Welcome to my new “How to…” section, in which I hope to provide some interesting tips on mostly budget travel related topics. Check out the rest of this first post to understand why and how I hitchhike around for many years already!
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Hitchhiking is great! Not only does it save you money to get around, but far more importantly is the fact that you will be in touch with the locals. For me personally, this is a crucial part of traveling as I love to hear their stories and insider tips rather than just meeting other backpackers in a hostel. Drivers that will pick you up are usually great people and I would not be too worried about running into troubles. That being said, as a female solo traveler, you should certainly be a bit more careful and just don’t get into a car if your first impression of the driver is not convincing enough.
There are different ways to hitchhike in different parts of the world. I can’t exactly recall when I started, but it has been through at least 50 countries so far. Generally, you will either have to stop a car by using your thumb (Western world such as Europe, North America Australia, New Zealand etc.) or waving down your flat hand towards the ground (Second or Third World Countries, especially in Asia). Now with the basics out of the way, let’s go straight into what you should have/do to get a ride!
There are several things that you definitely need to do in order to increase your chances of getting a ride. Follow as much of these tips and you will most likely not wait for too long, in case you get any traffic coming through.
#1 – Look likable!
Put on your best smile while waiting for a lift. You only got a few seconds of leaving a great first impression and without looking “nice”, you will not convince the drivers to stop for you! Don’t be angry if they don’t stop and keep a positive attitude up even if you have to wait for a bit longer. Trimming that messy beard and not wearing a t shirt full of holes might help out as well 🙂
#2 – Find a good spot
It is of great importance to find a good spot that offers enough room for cars to pull over safely without harming any other people in the traffic. They should also be able to see you in advance to give them some more time to react. A speed limit will greatly increase your chances as well, so try getting a lift in towns or after roundabouts. Note that hitchhiking directly on highways is usually forbidden, for a very good reason.
#3 – Get on the road early
Don’t start your adventure too late as you will have less traffic the later you hit the road. Between 07:30 and 09:00 is perfect in most scenarios when people start to work. If you hitchhike in rural areas, you might not get a ride at all anymore after 16:30 or even earlier, so be prepared to wake up early and calculate any time that you might need to walk out to a good spot. I often walk up to 5km to get a decent spot trying to get out of bigger cities.
#4 – Keep moving
There are two things I like about hitchhiking while walking out of town. First, people will not think that you have a dangerous buddy waiting in the bush to ambush them and second, you are able to improve your position and try your luck again if you are stuck somewhere. Personally for me, it is a mental thing of moving to another spot if I didn’t get a ride. I just like to think that if you put in some effort, you will eventually be rewarded!
#5 – Go step by step
Don’t think you will get straight to your final destination. Most of the time, you will have to move from town to town and be prepared to have multiple rides. Especially in countries that might leave you with a little bit of a communication problem due to language barriers, I would always just mention the next town to them rather then the final destination as they might otherwise decline you since they are just going to the next town. Once you are in the car, you can always talk about where you are trying to end up at the end of the day and get dropped at a good spot for the next lift.
#6 – Be prepared to strand
Sometimes you will not get a ride if you head out towards the remote corners of a country. I have just experienced it in Australia and after the traffic came to a complete stop, I had to set up my tent in the bush and try again the next morning. One car woke me up at 07:00 and then I had to wait until 11:00 for the second car to pass in the wind and cold! Don’t wander off and try to hitchhike to remote places without a tent, enough water and food!
#7 – Interact
Once you get in the car, be nice and interact to the driver. Start off by offering something that you can spare such as a snack or sweets and even if it is not much, it will show that you are a nice person. Also be curious and answer any curious questions the driver will have. You will most certainly be a very interesting person in his mind and even if you hitchhike everywhere for a long time and you get the same questions over and over again, always try to answer them in a nice and polite way. Truckers like to pick up people to kill their time as well on very long rides, so help them by talking to them!
#8 – Have a map
This one seemed to be too obvious for me but after reading some comments, I have now added the 8th tip: Have a map with you!! I always use Google maps and MAPS.ME and you just have to know everything about the possible routes to take in between towns and it is always good to see how far away you are. GPS signal usually works even without a SIM card and I will write a separate post about using Offline Maps in the future!