The cheapest and most budget friendly means of travelling, hitchhiking has seen a recent resurgence as a viable means of travel for low budget backpackers. With that being said hitchhiking is often a safe and rewarding means of travel and each year tens of thousands of people catch rides with complete strangers. Drivers are often pleased to have some company for the duration of the journey, and you are generally obliged to make some efforts to talk with them, even if it’s just a few words in their local language.
If you do decide to hitchhike between destinations it’s best to have a flexible schedule as you may receive offers of accommodation or even invitations to events such as weddings or Christmas dinner and suddenly find yourself several days behind schedule. Ensure that you check the legalities of hitchhiking abroad before you travel, as it is illegal in some countries and inadvisable in others. For first time hitchhikers, there are several important things you can do to ensure that you find a ride and stay safe during your travels:
Use a map – Given the sometimes stop-start nature of hitchhiking, a good map is an invaluable tool to have, especially if it highlights things such as rest stops or petrol stations. A map with an at least 1:1,000,000 ratio will suffice if needed while 1:750,000 should normally be good enough. If your phone or tablet is capable of doing so it may also help to map your intended route into the phone, which can also assist you in determining your location should you get lost or disoriented.
Find a good, safe location – If you’re looking to hitch it may be tempting to walk to a major street or highway and simply try from there; however, this could prove to be more time-consuming than useful. Find a major highway or road that leads towards your destination to reduce the amount of local traffic and position yourself on the side of the road where you are clearly visible to oncoming traffic and they have enough space to stop and pick you up.
Have a sign outlining your destination – Having a clearly visible sign greatly improves your chances of getting a lift and getting to your intended destination, even if your intended destination is as vague as ‘South’ or ‘France’. Additionally you can add a few words of the local language in ‘Por Favor’ for instance, or use abbreviations for cities rather than full names, such a ‘KRK’ for Krakow or ‘HH’ for Hamburg.
Dress appropriately – You’re much more likely to get a lift if you’re dressed like a trustworthy and honest person. Resist the urge to wear sunglasses or a hoodie when trying to thumb a lift and wear neutral or pale colours if possible, as these appear more trustworthy than black or khaki clothing.
Trust your instincts – If someone stops and offers you a ride, but you’re getting a bad vibe from them, it’s best to decline, even if they’re the only person who’s stopped for some time. It’s better to wait a while longer for a ride than to go against your instincts and get in a vehicle with someone who you’re not entirely comfortable with.
Note the details of the vehicle – As an added safety precaution note the details of the vehicle before you get in, including the brand, model, colour and license plate number of the car. Write these down or put them in your phone and, if possible, message them to a friend. If asked explain that this is a precautionary measure and most drivers will understand this. You can also make a joke that your Mum insists you text her the details every time you hitch a lift as she worries about you far too much.
While the notion of hitch hiking may seem quite daunting at first it soon becomes and enjoyable and interesting part of your trip and can provide some of the most memorable experiences of the entire journey, just remember to put safety ahead of fun and be prepared to meet some interesting people!