Despite what your mum might have told you...
Jumping into a car with a total stranger is a great way to travel!
You get to meet all sorts of interesting people and experience a little part of your journey through their unique perspective on the country.
More often than not you’ll learn all sorts of absorbing things about the land you’re passing through that you’d never glean from a train ride or guidebook, and you’ll probably pick up some golden nuggets of local opinion.
And, of course, best of all, it’s free!
However, although everyone has heard of hitching lots of people have never tried it. That’s completely understandable: it can be a very daunting prospect for a first timer.
If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to take the leap, then read through these pointers that will hopefully give you a bit more info on whether hitching is right for you.
Before we get into things properly I’d like to quickly talk about the risks. Obviously, due to its nature hitching will never be entirely safe. The level of risk depends on many factors such your location, gender, time of day and so on.
As with most things in life it is all down to personal preference: if you ever don’t feel safe or comfortable then remove yourself from the situation and travel by more conventional means.
Gender is a bit of a double-edged sword in that, rightly or wrongly, girls will usually get picked up more easily than guys, but they are also perceived by many as more vulnerable. I have met a number of girls who have hitched solo with no problems, but if you have any doubts then pair up with a friend.
If you haven’t got anyone to physically travel with then you may wish to text a friend with the registration number of the car as you get in or keep your phone handy in case any problems arise.
The whole hitching process works due to an exchange of mutual trust: I once got a lift with a guy who said the last hitcher he picked up actually took a photo of the car and driver before he got in and that that made him feel quite offended. So whilst you need to exercise common sense and awareness you should also be aware that the driver is inviting you, a total stranger, into his or her car and accordingly display a level of respect and common courtesy.
You will need:
* Open mind x 1
* Patience, lots
* Marker Pen x 1
* Piece of cardboard x 1
* Suncream, sunhat, waterproof jacket, gloves, hat, scarf etc etc. (optional, depending on where you are!)
So you’ve got the above items; great.
All you basically need to do now is walk to a road, write down the vague direction of where you want to go, hold up the sign, stick out your thumb and wait for someone to stop!
The first thing to note is that you will probably feel like a total idiot. The first time I ever hitched I just stood there for about twenty seconds with my sign and thumbs firmly by my side because I felt so stupid but the main thing to remember is that this is all a giant numbers game: the more people that see you the more likely someone is to stop and give you a lift.
So stick your thumb up high, smile and catch driver’s eyes.
Where to Stand:
There are two schools of thought as to how you can best get picked up.
One says that you need to do everything you can to make the driver want to pick you up. You need to stand in a place where the vehicles aren’t going too fast to see your pretty face and sore thumb but also in a place where they also have enough space to slow down and stop on the side of the road so you can safely jump in. This school of thought says that every little detail is massively important; from the placement of your rucksack slightly in front of you to show that you’re a backpacker not a creepy murderer... to not wearing sunglasses so you can make meaningful eye-contact with the driver and tug at their sense of empathy.
The other school essentially says that the type of person who picks up hitchers will stop anywhere, regardless of the details.
In reality things obviously swing between these two extremes. You need to give the driver a decent chance to see you and a place to stop and ideally you want to show that you’re relatively normal and not going to pull an axe out on them or stink out their whole car.
Try to dress fairly respectably and try to make eye-contact and smile, even if people drive past without stopping: it’s not unheard of for people to turn around and comeback to collect you.
The best places are roads that see lots of slow-moving traffic but where people are unlikely to just be taking short journeys. Places like service station exits, roundabouts, large slipways. Try to put yourself in the position of the driver and think, “Can I see myself easily from the road and where would I be able to stop for the pickup”. If you’re in a bad place then move along.
Also bear in mind that hitching or stopping isn’t allowed in some areas: usually on motorway or freeway hard shoulders and where explicitly prohibited by signs (usually a circle with a cross through it). If you’re in one of these places then get your bag on your back and take a stroll to somewhere better.
Here is the Part Two, which covers The Wait (ie. The Emotional Rollercoaster), Driver Types (From the Smiler to the Moron) and what to do and talk about when you’re actually picked up!
Travel tip shared by Johno Ellison