Regardless of its stigma, hitchhiking is a great form of transport for those who strap on a backpack to experience that raw adventure. Of course, it’s not for everybody and you have to keep your wits about you. However, my personal experience of hiking it across Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia with the tips I’ve received from likeminded backpackers enabled me to experience culture at its finest, and safely. If you’re craving that authentic taste, here’s a list of tips on how to hitchhike!
Before we begin class, I just want to make sure that we’re all aware that laws and policies in certain countries/areas differ. So please make sure you research the area you’re curious about hitchhiking through to ensure you don’t get in trouble, fined or imprisoned. Click here to see a list of examples and what to expect.
Tips on how to hitchhike
With these same tips in mind, two other travelers and I managed to travel 3,000 KM in southeast Asia for less than $30. We never experienced any issues. I’ll also list out some great hitchhiking websites that really helped us in our time of drifting with the wind.
Be mentally prepared
Hitchhiking is a game of patience and faith. Sometimes you get picked up in 10 minutes, 20 minutes or it may even take up to an hour. A few times I felt like chucking the sign in the bin and hopping on a bus.
The key is to remember the reason for your journey in order to maintain a level head. I can honestly say I have never not been picked up. If you just keep trying eventually the magic will happen. A life lesson right there in itself!
The best places to wait when you’re hitchhiking
When you hitchhike, make sure you don’t keep walking along the side of the road. It’s best to pick a spot where you can wait so you can face the traffic and show the drivers your friendly, smiling faces.
And if you have to walk to a better waiting spot, I’d suggest sticking your sign through the straps on the back of your bag so they can see you’re in need of a ride and where to, they’ll be more likely to stop.
- Spacious roads: You always want to make sure, if you can, that you’re in a spot where cars can easily pull over. This definitely gives you a higher probability of getting that ride and ensures safety for everybody.
- Gas stations: A safe spot to wait and ask around. You get to feel the crowd and go up to the person you feel the most comfortable asking.
- Slow traffic: Slow cars are always more likely to stop for you versus fast cars. They have time to make a decision. For instance, it’s better to wait on a road that’s uphill rather than one that’s downhill.
What are bad spots to wait when you’re hitchhiking?
City center: You don’t want to be caught up in the center of a city. Most cars are local and aren’t going very far so it tends to be quite difficult finding a ride to get out.
It happened with us a couple of times, so we had no choice but to take public transport to get us to the outskirts in order to find the on-ramp to the highway. Don’t frustrate yourselves in these situations, take public transport if you’re dropped off in the city center.
Motorways, interstates, highways: For long distance hitchhiking, make sure you avoid getting stuck in one of these areas. In most countries, it’s illegal to be caught up on these roads, plus cars go too fast, there’s no place for them to pull over and cops are likely to stop you and remove you from the area.
Instead, try and find where the city road connects with the highway. This is usually a great spot to wait especially if you’re going long distance.
Map out your journey beforehand
This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but I just wanted to point out that it’s important to not expect a single ride to carry you straight to the finish line. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you do, and you feel like the luckiest wild child alive! However, most of the time, you don’t.
So map out point A (where you are) then map out point B (your final destination). Between the two points, study the cities and roads that are commonly used between these points then map them out, make yourself familiar with the other options. If somebody stops, and they’re hitting a city or an area that’s along the way to point B, you’ll be familiar enough to ask to be dropped off there. You make a lot more progress this way.
Don’t be afraid to ask around. I can’t tell you how many times we would stop at bus stations, went into stores or asked a local on the street to point us in the direction for the most commonly used road to our destination.
Since we were embarking on this adventure in southeast Asia, you can imagine the language barrier causing some problems, however, we’d type in the name of the city, show them in their native tongue and offer them a sharpie and cardboard. They would write the town for us in their language, making it much easier to ask for help.
If you think throwing out your thumb is the only way to signal a car, think again! In different countries, they use different gestures.
For instance, hitchhiking isn’t a known concept with most of the locals throughout southeast Asia, however, stretching out your arm with your palm facing down and motioning it up and down is how they hail taxis. So if you do this, locals understand that you’re looking for a ride.
Personally, I found southeast Asia to have such a rich culture in terms of generosity. Not only did we easily get picked up all the time, but they would also offer us food, a place to stay and sometimes even money (which we never accepted!)
So before you go, make sure you’re using the correct hand signals!
What to wear when you hitchhike
If you’re a chick: Don’t wear anything too provocative, it may feel ‘sexist’ but it’s just for your own safety.
Tip: Even though some may feel strongly against this idea, I’m going to mention it anyway just to bring awareness to the forefront. If you’re traveling to eastern countries, don’t challenge these deeply-rooted cultures with your beliefs. Mind and observe for your ultimate safety.
If you’re a dude: Don’t look too homeless. Make sure you’re a little cleaned up or at least not covered in dust and dirt.
The point is to look friendly and to not stand out in any negative way, but enough to be seen in an appropriate manner.
It’s okay to turn down a ride. Follow your instincts.
We turned down a ride when a military truck stopped and told us to get in, this was in Laos; their military is known for screwing around with tourists.
We just politely thanked them and said we weren’t going in their exact direction so off they went.
I also want to offer this quick excerpt of a study found on the dangers of hitchhiking, cited from Wiki:
Two studies on the topic include a 1974 California Highway Patrol study and a 1989 German federal police study. The California study found that hitchhikers were not disproportionately likely to be victims of crime. The German study concluded that the actual risk is much lower than the publicly-perceived risk; the authors did not advise against hitchhiking in general. They found that in some cases there were verbal disputes or inappropriate comments, but physical attacks were very rare.
If you’re scared to go alone, couple up.
Take a picture of the license plate and send it to a friend.
Call somebody when you get in a car to let them know where you’re headed if that makes you feel safer.
Don’t treat the driver like a taxi cab. Tell them your stories. Listen to theirs. Be polite. Offer to pay for gas. Being quiet can make the driver feel as if their kind act went unnoticed, make sure you let them know how grateful you are.
If you’re their first hitchhiker, leave them a good impression so they’ll be more keen to help out other hikers.
On the flipside, if the driver doesn’t want to talk (which is rare) respect that as well.
How many people can hitchhike together?
They say the more people the harder it is to get picked up.
Which can be true, however, my group of hikers consisted of three people, including myself. We got along without a hitch, well, you know what I mean. We got along with many hitches!
It didn’t seem to hinder us but keep in mind, this was in Asia, it may be different in Europe or the UK. It all depends.
Having a sign is a great way to communicate with the driver. I definitely believe it makes it much easier to get picked up. Draw a smiley face on it, write it in the language of the country, write please or thank you.
Instead of the city, write the highway number on it (i.e. A9). This helps the driver know that you’re going along a general route and will carry you closer to your destination.
Last but not least
Have fun with it!
As I said, we did some pretty hardcore hitchhiking through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. Since we were doing long distance, we would pitch up camp on overnight journeys.
We slept in a place that gave us a sense of safety. In the bushes out of the way, bus stations and sometimes luck would deliver us a nice host that would offer us a few hammocks to sleep in!
Remember, keep a strong head, map out your points, dress decently, learn the laws and you’re all good to go!
Tip: If you’re a hitchhiker looking for some in-depth guidance, check out hitchwiki.
Hitchwiki is the ultimate guide for hitchhikers! This site offers an interactive map filled with great tips from previous hitchhikers plus way, way more!
Go have a blast, you little scoundrel you.