal for such a long time.

Dehydration from Tears

Lana: What’s the one thing you regularly did, no matter the circumstances?

Ana: Plucked my eyebrows. I carried a tiny mirror and tweezers in my pocket and I got it out every time I had to wait longer for a ride. It kept me relaxed and entertained. I also bought a small djembe drum in Istanbul and I was carrying it all the way to Bora Bora. I played it by the road when I was bored, but I didn’t get much better at it, so it’s on the hold at the moment.

Lana: What did it feel like to finally reach your destination?

Ana: It was overwhelming as I was hitchhiking local fishermen and ferries from Tahiti to Bora Bora and as I was getting closer, I could see the mountains of Bora Bora in a distance from the neighbouring islands. It made me cry happy tears every time I looked at it. It’s hard to explain the feeling of accomplishment when you stubbornly go towards your goal for such a long time. By the time I stepped on Bora Bora, I had no more water to cry out. I probably got myself dehydrated.

Ana posing for a photo on the boat to Bora Bora
Bora Bora on the horizon

Giving up on Meat, Alcohol, and Make-Up

Lana: Within the time since your journey ended, did you notice any changes about yourself? Maybe some unexpected ones?

Ana: I didn’t go on this journey to find myself. I’ve never wanted to become THAT person. I was simply curious about the people and the world. And then 1,5 years into my journey, when I least expected it, I started noticing some changes on myself that were quite confusing at times.

Old Ana would probably die laughing if I told her 5 years ago that she’ll turn vegan or stop drinking.

By the end of my journey, I gave up my phone, stopped using make-up, stopped drinking alcohol and became a vegan among some other personal stuff that I’m talking about in my book. I’ve become what I’ve never ever expected of myself to become.

Old Ana would probably die laughing if I told her 5 years ago that she’ll turn vegan or stop drinking. But I like this version of myself. I’m feeling myself, inside and outside, and that’s very important.

The Invisible Line Between Lifestyle and Travel

Lana: After your solo hitchhike from Zagreb to Bora Bora, you kept travelling. Did that initial journey make all others seem easier?

Ana: I don’t think it got easier, I’ve just learnt how to deal with the obstacles better. I still need to find a sleeping spot where I feel safe, find food, find a place to clean myself, find a safe ride, get myself out of dodgy situations…etc. None of that has changed. It’s still hard at times, but with the experience, I learnt to handle it much faster and much better.

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Ana's route across the world
Map of Ana’s final route from Zagreb to Bora Bora

You might see it as “Ohh, Ana is going to another trip” but I see it as my life, not a trip anymore. I’ve been living like this for almost 5 years now with no intention to stop.

Lana: How do you incorporate your lifestyle into the way you travel? You mentioned deciding not to buy a phone when your old one got broken, and you carried a mini-blender in your backpack.

Ana: It’s actually other way around – my travel dictates my lifestyle. All the changes that you’ve mentioned happened during my travels. If I was not traveling, I’m quite sure I would still have a phone. I was carrying a blender with me when I turned vegan because it was making my life easier and I didn’t know any better at that time. The line between my lifestyle and my travels became invisible.

You might see it as “Ohh, Ana is going to another trip” but I see it as my life, not a trip anymore. I’ve been living like this for almost 5 years now with no intention to stop.

Lana: How do you cope with bad moments while travelling?

Ana: I try to figure out what was the cause of that bad moment. If it was my fault, I try to find some way to make it better and don’t do it again. If it was simply a bad moment I couldn’t avoid, I usually tell myself that shit happens and move on. No point in dwelling too much about it.

The One that Got Away?

Lana: You gave most of the gifts you got on your journey away due to limited space. So I’m wondering, is there something you really wanted to do while you travelled but couldn’t? Any “the one that got away” experiences?

Ana: There’s always the one (or few) that got away. I made a little personal rule to always hitchhike from city to city with the exception when I was staying inside of the cities. Because of that rule, I didn’t visit few of the islands in SE Asia, because I knew it would take too much effort to hitchhike there without breaking my rule.

I also wanted to climb Kota Kinabalu, but it closed down while I was there after a big earthquake. There were many breathtaking sceneries along the way that I couldn’t stop and enjoy the moment or snap a photo of it because I was tangled in between the carpets or boxes while hitchhiking overpacked vehicles.

Good thing about “the one that got away” is that I can always make an effort to come back for it if I really wanted to.

During her journey, Ana met an incredible variety of different people
During her journey, Ana met boat captains, marijuana farmers, a triple murderer, politicians, monks, pilots and gold hunters.

There are still plenty of interesting people in the world to meet. I think I’ll keep doing what I’m doing as long as it makes me fulfilled.

Madness from the Start

Lana: You’ve met boat captains, marijuana farmers, a triple murderer, politicians, monks, pilots, gold hunters, the rich and poor. Most of all, you’ve found goodness and incredible experiences where you didn’t expect them to be. How does one live after that?

Ana: There are still plenty of interesting people in the world to meet. I think I’ll keep doing what I’m doing as long as it makes me fulfilled. When I get tired of that, I’ll do something else that makes me fulfilled.

Lana: What is Ana Bakran doing right now? Any journeys we should keep an eye out for?

Ana: Earlier this year I hitchhiked back to French Polynesia. This time from the other side of the Pacific Ocean and I stationed myself around the Marquesas Islands where I’m working on my book.

It’s been a truly incredible 6 months as I’m working, writing and hitchhiking the boats around that area. I expected it to be a calm and smooth experience, but it has been an ongoing madness from the start.

I plan to stay around Polynesia for a while, so anyone interested in that part of the world can follow it on my Facebook page.

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