Hitching is a little like couchsurfing in that it epitomises the spirit of independent and budget travel.
Dispensing with the services or your own vehicle, public transport or reserved accommodation requires a certain attitude that full embraces adventure.
It also requires that the traveller who decides to hitch to accept there is an inherent risk involved and therefore they need to remain alert for any signs that their ‘benefactor’ is anything less than safe. This will usually require to be assessed on the initial contact, as once in the vehicle it will be much more difficult to have a change of mind.
If however doubts appear to surface once in the vehicle the best option is to try to remain ‘normal’ do not show any outward concern. Once a town or service station is reached ask to use the bathroom or similar facilities, maybe to get a drink and then make your excuses.
Single women unfortunately need to be especially cautious and even suspicious of the motives of any driver offering a lift. It is probably wise where possible avoid single men, definitely groups of men other women or families are the safest option.
Hitching has always remained an option for me when the alternatives seem either too expensive, unreliable or it just seems more appropriate.
My first experience of hitching was when I was about eight years old when walking back from school with a friend. Sticking out my thumb as a joke an attractive lady in a convertible sports car pulled up just as my good friend ran to hide in some bushes. Standing my ground, it was really tempting to just jump in, but the probable wrath of my parents who found my little quests for adventure slightly tiresome made the decision relatively easy. So despite the fact it was unlikely they would ever discover my latest exploits the kind offer was declined.
However on a great many occasions the offer of a lift has gratefully been accepted whether it was as local as the Lake District and Scotland or as far afield as Canada. I have been extremely fortunate and when the decision to hitch has been made it is very rare that a wait of more than thirty minutes has ensued.
People have often gone out of their way to drop me off at my destination, including a pregnant woman in Aviemore that drove right past her house to take me several miles further down the road.
Whilst using my thumb as my ultimate travel accessory in Corsica on two separate occasions the first car that came along stopped and offered a lift. One couple took a major detour to drop me off at the airport in Bastia when the trains had been unavailable due to a strike. The trip from Calenzana to Calvi was completed much more quickly than some companions who opted to wait for the unreliable bus service.
Hitching can be an effective means of transport.
In fact the only place where hitching has proved a challenge was Australia where many seem to be actively hostile to an outstretched thumb. Spitting and verbal abuse is surprisingly commonplace; it almost appears to be a cultural tradition!
Fortunately this is not the case in most other parts of the World; in fact a lone driver with some distance to drive is often grateful of the company. Hitching may not be as common as it once was, a sorry sign of the times but there are still plenty of ‘good Samaritan’s’ prepared to offer a lift to a stricken traveller.
There is however an art to getting a lift, sure if you are an attractive young lady (or man) chances are you will get plenty of offers of a lift even if you are not actually asking for one! The rest of us however need to employ some common sense and good manners.
Just spent two months exploring in a rain forest or trekking in the wilderness of the Canadian Rockies; chances are that a clean-up is required. Obviously it is not always possible to grab a quick shower, but a basic wash down in a stream will help and put on the cleanest clothes you still have available.
It is unlikely many drivers will stop if the potential companion looks ‘homeless’ or dirty and if when they wind down the window to speak the first thing that hits them is a terrible whiff, all but the most generous or lonely drivers will drive off.
Hitching in groups or even couples can be problematic. Anything more than two will often put of a potential lift as it can be intimidating for them, a risk not worth taking. An actual couple often will not have too many difficulties but two men will instantly limit their opportunities. It is an unfortunate sign of the times we live in.
Make a cardboard sign, it is often easy to get hold of a little or fold some up and slip it into your backpack for when needed. It does not matter what you write on it as long as your destination is easily visible and the local word for ‘please’ is also prominently displayed. The importance of this cannot be over emphasised, the number of times a driver has informed me this was the sole reason for stopping is amazing.
Finally it goes without saying to be polite when a driver stops and possibly asks you a question. It does not matter there is a big sign stating your destination, avoid sarcasm, be patient, speak clearly and coherently. Try and speak a little of the local language if possible, it will be appreciated and if even if slightly incorrect will be a good ice breaker.
Be aware that in some countries they may ask for some money before reaching the destination, if this is suspected as being the case, try and confirm this prior to getting in the vehicle and if so establish how much. Sometimes if a price can be agreed it is reasonable it is worth accepting, it may not strictly be in the spirit of hitching but in quiet areas it may save a long walk or wait before another lift becomes appears.
Hitching can often be an effective way to travel, surprisingly quick, very useful for the budget conscious and provided certain common sense precautions are observed there is not any reason why it should not be a safe way to travel around for anybody.