“If I saw you hitchhiking, I’d smile and return your thumb’s up, just for you doing such a great job of being a positive roadside influence.” – Jarod Kintz
Hitchhiking is one of the funnest and cheapest ways to get around, meet locals and find places you never heard of.
I’ve hitched in 9 countries for over 10.000 km and always had great fun! Many times I was offered a place to stay by my driver. Then ended up singing Bob Marley songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar, while munching on freshly caught salmon.
You should hitch too! In this post you’ll find many tips and tricks to get started.
Go hitchhiking because…
- It is good for the environment
- You are supplying people with much needed distraction from their everyday life
- Save money
- Less traffic jams
- See more places off the beaten track
- Meet locals
How do you do it?
In most cases, stand next to the road and put your thumb out. That should work pretty good. But there are a few ways that you can enhance your chances if you follow these tips.
Wear something clean, colorful and conservative.
Colored clothing make you stand out (unless you are hitchhiking in a botanical garden) and it also puts people at ease.
People have to make a decision in 2,5 seconds whether to pick you up or not, so first impressions are important. If you look dirty, drivers are not very inclined to let you relax on their freshly vacuumed, warmed leather seats. Unless the car has 5 dogs in it and a pig, in that case you’ll fit right in.
Dressing sexy is not a good idea either because you can be mistaken for a prostitute. Countries like Canada and the USA have prostitutes still working the streets. So you want to make clear you’re not by holding a sign and covering up. But don’t hide your face, it looks awkward.
In winter, dress warm. I once hitched in Canada on a cold November morning. There was a strong wind and I was only wearing tights and a skirt. Bad idea! Luckily I was traveling with my snowboard gear so I slipped my snow pants on. Getting stuck during winter is no fun if you’re cold. Be prepared with extra clothing and if you’re hitching near a petrol station, pop in for some hot tea.
When hitchhiking wear clothes that are…
If you would have to make a decision whether to share your car for the next 3 hours with a gloomy depressed person, would you do it? I wouldn’t. I would prefer to spend 3 hours talking to myself in a depressed way.
So smile and make eye contact with drivers! Drivers are more inclined to pick up smiling hitchhikers. Even if it’s raining. Even if you have been standing there for 6 hours. Smile like you are having the best day in your life!
Another good trick is dancing or something else to get attention. It helps with boredom too. You do get stuck sometimes for hours on a spot. Dancing or goofing around helps with the despair that will creep into your brain. Don’t let it get to you! There is ALWAYS somebody who will pick you up eventually. It will just take a few more cars.
Me and a friend once got stuck trying to get to Poreč from Ljubljana. The trouble was crossing the border between Slovenia and Croatia. There were no cars willing to drive us through (which is understandable) so it took us ages to get there. Then we got held up by customs (Croatia wasn’t a member of the EU at that time). When we finally entered Croatia it was dark and we were in the middle of nowhere. I normally don’t hitch when it’s dark but I was with a friend and we had no other option. Being in a silly sort of mind state we decided to drop to our knees and beg the passing cars for a ride. It worked and we got a ride with the third car passing us.
Writing a Sign
Grab drivers attention by making a sign. Get creative with some cardboard and a black permanent marker.
You can write many different things on your sign. The most obvious one is the town or direction that you’re going to. You can also offer the drivers something in return for a ride like free cookies or coffee, which works pretty good. Another one that I spot once and a while is a sign that says: freshly showered. A sign that can convert even the most skeptical car owners. They all work depending on the situation. Try out some different things and see what works best for you.
If you are far away and you have a sign with a specific town, drivers might pass by thinking they are not going there. Whereas if you write the direction that you are going, you might get picked up faster because someone might go that way without going your specific destination. You get closer and that’s what you want.
When hitchhiking it helps to…
- hold up a sign
- make eye contact
- have an action ready stance
- wave at drivers
- stand in a visible spot
Where you position yourself is VERY important and you need to asses the possibilities beforehand. In small towns finding a good spot is easy. Just stand next to the road that goes where you need to go. For big cities and highways it requires a little bit of research.
Use Google Maps to plan your route and look at where it enters the highway. It is illegal in most countries to hitchhike directly on a highway so you have to start hitchhiking from a ramp. Stand at the beginning so cars have relatively low speeds and can stop easily.
On the highway you can only get out at petrol stations. Ask the driver where they are going and let them drop you off at the last petrol station before they leave the highway. Petrol station are easy to get rides from since most cars are going the same direction you are.
You can talk to drivers on the parking lots. This is very effective because they don’t have to make the decision in a split second and they trust you more if they have already talked to you.
If cars are going at high speeds and don’t have a place to stop then they usually won’t. So if you can, hitchhike around traffic lights, bends and parking lots and stand where they can see you.
Hitchhike in these places:
- Entrance of a highway
- Next to the road
- Where cars can stop
- Where cars need to slow down
Even though hitchhiking is very safe, it’s good to be alert all the time. Don’t feel like you HAVE to get into somebody’s car just because they stopped.
When already in the car and you feel uncomfortable, ask to be let out at the next possible stop. Good get-out tactics include faking travel sickness, or stating that you’ve changed your mind and want to do something else. Stay polite but be direct, most drivers will respect this.
I carry a small blade with me just in case but I have never had to use it except to make peanut butter sandwiches. Never take a ride if your first impression is negative. There will always be another car. But hitchhiking is pretty safe. Truth be told, in the 100 rides I have taken there were maybe 1 or 2 where I felt unsafe and it was usually because the driver was speeding.
Hitchhiking with Truck Drivers
These are the most comfortable rides you will ever have. I find truck drivers are friendly and talkative. All that you want in a driver. They are like this because they spend all day every day on the road by themselves, so they enjoy having somebody to talk to just for a couple of hours. I have hitched with many truck drivers. It is so pleasant because they usually go a long way. I hitched from Fort St. John to Whitehorse one time (1332 km) with the same truck driver.
The only down side is that they can’t pick up two people because of safety regulations. There is only one extra seat belt in the truck, so that means only one passenger. Some drivers still might pick you up though. I have hitched together with my sister in a truck. I had to hide behind the curtain in the sleeping compartment for the whole ride.
Getting separated from your Backpack
I get a bit nervous to throw my backpack in the booth. But most of the time drivers will think you silly if you insist on getting squashed in the front seat, hugging your pack like life boat in a hurricane.
If you are worried about your backpack, try to keep it close to you. But when your backpack ends up in the booth (less safe but more comfortable), there is a way to make sure the car doesn’t run off with your precious 5 day collection of unwashed underwear. Leave your door open when getting out. No one will drive off when risking damage to their car. I have never been suspicious of a car owner trying to steal my stuff though. But I do do this every time I get out of a car.
Keep a small bag with your passport, wallet and cellphone close to you or put them in your pockets. Have a road map of the area and check up if you are still going in the right direction during the ride. It is also good to check for petrol station along the road, just in case you need to get out before your driver leaves the highway.
And however tired you might be, it is better to stay awake.
- Trust your instincts
- Turn the ride down when in doubt
- Refuse rides when the driver is drunk
- Avoid hitchhiking at night
- Note the vehicle’s registration number and SMS it to a friend
- Keep your passport, wallet, mobile phone close to you.
- Keep your backpack close to you
- Follow the road on a map
- Stay awake
I once got stuck for 5 hours trying to get out of Grenada, a city in Spain. My biggest mistake was that I chose the wrong position. It was next to the highway on a roundabout with lots of traffic but no place to stop. Rain was pouring down and only one car stopped during the whole time I was there. But it was going the wrong way. It was very disheartening. I gave up when it got dark at 6 pm and spend the night in a hostel. The next day I tried again but from a different spot. I got picked up after half an hour!
When you get stuck, re-evaluate the situation.
- Are you standing in the right spot?
- Can drivers see you?
- Can they safely stop?
- If the answer is no, then look for a better place and try from there.
It might help to change your sign or to put your sign away.
Don’t give up and know that it sometimes takes a few more extra cars until you get picked up. But make sure you are having a good time as well. Hitchhiking is not supposed to be a traumatizing experience. It’s okay to take the bus when you don’t feel like standing in the rain or having a 4 hour conversation about petunias with yet another floral enthusiast.
Definitely try it out, I highly recommend using hitchhiking as an option for travel. As long as you us these tips you will have a safe and fun experience!
For more info, check out Hitchwiki, the site I used when I started hitchhiking.