People will tell you it’s dangerous. People will tell you only crazy people are out there. But sit down for a moment, close your eyes, take a deep breath. Of course there is a risk as always in life, but is there not the saying “no risk, no fun”?
Kidding. Before you have not tried it yourself, you should have no prejudices about this form of travelling. Because this, for me, is by far the best and convenient and funniest way to reach from one place to another.
What hitchhiking really teaches you is trust in humanity. Because people tend to be nice and even help complete strangers. Isn’t that amazing?
And then of course, the ride is for free. But there is so much more than that: it’s about adventure. You never know who you will meet, what you might learn during the ride. You don’t know which city you might reach or where you will sleep at night. (Hitchhiking has proven itself perfectly when you have no plan where you wanna go!)
We used this form just recently on our trip to Spain. We had so nice conversations, we got so many insider tips on what to see in the city we were going to and we got even invited home for a tea and in a 4-star hotel on the beach! In total, we hitchhiked around 1500 km this time: with 7 different drivers; from a really tiny car to a crappy van with something similar to marihuana plants painted on it (the guy did not smoke) to a Mercedes S-Class.
It’s all possible. You just have to overcome your worries and apply the following rules, which I found very helpful for myself.
#1: Pick a good spot
The start, meaning to get out of the city, is always difficult. Once you are on the highway, everything will be easier.
There are four common ways from where to start: a ramp leading up to a main road, a gas station, a toll booth, or just walk on the highway (and hope someone will stop before the police sees you – never tried it but heard this is highly efficient 😉). It’s always best if (a) you are on a busy street and (b) you can talk to people.
If you are in a big city, the best possibility is to use public transportation to get to the outskirts, from where you can walk onto the highway (i.e. a service station). Toll booths are an equally convenient way to find quick and long-distance rides. If the motorway starts in or runs through your current city, you may try thumbing or holding your sign.
How to hitch out of a large cities:
Hitchwiki is an international platform to exchange information about hitchhiking in various countries. Among others it contains specific tips for hitchhiking out of the large cities. Just type the name of your current city in the search bar and find out what experiences fellow hitchhikers made and what they recommend.
Notice that there are often more entries in English language.
I honestly love service areas. They are an easy way to address people in person and once they decide you are trustworthy, you are already in the car. In our statistic it never took us more than 15 minutes to get a ride! Make sure however that your driver leaves you out at a busy spot: more people = higher chances!
In France we didn’t have problems with less customers at any of the service areas. In Canada on the other hand we sometimes ended up at empty gas stations. I suggest you go for stations that are on the highway, meaning for which you don’t have to exit the highway.
If you did not have the luck to find a gas station in your reach, you can stand on the side of street with your sign. While waiting for cars make sure:
- there is enough space for cars to pull over. (If it’s dangerous for a car to stop, your chances of getting picked fall to near zero.)
- you are at a long straight street where cars can see you from far. (First, it may take some time for drivers to make up their mind or to discuss with their family/passengers. Second, cars may be at high speed and cannot stop at such a short notice.)
- you are at a place where cars are not moving too fast.
- you are visible. (-> You and your sign are not hidden by trees or parking cars. Clothes in bright colours might help.)
- If after some time noone is reacting to your sign, throw it and thumb!
As a last point in this section, I would recommend you to stand rather than to sit. In that way you can rush quickly to the car before the driver changes his mind.
#2: Have a good sign
In contrast to common belief, the action of thumbing usually is not practised. People rather tend to hold signs. A sign will distinguish you from a vagrant and will help you to attract greater attention. In some places, especially when you want to get out of a city, thumbing is still the way to go.
The most important thing about a cardboard is that it is readable from far. For that reason use a cardboard that is at least 50 cm wide (ISO A3). I usually sketch out the words in pen or pencil before using a marker so that I know they will fit.
Another thing to keep in mind are contrasts. Black fonts on a white background are far better visible than black letters on a brown/grey cardboard. That is why I brought along white print paper on my last trip, which I taped on my brown cardboard. (Not to forget that I was making it reusable that way.)
What to write on the cardboard:
First rule: Keep it simple! Too many text may confuse the readers.
🚗 l usually like to put the rough direction (north, south, east, west). You can also add the road name if you are going to follow it for a longer distance, for example “I89 north” or “A7 south”. This method is especially useful when you haven’t yet decided where to go.
🚚 You can put the name of your final destination (shortcuts are possible). I recommend adding the next bigger town (50 – 100 km away). In that way you will increase your chances to get picked.
🚌 Funny signs work as well.
“Won’t eat you”/”Won’t kill you” – “We don’t stink” – “Free Cookies”
🚙 “Please” may work wonders.
While you should always bring a permanent marker with you, cardboards are not too hard to get along the way.
Where to find a cardboard:
🏪 Ask in shops, fast-food restaurant or gas stations if they have an empty box. You can fold that open and tear off the flaps.
⛽ Check in the trash bins behind gas stations. Often there is a container only for paper. You may have to climb in though.
#3: Appear casual and friendly
Even more important! People are very visual, especially if they don’t know someone. So the first impression counts. On this account, dress modest and don’t forget to smile 🙂
Also look people in the eyes; that really helps, especially if you talk to them. Never underestimate the power of your eyes, the saying that people can read your eyes is not given for nothing. Let people see that you have noble intentions. (We got this as an advice from one driver by the way, so cute!, view the video)
As a woman try to dress conservative. You don’t want people to pick you up out of wrong expectations!
I often get the reaction that for me as a white person it will not be a problem, but for the rest of the world, who will pick them up? About that I want to say: Don’t let race be an issue here, hitchhiking is the last place on earth where people should think in colors. It doesn’t matter if your Asian or African or Latino, people who pick up hitchhikers are usually very open-minded and interested in whatever you have to tell them! Dress decent, show them your cute smile, and off you go!
#4: Have a map
You need a good map. You need to know which cities are along the way so that you know if a possible driver goes in your direction or not.
The map can be analog or digital, online or offline. It may be a map with all the service areas in the country (often available for free) or a simple road map. Personally, I prefer offline maps (like MAPS.ME). Be aware though that you have to download the particular regions before the trip (preferably, when you still have Wifi).
Take the most frequented route
When getting a ride, make sure they (a) leave you out in a crowded place and (b) they take the busy route. Sometimes there are several ways to reach the next city. Wherever you end up, you want to be able to find another ride there – so it should be a busy road. As a rule of thumb take the road that a truck would take.
#5: Lower your expectations…
Take nothing for granted. 9 out of 10 cars will probably not stop for you. If you get lucky to thumb a lift, you can expect (or hope for) that he/she will bring you from point A to B or to the next service area, but don’t expect anything more than that. That is already a big deal and an issue of trust. Remind you: Would you pick up complete strangers from the side of the road? So everything additional is a bonus.
They might invite you for a snack in a service area. They might invite you for a tea at their place. They might even offer you a place to sleep – that’s the amazing thing about hitchhiking. But other times, you might just wait for hours and nobody seems to give a damn about you..
#6: Be prepared to wait
On our trip through France and Spain we had average waiting times of less than 15 minutes. In Canada we once waited for three hours, in another place someone picked us up before we even put out our sign. You just never know.
This means that you should be prepared to wait in a spot for a few hours. Along with that comes that you should bring necessities with you.
Bring food and drinks ☕
Food at gas stations is rather expensive, and you never know where people will let you out. Bring enough food and water with you to last a whole day, just in case you get stuck on the highway with no rest stop in sight. I usually bring some nuts, dates or fruits along. They provide you with important vitamins and energy. You can also take some cookies to share 🙂 🎒🍶🍎🍞
Apart from hunger, I heard of some people that spend the night on the side of the road. For those circumstances, you might bring one set of warm clothes for the night, plus a rain jacket in case the weather changes. 🌂 ⛄ ⛺
By the way, if you notice after some time that the spot you picked is really useless: Walk a few miles to the next exit or catch a taxi to a better location
#7: Make conversation / Leave a good impression
This point is very important to me. Sometimes the drivers are very talkative, sometimes they are not. Other times you even don’t speak the same language. But always stay polite. Make sure the driver will still be interested to take other hitchikers after you. Don’t ruin it for all the other drivers. You can do that by telling stories about your travels, by learning something about the culture of your driver or talking about yours.
There are many reasons why people pick up hitchhikers: They have done it when they were young, their children are doing it. You remind them of their children. They feel they have to take you before someone with bad intentions comes and takes you. They do it for good karma. Maybe they are on a long ride and bored. Maybe they are scared to fall asleep during the ride.
#8: Don’t be afraid to say no
This is a very important point. 99% of the people are good people. However if you have a bad feeling, don’t be afraid to say no! You are never obliged to get in a car when someone stops for you. In general nothing bad happens, but there are always exceptions to the rule. I deeply suggest to listen to your gut feeling!
Update May 2017:
A friend of mine came to this realisation: “Pay attention to how a car stops.
If the guy stops directly next to you, he wants something, either your money or your tits.
If he stops a bit ahead of you, it means he is cautious himself first.”
If you feel unsure about the ride, take a picture of the number plate and send it/ text it to one of your friends (or call a friend and tell them where you are heading to). Make sure the driver is aware of that and use this as an argument in an emergency situation.
Update May 2017:
“Always sit at the back and don’t close the door properly. Let him show you how to open the door, so you are well aware of how to get out in an emergency situation – door handels might be at very different places.”
If you feel uncomfortable at any time during the ride, try to get out as quick as possible.
Here is some advice from other hitchhiking websites:
- Create a personal relation to the driver: talk talk talk
- Keep a cool head: clear verbal denial
- Withstand and resist
- Use a convenient opportunity to force the driver to stop (simulate nausea, use the hand brake, keep the door open with your feet, burn some paper …)
- Fight, kick, scream, bite, beat …
Update May 2017:
“Just touch the handbrake! This will frigten them immediately.”
Try to steer the topic to something unsexy. Make it crystal clear you’re only interested in getting to your destination, and nothing else. Maintain an aura of confidence.
It might be worth it thinking about pepper spray.
In order to avoid to get robbed, keep your valuables close to your body. In this way you also won’t loose it when you have to get quickly out of the car. If possible keep your big bag with you, don’t put it in the boot. If there is no space, then keep this rule in mind: open front door, open boot, close boot, close front door. Like this you make sure the driver will not leave before you have gotten all your luggage.
#9: When crossing borders…
Be it you want to hitch from the US to Canada, from Netherlands to Germany, or from Spain to France. Many borders have strict border controls because of problems with drugs. Locals know that and are very careful when it comes to strangers (or hitchhikers).
What you can do is write the name of a big city right before the border on your sign. If cars go in that direction and they get to know you along they way, they might even eventually take you over the border. (But again: Lower your expectations!)
If you reach the last big city before the border, be careful if you are taking rides closer to the border but not over the border. The closer you get to the border, the more cautious people will be. I suggest to look for international cars that go long distances (and which are maybe even not aware of the problem 😌)
#10: Always stay positive 🙂
If you apply these rules, please let me know how they worked out.
What were your experiences with hitchhiking?