Hitchhikers Guide

Hitchhiking is one of my favourite ways to get around, especially in North America. Having cut my teeth hitchhiking in the relative safety of Canada, I went on to hitchhike from Canada to Mexico a few years ago (watch the video here). Not only does it save a ton of money on transport, but you also get a chance to meet some amazing people. I've been picked up by a Rodeo Champion, by truck drivers, hillbillies, by a guy who was driving 18 hours to confront his new wife on her infidelity and so many more characters. Hitchhiking is a chance to meet someone you would probably never of otherwise met, but who holds a story that could change your life, inspire you or just put a smile on your face.

 

Now of course getting into cars with strangers isn't the safest way to get around, on paper. However in the countless times I've done it, I've never felt threatened or endangered. In fact, pretty much every person who has ever given me a lift has been an awesome human being and I've never felt uncomfortable (well apart from the Indian semi driver who didn't speak much English, except to say how much he liked sex). As long as you're not ignorant to the dangers, you'll be fine, although I am aware it can and no doubt will go pear shaped at some point the more often I do it.

 

 

Hints and Tips

  • Walk backwards when cars are approaching with your thumb out. When a driver sees a hitchhiker, they will only have a few seconds to make a judgement on whether or not they want you in the car next to them, so if you're covered in mud or carrying an axe, chances are they won't stop. This way they can see my face and see that I don't have a swastika tattoo on my forehead or anything and they can make a better judgement.
  • Smile as the cars go past, a genuine, happy smile breaks down people's guard. I find having headphones in and listening to music helps put a natural, unforced smile on my face.
  • Walk while you're waiting for your next lift. If you're in the middle of nowhere trying to thumb a lift, you've obviously been on the road for a while and people tend to sympathise with you more than if you were just sat on your ass on the outskirts of town.

 

  • Be prepared to say 'No Thanks' to someone you made a judgement about in less that 5 second, that will no doubt make you look like a racist prick even though you don't have a racist bone in your body. Sadly you'll make those judgements on preconceived dangers from society and TV, and you'll look like a prick for it. But trust your gut and take a look at your surroundings. If you're near a city, make your judgements and be safe, the worst people live in cities. If you in the countryside, you're chances of being picked up by a bad egg are going to be much much lower, but there are still always going to be weirdos out there.
  • If you're not comfortable saying no, just walk without your thumb out, eventually some good samaritan will stop and offer you a lift which makes it easier to say "No thanks, I'm just walking". This will take longer but people will still stop.
  • Start out of town, for one, in most towns in Canada it's illegal to hitchhike within city limits, but secondly, if you are in the middle of town you would need to find someone to not only pick you up but to also be headed down the exact same road as you out of town. If you walk through the town and start down the road you know you need to be on, all the cars are now going in your direction. The odds are all in you favour. If your ride is stopping in town, see if you can get them to drop you off as close as possible to the highway. Walking out of a town or city could mean a long walk.
  • Try and ask them where they are headed first before you say where you are going, that way if you don't get a good vibe off them you can just make your excuses and say you're headed somewhere different. It helps to have a map and to know where all the towns are in the area.
  • Say you're going to the next town when the driver asks you where you're headed. That way if you get a bad vibe from them or don't feel comfortable with them in their vehicle, you don't have to have that awkward conversation asking them to stop and let you out. Once you've chatted for a bit and you feel happy with your ride, then you can reveal where you are actually headed and chances are if they feel the same about you, they will take you as far as they can. Chances are they will also play the same cards so they can assess you too.
  • Carry a prop with you on a trip. I was picked up by an old guy once and he had hitchhiked all over Europe in the 70's. Instead of a bag, he cut a jerry can in half, hinged the base, put clips at the top and carried his stuff in that. People though he had run out of gas and stopped for him almost without any wait. He found when he used to hitch around Canada, carrying a canoe paddle seemed to get him picked up quicker. Something about the kind of person that canoes makes them seem friendly.
  • Keep all cash/cards/passport in your pockets, not in your bag and not all in the same pocket. In the unlikely event you need to bail out quickly, you might have to ditch your bag. Remember, everything material is replaceable! Losing your bank cards and/or passport is a MASSIVE problem. I've lost both on separate occasions, on the other side of the world and my god did it cause problems.
  • Don't thumb on a main freeway, chances are you won't get picked up, get to a service station or a slip road.
  • Make sure there is somewhere PAST you where the driver can pull over. They won't be stopping before they've checked you out so a layby in front of you is no good. Equally, I've seen people stood on roundabouts. Where are they going to stop???
  • Don't hitch at night, walking down the side of a road in the dark isn't the smartest thing to do at the best of times. You're better off camping out somewhere for the night. Besides, chance are you won't get anyone stopping for you, there's something a bit rapey about hitchhikers at night. We've all seen the movies.
  • Make sure you have food and water with you, because you could go a long time with nowhere to buy food or drink, or as above, you are forced to take an unplanned night under the stars. Certainly carry water as a minimum, especially in hot climates. I once walked 23km in the 4 hours it took for me to get picked up one day.
  • Don't get in a car where you're out numbered or there's someone on the backseat, the odds are way against you if they turn out to be dicks. Also, someone on the back seat can easily restrain you if you're in the front.
  • Always tell someone what your plans are and what route you are hitching and your estimated time of arrival before you head off on a hitchhiking mission.
  • Text a description of the vehicle and driver to a friend as soon a you get in the car, bonus points if you can remember the license plate. Even better would be to get a subtle photo of the back of the car and send that to your friend as well.
  • Girls, think about it first,  do you have street smarts? Im not gonna say girls shouldn't do it, cos that's bullshit, as long as you have common sense and keep your guard up, and have the confidence to say 'no thanks', you'll be fine. I only say this because the assholes out there will look at females in general being an easier target. 

 

If you're rich in time but poor on cash, hitchhiking is great fun and I've met some amazing people along the way. I was once treated to a 7 course Basq lunch in Fresno by one guy, to a Subway by someone else, I was loaded up with batteries and cigarettes by a couple of rednecks and I was even given $50 by another guy so I could get a hotel because he thought sleeping out was too dangerous. I've have been inspired no end by each and every person who picked me up to continually make more of an effort to show kindness to strangers. It's what makes the world go round.

 

Ive been mugged twice, was nearly stabbed in one mugging and the other time I was hospitalized me with multiple broken bones in my face, 8 fractured ribs and a partially collapsed lung. People always ask me why I'm not more scared about things and the answer is simple; I've crossed paths with a few really bad eggs in my life but I've met infinitely more amazing people with hearts of gold that would go out of their way for a stranger, many of them through hitchhiking. Had I never hitchhiked, I expect I would have far more emotional trauma and distrust in people and society. As it stands, the people who picked me up over the years are the ones who help me keep my faith in humanity. When it goes well, like it will 99.9% of the time, each ride is an amazing experience. But please don't be naive about the dangers of getting into a car with a stranger, when it goes wrong it can really go wrong.

Related

TRAVEL FOR LONGER
TRAVEL FOR LONGER
CYCLING MOROCCO
CYCLING MOROCCO
How to save more money
HOW TO SAVE MORE

Comments: 0