A Guide To Hitchhiking

228294_5376555201_556865201_325163_7471_nWhile some of you have already done a fair share of hitchhiking, most of you may think such means of travel is reserved to the beatnik/hippie era. No matter what level of experience you have, it never hurts to review proper hitchhiking strategies, etiquette and safety precautions. And this is especially true for the runaway backpacker.

The following guide will take you on a step by step approach which draws from the many successful and not so successful hitchhiking endeavors of my life.

You just watched “Into the Wild” and now you are filled with wanderlust. You want to hit the road like Alexander Super Tramp and get picked up by a cool hippie couple in an RV. Well, here is how you do it!

Where To Hitchhike

In order to catch a ride you need to position yourself strategically. You need to put yourself in the driver’s shoes and think of the most likely place where he/she will be able to stop.

Thus, the most ideal place to begin your hitchhiking journey is at the gas station. You should preferably find a gas station that is right before the highway entrance or on the side of the highway. Make sure the highway is going in your desired direction.

If you aren’t near a gas station, which is the case most of the time, you should position yourself along an ‘on ramp’ or low speed road. Make sure that the driver has plenty of room to slow down and pull off the road for you.

Hitchhiking in Macedonia

Hitchhiking in Macedonia

How To Get Your Ride

At the gas station, the first step is to conceal your unease, be personable and talk to some drivers. But just don’t talk to any driver, you need to target the drivers who you think will be able to relate to you. If you are young, go and ask other young drivers. If you see a square in a suit, you will probably be ignored, but don’t take it personally.

The most prospective demographic is the elderly. Back in the day, hitchhiking was a lot more common and so old people enjoy the chance to relive their youth as well as make some conversation. Since you have the chance to talk to people up close at the station, there is a good chance you won’t have to wait more than 10 to 15 minutes for a ride.

On the other hand, if you are on the road side, you could potentially be waiting for hours. You can increase your chances if you smile, look friendly and sport neat cloths. However, if you’re wearing a suit or smiling maniacally, that’s no good either. It’s not so different from an audition. You need to play the part of a young backpacker who really needs a ride. You need to look desperate and tired, which you probably already are, but most important, look friendly.

Hitchhiking Etiquette

Whenever you see a movie about a backpacker who finally manages to get someone to stop for him, he always runs up along side the car before it has stopped and starts banging the car side. This is totally unnecessary and won’t be appreciated by your driver. He has already decided to stop for you, so there is no need to express your presence further by hitting the car.

When he opens the window/door, thank him for stopping and ask him if he/she’s going where you’re going. If you notice a plume of smoke escaping from the window or the driver looks a bit nuts, politely decline. Don’t feel pressured that you need to get in just because he/she stopped. But, if the driver is going in your direction and doesn’t appear to be crazy or on drugs, hop on in.

When you get in the car, it is courtesy to put your bag in the back seat and keep your hands on your lap. This way, the driver won’t be worried of the possibility of you pulling out a weapon or something. Many drivers often require you to do this just as a precaution. The next step is to just enjoy being off your feet and make a little chitchat. Finally, when you arrive at your destination, thank the driver for the ride and be on your wandering way.

And that’s it! You have successfully hitchhiked!

Just a few more pointers

-If you are a guy traveling with a girl, let her put her thumb out while you hide. When the driver pulls up, come out from the bushes as if you were just taking a leak. “The Sneaky Leaky”(Emily Graney) The driver doesn’t have much choice now but to take the two of you.

-When you’ve been on the road for hours, having seen countless cars fly past, it’s easy to become discouraged and feel rejected. Don’t take it personally though. Keep your morale up and a smile on your face and you will be successful in hitchhiking and life.

Good luck and safe travels,
-Leif

P.s If you have any interesting hitching experiences that you would like to share or any tips to improve this guide, feel free to post below.


Let Me Know What You Think!

  1. David Trinder says

    in southern summer 1995 i was hitch hiking from Melbourne to Sydney, i had just found this ‘nice’ gentleman in Wagga Wagga whom offered to take me the last leg… when we were passing the entrance to Kanangra-Boyd National Park he turned into it, when i asked him what he was doing he a brought out a handgun and said he was leaving me here and taking everything i had… luckily he was too distracted to notice the ranger patrol ute (that’s what Australian pickups are called) that was stuck behind him because he was in the middle of the road, and was given the largest fright when the park ranger hauled him out of his car and threw him to the ground and stuck the end of a shotgun into his back… apparently the git had been mugging hitchhikers for several years

    scary as it was it still didn’t stop me from hitchhiking, however it did make me invest in a few things like a hidden handcuff key (has already proved it’s usefulness when it came in handy in a kidnapping/mugging in Africa, it seems i can’t keep myself out of trouble of trouble) and also pepper spray foam… which i am yet to use

  2. says

    Yes, good advices. You forgot also to mention the posters. Very good idea to write your destination on a poster and keep displaying it to the drivers. It really helps but make shure your poster display is easy to see from at least 50 meters distance. Nice huge black letters on a white sheet should be good enough.

  3. Bergge says

    Hey man! You think it is possible to survive a couple of days in Oslo with 2300 kroners? I would couchsurf, hitchhike, buy market foods, and perhaps dumpster dive (after all, it is norge).

  4. says

    Great tips Lief. I hitchhiked out on Kauai and around the other islands of Hawaii a few times. I think my funnest story was when it started pouring down raining and just in the nick of time, this Japanese family pulled up beside me and gave me a ride back to the port. Although they didn’t speak very much english, they were extremely friendly and even offered to buy me dinner at a burger joint before dropping me off. Good stuff! :-D

  5. Conrad says

    Hitch Hiking is good fun!

    I hitched from Bath(UK) to Paris in under 10 hours. Much faster than public transport. The fact I was with an attractive girl may have helped.

    Also hitch hiked from Cairns to Brisbane in Australia, it was very easy, my maximum waiting time was 10 minutes.

    A good sign help as does a smile!

  6. rick says

    I’m about to start on a journey across the USA from east coast to west coast I heard from drifters its REALLY hard to get out of Maryland….any tips for getting out of here? This my first time doing this any help me is welcome thank you

  7. Matthew Taylor says

    I ended up having to hitch a ride earlier tonight. I live in the States and I only needed to go about 2 miles. I ended up walking a mile in the city area before this man pulled into the bank parking area and waited over 5 minutes for me to catch up to him. Mind you it was pitch black out and the only light came from the occasional street lamp and headlights of numerous passing cars. Well his car was all black with blacked out windows, kinda sketch right? So I decided I’d just walk around his car, but then he rolled down his window and asked if I needed a lift. He was around my age, probably early 20’s. He was so nice and even turned down money when I offered it to him. He restored my hope in man-kind. Darn I wish I’d gotten his number.

  8. Ken Burnns says

    I was driving a 2 seater convertible to the beach when I saw two beautiful young ladies (19y/o) sticking their thumbs out on the side of the road. Of course I pulled right over. They were standing next to two bikes, but that didn’t stop me from offering them a ride (remember I only had one empty seat). They asked if they could throw their bikes on the back (my miata might be old, but its vintage, baby! no way!) and I had to respectfully decline. They told me to take the one girl, and the other would ride her bike the rest of the way to their destination. Then a light bulb went off in my head; my buddy, whose house I was on my way to, had an SUV and I could go get him and we’d give them and both of their bikes a ride. I told them to stay right where they were, and that I’d be right back. I zipped over to my friends house yelling “YO! lets go! We gotta give these girls a ride i’ll explain on the way!” Going back I didn’t even expect them to still be there. And apparently they didn’t really expect me to come back. But they were, and we did. So we picked them up, literally, and brought them and their bikes to where they needed to go. Turns out they were daughters of billionaires and invited us to party on an exclusive stretch of private beach the next day, and we ended up spending the summer with them. I always pick up hitch hikers now! good luck!

    • says

      If you’re in the cities, it’s hard to get a ride, but it’s less dangerous in some ways. On country roads with less cars, you can often get a ride quicker but the isolation makes it a bit more sketchy. On the whole, I don’t think hitchhiking in the us is any more dangerous than doing it in Europe. Good luck

  9. says

    I was forced to hitchhike tonight between towns here in winterladen Alberta, Canada. I thought it work because I pick up every hitchhiker I see, even guys who’ve gotten out of jail where I work. I simply could not get a ride and almost froze to death in windy -13 weather. I think there should be something said of the “bystander Effect” whereby individuals relegate any potential helpful or altruistic act to the next person when there is any perceived plentitude.

    • says

      Hey Mike, jesus that sounds cold. Glad you’re ok. Yea, I feel like the bystander effect keeps progressing in the west which is a shame. I think its one flawed result of our capitalist / individual oriented culture.

  10. sally curd says

    Hi,
    In Southern Ireland, I had middle aged ladies warning me young ladies walking along roads isnt safe. They would ask what town Im heading towards and give me a lift! It meant I covered a lot more sights in less time. They would also tell me they will pray for my safety! :) The Irish love to chat and be hospitable.

  11. Tasha says

    Can you just explain which kind of people to avoid, obviously sometimes it’s obvious which people will be dangerous, but there could be some people who are ‘undercover’ and are a lot worse than they seem?

  12. Sarah and Louise says

    We missed our bus yesterday morning on route for a ski lesson and out of desperation decided to hitch hike. To our surprise we got picked up and enjoyed it so much hitch hiked again this morning!!

  13. Katie says

    I truly laughed out loud when I read this, ” look friendly and sport neat cloths. However, if you’re wearing a suit or smiling maniacally, that’s no good either. “

  14. Freek Van Ootegem says

    A problem I have every now and then is picking the good starting position. Maby it’s the lack of experience, but still it’s irritating, so now I try to use this website as much as possible: http://hitchwiki.org/maps/

    It realy helped me on my hitchhiking trips in Europe.

    Nice site by the way!

  15. VJB says

    I hitchhiked for years in my early 20’s. The “The Sneaky Leaky” is good but my best trick (it always works) is this…. In magic/trick shops they sell what they call a hitch hikers thumb. It slips over your real thumb and it is very large with a red fingernail and a bandage on it. The motorists that pick you up are always laughing and say that if it weren’t for that thumb they would never have stopped. Another good thing is that the ones that stop all have a sense of humor and are not generally creeps.

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