Hitchhiking is a great way to travel that allows you to really get to know the locals. Many people prefer hitching to other forms of transport because you can get dropped off anywhere, allowing you to discover places you may never have dreamt of visiting.
Unfortunately hitchhiking gets a lot of bad press, particularly since the widely publicised hitchhiker murders many years ago. It seems that there are a lot of people who think that you’ll get murdered if you hitch. This attitude has two negative effects – people are too frightened to pick you up and a lot of other travellers are scared to hitchhike meaning less hitchers on the road, which ultimately leads to hitchhiking becoming a dying art.
It is important to choose a good spot to hitchhike. A good spot makes it easier to get a ride and more importantly it is safer for both you and the driver.
If you are leaving a big city it is a good idea to take a bus or train to the outskirts of town to get to a road leading to a motorway and then choose a spot with plenty of room for the driver to safely stop. If possible try and stand in a spot where the traffic isn’t too fast. It is much safer and also most drivers want to size you up before they decide whether to give you a lift.
If you’ve got a lift on a motorway, try and get dropped off at a service area rather than in town. If you’re dropped off in town you have to wait hours in local traffic before getting a lift back on to the motorway. If you hitch at a service area you have facilities like a restaurant, shop and toilets; you can chat to truck drivers and ask about getting a lift and you can get a good safe spot to stand where all the traffic is long distance.
Don’t hitchhike on motorways, stick to the entrance ramps and service areas. Not only is hitching on motorways dangerous, it is difficult for cars to safely stop and it is usually illegal.
A lot of hitchers debate whether to use signs or not. Some argue that drivers won’t stop if they don’t know where you want to go, while other hitchers say that it is safer to avoid using a sign. If you don’t use a sign you can ask the driver where they are going before accepting a lift – the driver won’t be able to lie about his destination to get you into the car.
A good compromise is to use a sign indicating the name of the road you want to travel on. This is especially useful if you are on a busy road before a major intersection, without a sign you may get a lift going in the wrong direction.
You’ll find a lot of rides come from regular stoppers – people who’ve hitch-hiked themselves and are repaying the favour and frequent solo travellers, like couriers and truck drivers who want some company. Although you’ll find that different people have different reasons for picking you up, there are a number of things you can do to improve your chances of getting a lift.
Look neat and respectable. Not only should you look non-threatening to any passing driver, but you also help to improve other people’s impression of hitchhiking.
Face the oncoming traffic and smile. It is important that people can see you, so avoid wearing sunglasses.
Try and look smart and clean.
When a car stops ask the driver where they are going to. At this point it is easy to decline the lift if you don’t like the look of the driver or if they aren’t going your way.
Never smoke in someone else’s car.
Travel light. The lighter your load, the quicker you travel.
Take an international drivers licence. Many people stop because they want someone to share the driving.
Although hitchhiking is more hazardous than bus or train travel, it’s still safer than other forms of transport such as cycling.
The most dangerous thing about hitchhiking is the possibility of being involved in a car accident or being hit by a car if you stand too close to the side of the road.
There is also a very small danger posed by accepting a lift with a driver that you do not know. The driver could either be a dangerous character or simply a bad driver.
Despite the perceived danger, there are plenty of ways to minimise your risk.
If you’re a single female you’ll travel quickly, however you’ll also attract your fair share of obnoxious drivers. It is a good idea to travel with someone else, preferably a guy. This way you will be perceived as a couple which means that you shouldn’t have any sleazy old men trying to come on to you, and if they do at least there is someone to help you out.
Many hitchhikers travel with a mobile phone and only hitch where there is coverage. Being able to call for help makes hitching a safer transport option. For this to work you need to keep your phone charged and in your pocket and you need to know the emergency number (112 is the international emergency number from GSM mobile phones, although the New Zealand emergency number 111 also works).
Don’t let the driver put your backpack in the car boot. Try and keep all your stuff with you, even when you stop for food and fuel.
Don’t feel compelled to accept a lift just because someone has stopped for you. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t get in. Another ride will come along.