Hitchhiking has a bad rep. And it’s undeserved, since it’s quite simply one of the very best ways to travel the world: you meet new people, you see the great outdoors though the window (or, if you’re that way inclined, from outside the window, tongue lolling like an excitable dog…) and you spend practically nothing.
What better way then to negotiate the world during these financially-troubled times than to get yourself on the road and start exercising that imploring thumb action? So here you have it, our top ten tips for hitchhiking…
1. Find Out about Local Hitching Customs
It’s not always easy to do, but when possible try to find out about the official and unofficial local laws of
hitching. It can be helpful to know, for example, that while hitching isn’t exactly illegal in the US, there are major restrictions, and these can change from state to state. Similarly, knowing that hitchhikers are often expected to pay their way in parts of South America can help you avoid unexpected and unnecessary arguments.
2. Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd
Hitching in pairs can be a great way of cutting down on roadside-waiting time, especially if you’re a mixed pair or two women traveling together. While a lonesome figure thumbing a lift instantly calls to mind images of escaped convicts (well, for some at least), two friends looking for a ride appear comparatively amiable and less inherently dangerous. Avoid groups of three or more, however. That’s a gang (and it’s also logistically less plausible for small cars).
3. Scrub Up
Working on the fairly safe assumption that drivers are a little wary of picking up escaped convicts, try not to look like an escaped convict! The shabbier you appear, the less likely you are to get a lift. So hide those stripey rags, dress in something at least a little clean, and maybe even have a wash and shave, too. Trust us, it’ll help.
4. Look Happy
Even if you’re wearing your Sunday best, drivers aren’t likely to stop if your face screams ‘suicidal junky without a fix’. Try to look alert and interesting.
5. Choose a Spot
This is a big one. Choosing a good spot is vital if you want to be picked up quickly. Common knowledge amongst hitchers has it that you need to find a spot where cars will see you for as long as possible, and where they have plenty of space to stop if they decide to help. So try to avoid corners and busy roads without run-off areas.
Your spot doesn’t have to be on a road – it could be outside a petrol garage, or at a motorway rest stop. Hitching from these places is more likely to land you a long-haul ride inside a truck, as it’s a lot of effort for truckers to stop their heaving juggernauts on the side of the road.
Finally, while hitcher theory differs on this one, we say choose a spot and stay there. It’s a bit like fishing… Or panning for gold… The grass is always greener, and it’s always easy to be tempted into thinking your spot isn’t good enough. But it’s all random really, and you’re on the road anyway, so where’s the rush?
6. Make Eye Contact
Assuming you’ve found a good spot where you can see cars from a long way off, try to make eye contact with drivers – that little flicker of human contact can make all the difference. Don’t, on any account, wear sunglasses. Escaped convicts wear sunglasses to hide from the law.
7. Talk to the Driver Before Getting in
Once a car’s stopped for you, walk up to the driver’s seat and ask the driver where they’re going. That way you have a little time to assess your potential ride, and decide whether it appeals or not. If there’s something not quite right, you’re not in the car, so you can simply walk away.
8. Talk to the Driver Once You’re in
Hitchhiking is all about the stories and the characters… so get chatting!
9. Carry a Phone if Possible
If you have a mobile phone, carry it with you in your pocket. The phone may come in handy if you get yourself into a situation you wouldn’t want to be in. In reality though, it’s more likely you’ll use it as something to write your new traveling buddy’s number into.
10. Do Unto Other (Hitchers) as You Would Have (Other Hitchers) Do to You
Compared with the heady days of the 40s and 50s when just about everyone was hitching all over the place, today hitchers are something of a dying breed. So if you meet a hitcher on the road, respect them as brethren – don’t steal their ride by standing 20 meters in front on the same road!
Unless they’re an escaped convict, that is, in which case stand behind a tree and call the police.
Have you ever hitched a ride? Tell us in the comments…
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