Hitchhiking is one of those things you hear about your parents doing when they were younger and not something you hear much about today. In Canada when I think of hitchhikers, it’s generally not in a very positive way; you’re told something bad will happen to you and that it’s dangerous. But this isn’t always true. I’ve hitchhiked over 1300 kilometers across an entire country (two islands) and I’ve even picked up one or two people when I’ve been driving.
I find most people picking up hitchhikers are those who have hitched themselves. You will meet the most interesting and amazing people and sometimes, they’ll even offer to buy you lunch or take you sightseeing along the way to your destination. The trick is to be smart about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
Below, I’ve outlined a few tips and guidelines to keep in mind if, when, and where you decide to hitchhike.
1. Pick Your Country or Place to Hitchhike Accordingly
I wouldn’t recommend hitchhiking in certain countries. I personally wouldn’t hitchhike in most Southeast Asian countries, but I definitely felt safe when I was hitchhiking in New Zealand and the few pickups I hopped in when i was in El Salvador. New Zealand was a smaller country, most people drove vehicles that could carry both me and my backpack easily, and I just felt safe as I physically fit in there, I looked like I could be a local (physically you couldn’t tell if I was Kiwi or not until you heard my accent). I also knew and understood their Westernized culture and customs.
2. Know where you’re going, both on the road and at your next destination
Make sure you have a rough idea of what highways and roads you need to take to get where you’re going and where you need to go once you get into your destination. This is mainly for safety as it’s important to know if you’re driver decides to take a detour he or she didn’t tell you about.
3. Make a Sign
A sign tells the drivers passing by exactly where you want to go and they’ll know right away if it’s on their route or not. A sign also shows you put some thought into where you need to go and you’re not just aimlessly wandering.
4. Where to Locate Yourself
Stand a couple hundred feet back from an approach so if a vehicle does stop, they have time and space to pull over safely. Make sure you’re clearly visible and not hidden behind a sign or set of trees. The outskirts of a town, near a busy intersection, and on a popular road are also good places to stand and wait. And the earlier you start, the quicker you can make it to your destination.
5. If Wary, Say No
Don’t feel guilty about saying no to a driver or vehicle if you feel it isn’t safe. Some easy excuses are to say you were hoping for a female driver or a young adult to pick you up. You could also say they’re not going far enough or that you’re looking for someone to take you right to your destination. Be smart and speak up if you don’t feel comfortable getting in with the driver.
6. Dress Appropriately
I am more inclined to pick up hitchhikers that look clean, neat, and well-kept. If you look respectable, the chances of being picked up are much greater than you if look sloppy and disarrayed.
7. Let the driver know you’re texting a friend their license plate number
Concerned about safety? Just let the driver know you’re texting a friend their license plate number. This way it lets them know someone else knows what you’re doing and where you are in case something were to ever happen to you.
8. Try to avoid hitching into major cities
Often you’re not allowed to pull over on major motorways to pick someone up, so it’s illegal to hitchhike too close to major cities. It’s also difficult to know where you get dropped off by the driver. Unless they take you right to the hostel or hotel you’re staying in, you’ll have to sort out public transportation which can sometimes be very tricky and frustrating depending on where you’re dropped off in the city. You could take a cab, but it’s probably more expensive than the bus ride you opted out on to hitchhike into the city in the first place.
9. Hitchhike with another person for safety
When I did all my hitchhiking, I didn’t do it alone. My male travel companion was with me and I felt much safer having him along. I feel like as a couple we got picked up more than he would have on his own, and maybe even quicker than if I was on my own. It’s pretty gutsy for a young woman to hitchhike by herself (but awesome if you have the guts to!).
And finally, just be aware that getting into and out of towns and cities isn’t always the easiest, and you may have to do a lot of walking before you get to a spot where you can wait for someone to pick you up. A ride always came along quickly while I was hitchhiking, but also be prepared to wait for a while. If you follow these guidelines and your own intuition, hitchhiking is fun and safe and you’ll get to meet some really awesome people along the way.