So after hitchhiking thousands and thousands of miles across 4 continents, I’m going to put my thumb down for a moment and share what I’ve learned along the way. My aim is to eradicate those stupid misconceptions and provide a few tips to increase YOUR chances when hitchhiking.
The BIG Misconception: Hitching is not safe (especially for girls)
Come on, we’ve all seen the films and heard the horror stories before…you’d be crazy to hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers because you’ll get murdered!! Luckily, I’m still alive to tell you that this is probably the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard. And what’s funny is that this kind of nonsense usually comes from those that have never hitchhiked before.
I want to tell you that it’s safer than you think. In all of my hitches (lost count), I’ve never come into a situation where I’ve felt unsafe. Furthermore if we base this on mathematical probabilities – whether you’re a girl, boy or undecided – you’re more likely to get killed using public transport than you are hitchhiking. In fact, you are statistically more likely to die from falling over than you are hitchhiking.
Country X ‘v’ Country Y
A lot of people ask me whether it’s “easier” to hitchhike in one country over another. I don’t think there’s any difference. I found it equally as challenging to hitchhike in Canada as I did in Northern Thailand. Besides making a decision to hitch in a country troubled by war and politic unrest, I don’t think it’s fair to say Country X is easier/safer than Country Y. Despite cultural differences, on a fundamental level we’re inherently the same. In my experience about 99.9999999% of people are good people. Don’t get me wrong there are some nut jobs out there but they don’t spawn in a particular country. Always trust your gut feeling when assessing a hitchhike. If it doesn’t feel right then don’t get in the vehicle. There will always be another ride.
Dealing With Rejection
Hitchhiking is an amazing tool for character building. Mark my words, it’s not all dandy on the side of the road. It can be very testing at times and requires an extremely resilient personality. The longest I’ve ever waited for a lift was 5 hours.
You’ve got to brush away the fingers that old grandmas give you, embrace the winds that smash your face as a 60 tonne truck passes you at 100 kmh, and outbrave the torrential downpours that seem to drench all hitchhikers at some point on the road. Don’t fret though – if there’s a road, then cars will pass by and you will eventually get a ride if you don’t give in. Persistence is key. And remember when it’s sunny; if all else fails, at least you develop a good sun tan.
What sort of people will pick you up?
I think hitchhiking is an awesome filtering system. People from ALL different backgrounds and cultures will stop to pick you up. One thing I can confirm is that you won’t get picked up by arseholes – luckily they don’t have time for you. You’ll get picked up by kind, inspiring, and creative people – especially the free spirits of this world. Most of them can usually resonate with a hitchhiker in someway or another. A lot, I find, have hitchhiked themselves before or travelled extensively. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and these people will buy you coffees, feed you or invite you to their place. Above all, they’ll tell you their fascinating stories and teach you valuable lessons that money cannot buy.
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised many times too. I’ve hitched with a priest, an autistic genius, and a mother with two children that had never picked up hitchhikers before. I’ve also done long haul hitches with the angriest looking truck drivers that just needed a little bit of company to make their long drive a little more bearable. You can’t even begin to guess the situations you’ll find yourself in. In Tasmania a middle-aged woman that had never picked up hitchhikers before let me and my friends drive with her. We ended up travelling with her for the rest of the trip and we’re still in touch today.
5 Tips to Improve Your Success with Hitchhiking
Yes there is a lot of luck involved with hitchhiking. Being in the right place at the right time cannot be denied. However, there are also a few things you can do to increase your success rate.
1. Your Vibe and Presentation
Bluntly put, if you look like a serial killer you’re doomed. Please don’t look primal and don’t hide your face with sunglasses or hats.
The bottom line is that you need to smile, radiate positivity and optimism. It’s all down to the energy and vibe you give off – a driver can gauge it very quickly. To gain a bit of positive momentum, I like to wave, smile and joke about with EVERY vehicle that passes by even if they’re not heading in our direction. Get truckers to honk their horns! I got picked up by a guy that saw me having a joke with someone in the car in front. It’s all about momentum. Do you best to get it working in your favour.
I’ve tried a few methods and heard other hitchers use other creative methods with success. If you’re traveling a foreign country it’s a good idea to buy your country flag and wave it about relentlessly. People will stop because they want to hear your story and how you’ve got to where you are. I also have a yellow Bert hat, which seems to attract lots of attention. I’ve heard of other people wearing fancy dress, as well as using signs and posters offering free doughnuts for cars passing by.
3. Your Sign
What on earth do you write on your sign? This can be difficult, especially if you’re hitching out of a major city with lots of exit points in front of you. As a general rule, I say having a sign for no further than 150km’s is reasonable; maybe a little further for a country like Canada or Australia. You can always put two destinations on the one sign. I’ve also heard about a hitcher that didn’t have any particular location on his sign, but instead opted for “I promise, I won’t murder you” – it worked very well apparently.
4. Hitchhiker’s Paradise (The Ideal Position on the Road)
I’m sure the shoulders of roads were made for hitchhikers… Hitchhiker’s Paradise is the ideal station for a hitcher and looks a little bit like this…
Important Criteria Here: Edge of city/town, Wide shoulder, long straight stretch of road, somewhere a car can pull in, no roads in front where traffic can turn off, and preferably a speed limit to slow the car down.
You need to think about what people are doing in the area and ask yourself some questions: Where do people go in their cars? Are people commuting to work and if so what time do they leave? Are there any petrol stations on the way out of town? What time of day attracts the most traffic?
On longer routes with not many towns in between, you need to be targeting service stations where truck drivers and people travelling longer distances stop for lunch. Service stations are also good because people have chance to talk to you, weigh you up and see that you too are human and won’t kill them.
Finally in terms of hitching with other people, it’s said a combination of two girls is best; whereas two boys is the most difficult. Forget about combos, you’ll eventually get picked up. I hitched in a group of 4 with bicycles around Tasmania and managed to catch a ride each and every time. Also, so far on this Canadian trip I’ve hitched 5000km with another guy and had no major issues – most of the time we’ve reached our intended destination.
So there you have it… I hope this helps those out there keen to try a bit of hitchhiking for the first time.
Don’t disrespect the shoulder of the road, it’ll quickly become your best friend. As well as a place to catch a lift, it’s been my place for thinking up new ideas, working out, eating and writing my journal.
Finally, in all of my thousand KM’s hitching, one crucial lesson has emerged: Success in anything is incremental. As long as you have a burning desire to achieve something, then with small steps, you’ll eventually make it happen. Please remember it’s all about embracing the adventure and not neglecting the journey in hope of reaching the final destination.
I hope this gives you the confidence you need to give hitchhiking a shot.
Dan Beaumont, 26th June 2014