Hitchhiking can be a great way to get around: its free and you meet people. When someone stops and picks you up, it is quite the rush! People say that hitchhiking was much better in the 60’s and is almost impossible now. While it is certainly not as good as it used to be hitchhiking is making somewhat of a comeback.
I have gotten over 220 rides and hitchhiked over 8,000 miles. This includes hitchhiking from California to Alaska, Southern Baja to Northern Baja, and many other shorter trips. As a disclaimer, most of my experience hitchhiking comes in the rural context. There are some people that are swear by hitchhiking on the interstate, but I do not have that much experience with that type of hitchhiking. I always bring my camping gear and extra food/water, so that I can camp out for a few days if need be. Here are ten tips to make your next hitchhiking trip more successful:
- Look presentable
Try to dress nicely if possible. Avoid looking too dirty or having too many belongings. A small to medium backpack is ideal. It is a fine line between hiker and homeless, but try to look more like the former. Especially if you are near a hiking area, people are more likely to pick you up if they think you are a hiker.
2. Do not wear hat/sunglasses when possible
Sometimes, the sun will simply be too much, and you will need to wear these, but try to avoid if possible. People are much more likely to pick you up if they can see your face and eyes.
3. Smile and make eye contact
Smiling makes people trust you more, and humanizes you. It helps to look like you are having fun, so smile as much as possible. If you look directly at each driver as they go by, they are more likely to take you. I’ve heard dancing or juggling can also be helpful.
4. Walk to the edge of town
The edge of town is a perfect place to get picked up. In the middle of town most cars are not going where you want to go, and the greater number of cars makes people less likely to pick you up. Even if you have to walk a mile or two it is usually worth it to get to the edge of town. Try to hitch somewhere just before the speed limit picks back up so cars are not going too fast. The slower cars are going, the more likely they are to pick you up.
5. Find a good spot where cars can see you and safely pull over
The driver’s decision to pick you up or not is usually a split second decision. The longer cars can see you, the more likely they are to pick you up. Avoid hitchhiking on a blind corner or in dark shadows. If there is no safe place to pull over, cars are less likely to stop. Sometimes it may be worth it to walk down the road a bit to find a pullout or a straightaway with a wide shoulder.
6. Talk to people face to face if possible
If you are near a gas station or trailhead, it can be helpful to talk to people face to face. Even talking to you for a few seconds may increase their trust in you. If you are hiking into a trailhead you know you are hitching out of, it may be a good idea to be extra friendly with day hikers as you are getting close.
7. Trust the thumb
There may be times when you are standing on the road for hours, hundreds or even thousands of cars may pass you by. You will get a ride eventually, try not to get too discouraged or give up hope. Stay positive, and that ride will come, and it will feel incredible when it does! Trust the thumb.
8. Sometimes you may want to get out of the car early
In certain situations it may be helpful to get out of the car earlier then where the driver is willing to take you. For example, if you are on a rural highway and the driver is going to a small dirt road with no good pullout, it may be wise to get off at the town before if you see a good pullout. Ask the driver, “is there a good pullout where you are going?” and if not “Are there any good pullouts or slow speed areas coming up?”
9. Avoid big cities/suburbs if possible
Suburbs and big cities can be very difficult to hitch out of. Most long distance traffic is traveling on interstates or limited access highways, which are high-speed and hard for hitching. Some cities have large homeless populations, so people may be scared to pick you up. Try to plan a route to avoid these areas, or take a local bus/train to get through them.
10. If worried about safety, be vague about where you are going
First and foremost, talk to the person for a few seconds through the window before getting in the car. Go with your gut and don’t get in the car if you feel unsafe. You can say something like, “Oh no, I actually just realized I left something in that restaurant, I’ll catch the next car”. If you get in the car but are a bit unsure about the person, a common safety technique is to be vague about your destination. By saying “north” instead of a specific town, you can get out in two miles instead of twenty if you feel uncomfortable. “Oh look, this is exactly where I wanted to go, thank you so much for the ride”