Oliver Lynch

Oliver Lynch

Content writer, language nerd and aspiring screenwriter. Usually found wandering old European towns or trying to snowboard.

The Hitchhikers Guide: How To Thumb A Ride For Free

Some think hitchhiking is dangerous or illegal, but actually it can be one of the best ways to get around…

If you’ve ever travelled on a budget you’ll probably have considered hitchhiking at some point. As a way to get between two relatively close points on a map it can save you a lot of money although it might take a bit of time.

After reading an article about the guy in New Zealand who had a tantrum after not being picked up for 4 days, I thought I’d lend some hitchhiking expertise. After all, it isn’t difficult if you know how. These days I’m happy to pay for a ride but I have done a lot of hitchhking in my time, from the UK to France to Asia and North Africa.

So here is the GoneTravelling guide to being a hitchhiker.

Look Smart

You might be on a mega budget but you’ve probably got a clean t-shirt and trousers, so pop them on. After all no one will want to pick up someone who looks like a tramp! If you’ve got scruffy hair then try and fix that too (a hat is often a good idea), anything that makes you look presentable will help.

Oh and look friendly! You don’t have to smile at every passing car but not looking angry/pissed off/depressed is a good start.

Pick Your Spot

Might be on for a long wait… – pic: Alexas_Fotos

Busy roads are obviously good places to hitchhike, as you’ll stand more chance of being picked up by someone going you way. However, autoroutes/motorways are often off limits to pedestrians so you’ll have to stand on the slipway to stand a chance of being picked up.

if you are on a busy road, make sure you are giving drivers enough time to both see you and to pull over. Ideally a point with a long line of sight and a point where pulling over won’t cause a problem.

The best bet is a road that you can walk along as you hitchhike, often a major trunk road (an A or B road in the UK) so you can walk towards your destination as you thumb. Bringing us to…

Keep Walking

You might be waiting for a ride but walking towards your destination will bring you closer to your goal and, hey it might not actually be that far. The guy in New Zealand could have walked his route in a day but chose to wait in one spot for 4 days and got frustrated when he wasn’t picked up. Keep walking and you might not even need that ride!

Thumb Out Or Sign?

The international sign of the hitchhiker is the thumb, so get thumbing. This applies almost everywhere from Europe to Asia etc.

Having a sign with your destination is handy if you’re stood near a motorway or if you’re trying to go a long way. You might get dropped part of the way along your route but hey, anything is better than nothing eh.

Travel Light

Got a rucksack, a suitcase and a day pack? Stop being a cheapskate and get the bus… People are less likely to pull over for someone who looks like they’re moving house. If you can get everything in one bag then that will help, even if it is one big bag.

Travel With A Friend

Of course we all know that hitchhiking has the potential to be dangerous, so keeping company can mean safety in numbers. Two is a good amount, but more than that might mean not getting picked up.

Let People Know

On the subject of safety, it can be a good idea to give loved ones a heads up about your travel plans. A quick message just to say, ‘I’m in A but about to hitch hike to B’ is normally a good idea. Obviously let them know you’ve arrived safely too! International manhunts can cause a bit of stress.

Also, when setting off from your hotel/hostel perhaps let someone there know of your plans, in event of the worse case scenario.

Check Local Laws

Hitchhiking is often not actually illegal but obscuring the traffic is… So long as you’re not in the position to cause an accident then you’re most likelt fine.  A quick search online about hitchhiking in a particular country/state will normally let you know if it’s going to get you in trouble. However, even if it is illegal the worst that might happen is an irate policeman telling you to stop, probably not actually arresting you.

All of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, much of Asia, South America and most US states are fine for sensible hitchhikers.

Be Aware Of Local Security

Thumbing a ride in an area currently experiencing some unrest or disorder is obviously not a good idea. There are also notorious roads such as The Highway of Death in Mexico or Brazil’s bandit laden stretches. Ask some locals, read some online forums, do some basic research. If it sounds like it might be dangerous option, take the train.

It is also a good idea to hitch with a fully charged mobile phone in case you need to call the local law or message a friend. Most countries use 112 for the emergency services number but check locally just in case.

Prepare For A Rickety Ride

Hop on! – pic: MaryAddison80

You might get a ride really quickly, right to your destination, but there is every chance it could be in the back of a rusty pickup van with about ten locals and a goat, or on the roof of a truck. Yours truly has bounced around in the back of numerous pickups and I’ve also picked people up who have then sat in the back of a van with no windows. That’s all part of the experience though eh… It is free after all!

Follow Your Gut Instincts

Got a bad feeling about something? Don’t get in the car/van/truck if you don’t feel right about it. If you find you have hitched a ride and you’re feeling like you need to get out quick then ask them to pull over as soon as possible. If you need to feign sickness then that might help but if the worst comes to the worst, you have got that mobile phone haven’t you…

Be Friendly

Be polite and friendly when you do get your ride. Most people who pick up hitchhikers do so for the company. They’ll probably ask you where you’re from, what you think of their country and other bits of chit chat so keep that smile on your face.

Women may find that male drivers will ask questions like, ‘are you married?’, or ‘what does your husband think of you travelling alone?’. If you’re in the sort of country where being an unaccompanied woman is a bit unusual then play along and maybe say that you’re meeting your husband at your destination… Although it might not be very 21st century, it could save unwelcome advances and a few awkward conversations.

Hitchhiking Is Fun

Hitchhiking is a great way to meet the locals and travel for free (or cheap… If it’s a long journey it can be polite to offer a bit of money for petrol). So treat the journey and your driver with respect.

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