Are you adventurous and do you like to meet new people? Or do you have a tight budget, but still want to explore abroad? Hitchhiking while traveling is the perfect way to get to know new destinations and people cheaply!
Today, of course, there are many alternatives. Often travelers choose to explore abroad by public transport. The bus and train are fun, easy and (often) affordable options. A
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About hitchhiking while traveling
What is hitchhiking?
But what exactly is hitchhiking? Hitchhiking is a form of travel in which a traveler asks a car driver to take him or her as a passenger (“to give a lift”). In most countries, hitchhiking is allowed on all roads where pedestrians are allowed, ie not on highways and motorways. Lifts are usually also allowed at the beginning of driveways, in parking lots, at a bus stop or at a gas station.
My experience with hitchhiking while traveling
I myself, a 26-year-old woman, have a lot of experience with hitchhiking when traveling. My hitchhiking career started in the scouts, where we sometimes hitchhiked together with a large group. After that I mainly hitchhiked during hiking trips in Europe and North America. During my walk on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2021 I hitchhiked countless times from the walk to a town, and vice versa. After a week in the middle of nowhere did I get on a highway or dirt road rightly so and we raised our thumbs to go to a town or supermarket”hitchhiking“. Handy, right?
Also this year I made a big walking trip in Canada and we hitchhiked back and forth from the walk. Sometimes short distances, but often long distances; We hitchhiked more than 2 km in 700 days!
Why hitchhiking isn't always fun…
But hitchhiking while traveling also has its drawbacks. Sometimes you have to wait a long time for an elevator. Lifting is done outdoors, in all weather conditions: rain, cold, snow or blazing sun. In addition, you have no guarantee of happiness. You don't know if you'll get a lift and when you'll reach your destination.
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Is hitchhiking dangerous?
Perhaps the biggest drawback is safety… Many people don't like to hitchhike, because you don't know who you're getting into. You hear a lot of horror stories about hitchhikers who disappear or experience other bad things. I too have heard these stories and will keep them in mind. However, with the following tips I have always experienced hitchhiking while traveling safely and in a pleasant way. Hopefully these can help you on your adventure too!
10 tips for a safe and fun hitchhiking experience!
1. Trust your gut feeling
Don't underestimate the importance of your gut feeling! Even though I am personally convinced that 99% of people mean it, there is always a (small) chance that there is someone at the wheel that you don't really trust.
Do you notice that the driver is drunk or under the influence? In this situation it is best to follow your common sense: Do not get in. Are you not comfortable with that person? Or do you feel that something is not right? The following also applies: Do not get in or ask to leave the vehicle. With lifts, your safety and well-being comes first and every driver must respect that.
2. Lift at least two
Hitchhiking came about thanks to the popularity of the car. Especially in the 60s and 70s, hitchhikers, often travelers and students, were normal standing by the side of the runway with a sign. In the 21st century, almost everyone has their own car, which means there are far fewer hitchhikers. On top of that, hitchhikers and drivers alike are wary: Horrible stories are circulating about murder, extortion and kidnapping – from both sides!
That is why it is not unwise to hitchhike with two or in group. Mainly female solo hitchhikers are rare: Many women choose to hitchhike with a boyfriend or girlfriend. I always hitchhike with my partner and we hear from many drivers that a hitchhiking couple exudes confidence. So it can increase your chances of hitchhiking in pairs! And you may also feel safer with someone around. Your choice!
3. Laws and Rules – Know before you go
This tip is very simple: Know the laws and regulations in the country and/or area where you hitchhike. For example, it is in Europe It is forbidden to hitchhike on motorways. So find a good lift spot where drivers can pick you up easily and safely and avoid problems with the local police. Hitchhike you in it Middle East of West Africa? Then it's not a good idea to hitchhike with your thumb in the air! In these areas it is a disparaging gesture and people can take offense. So inform yourself well about the written and unwritten rules of the country where you hitchhike.
4. Make a sign with your destination
Showing your destination is useful information for the driver. This allows the driver to better estimate where you need to go and people can guide you in the right direction. Sometimes you get lucky and the driver even takes you all the way to your destination!
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For that reason we always make a cardboard sign with our destination in alcohol marker on it. You don't have to carry that in your backpack. You can easily ask for a cardboard plate and marker at a fast food restaurant or gas station. By showing your final destination, many drivers are more likely to pick you up.
5. Hitchhiking during the day
This tip speaks for itself. Drivers are more likely to pick up hitchhikers in daylight than at night, plus there are simply more cars driving during the day than at night. So you are much more likely to hitchhike successfully during the day. Also don't forget: At night you'll find a different crowd on the track: Revelers, taxis, tired drivers and truck drivers.
Did you know: Truck drivers are often not allowed to transport fellow passengers? We are occasionally picked up by truckers. They are often very friendly and enjoy social contact, but their employer can contractually forbid them to pick up people… You will often get a friendly honk. Truck on!
6. Find a good hitchhiking spot
Hitchhiking when traveling does not always go smoothly. Hitchhiking in a big city, for example: Not a good idea. People in a city are usually busy and there is a lot of commuting. We prefer to hitchhike just outside a village center or on the road, where people can easily pick you up. Ideal is a large hard shoulder or parking lot, with plenty of space to stop. Also make sure you are clearly visible on the road! Not only for your safety, but also so that drivers can see you from afar. This gives them enough time to make a decision.
7. Hitchhiking at a gas station
If hitchhiking on a trip really doesn't work, it can be good to do it differently. Either you look for a different neighborhood, or you can try your luck at a gas station. Many people stop here to refuel or get a coffee. Who knows, you might just end up chatting with someone heading your way!
Of course, always be polite and try not to pressure anyone to take you – it's counterproductive. People are naturally curious – if they see you with a backpack and a sign, someone will surely come to you.
8. Your company in the car
Has a car stopped for you? Super! You have put your luggage in the car, and you are clipped into the seat belt. And now? Many people like to have a chat in the car. They are curious about why you hitchhike, where you are going and who you are. That is perhaps the best thing about hitchhiking: the social contact.
You listen to each other's stories, opinions, anecdotes… While hitchhiking you often get to know people that you might not otherwise meet. This is how we shared rides with far-right Trump fans, an Indian truck driver, a top female banker, a tree worker, a First Nation hunter and a manager at a fast food restaurant.
9. Cell phone in your pocket
Always handy to have your cell phone with you, isn't it? In the event of an emergency, breakdown or – in the worst case – a driver with unfriendly intentions, you can always call the emergency services or the police.
Yep, this is it! With a smile you are always a winner. Laughter is contagious and shows that you are a friendly, cool and innocent hitchhiker. People are more likely to trust someone who smiles than someone who looks sullen. With a smile, your best foot forward and your thumb in the air, it probably won't be long before you get a ride. Good luck!
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