First of all, let’s agree that hitchhiking is a risky and unpredictable business.
I’m not in anyway vouching for its safety and reliability.
Yet, that’s probably 2 of the very reasons why it’s been such a great component of my wandering history here at Big World Small Pockets.
When you set out to get somewhere without a ticket or a timetable, you become totally reliant on instinct and chance.
You force yourself to throw caution to the wind and accept what the road presents you with; you surrender control of the how, where, why and who we so often tightly manage within our lives.
And yet, again and again, hitchhiking has rewarded me by restoring my faith in just how many trustworthy people there are in the world and how a little belief in that can go along way.
It’s also given me reams of stories and encounters I’ve held dear for years to come.
But perhaps, most of all, it has pushed me to the edge in a way that’s made me feel undeniably alive, that’s set the heart racing, that’s jumpstarted my freedom.
So, if you’re thinking of having a go at sometime, here are my top 5 tips for successful hitchhiking.
I can’t guarantee they will make your experience risk-free, but hopefully they will help make it as successful as possible.
#1 Successful Hitchhiking Often Starts from Service Stations
Rather than wait at the side of the road, a great place to stick your thumb out is at a collective area where you’ll find lots of motorists together.
Depending on where you are, of course, this isn’t always possible, but head for service stations or rest areas if there are any available.
Not only does this give you a bit of cover if there is inclement weather (as I discovered in the UK!) and a few amenities if you have to wait a while, but it also concentrates a large number of people, who may be able to help you, into a small space.
On top of this, almost everyone will be stationary at service stations, which means they are inconveniencing themselves less by having to slow down to pick you up.
Anything that makes it easier for people to give you a ride is a good thing for scoring a lift and likely to guarantee you more successful hitchhiking.
Major service stations are also good places to head if night is coming and you don’t have a lift secured through the night.
I don’t really recommend picking up a lift after dark, so heading to a rest area is good because 1) they are often 24hr with heat, light and food and 2) because many have motels attached where you can rest for the night before resuming your journey in the morning.
#2 Successful Hitchhiking Often Involves Approaching People Yourself
This is a trick you quickly cotton onto as it allows you to be more discerning about the people you clamber into a car with.
Our 6th senses are more alert than we give them credit for, so selecting and approaching someone to ask for a lift is a good bet for safety (although not fool-proof I would like to point out).
Again, communal areas like service stations and rest areas give you a captive stationary audience, so it’s easy to ask a lot of people within a short amount of time here.
I used this approach in New Zealand many times and found it very successful.
I also learnt here that if someone offers you a lift, but you feel uncomfortable, don’t feel obliged to take the ride.
Trust your instincts, it’s the greatest internal compass you have.
#3 Know the Area for More Successful Hitchhiking
When targeting people to ask for a ride, it’s great if you have some knowledge of the area where you are and where you’re trying to get to.
In many European countries, for example, number plates on vehicles tell you different sorts of information.
I remember this being really helpful when I was hitching in France, as the license plates here detail which region a car is from and can therefore help you gauge in which direction a person is most likely to be travelling.
Carrying a map is also a good idea for successful hitchhiking as it can help you pinpoint your location and relevant distances, especially if you aren’t that familiar with the region.
Maps are also useful for explaining destinations if there are language barriers between you and the driver.
#4 Successful Hitchhiking can Mean Having a Back-Up Plan
Very often someone may be able to offer you a lift in the direction you want to go, but not all the way to your destination.
It’s still good to take these lifts, but is one example where having a back-up plan might come in handy.
This doesn’t take the fun out of successful hitchhiking or suggest you aren’t brave enough to fully let go of control, it’s just a sensible measure and one that will often allow you to feel more confident on the road.
In turn, this likely to mean you’ll have more success in getting to where you want to go.
Back-up plans needn’t be fixed in stone either, often it might just be a copy of a bus or train timetable from major towns, which means you know that if you can get to these destinations you will be able to get out again.
I learnt this trick when I was hitching down from France to Morocco.
Coming from the north, and with dusk approaching, I just couldn’t find anyone going south of Madrid.
I really didn’t want to get off the motorway and into the city as I then knew getting a lift out, via one of the trillion ring roads, would be near impossible.
Luckily I found a ride with a truck driver who knew the trains well, so he was able to drop me at an outlying station from where he knew I could ride south overnight.
From then on, I always carry public transport timetables for the area if possible.
Knowing the location of service stations or major rest areas that offer lodgings is also good back-up knowledge for successful hitchhiking (see the 1st Tip).
#5 Use a CarPool Service for More Secure, Successful Hitchhiking
If you want to ease gently into hitching or are perhaps in an area you feel wary about, ridesharing services are a great way to replicate the experience.
You’re still opening up yourself to meeting random people and having adventures you wouldn’t expect, but you are pretty much guaranteed a ride and you know to where and when.
There are several websites that can put you in touch with drivers (or find you passengers to share fuel costs if you are driving) so just check my travel resources page for more details.
In Northern Queensland, where I was advised not to hitch, I used the Australian website coseats.com a lot and with great success.
So those are my top tips for more rewarding, safer and more successful hitchhiking experiences. For more tips, the website hitchwiki is well worth checking out.
Of course, hitchhiking and carpooling are great ways to travel if you’re on a budget, but they can also be super adventures in and of themselves, particularly if you want to connect with locals or get off the beaten track a bit more.
What are your top tips for hitching?