Hitchhiking has a special place in my heart, I truly love doing it. So for all those beginner-earth wanderers out there who want to give it a shot: here’s everything I’ve learned the past years about how to hitchhike and how to be good at it. If you first want to get into it a bit and read some stories of my hitchiking travels, check here and here. Goodluck!
So why give up the comfort and speed of public/private transport?
Okay that is a fair question. You may have heard of the quote “It is not about the destination, it is about the journey”
Sorry for the level of cheesyness 😉
My point? If there is one thing this quote applies to, it is hitchhiking! Yes, sometimes it is shit. You are waiting hours, either in the rain or the burning sun, or you get into a car with someone that does not speak your language. But most of the time it is really worthwhile. Many of us take the luxury of travelling for granted at times. Hitchhiking teaches you to be more thankful about it. When a car finally stops for you after waiting for sometimes up to three hours (or just five minutes if you’re lucky), you’ll start to appreciate the kindness of total strangers and get to know new people in ways you did not expect. Meeting people in a hostel or a group vacation is easy, you’re put into the same space and made to talk. Hitchhiking requires you to step out of your comfort zone, approach people you would not normally approach and sometimes test your language skills while doing so. And a huge plus is that you generally get to see more of countries when you follow different routes with different drivers, than when you fly or take a straight train.
Good story, but is that even safe?
If you do not trust yourself or really do not feel safe undertaking such a trip; it may not be for you. For those who would take a leap of faith and go on a hithchiking adventure it is good to take some safety measures. The first rule: always (I do mean ALWAYS) trust your gut feelings. You are obligated to no one to take a ride, so if you (even after accepting) do not feel like going with a specific driver it is never too late to get out. Rather wait a bit longer than taking unnecessary risks. After all, it is supposed to be fun, not nerve wrecking. For more safety tips I made this infographic for a clear and easy overview 🙂
One topic not to ignore when talking about safety is gender roles. Women are no less independent or smart or any of that than men. Thing is, the way the world is now, you just have to be more careful sometimes as a woman, genderviolence is a real thing. Therefore I would say to always be clear about your intentions. A short skirt might get you a ride sooner, but it might not bring you to your destination… Also pay attention to the way you behave while in the car. Flirtatious behavior (even when not intended) may confuse and provoke. Not all men are evil and please enjoy hitchhiking as much as possible. Just prevent yourself from being in dangerous situations 😉 (I skipped other/queer gender situations here, cause truth be told, I have no specific experience with that regarding hitchhiking here 😉 You may want to be extra careful in certain situations or certain countries when this applies to you).
Lastly, I would say, (regardless of your gender 😉 ) do not give any private info that could be used against you (such as adresses, which valuables you carry on you, etc.).
Okay okay, so what are your best tips?
- I always like to hitchhike in guy-girl teams. It gives me a safe feeling as a girl to have a guy next to me, and it gives drivers a safe feeling too (whereas some might reason two guys can be a threat, for a female driver for example).
- Try to get dropped off at gas stations. There you have the opportunity to approach people personally. When people are driving they have to decide in a splitsecond whether you are trustworthy based on your appearance. Having a short conversation, maybe making a joke or two, can bring you a long way with people that would otherwise never take along hitchhikers.
- Decide your route and alternative routes in advance. The fun in hitchhiking is that it is spontaneous, but it is good to have an idea of how to get where you want to go, and whether a driver will take you where you intend to go.
- Trucks. Trucks are cool. Realize they both have advantages and disadvantages. They go far (you can probably cover half your route with a truck, once you hitch one), but they go slow. We once were with a truck, that had to take a break at a gas station for an hour (mandatory, there’s a timer on the truck so their boss can check). Often the drivers are looking for some company for a long and lonely road. However, insurances often do not allow them to (driver’s seat is insured, byrider’s seat isn’t), so if anything happens they are in big trouble. This may make them reluctant to take hitchhikers.
- Take breaks. You will experience the fun is gone real quick when you compulsively try to catch the quickest rides without eating something or alowing yourself to relax in between.
- Have fun! Bring games or music. I was stuck once in France at a gas station that, aside from the small shop, was entirely closed. As we knew we would have to wait for a while, we just put on music and started dancing to keep ourselves warm.
- Keep your phone as a back-up. I did not use to have a smartphone. This meant I sometimes did not know where I was, could not instagram to the world what I was doing, and needed to talk to the drivers. Make hitchhiking your own little adventure, and you will see you will grow more independent and social through it. You can update your blog/instagram/facebook/whatever when you arrive, and people will find your story just as much fun to read.
Seems legit! What should I bring with me?
- BACKPACK. Trust me, I tried other types of bags, it is just unhandy.
- Up-to-date PAPER maps which cover the entire area you plan to travel and indicate gas stations. A phone with google maps doesn’t give you a nice large overview, you do not have service everywhere, and your battery might die. And it adds to the nice feeling of adventure.
- Obviously: Carton and markers! How else are people going to know where you want to go? You might want to be strategic about what you write on them (place name? highway number? country name? close/far location? language you write in?), which may change according to where you are standing and the type of traffic that passes by.
- Enough money to sleep an extra night somewhere, in case you do not reach your destination in time. Be aware that you might not have multiple options to choose from, and may need to go with a bit more expensive hotel. You may also choose to bring your sleeping bag and a tent instead, check the legislation for wild camping in different countries in advance. Never did that myself, you might wanna look up some tips regarding safety (on how not to attract creepy-murderers-in-the-woods, blood-thirsty-wolves, and unclean drinking water).
- Also take enough food and water. You may not be able to buy some on the road, so it is better have something with you.
- Toilet paper and desinfect gel… Simply trust me on that one…
- Weather appropriate clothing. I always bring an extra layer for the evening or when the sun dissapears, but most of all I bring a raincoat or poncho. Trust me, standing in the rain for half an hour is no joke…Also, it keeps you nice and clean before you mess up someone’s car like a wet dog.
- It is nice to have something to remember the drivers by or to make them remember you. When I went to Paris, we had keychain Eiffel towers to give each driver. Friends of mine also wore a T-shirt each driver could write on. Decide in advance what type of contact you want to give when a driver asks for it (for example to exchange some pictures you might have taken). Think about your safety/online privacy though!
- A camera! It is always fun to have pictures or even videos of your adventure! See one of my videos here.
So, what do you think? Have you hitchhiked before? Are there any great tips I forgot?