Top 5 Hitchhiking Pitfalls and Tips
Travelers far and wide have been traversing countries by hitchhiking rides for years, but taking the first steps into the realm of hitchhiking can be daunting. I’m sure that you’ve heard stories from fellow travelers about how they hitchhiked across this or that country, met amazing folks and shared stories. So, to get you started this article is for the beginner hitchhiker. Simply avoid the pitfalls, follow the tips and you’ll soon be on your way.
1. Be prepared
Hitching a lift to the next town is one thing but if you want to go long distances, instead of using trains or buses, then you need to be prepared. You wouldn’t just turn up to a station without knowing which direction you’re heading in and with a rough idea of how long the journey takes. Well, hitchhiking is exactly the same.
Pick locations along the route
Look at a map, your final destination is your goal but what other locations are along the route, which road do you need to take, if you end up in a small village are you likely to be able to hitchhike another lift? These are all questions that you’ll need to ask yourself, and remember that for a long journey, there might be different legs that you take over a few days.
Pinpoint a starting base and time
Ask locals for the inside information on where the best standing place is, to increase your chances of being picked up. They might also be able to offer some titbit information on hitchhiking in their country. When looking for an ideal starting point there are a few things worth taking note of. Firstly, drivers will need somewhere they can stop and pick you up, lay-bys , car parks and gas stations all work well. You’ll also need to think about the best time to start out; are you more likely to get picked up on someone’s journey to work early in the morning, during the mid-afternoon school run or late at night with cargo lorries?
Take some paper and a pen
You will obviously need some way to tell people where you want to go. The standard way to do this is to simply write your destination on a piece of paper in large thick letters. If you are hoping to travel a long distance then you might want to choose stop-offs on the route and write these on your paper. Or, for more flexibility, you could simply write a direction or even an arrow.
2. Dress for your audience
This all comes down to personal choice; if you haven’t showered for five days and have been wearing the same clothes for months on end then the people who are most likely to pick you up are fellow travelers or people that are dressed in the same manner. This is great for a bit of camaraderie, you might even find a travel partner. On the other hand, if you want a family to pick you up, then dress neater and shower.
In fact, we were given this advice by a guy who said he would pick us up because we were dressed in nicer clothes than the average hitchhiker, looked like we could share a decent conversation and, most importantly, wouldn't rob him for the small change in his pocket.
3. Be friendly and approachable
Okay, so smiling at cars as they come whizzing past you will make you feel a little bit psychotic but you get used to it after a while. Once you get past the point of feeling awkward, the smiling will become more natural and less forced.
The next step is to make eye contact. This can be easy or difficult depending on the country that you are trying to hitchhike in. For example, making eye contact and smiling whilst hitchhiking in California will happily be met with smiles in return. In Hungary, where we had no luck hitchhiking, we found that fewer people were willing to make eye contact, which in turn, made us feel even more awkward.
We once saw hitchhikers stick their middle finger up at people who didn't stop to pick them up. Don’t judge, there may be a million and ten reasons as to why drivers were unable to stop.
4. Know when to give up
Sometimes, for whatever reason, you’re just out of plain luck and after a while, you’ll decide to either try to find a new base to hitchhike from or give up entirely. During one particularly hot and sunny day, at which we first time we tried hitchhiking in Hungary, we were standing at the side of a busy main road near a layby for nearly four hours. That's right... four hours!
The midday heat was burning, we were thirsty, worn out and being hounded by a friendly man who kept trying to help by taking us to the police station. In the end, after four hours we managed to travel a grand total of one mile. We gave up and put it down to experience.
5. Join the gifting culture
The dictionary definition of hitchhiking is ‘to travel by getting free lifts in passing vehicles.’ The transport may be free but I would recommend offering something in return, even just as part of the gifting culture. If you’re sharing a long journey with someone, you could stock up on treats, offer to share some good music or even just swap some stories. There are numerous etiquettes at play when hitchhiking in different countries so do some research before you go. For example, some drivers may offer money or clothes, whilst others will expect money or a gift. To avoid any unexpected situations think about the different type of situations you might find yourself in and what you would do in each circumstance.
Enjoy the experience... the good, the bad and the eventful
Remember that hitchhiking itself is part of the experience and journey. For many people, standing on the side of a road with a heavy backpack, in the heat getting covered in exhaust fumes doesn’t sound like fun. For others, it is the only way that they travel.
We’ve tried numerous times to hitchhike, we’ve had successes, met amazing people and really enjoyed the experience. In other situations, we’ve given up after a few hours and have either gotten other transport or gone back to better prepare. One of the best thing about hitchhiking though is that you're never really sure where you might end up...
Wait, this isn't hitchhiking... who let me take the wheel?!