A Traveler’s Guide To Hitchhiking

Although hitchhiking is not considered the safest form of travel, it’s certainly the cheapest. Most commonly, it involves soliciting a ride by standing at the edge of a road with the “thumbs up” gesture. If by chance, you manage to flag down a ride, hitchhiking definitely has its advantages. You will meet new people, make new friends and enjoy long, deep conversations. Alternatively, it’s also possible that you will find yourself sitting in complete silence next to someone who is most definitely a serial killer – it’s really a flip of a coin. Either way, here are some tips to optimize your experience:

BEFOREHAND:
For the most part, hitchhiking is rarely illegal, but there are certain rules about where you can do it. Asks locals, or read up on the specific regulations to avoid an encounter with law enforcement. You don’t want a ticket for “trespassing” or “obstructing traffic” while traveling!

It’s a good idea to invest in a map of the area so you know whether a ride will bring you closer or further away from your final destination. You may also want to carry food, drinks, clothing and other necessities for your trip, as well as light items like markers, flashlights, a sleeping bag or knife. Some even take foldable bikes as backup forms of transportation.

Learn the language – just enough to get by at least. This will help you immensely when you are trying to hitch a ride: lonely drivers will pick up hikers just to have some conversation.

Be prepared to walk all day. Hitchhiking requires a lot of stamina and energy. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately find a ride. Just remember to be efficient. Carry light items, and make sure to make sleeping arrangements beforehand.

ATTRACTING YOUR RIDE:
When deciding on a place to stand, opt for a location where you can be seen easily, clearly, and early on (to give drivers time to decide whether or not to pick you up). Ideally, an area without too much traffic is best: it’s easier for drivers to pull over, and they are less likely to zoom by, assuming you can get a ride with the next person.

When you’re trying to catch a ride, head for the edge of a town, rather than in town centers or cities. It’s harder to get noticed amongst a large crowd of people, and most drivers will not be traveling lengthy distances when in the city. Also avoid places where traffic cannot legally stop, like “no standing zones.”

The best places to catch a good ride are as follows:
A public highway on-ramp, that’s near a truck stop (but not on the truck stop property).

Land borders where traffic has to stop. Just keep in mind that drivers may be wary of transporting you across international borders, so it’s good idea to walk across (unless it’s illegal to cross on foot) and hitch a ride from the other side.  

Gas stations and roadside picnic areas where many cars stop.

At the last traffic or streetlight on smaller roads, or the last highway on-ramp in larger ones.

ATTRACTING A RIDE:
Attracting a ride at night is very difficult, so try during the morning.

Physically asking for a ride can be a useful strategy as well – especially if you’re friendly and know the language. Just be mindful of the right gestures to use when you are trying to stop a car. The thumbs-up sign is not universal!

Walk in the direction you want to go, since every on-ramp you pass will increase the chances of that a person is headed to your final destination.

Solitary male drivers are the most likely to pick you up, but families very rarely stop.

Try hiking around with a noticeable, unusual object or a big cardboard sign can be useful when attempting to attract drivers. If you know the language, state that or write something funny – even the destination you need to go is a good idea. Short directions (NORTH or WEST) can be written bigger, and are therefore more noticeable, but a town or name is more useful for drivers. If no one is stopping for further locations, write down closer town names for shorter lifts towards your final destination.

Wear white or bright clothing, because it makes it easier for drivers to spot you, and it also implies cleanliness. You may want to carry your belongings in a large briefcase, rather than a duffle bag.

CHOOSING A RIDE:
Sometimes, you just won’t have any luck trying to flag down a ride. In the event that happens, it may be a good idea to let a car take you to a better spot, even if it’s going in the wrong direction or only slightly closer to your final destination.

STAYING SAFE:
Before accepting a ride, quickly note down the vehicle registration, its make, model and color. Text this information to a friend if you have a cellphone.

Avoid cars that are full of people – a couple or single occupant is best. Also make sure to sit in the front passenger seat if possible. Rear doors often have child locks, which may prevent you from opening them from the inside.

Keep your backpack nearby in the event you need to make a quick exit. It is a good idea to have a few of your valuables (i.e. wallet, I.D., and credit cards, etc.) actually on you, rather than in your pack. Keep them in different places, so that if you lose one item, you don’t lose them all.

Commercial rest areas on toll roads are generally safer, but it is advised to stay away from highway rest areas, particularly in the USA.

When possible, agree on a destination to be dropped off so you don’t end up in a dangerous place.

If you do utilize a sign, avoid writing down destinations that are far away, or your final destination. You may need to get off a ride if you ever feel uncomfortable.

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