A Young Woman on the Hippie Trail

Diane was barely twenty-one when she began her adventure.  Raised in a middle-class family in Colorado, she felt lucky to be attending Stanford University as a pre-med student. However, by her Junior year she realized she didn’t want to be a surgeon as she had always thought.  Suddenly unsure what she wanted to do with her life, Diane was determined to travel while she figured it out. Stanford offered a study abroad program than included transportation so Diane traveled to Florence, Italy, to complete her final term.

Diane told me of her disillusionment with the state of the world in the mid-70s.  She was deeply affected by the murders of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy Jr. and the Nixon debacle. It seemed that nobody in leadership knew what to do.   Inspired by James Michener’s novel, The Drifters, Diane decided she needed to figure it out for herself by seeing the world.

Starting in Italy right after graduation, she began her travels.  A Stanford/Hewlett Packard connection in Singapore offered a possible job. She also had friends in Greece and India. These connections gave her a rough itinerary.

After visiting her friend in Greece, Diane headed for Istanbul, the starting point of most overland journeys. The Turkish city was a hub for young travelers who shared information and travel tips.  There she learned about the Magic Bus, a transportation company that offered no-frills, cheap, rapid, and direct transportation to India.  The other passengers turned out to be mainly drug-influenced hippies, and Diane soon realized she was uncomfortable traveling with this group.  In Erzurum, a city in the middle of the great expanses of Eastern Turkey, Diane left the bus accompanied by a young man who was also uneasy with the other Magic Bus travelers.   These two continued together for several weeks, but split when they arrived in Tehran.

Diane says she was surprised to find she fared better as a single woman traveling alone.   She told me that the Middle-Eastern male perspective seemed to deduce that any woman who traveled with a male companion not her family or husband was sexually promiscuous. She experienced unwanted touching, rude remarks, and attempts to get her alone.  Later when she traveled through eastern Iran and Afghanistan on her own, she felt she was viewed with awe, respect, even fear.  “They treated me like a goddess,” she said.

Being a lone, woman traveler who hitchhiked, walked, and took local buses certainly exposed her to unbelievable experiences.  It invited interaction with local people on a more intimate level than Tom and I could dream of when traveling in our own vehicle.  As she walked from the Iran/Afghanistan border to Herat, Diane met a teacher who spoke English and took her under his wing. Soon she found herself working as the English tutor for the four daughters of an important local business man.   She spent a month in Herat, teaching, living in the women’s world “behind the walls,” and walking freely about the city. Later, Diane met an American woman living in Kabul who raised Arabian horses.  Her new friend invited her to come along on a horse-back riding trip into the Peshawar Valley.

Diane continued by public bus across the Khyber Pass, through Pakistan, and into India. In Delhi, she met up with the relatives of a Sikh engineer she had known in Denver. Her days in Northern India were a delight, mainly due to the exceptional hospitality of this man’s family.   They took her to see all the major sights and introduced her to the Sikh culture.  Later, she traveled on her own to Southern India where she studied yoga under a well-known yoga master.

Having heard of its druggie reputation, Diane avoided Goa.  Still, like Tom and me, the theft of personal documents brought her idyllic stay in Southern India to an end.  “A blond, German woman stole my passport and all my money,” she said. “Amazingly, the villagers where I was staying took a collection to buy me a train ticket to Delhi.” As soon as she had her replacement passport, she headed home.

Diane’s experiences, some distressing and others unbelievably wonderful, changed her life. Like many other overland travelers, she returned with a heightened appreciation and acceptance of other people regardless of race, religion, health condition, or social status.

One of the most life-changing results of Diane’s year and a half adventure was that she could now let go of previous plans and simply let her life unfold. This was the understanding that she had set out to find.


9 responses to “A Young Woman on the Hippie Trail”

  1. I truly enjoyed this story . Wished it was longer! Love travel stories. Thanks Katie

  2. Karen Lang

    Thank you for the interesting story about a woman traveling alone!

    1. Anwar Sadaat.

      i enjoyed the story.. as i lived in Peshawar in those days. I met many hippies in Peshawar from 1976 till 1978. I miss those days. Desperately trying to meet some of those i met, but failed so far.

  3. Fascinating true story – especially the parts about her in-depth experiences in Afghanistan. Did you meet Diane in person? Did she write up her memories?

    1. Katie Slattery

      I have known Diane for several years as she and I are both members of our local AAUW branch. I interviewed her on zoom in order to write this short piece.

  4. Jeff Collins

    I also was inspired to hit the “Hippie Trail” ( although I didn’t know it had a name until about 5 years ago) because of reading The Drifters. I had spent a year at the U. of Geneva, Switz, then transferred to the U. of Grenoble, France. I met some Dutch students in Grenoble on Holiday, and became friends, and they told me about a friend of theirs back in Nijmegen, Holland who was fixing his van to go to Afghanistan. I went to Nijmegen, waited a few weeks for this guy to get his act together, and just ended taking off on my own. As Diane said, I also found it was much better traveling alone than if I would have been with the guy in his van. I probably wouldn’t have been robbed in Tehran, but traveling by train and bus provided me and others to interact and travel for bits and pieces together along the way. It was a magical time.

    1. Katie Slattery

      Hi Jeff, Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Thanks for sharing your experience on the Hippie Trail. I hope you will enjoy reading my memoir of that wonderful time.

  5. jean-jacques

    When I read about the experiences of others along the hippie trail, I feel myself falling back through time. It takes my breath away to remember those times – so different from anything that could happen now! When I set of on the trail in 1966let go of western culture completely for just over 5 year3, until autume ’71. The experiences, the memories, are full of colour, of loneliness and poverty, real dangers – I walked for 3 days straight through a region of the Himalayan mountains and forests, no paths, just guessing my way, seeking a short-cut to Daramsala, suppressing my fear of wild animals such as leopards and tigers. The experience was also full of delights: views of the Himalayan summits, sand dunes of the Sahara. Moments of deep friendship; love; a wonderful immersion in ancient cultures of the east. I wrote a song about my memory of the hippie trail. I’ll end my comment with a copy of the chorus:

    But all that now seems so long ago
    I lived a life of letting go.
    Dusty roads I walked an hiked
    On that journey to the East.
    People whose paths I crossed
    In places where I felt quite lost,
    Where I stopped to rest my crazy head
    Full of wonders and full of dread.

    1. Katie Slattery

      Hi Jean-Jacques, Thank you for your wonderful memories of the Hippie Trail. So much more dangerous and adventurous than traveling in a VW van like I did!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *