Is it Safe to Hitchhike in Tonga?
Hitchhiking or “suto”, as it’s known in Tongan, is a tempting prospect. Getting around somewhere for free and meeting interesting locals? Why not?! Well, like anywhere in the world, hitchhiking has a small but potentially serious risk. Locals in Tonga will tell you that hitchhiking is perfectly safe. However, while nothing serious has happened in Tonga (that we know of), there has been a few unpleasant experiences that are readily available to read online. In fact, they probably cropped up in Google when you found this article. So while hitchhiking can be a fun way to meet locals and save a bit of pa’anga, it’s always best to approach hitchhiking with caution. We’ll go through some advice in this guide to hitchhiking in Tonga.
For more transport methods, see How to Get to Tonga.
The Pros & Cons of Hitchhiking in Tonga
Like all ways of getting around, there are pros and cons of hitchhiking.
The Pros of Hitchhiking
- It’s free (or you can offer to contribute a small amount for gas)
- You will likely meet some interesting people
- It’s more eco-friendly than using a vehicle all to yourself
- It’s an adventure
The Cons of Hitchhiking
- It can be time-consuming trying to get a lift
- There is an element of risk
- Someone else is in charge – so you can’t spontaneously stop for photos, for example
- Tongans don’t always go straight to the destination, often stopping to do other things along the way, so you can’t be in a rush
Is it Safe to Hitchhike?
There’s no sugar-coating it: when you’re hitchhiking anywhere in the world, you’re taking a chance. Most people hitchhike in Tonga and have a wonderful time, while a small percentage of people have had uncomfortable experiences. If you are going to do hitchhiking, be sure to be savvy about it by following the following tips…
Hitchhiking Safety Tips
- Never hitchhike alone
- Don’t hitchhike at night
- Wear modest clothing as per Tongan custom – you don’t want to attract the wrong crowd (see our Tongan Etiquette Guide for more info)
- Engage in conversation before getting in the car, allowing time for your instinct to determine whether you should wait for the next car or not
- Don’t accept a lift if you get bad vibes from the driver
- If you start to feel uncomfortable, come up with an excuse to be dropped off immediately. Saying that you’re going to be sick is a good one – no one wants you being sick in their car
- Take a picture of the vehicle registration before you get in (ask first and only get in if they accept) and message it to a trusted contact. Even if you have no network to send the picture, it’s more to show the drive how cautious you’re being
- Have a Plan B – if you are unsuccessful at hitchhiking, have an accommodation option or alternative transport. See the 10 Ways to Get Around Tonga for ideas.
Good Practice for Hitchhiking
So how does hitchhiking or “suto” work in Tonga? Well, someone walking on the side of the road out of town will often find that it just works for them, where Tongans will often stop to ask if you want a lift. Otherwise, the universal symbol for hitchhiking, sticking your thumb out on the side of the road, works too.
Hitchhiking happens everywhere in Tonga but it’s more common and accepted on islands with no public transport, like Ha’apai and ‘Eua. Around Nuku’alofa is where travellers have had the most “dodgy” experiences.
While it’s always implied that hitchhiking is offered out of the goodness of the driver’s heart, hitchhikers can offer money toward fuel costs. This is often appreciated (even if the driver is too polite to accept) when fuel cost can be expensive on these remote islands. Around TOP$5-$10 is an acceptable amount. Some drivers will decline, but you can use your own judgement to accept the free ride or leave some pa’anga on the seat when you leave.
Know that Tongans have a habit of driving around for a bit before dropping you off at the agreed destination. They’ll sometimes stop to talk to people, go run a few errands, pick other people up and drop them off before they get around to dropping you off. So don’t expect to get anywhere in a rush.