Hitchhiking Guide: How To's
Hitchhiking tends to have a stigma of being dangerous, especially if you are from North America, like us. As with anything adventurous there are inherent dangers but by following a few simple guidelines, you will discover that hitchhiking is an extremely efficient way to get where you’re going for free and to make some new friends along the way! So get your hitchhiking thumb ready and hit the road!
Find a Good Spot
The first thing to do to ensure success hitchhiking is finding a good spot to hitch from. Knowing what is a good spot is a easy skill that will develop with time but there are some fairly universal aspects to consider.
- You want to make sure you can be seen. Try to stand in an open place on a straightaway. The more time cars have to see you and your friendly face, the more time they have to decide whether or not to pick you up. Avoid standing just around curves in the road, on the decline of a hill, behind any structures that block you from the road.
- Get to the outskirts of town. Hitchhiking inside of city limits is much more difficult because many people are sticking around town. Getting to the outskirts ensures you are hailing cars that are actually going somewhere and will save you time and effort.
- Be prepared to walk…A LOT. Hitchhiking is great for your health! You are not always going to get dropped off at another Ideal Spot. Sometimes you get dropped off at the beginning of a city and have to get through the entire thing to get to the next place to hitch from. In a small town, this is usually easily done if you don’t mind walking a few kilometers. However, we have been in situations, such as outside Bangkok, where walking through the city was just not possible. In these cases, hop on a public bus and get as close to the next spot as you can and walk the rest.
Finding a good spot takes patience but is necessary to getting rides. Put yourself in the drivers’ seat and think about where you would pick someone up from. The Ideal Spot is somewhere that has shade, a long and straight road, where cars are going slowly. Check out this Ideal Spot we found in Morocco:
Show That You’re Friendly
While it seems like a no-brainer, showing you’re friendly actually takes a bit of effort when you’re hitchhiking. You know you are harmless but you have very little time to convince passing cars that you will be a safe passenger to bring on board. Big smiles are the first step. If your cheeks hurt by the end of the day, you’re doing it right. Waving is also key. Just sticking out your thumb looks lazy. Be eccentric, jump up and down, do a little dance! As awkward as it feels, people are less likely to feel threatened by someone who looks like she’s enjoying herself. And why shouldn’t you be? Hitchhiking is the best!
Learn the Local Sign Language
Different places have different ways to signal cars to stop for you. In most places, sticking your thumb out works just fine but learning how the locals do it can save you time and might save you from getting dropped off at the bus station all of the time! Hitchwiki is a great resource when hitching in different countries as they tend to have the different hand signs and other helpful information on a wide range of countries!
We’ve been hitchhiking collectively for years in many different countries and have never experienced any problems, but that’s not to say they don’t occur. Being aware of your surroundings in a basic tenant of travelling while using any form of transportation and hitchhiking is no different. To ensure maximum safety of your personal belongings and yourself, consider these things when accepting rides:
- Don’t hitchhike at night. It seems obvious and in some cases it may be totally safe to do but as a rule of thumb, sketchy shit is more likely to go down at nighttime. Also, remember that you are standing on the side of the road at night and unless you have some hardcore reflective gear, cars probably won’t see you. This goes against our number one advice for hitching of “being seen” and also ups your risk of becoming roadkill due to reckless drivers.
- Make an assessment of your driver before getting in the car. When a car stops for you, you will have a few moments to talk to your driver about where you’re going and where they are going. During this time, get a read of the driver and the passengers in the car. It may seem daunting to try and make a full assessment of a person’s intention in a few minutes but it is actually pretty easy to tell if someone has bad intentions. Trust your gut and don’t get into a car with someone who makes you feel uneasy. Feel comfortable saying no because another ride will come along. If you find that someone is acting shifty after you’ve already gotten in the car, be confident in insisting the driver stop and let you out. In our experience, however, people who stop to pick you up are genuinely interested in knowing your story or just helping you out.
- When hitching alone, bring all of your personal items into the car with you. While it is highly unlikely, it is possible that someone would attempt to steal your shit by letting you out and then pulling off with your precious belongings still locked in the truck. Therefore, it is a good idea to bring your stuff with you into the car. People will often get out and pop the trunk but politely insist that you are fine holding everything with you. If you must put things in the trunk, insist that the driver to help you with your things. If you are travelling with a buddy, one of you should get out to get your things while the other waits in the car.
- Listen to the locals. If locals tells you not to hitchhike in an area because it is too dangerous, take their advice. Sometimes people will advise against hitching because of personal biases. For instance people in Mexico told Gabe not to hitchhike in Guatemala, people in Guatemala said not to hitchhike in Honduras, etc and so on. This is often due to local prejudices and should be taken with a grain of salt. However, (as was the case in Acapulco) when a local warns you that by hitching out of their city you run the risk of getting dropped off in a tiny village almost certainly controlled by cartel forces who will kill you if they don’t believe you are simply travelling…it’s probably best to take that advice and find other transportation.
If you are hitchhiking in a particularly dangerous country, consider taking a picture of the license plate of the car you get in and send it to a friend so that in the unlikely event something happens, they can notify the proper authorities and have information on the last car you were in.
Is Hitchhiking Legal?
We have never visited a country where hitchhiking was illegal. In some places, such as Mauritania and Guinea, the police will try and discourage you from hitchhiking. This is usually because authoritative figures have their own interests to consider when letting you travel throughout their country and so they will air on the side of precaution and advise you to travel with reputable agencies instead of hitchhiking. In some cases, this is good advise but usually it is because cops dislike extra burdens and you, as a tourist, hitchhiking through their country counts as an extra burden. Stay polite but persistent when you encounter police officers and nine times out of ten they will let you on your way. Sometimes, they might even help you find a ride. NEVER be rude or impolite and never give money under the table to officials!