Hitchhiking is my favorite mean of transport, I tried it already in 28 countries. I use it whenever possible and met incredible human beings thanks to that. For me it’s a great way to discover the country in an adventorous way, more interesting than sitting in a boring bus. With hitchhiking you go out off the beaten path, sometimes discover small roads, face unusual events. Meeting new people is the best adventage, I think, drivers often show around their area, invite to their house or for lunch. Besides it’s the best way I know, to save money on transport.
On the other hand frustration, if it doesn’t work smooth as it should. Wherever you go be careful who’s car you enter, who’s rules you are going to follow. Therefore, I urge you to try, because you can miss the most amazing experiences in your life. Based on my experience, I prepared those few tips, which will help you meet successful hitchhiking experience.
Hitchhiking – tips to follow
1. Local rules
First of all, you need to learn local rules. In many countries people understand the thumb up sign and will stop for you. In others, you can have a trouble using the same gesture. In Iran, for instance it means “fuck you”, but you can read more about my adventure in the article: How I barely survived my first day in Iran. For example Asian countries are often not familiar with thumb sign, since it only means OK for them, like Thailand. On the other hand, waving your hand may look for them like you are stopping a bus or taxi.
Remember, that some countries or people will not even know the idea of hitchhiking. You must make clear, how they can help you. If you don’t know the language, great tip is to write a letter with explanation. When you enter the country, ask any person which speaks English to help you. This is what I usually do. I ask first Couch Surfer I stay with or some locals I meet. They write an explanation in their language of what I am doing standing here on the road and not taking a bus like a normal human.
For knowing the local rules, Hitch-wiki may come up handy. It’s a website designed to help hitchhikers. You can find information about hitchhiking in particular country or best spots to get out of certain cities. Truly awesome stuff! Everyone can add a point, so database is gradually increasing.
Imagine yourself as a driver. Who would you stop for? People are sometimes afraid of strangers and won’t trust anyone looking suspicious. Smile, look cheerful, even if you have waited on the road for a longer while. Nobody wants grumpy and annoying person in the car. What’s more, you must look decent, drivers are not eager to take smelly and dirty hobo.
I believe wearing colorful bright clothes helps. But it’s my personal theory after studying psychology of colors for some time. Wearing gray or black may not attract drivers enough to stop, or make them feel afraid. Purple is color of mysterious people, won’t help either, or red for girls looks too sexy and tempting. All the other colors and any variations of them would be fine. Truth is, that vivid, happy colors have positive impact on the observer. Yellow and orange are proved to boost good first impression and surely you will be visible from the distance. Experiment by yourself!
I think in all the countries I have traveled so far, board with the name of the city was useful. Drivers approaching can see from the distance, that you are a hitchhiker, even if they can read the name of your destination in the last moment. Cardboard is the best because it’s inflexible, not transparent and you can write huge, visible letters. Take one from home, and after that, get more from supermarkets on your way. I usually take normal office papers A4 which were printed only on one side (I am crazy about not wasting a paper) and write a name of the city on the empty side. Thick dark marker works the best. Many times during crazy hitchhiking trips I was decorating the board with some images, flowers, signs, whatever, just for fun. Unfortunately, the sign looses its readability from the distance, if it’s full of crap.
As a traveler you cannot move around without a map! Some people like paper maps, some prefer mobile, but surely it’s an essential. You need to know which cities are on your way, discus with the driver, see possible routes and simply know where you are. I am using Google Maps and Maps.me apps, which I find very useful.
You may also consider having small gifts for drivers which help you or camping gear for when you will get stuck in the middle of nowhere. I like to travel light, so usually just take postcards from my hometown and write thanks on the back side, along with invitation to visit my country. Talking about camping gear: sleeping bag or tent are fundamental. Mattress or camping cooker are also useful, especially if you are planning to sleep on the way often.
4. Where to stand
Mostly, you will stand directly on the roadside. Make sure the spot has room for the car to stop safely and you can be seen from a distance. Drivers will not like to stop in the places, where it is forbidden, like: bridge, roundabout, curve or highway. While in the city, I usually try to take some city bus, which will take me to the outskirts, where I begin hitchhiking. However, in the countries where rules on the road seem to don’t exist, forget about all what you have just read. In that case, you can stand on the roundabout in the middle of the city and drivers will not have a problem to pick you up.
Great way to hitchhike is to stay on the gas station or big parking next to the road and talk to the drivers. This way you can choose the person you go with, talk with the person directly, which will make both of you feel more secure and comfortable. In countries, where hitchhiking is not popular, talking to the driver directly and showing the letter mentioned above, may be the only way to get a ride.
Pay tolls, entrance to the highway or police control stops are great places to stand, since drivers have to slow down there and have more time to consider taking you.
5. Finding a mate
Although, it is easier to get a ride by one person, it is always more safe and fun to have a company. Two people worked the best for me, however my record was hitch-hiking with 6 people at the same time. It worked for instance in Turkey, Laos or Cambodia, but i bet it can work also in the other states where rules of the passenger amount in the car are not strict.
If you really want to try hitchhiking but non of your friends wants to join you, don’t worry, there are many solutions. First of all, try adding yourself to fb groups or forums for hitchhikers, where people post their plans. You may find those on the international websites or in your own country. There are special websites for finding a buddy like Hitchlog. Just type a query “hitchhiking buddy” or same in your mother tongue and you will find out plenty of them.
You may also look for hitchhiking event near you or hitch gathering, where you can meet people who are searching for the buddy. Be sure to hear a lot of inspiring stories! Another way is to participate hitchhiking race – event where people from certain country start hichhiking at the same time, from the same spot, alone or in the groups. There is one goal set and who reaches the goal first will win the prize. Check out wikitravel for events and races in Europe or Australia.
The mantra is that there is always someone who will pick you up – the question is how long you will have to wait. You will experience tough moments when nobody will want to stop, but try to stay patience. Rethink if you are standing in the good spot, if there is no national holiday or some other circumstances. Try the Plan Bee: change the place, or talk to people, if possible, find a gas station to approach the drivers directly. Don’t give up easily! In some countries, like Turkey, people will even change their way to pick up foreigner, in others, like some Balkans, you may spend the entire day waiting… For me the longest was 8 hours in Croatia, the shortest 1 second.
Hitchhiking can be dangerous, mostly due to the dangers of driving. However, you must always keep your eyes open for any suspicious acts of the driver and be careful in choosing one. Please check out the article about woman hitchhiking alone, where I describe general safety features (coming soon). Saving money shouldn’t be the reason of taking too much risk, since some countries are simply more dangerous to hitchhike. You can still save up money whien traveling in many ways!
Do you have any adventures while hitchhiking?