By Jenn & Steve
We’ve done our fair share of hitchhiking; from our home in Canada, to the mountains of Lesotho, to the back-country of China and many places in between. It has been a fast, cheap, environmentally-friendly, and safe way to get where we want to go. It is also a way to immerse yourself in the local culture and to get to places off the beaten, tourist track. If you’re up for some adventure, here are some tried and tested tips to help you on your hitchhiking journey, wherever it may lead you:
- Safety First! Hitchhiking has an undeserved reputation as being unsafe. This belief is a major deterrent for people, whether they are trying to get a ride or in a situation to pick someone up. If you have questions about safety, this article does a great job of exploring the stats on the dangers of hitchhiking. If you don’t want to take the time to read it, note that it can be summed up by the quote: “you’re far more likely to accidentally shoot yourself or fall down and die than to be killed hitchhiking.” That being said, we still want to hitch as safe as we can:
- Before getting into any vehicle, have a short conversation with the driver to assess who you will be riding with, and check to ensure the driver is not impaired. A drunk driver is your worst case scenario.
- Do not be afraid to say no to a ride offer, or to ask the driver to pull over and let you out if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable for any reason. It might seem rude, but it comes down to your safety and well-being, which comes first. If you’re worried about getting to your destination, it’s better to wait for the next ride (which will come), even if it means you’ll be late (unlikely).
- Hitchhike in pairs or small groups whenever possible. It is safer, and also makes conversations with the driver easier.
- Be prepared in case you do not get a ride; this way you are not forced to take a ride in a situation where you may feel unsafe. Have extra water and food on you, and it’s best to also have basic camping gear so you can set-up for all weather wherever your hitchhiking travels lead you.
- Scoring a Ride. Here are some suggestions to improve your chances of getting picked up:
- Pick a good spot to hitch from: somewhere where there is a straight-away and drivers will have lots of time to see you and decide if they want to stop. Also, try to find a spot where there is lots of room on the shoulder to pull over so the driver can safely stop.
- If you are leaving from a town or city, get to the outside of town before trying to hitch. Many folks in town are likely to be heading to the grocery store or doing other local errands, which is not much help.
- Know a little bit about the hitchhiking culture where you are traveling. First of all, it may or may not be legal to hitch. If so, be aware of the people around you, don’t set out to hitchhike in front of a police station, and know the potential consequences in case authorities take issue with what you are up to. Second, there may or may not be an expectation of payment for a ride. Research what this cost could be; for example in Laos we actually found the bus to be cheaper and faster than the costs of hitching. Third, make sure you know the local hand signs for hitchhiking. In North America and Europe, sticking your thumb up is generally how you show you want a ride, but in many Asian and African countries you wave your hand up and down (like you are dribbling a basket ball).
- If you are traveling somewhere where you do not speak the local language, have your destination(s) and/or route written down in local characters so you can correctly communicate where you want to go.
- During the Ride: Woohoo! You got a ride and are hopefully heading to to your next destination. Sit back, relax, and make conversation with your new travel mate(s) while keeping an eye on their driving skills. Folks will try their best to find out about you as they offer food and drinks that they may have on hand, in spite of any language barriers. Be prepared to listen to life stories (often very profound), as people that stop to pick up hitchers are often looking for someone to talk to.
- After the Ride: Thank the driver and offer a small amount of money for gas. Drivers will often refuse, but it is a nice gesture and increases the chances that they will pick up other hitchhikers in the future.
Lastly, if you are driving with spare seats in your vehicle and see a hitchhiker (and feel safe), pick them up! The good karma can’t hurt and you’ll likely hear lots of interesting stories about their hitchhiking adventures.
Hitch on, friends!