Most articles on hitchhiking start with something like, "When I was in college, once I decided to hitch to Yosemite over Spring Break..." or something to that effect. Now, there are a few of us who actually hitchhiked to get to places without being on vacation, like work or to see a girlfriend or to pick free apples from an orchard in the next town. Whatever the cause, whether you're planning a long trip or a short sprint across the county, it's always good to bear a few things in mind.
For one thing, the police (Sheriff's deputies, Highway Patrol, etc.) always check you out if you're trying to hitch a ride, so keep illegal contraband tucked well away. I say this because the old hitching adage of gas, grass, or ass is still generally in effect today. Plus, it's not a bad idea to have some kind of a deterrent from bad actors, you know, like pepper spray. It's a bit difficult to conceal your uncle's AK-47 in your pack. Besides, if you need it, it'll take forever to pull it out. Best leave it with your uncle. Thanks for offering, uncle.
Generally speaking, hitchhiking is not just for hippies, ski bums, and axe murders. It is, rather, one of the easiest ways to see the world on a budget, and make a few new friends in the process. All you need is some common sense, a little etiquette, and an opposable thumb (unless you're traipsing through Thailand or the Middle East, in which case, do NOT stick your thumb up and out. Just don't).
So, although it’s not mandatory to give your driver anything, it is good practice to offer to pitch in on gas if you can afford it. It's karma, dude.
Remember, safety first. The best way to stay safe is to be like the Boy Scouts: be prepared. Plan properly and give yourself options. Don’t depend entirely on anyone for anything whether on the road or at home. I'm sure you've heard all the scary stories about thumbing a ride in the US. It's mostly hype. However, with that said, don't be a damn fool -- you're still getting in a stranger's car. Stay alert, buckle up, and, if at any time they pop Rob Zombie into the tape deck, immediately bail out.
|If one of these picks you up, you must pay before you get off.|
Here's an obvious tip you should know but probably don't always follow when traveling: If you want to increase your chances of being picked up (on the road or at the bar), be sure to shower and dress like someone you’d want to travel with; no one wants to do someone a favor when it means stinking up their car.
There is a method to successful hitchhiking. For instance, a long trip (cross-country) requires a good map. It pays to know where you're going. Become familiar with the road numbering system, if there is one. On US interstate highways, even numbered roads go east/west, and the higher the number, the more northern the interstate. Odd numbered roads go north/south, and the higher the number, the more eastern the interstate. Three-digit interstate numbers indicate spurs and loops off the main interstates. In Europe, two digit numbers ending in 5 indicate a reference road that goes from north to south, whereas those ending in 0 indicate reference roads that go from east to west.
Take precautions. Scan your ID (and passport, if traveling internationally) and e-mail it to yourself. If it gets stolen, print out copies at a library. For passports, go to an embassy with your copies and do what you need to do to get a new passport. Americans must provide two passport photos and fill out a few forms to get a temporary passport.
Hitch from a good spot. Get on the side of the city or town that's in the direction you're traveling. E.g. If you're heading west, get on the west side of town. Your spot should be on a straight stretch of road (700 meters in either direction). Cars on a super-highway are going too fast to stop -- chances are better when the speed limit is 50 or less. Make eye contact with passing drivers. Wearing sunglasses is not a good idea because it obscures eye contact.
Do I need to tell you that the cars need to be traveling in your chosen direction?
Have a visible and easily manageable pull-over and pick-up area nearby.
No other hitchhikers in sight -- if someone is there first, remain out of sight and wait your turn.
As mentioned before, present yourself well. Look like you know where you are going, and what you are doing. Have a clean, well-kept appearance, hold a clear, neat sign, and smile!
More interesting but useful factoids: You're less likely to get picked up if you wear too much denim. Shorts on male hitchers are looked down upon in many rural communities in the American South and West.
Couples tend to wait longer, based on 'real estate' issues in passing vehicles, however, make it clear from the start that you're in a relationship with the woman, or else the driver might go after her; be protective.
Rain will not increase your chances of getting picked up, especially if you're totally drenched. Snow, however, or a recent snowfall, however, tends to increase odds of getting a ride. People generally don't mind the occasional snowflake on their upholstery, as it brushes off easily, before it melts, but rain on clothes tends to collect in seat cushions.
I cannot stress this next point enough. Be selective about which rides you take. You'll actually get to your destination faster if you pay attention. It's better to travel 50 miles and get dropped off at a gas station or truck stop than to travel 100 miles and get dropped off in a bad hitchhiking spot. So use that map! If you've been on a busy roadway for more than two hours and people aren't stopping, you're probably on the wrong road or the wrong side of the road. Duh! If someone stops and you don't want to take the ride, for whatever reasons, tell them you want to wait for a ride that's longer or takes you to a better position. Just because they pull over doesn't mean you should get in. Always follow your intuition.
Hitchhiking across the US takes about 4-6 days. West to east is faster than east to west.
In most European countries it is all right to hitch on smaller or secondary roads, but illegal and very unpleasant on highways.
If it's raining, an easily removable poncho or umbrella may indicate to picky drivers their car won't get soaked. That said, if you have time, it is often better just to wait out a rainstorm.
Many drivers will be more likely to pick up a hitcher who appears to be walking. Do not walk away from a good hitch-hiking spot though! You are more likely to get a ride in a good spot where a car can stop, than in a bad spot, walking.
Be polite with the people who stop to take you in their car, and remember to thank them for the ride.
The "hitchhiker's thumb" is unknown in parts of Asia. In South Korea, simply put your arm out with your palm facing down, then make a gesture for getting someone to come to you.
In the UK and most of Europe, it works great. Befriend a truck driver and get them to give you an old used Tachograph Chart. Hold this up to passing trucks when hitching, this will make you appear to be a fellow truck driver and therefore greatly increase your chances of them stopping to give you a lift. Since North America does not use Tachograph, this would probably not have any effect beside confuse the drivers.
Do not hitchhike next to a disabled vehicle; you do not need the cops or owner investigating. Also, most passing motorists, upon learning the vehicle isn't yours, will probably decline your ride.
Do not hitch at night, unless in a well-lit spot, and avoid hitching on paydays in rural areas. You do not want a passing drunk to clip you.
Hitchhiking is illegal in some states and countries like Australia.
Not only in Asia, but in some European countries, the "hitchhiker's thumb" may be taken as an insult.
Hitchhiking on the highway can be dangerous. Use judgment as to whether the ramp is better than the main line.
Watch out for cops. Even if it is legal where you are, you may get questioned. Over-zealous cops are everywhere.
Don’t hitch in places where it is important for the driver to concentrate on the road, especially at crosswalks or areas where children are at play.
And so, that's it. If you find yourself looking for an adventure or you just want to get across town because your car blew a rod, use these common sense rules and you'll be fine. Unless, that is, you run across an inbred yankee family in the backwoods of northern New York State. All those weirdoes don't just live in Georgia, you know.