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Tips for hitchhiking
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Hitchhiking is one of the cheapest ways of travelling. By tradition, hitchhiking is defined as soliciting a ride by standing at the edge of a road, facing traffic, with one's thumb extended. You can meet a lot of people and make lots of friends. You can become very frustrated: Today's drivers are more fearful of picking up hitchhikers than in the past. But it's also a great feeling to get a ride after you've been waiting for a long time. People who do pick up hitchhikers tend to be very friendly. However, hitchhikers also risk being picked up by someone who is an unsafe driver or even a criminal.
- Buy yourself a map, if you don't know the area, so you can estimate whether a ride actually brings you closer to your destination.
- Learn the language, at least a little. Hitchhiking can be a good way to improve your conversation skills. Often drivers pick up hikers to have some conversation on an otherwise long and lonely trip.
- Make sure to carry enough drinks and food if you're going for a long trip. Gas stations are usually a bit expensive.
- Consider taking a foldable bike with you but be careful it isn't stolen. Put it on the back seat if possible.
- Arrange sleeping places. For example a Hospitality Club host, a youth hostel or a squat are good places to start. If you cannot arrange a place, take a tent with you and/or a warm sleeping bag.
- Remember, hitchhiking may be illegal in any given locality or on certain types of roads. Enforcement of laws against hitchhiking may vary. Ask locals. It is usually a bad idea to hitchhike if an encounter with the police would create additional problems (e.g. you are in possession of contraband or are subject to an outstanding arrest warrant).
- Dress in layers if the weather is uncertain. This will save a hitchhiker a good deal of discomfort; Be sure that your heavier layer will shield you from cold winds and random showers, but is light enough that it won't weigh you down too much when you remove it.
- Be sure to pack a towel. Any color will do. A brightly colored towel may be used to signal a driver, as well as dry oneself, serve as a blanket, pillow and clothing--in the unlikely event that one finds oneself with nothing more than a towel.
Getting a ride
The single most important factor for getting a ride is location. You need to find a place where you can be seen early (to let the driver and other car occupants have time to decide to pick you up) and where the driver can safely pull over. Ideally, there should be some traffic, but not too much either as this makes pulling over difficult and makes drivers assume that you can always get a ride with somebody else.
- For long-distance travel, highway rest areas are ill-advised, particularly in the USA, due to the number of 'disturbing incidents' at these locales. Passing motorists also tend to assume that you were thrown out of a vehicle there.
- An exception to the 'rest-area' rule is commercial rest areas on toll roads. known as 'oasises' or 'service plazas'. Very few disturbing incidents happen at these locales, due to the regular police patrols, and high foot traffic. You will want to purchase a small item so as not to be trespassing on the concessionaires leased area.. A CB radio (to talk to truck drivers, and other people with CB radios passing by on the main line of the highway) is a good tool for service areas. You can purchase a handheld one for around US$40.00 at many truck stops.
- The absolute best place to catch a good ride is on a public highway on ramp, near a truck stop, but not on the truckstop property itself, as the truck stops are good places to get thrown out of for trespassing. In Northern California(US 101) and in the Seattle area, many highway on-ramps are also bus stops and thus do double duty in regards to catching a ride.
- Land borders where traffic has to stop are great.
- Gas stations where many cars stop are good. However, if you are not doing business there, you are better off using the nearby public roadway.
- Laybys and roadside picnic areas are good, although less so in the USA as roadside picnic areas tend to be in the middle of nowhere.
- Avoid places where traffic cannot stop legally, like no-stopping zones, taxi stands, etc. The only people likely to give you a ride from these places are the police, and you may not want to go where they want to take you. Although they could also drop you in a much better spot if they're in a good mood.
- If you cannot get a ride from downtown, catch public transport to the edge of town. City drivers may be reluctant to pick you up as they may think you are too lazy to catch the bus. Check your map, or ask around, to find a good spot.
- Getting a ride at night time is very difficult. You might have some luck at a gas station, where people can see you, but again, if not doing business at said gas station go use the on-ramp if it's well-lit, or find a campsite.
Attracting a ride
- Asking around doesn't hurt. If people notice you're friendly and speak their language you have a much higher chance to get a ride from them.
- Walk in the direction you want to go, especially if nobody is stopping to pick you up. however, if you wander too far from town, people may wonder what you did to get thrown out of the last car. The wisest strategy usually consists of standing at the last traffic or street light in a town on smaller roads.
- Wear bright clothing so that drivers can see you when waiting or walking.
- A big cardboard sign with an indication of where you want to go can help. A grocery box is about the right size, and it can be folded up or thrown away. Short general directions like North, or West can be written bigger - and seen from further away - than a longer city or town, but a city is more determined and more useful for drivers.
- Nonspecific 'general' directions are really only useful at on-ramps where traffic goes in two directions, like standing before a toll plaza, otherwise, the next town with a truck stop is recommended.
- Avoid writing destinations far away, this gives you a good excuse to get off if you feel uncomfortable with the driver, you can always agree to go further if the driver turns out to be going your way. Also, indicating close destinations will attract short lifts. In Germany 200 km seems to be a good distance.
- It can be a good idea to not indicate your final destination. If you can get a ride in a direction that is not exactly the best one, it could still be a good idea to take it, since you might be able to get more rides from that spot.
- Some people do not believe in direction signs, and suggest funny ones ("I DON'T STINK") or nothing at all. If you speak the local language, saying this on your sign may also be useful.
- Prejudice: Some drivers will not stop based on their own racial, cultural, or gender prejudice.
otherwise, its not an issue.
- If you are travelling with a companion, stand together and make it obvious that you want a ride together. Drivers don't want to be surprised by an extra person.
- Always stay happy - even if people react nastily.
Choosing a ride
- If you're waiting for a long time and all the cars that want to take you go in the wrong direction it can be a good idea to let them take you anyway - just to drop you at a better spot.
- Sometimes you get an offer that brings you a little way in the right direction. This can be okay, but if you're at a place where lots of cars stop it could be a better idea to wait for an offer that brings you a lot further.
- Ask if you can be dropped at a good spot for getting more rides if your ride isn't bringing you to your final destination, eg a gas station or a toll place.
- Take care who you get a ride with. Some criminals prey on hitchhikers. If in doubt, turn down the ride.
- At least note the registration number and/or vehicle make, model and colour before you ride.
- If possible, hitchhike with a friend.
- Choose a car with a single occupant or a couple rather than the last seat in a car full of people.
- Regardless of gender, choose wisely; some people have loose hands. It's more dangerous when you're riding with multiple people.
- Sit in the front passenger seat, if you can. Rear doors often have child locks on them, meaning they cannot be opened from the inside. If you must sit in the back, check the child lock is off before you close the door.
- Keep your bag or backpack in easy reach, so you can grab it if you need to bail out. Be prepared to lose it if it is locked in the trunk.
- Wear some of your valuables?i.e. passport, wallet, money, I.D., bank and cr cards, etc.?under or in your clothes, do not put them all in your pack. Keep them in different places, so that if you lose one item, you don't lose them all. A thief or robber who gets your wallet and small change may overlook a concealed moneybelt or second billfold.
- In some places, the police take a dim view of hitchhikers and will arrest based on the slightest excuse (or at least cost you time you could use to catch rides by running field interviews on you).
- While pedestrians may have the right to walk along most roads, doing so in some places can get you arrested, cited, ticketed, or verbally warned. Find out about which roads you can and cannot walk along.
- As a general rule, avoid walking along freeways, particularly if it looks unsafe to do so or the jursidiction you are in prohibits it. In some areas where it is legal to walk on the freeway, it may be wiser and safer to stay on the on-ramp anyway, based on the infrastructure of the road?Blackwell, Oklahoma, for instance, has a rather narrow freeway shoulder on the southbound ramp, but the ramp itself is wide and safe (it is legal to walk on the freeway in this example, but not particularly wise or conducive to getting a ride). Also avoid walking along railway tracks; apart from the risk of encountering a train, it is often illegal to walk along or close to railway tracks.
- If you have some doubts, and you found a ride through e.g. a website, you can request the ID number of the driver who offers the ride. Pass this number on to your beloved ones. At the moment you meet with the person who offered you the ride, s/he'll show you his ID, and if the number is the same, you can have more confidence getting in the car. Most of the time drivers will understand this precaution.
People giving rides
Of course you can try every passing car or driver, but it seems some people tend to give rides sooner than others. People who hiked themselves know what it feels like to stand at the side of the road. Working people like to have some conversation, especially if they're on a long trip (which can be of great use for you!).
This is a brief index of hitchhiking conditions around the world, ranking countries on four indices:
- whether hitchhiking is popular or even understood, on a scale of common → occasional → rare → unknown
- whether getting rides is generally easy, on a scale of easy → medium → hard → very hard
- whether hitchhiking is legal (outside highways and tollroads, which are nearly universally off limits to foot traffic)
- whether it's possible to hitchhike for free, or whether payment is expected if picked up by a stranger.
"Varies" means that conditions vary dramatically within the country — please consult the individual country articles linked below for more detail.
¹ Soliciting a ride from within the roadway is illegal in some states. However, accepting an offered ride or hitching from a footpath is legal.
Hitchhiking in Europe can be a pleasant experience. Some countries are however more pleasant than others. See Hitchhiking in Europe for some more detailed information.