Looking for a guide to hitchhiking 101? We’ve got you covered with what hitchhiking actually is, how to hitchhike, and all importantly whether hitchhiking is safe. If you just don’t have enough money to get from point A to point B, or there’s no public transport to your destination and you need to get there somehow, hitchhiking might be the solution you’re looking for. Thumbs up!
Photo By: Eli Duke
What is Hitchhiking?
Hitchhiking is asking people – often strangers – for a free ride in their car or truck. In some parts of the world – say in rural villages – hitchhiking is used as a completely normal mode of transport, say to get form one village to another. In these parts of the world you can see people of all ages catching a ride like this. For travelers, hitchhiking is either used as a way to save money, to get to places where other forms of public transport don’t go, or as a mode of transport when other forms of transport break down. Hitchhiking in this context is seen as more dangerous, although this is of course not always the case. When hitchhiking you might not be taken directly to your end-destination, but maybe just part of the way in the right direction.
In some countries like Cuba, Israel and Nepal hitchhiking is very common, while yet in other countries like the Netherlands there are even designated hitchhiker pickup zones. In countries like Poland and Romania it remains a popular way for local villagers to get form town to town. In the United States hitchhiking has historical and cultural relevance as it was a way to get around during the poverty of the Great Depression. But also books like Into the Wild, On the Road and The Grapes of Wrath have popularized hitchhiking among present-day backpackers and adventure travelers. And who can forget the influence of the cult-classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?
How to Hitchhike?
Hitchhiking relies on the signalling method, usually a thumps up with your arm out as you stand right by the side of the road. Some hitchhikers also have a written sign with their preferred destination. Elsewhere in the world the signal is the index finger pointed to the road and wagging your hand up and down. In most places hitchhiking is legal, although in some countries, or in some regions of some countries hitchhiking is illegal. It can also be illegal on specific roads like on highways or freeways in a given country. You should always check this out to avoid problems.
- Ask for rides at a petrol station where you have more chance to engage with the driver and decide if that person is someone you want to be in a car with.
- If you’re on a road, make sure there is about 50-100 meters of visibility before you so the driver has time to see you and safely pull over.
- Stand on the shoulder of the road, not on the road.
- Where bright colors or a high visibility vest, at night have torch so the driver can see you.
- Ensure the driver is not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
- Stay alert – even if you’re hitchhiking at night don’t fall asleep – this way you can help the driver stay alert too and help avoid an accident.
- If stopping at a rest-stop always take your luggage, you don’t want the driver to drive off with your bags. Also when at your destination leave your car door open until you’ve gotten your bag out of the boot, then shut the car door.
- See below for other safety tips.
Is Hitchhiking Safe?
There’s no official, reliable data on hitchhiker safety, and often the popular perception of hitchhiking as being unsafe is not backed up by data. Of course, there is inherent risk of jumping into the car of a stranger in a remote place. Plus, there is also risk to the driver, should someone dangerous get into the car. There have been some high-profile hitchhiking murders, plus some creepy stories of “vanishing” hitchhikers who are thought to be the ghosts of people who have died in the area decades ago.
Some tips on how to hitchhike safely:
- It’s safer to hitchhike during the day.
- Things can go wrong for both men and women, and there is no official data on hitchhiker safety. It’s best not to get into a car with more than one male.
- Engage in a bit of small talk before getting in the car, this way you can assess the driver. Trust your gut instinct, if something is off then say no thank you and walk away. Likewise if the driver seems angry or demanding, walk away.
- Sit in the front seat, and text the registration details to a friend, or tell someone loudly over the phone so the driver can hear you.
- Have your seatbelt on at all times so that the driver can’t break suddenly and cause you to hit your head. Although be ready to slide your seatbelt off should the car come to a stop and then open the door at the same time and jump out.
- Have your bag with you so that you need to exit quickly at a stop sign or red light you can jump out. Have your passport and other important documents on your body so even if you need to leave the car fast and your bag behind your important stuff will be with you.
- If something goes wrong, you’re not obliged to stay in the vehicle, ask to be dropped at a safe spot, feign car sickness, or call an emergency number. One idea is to carry a roll of toilet paper and a lighter and if something goes wrong light the paper and throw it in the back seat, the smoke and fire will likely mean the driver must pull over.
While hitchhiking is safe most of the time, there can be danger associated with it – including dangerous driving styles, like speeding – in any case have a plan, have your wits about you, and be confident in your approach.
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