Contrary to popular belief, hitchhiking is not some crazy dangerous endeavor engaged in only by those with a death wish. Hitchhiking is a beautiful adventure that takes you to places you would never otherwise discover, while bringing the very best parts of human nature into your life. It gives you an added appreciation for the simpler things in life – whether it’s the shower your ride lets you have, or that juice box on a hot and thirsty day.
And of course, it gives you the chance to make a new friend. As frequent travelers, we aren’t just looking to see new places and experience new things—we’re also searching for people whom we can learn from and connect with. After all, every person has an interesting story to tell
That being said, there’s a way of hitchhiking properly, and there’s a way of hitchhiking idiotically. Want to give it a go, but don’t want to jump in blind? You’ve come to the right place!
- Trust your gut. Always.
- WATER. Lots of it. You never know how long it will take you to get to your next stop.
- Salty snacks. Protein full snacks. Bring them. My go-to snacks are nuts and cans of beans.
- TENT. If you don’t make it where you’re going, are you comfortable sleeping outside in whatever weather condition decides to greet you? If not, make sure to have a tent. Even a crappy tent will do. There are loads of places where wild camping is legal, but you can always do it on the sly too.
- If you have a little backpack as well as a big one, keep it near you in the car with all your valuables, just in case.
- Carry a knife and/or pepper spray. I’ve never used either of mine, but it’s a comfort to know they’re within arm’s reach.
- MOBILE PHONE. And make sure its charged! Not all countries have the same plug types so make sure you have the right travel adaptor by visiting the Electrical Safety First website before travelling. Having a fully charged mobile phone is essential so that you can contact people and be contacted if needed.
- Check out this article for more safety tips on traveling in general.
- It’s worth it to know some self-defense techniques as well… just in case, not that I’ve ever had to use them.
- GAS STATIONS. This gives you and the driver some face time so that they realize that, no, you are not crazy just because you’re hitchhiking, and you can suss them out.
- TRUCK STOPS. These are your best friend for long distance travel. Truckies also rock.
- If the highway goes through a town, go to the edge of town where the cars are still going slowly, but are about to speed back up. Make sure to stand somewhere where there’s plenty of room to pull over.
- On-ramps to the highway are also your friend, as there is usually enough room for a car to pull over, and they’re going nice and slowly.
- Hitchhiking on the side of a motorway is counterproductive and dangerous. DO NOT do this unless you truly have nowhere else to go.
Signs or thumb?
I prefer the old thumb method. It’s mostly down to personal preference, but there are some instances in which one is better than the other.
- A sign for somewhere too far away is useless. I once saw a guy hitchhiking in Quebec with a sign that said “Nova Scotia”, which was over 700 km away. He also had an English sign in a French speaking region. Not ideal.
- If you’re at a crossroads, a sign can be useful.
- Fun signs can be great! I once had a sign that read, “Smile!” Did I get picked up faster? Probably not. Did people start smiling? Hell yes! Once while freezing my ass off, I made a sign that simply read, “Cold!” I was picked up within five minutes. But my all time favourite was when I was hitchhiking during Christmas, and had a sign that read: “Ho Ho Ho, to Invercargill we go!”
- I was once very stuck on a desolate road, so instead of using my thumb or a sign, I waved frantically at a car. My ride understood, and picked me up immediately.
How far can you get in a day?
This totally depends on where you are in the world, if you’re alone or with someone, and yes, your gender. All you can really do is test out different places. My average when hitchhiking alone is about 600 km in a day, but this skyrocketed up to over 1,000 km in a day when I started first thing in the morning in the Canadian summer. Once again, truck drivers are your friend when hitchhiking.
Being a solo girl on the road
Some people are creeps, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to do anything to you. In my opinion, there are no added precautions to being a solo chick hitchhiking. Just listen to your gut, and you will be fine. You can check out my full article on this here.
If someone is hitchhiking where you want to be, sit your ass down and wait as long as it takes until they get picked up. Or, if it’s just one person, and you’re also alone, you can go chat with them and hitch together.
Short Distance Rides
- Even a ten minute ride can be extremely helpful.
- Very occasionally I will turn down a short ride; I only do this if I’m in a really good spot (a well traveled gas station, for example), and the lift is turning off somewhere random on the highway. If they’re going to the next town, I will always take the lift.
- A lift to the other side of the city is sometimes very needed. Just explain your situation and someone will help you out.
- Hitchwiki.org is your best friend! Search by country or by city – it will give you great advice.
- I’ve had people tell me they don’t pick people up who don’t have a backpack. So even if you’re travelling light, make sure you have some stuff.
- You can hitchhike boats by hanging out at the dock, and finding a boat to work on.
- WEAR LAYERS. Wear SHOES, not sandals.
- If someone wants to buy your broke ass a meal or give you a little money, accept. Don’t be an idiot; if they offered, they are happy to help.
- I don’t mind how long I have to wait somewhere, but sometimes I get really down if every single car is pretending they don’t see me or scowling. Even if you’re rushing off to work, shoot us a smile or a wave! It really makes us happy!
- Short distances can make all the difference to us! Sometimes we get stuck in really inconvenient places, like inside a city, and your 5 minute lift saves the day! If you’re unsure of whether you can really be of assistance, pull over and ask us!
Most important is to remember that you’re on an adventure; never get down because you’re stuck somewhere a long time. I have a rule that I don’t look at the time – I don’t want to know how long I’ve been waiting. I tell myself when I’m stuck that I’m just early for that super awesome ride that’s on its way to me. Hitch because you love it; smiling helps you get rides!
And if you’re planning to hitch with a pet, make sure to read this awesome article from Roving Snails!
I don’t have experience hitching everywhere, so check out some other cool guides like this hitchhiker’s guide to Myanmar or hitchhiking the Azores! And don’t forget that sometimes countries require visas – check out the ESTA Renewal site for the States rules and regulations.