A Guide To Hitchhiking

by THE RUNAWAY on February 17, 2011

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,

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.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Stanislav August 31, 2014 at 6:32 am

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.


The Runaway Guide August 31, 2014 at 11:30 am

Not sure why I left that out! Good point. I’m going to write that in. Cheers!


Bergge June 11, 2014 at 2:07 am

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).


The Runaway Guide June 27, 2014 at 4:01 am

A couple of days for sure and maybe a few weeks if you’re careful.


Ron | Active Planet Travels April 15, 2014 at 11:33 am

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


The Runaway Guide April 15, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Hawaii is the best/easiest place to hitch, I love it. That’s awesome! Such nice people.


Conrad January 11, 2014 at 3:05 am

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!


The Runaway Guide January 13, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Hey Conrad, dang, that’s pretty good, you must of been pretty lucky on that trip. Yea, that definitely helps haha. Good to know it’s easy to hitch in australia.


rick October 29, 2013 at 1:16 am

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


The Runaway Guide November 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Hey Rick,
I’m sure you’ll find a ride. Worst comes to worst, you could hop on a cheap bus


Matthew Taylor March 16, 2013 at 12:54 am

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.


The Runaway Guide March 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Hey, that’s a great story. Thanks for sharing it. :)


Ken Burnns March 1, 2013 at 9:43 pm

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!


The Runaway Guide March 3, 2013 at 9:19 am

Hahah, that’s a great story. You never know. Sounds like you’re in LA?


Hailey February 28, 2013 at 11:18 pm

I’m about to start in the United States, first time hitch hiking and super nervous. USA seems dangerous, any tips?


The Runaway Guide March 3, 2013 at 9:25 am

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


Mike February 22, 2013 at 1:24 am

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.


The Runaway Guide February 22, 2013 at 8:07 am

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.


sally curd January 29, 2013 at 7:26 am

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.


The Runaway Guide January 30, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Nice! Ireland sounds like a good relatively safe place to hitch.


Tasha August 20, 2012 at 3:51 pm

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?


The Runaway Guide August 27, 2012 at 5:51 pm

You really just gotta trust your instincts. It’s hard to say a specific kind of person.


Sarah and Louise January 25, 2012 at 12:10 am

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!!


The Runaway Guide February 23, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Nice, well done.


Katie January 1, 2012 at 3:51 pm

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. “


Freek Van Ootegem July 28, 2011 at 11:14 pm

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!


The Runaway Guide July 30, 2011 at 10:22 am

Hey, htichwiki maps is really cool, thanks for sharing. I hear ya, finding the right place, the sweet spot isn’t always easy.


VJB July 25, 2011 at 10:36 pm

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.


The Runaway Guide July 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Thats a great technique. Thanks for sharing it.


James Cook July 24, 2011 at 5:22 pm

We once spent about 4 hours trying to get a lift while we were on route to Queenstown. We just made it before dark though. A positive mental attitude is done of the most important tools you can use whilst traveling.

Great blog as well!
Our Oyster




The Runaway Guide July 26, 2011 at 8:20 am

Yea, and 4 hours feels like 4 days when you’re just standing there. Glad you got picked up.