To think of hitchhiking may be like imagining yourself getting into a roller coaster: there is this weird curiosity and will of adrenaline that compels you to do it, mixed with this little fear that awakes a thousand ticklish butterflies, revolving in your stomach. Before you try it for the first time, you will ask yourself fifty times if you should really do it. So I came here today as this person who tried it and survived, to tell you that it’s totally worth the risk.
I hitchhiked for the first time six years ago – I was 18 then. And since then, I did it again and again. I hitchhiked with friends (all girls), alone and in a couple. I hitchhiked in Spain, France, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Brazil and Uruguay, in all kinds of cars, with all kind of people. One of these times, in one car, I didn’t feel very comfortable. All the other fifty times (let’s say…) are experiences that I recall with a happy nostalgy. Hitchhiking brought me the most beautiful surprises. I met incredible people, who shared with me much more than a sit on their car. I was generously given a nice talk, a wonderful story, good advice, recomforting food, mate, and, believe it or not, sometimes even a place to spend the night, a deviation of the way to make me know the most beautiful landscapes or to let me in front of my door, or a sincere “Take my number and call me if there is any problem”. One of the most beautiful things of travelling is how easily you get surprised by the goodness and beauty of people, and travelling hitchhiking makes it all more intense!
With all this, I just want to tell you: JUST DO IT! It can be a wonderful experience. You can expect to face some challenges as well, though. But it’s gonna be alright. Prepare your bag, take a look at the map and follow my tips, to make your hitchhiking experience as beautiful and easy as possible!
Choose the right hitchhiking spot
The first time ever that I … to hitchhike, I was leaving Amsterdam. Surprised, I discovered that out of this city there were officially marked hitchhiking spots! So let’s say that this first time was a piece of cake! I never found official hitchhiking spots again in my life after that, though, and I had to learn how to discover THE spot by myself. This will be one of your first tasks as well, as a hitchhiker. So here are some tips:
Take a look on a map and discover which road you should take. You may have to choose between taking the highway – faster, with more clear directions – or the national road – where it may be easier to stop, to find places to sleep or eat, and probably much more beautiful. You got the right road? Good. Try to find the place where are passing more cars likely to take the road you need, on the direction you need, and be sure that on this place you are safe, visible, and the cars can stop in a safe way to pick you up.
To make it easy from the beginning, I share with you a precious site to check out: http://hitchwiki.org. It is not always easy to navigate on this website (at least for me), but when I manage, it is a GREAT help. You can find a map with marked hitchhiking places around all the world, comments and advice of hitchhikers who tried each spot, the recommended routes to reach your destination… Take a look! If you do not find your answers here (or even if you did), check out the tips I leave you bellow!
If you are in a city, GET OUT! Surprisingly, getting out of a big city is one of the hardest tasks for hitchhikers! Almost as hard as that is to get into a city again if your destination forces you to… Getting out of a city can be your first big challenge. You discovered your road on the map, right? To get to this road, consider taking public transports that approach you as much as possible. I did this to escape from big cities like Madrid, Paris, Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, and I don’t know how I would have managed other way… You can go just went as far as possible, by the lowest price possible, on the city public transports (subway, bus, train…), OR you can take this same public transports to get to a strategic point, like a Gas Stations in the outskirt of the town, for example.
Gas Stations are definitely a good place to hitchhike, as you have access to toilets, water, shadow, food (if your budget allows it), and, a lot of nice travellers whom you can approach and speak! Remember that, besides writing your destination on a nice board, you can actually approach to people, smile, and ask directly if they are going in the same direction as you with some free sits, and if they could help you to approach your destination!
The entrance of highways can also be a good spot if you choose not to take a national road. Just be sure that there is a place where the cars can see you and stop safely and easily to pick you up before entering the highway. Remember: never hitchhike inside a highway (except in gas stations), as besides being completely illegal, this can be very dangerous!
If you are travelling on a national road, almost every place is a good place to hitchhike. Just be sure that the cars have the time and space to see you, understand what you need and stop safely behind you. Remember to avoid being right after or just before a curve, then. Place yourself strategically before a wide berm, or any other place where you know a car can stop safely. Avoid places where the traffic is too intense and fast. This kind of things will help you a lot (as well as your possible drivers!)
Make your card clear and visible
Making a card with your destination written on is always a good option. I always do it. So now I leave you some tips to make the best out of this piece of paper!
Well, start by remembering that this “piece of paper” may have to endure hard conditions, as rain and wind. Believe me, both rain and wind can make your life hard if you do not have the right paper, so start by choosing a strong material. Carton is a great option – it is strong, big, and you can find it easily and for free in almost every shop or anyone’s home. Your card must be easily seen from far, or from cars coming on high speeds, so give it a good size, and write your destination with clear majuscules, bold and in a dark colour. A black marker will be a good ally ; )
Now… what to write? This is always a big question… First of all, make sure that cars know your destination, to know at least if you are taking the same direction as them! If your destination is a small and less known village, start by writing on your board the name of a big or well-known place next to it, or in its direction. When you are closer to your small village, and when you feel that the drivers in the zone may know it, then write it down! Or maybe your destination is not a small village, but a big and well-known city 500Km away? Writing on your board your final destination may “frighten” the drivers, that may think they cannot drive you as far as that… In this situation, establish more humble goals, writing on your board well-known cities that stay in your way! Me, I use to write at least two boards each time I hitchhike… And many times I show the two board at the same time! It is a game you will have to play, discovering in which situation what will help the drivers to know if they can help you.
After such work to make a good card, make sure the drivers can see it! Be sure you are not covering letters with your hands, or that it is not up-side-down (it happens sometimes, aha!). Direct it to the drivers’ eyes, keeping it more or less at its height. If you can, check out as well if your board is not covered by shadows, or if it doesn’t have reflections making it hard to read. If you are not hitchhiking alone, ask your hitchhiking partner to walk a few meters back and tell you if the sign is easily seen and understandable or not.
Dress up to the occasion…
It may seem something superfluous, but I always take some care on the clothes I put on for the days I am going to hitchhike. These are some things I keep in mind:
Dress in a practical way! You may have to pick up your bag and run awkwardly till a car that just stopped, boards and water bottles trying to escape, jackets getting under your feet and threatening a fall… When this happens, you will thank to have left aside that skirt and flipflops…
Feel comfortable. This means for me, very personally as a woman, that I don’t want to feel too much exposed when I am up to be the co-pilot of someone I do not know. But this is very subjective – each one as different ways of feeling (or not) comfortable! Maybe you don’t feel comfortable wearing shorts, or maybe you prefer to not wear your broken trousers or a too dirty shirt. Or maybe none of these things is a problem for you, and this is great! The important thing is that you feel good and that you don’t have any reason to mistrust the people you go with, or to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable with anything… I want to make clear that this doesn’t have to do with the people who share the car with you – it has to do with yourself, and with the fears and concerns that you may have or not… Don’t give them a place to appear – make yourself comfortable, and make the best out of your trip!
To hitchhike is an adventure for hitchhikers, but for the drivers as well! To dare to take into your car someone you do not know is something that demands a lot of trust! To help this trust, I do some simple things as avoiding dark clothes and keeping my face visible when I am hitchhiking. I am a lover of dark clothes myself on my daily life, and I know it doesn’t make me less trustful, but we all know that, despite everything, social and psychological factors mark everyone’s actions, and it is very ok for me to focus on lighter or colourful clothes on hitchhiking days. About keeping my face visible, I just avoid sunglasses and hats that cover too much my face. This way, everyone can see my happy traveller eyes and smile!!
Feel comfortable and safe
All my hitchhiking experiences were beautiful, and I never had a really bad experience. I have just good stories to tell, and this is the case of most hitchhikers I know. But, of course, we all know that bad things can happen as well. It is important that we feel comfortable and safe when we take a car. So, we should always remember that:
You can say NO. This is ok! If a driver stops to pick you up and, for some reason, he or she makes you feel uncomfortable or somehow vulnerable, you can say that, after all, you do not want to go with him/her/them. Never feel forced to go with someone you do not feel like!
You can keep in contact with a friend, keeping him or her informed of where you are and what is the plate of the car you are in. You should look at the plate as discreetly as you can, remember it, and text it to a friend before you forget it! I never did this, but I heard that remembering plates is something you practice – it will become easier with the time. Some friends of mine do it because it makes them feel safer, especially in more isolated or dangerous zones.
Be ready for… anything!
The title says it all… A lot of things can happen, so just be ready with some very practical stuff, like food, water (very important!), something to protect you from the sun, something to protect you from the rain, something to warm you up if it gets cold… If you have a very long way to run, it can happen that you do not reach your destination before the night. So be ready to improvise, and, most of all, to trust and to don’t panic when things didn’t happen as you planned –you don’t know how yet, but everything will go well! Be ready, as well, to be surprised. This is what happens when you travel, and when you give yourself to people -unbelievable things occur, you discover the beauty and kindness. So be ready for this as well.
Smile, dance, sing, have fun! Hitchhiking can be a bit tough, sometimes. The wait, the sun, the rain, the fear of not being picked up… all this can be quite tiring. Fight it all with loads of fun! Even when you are having a rough time, remember the beauty of the adventure you are going through, and be thankful to be right where you are, living something amazing, and creating wonderful memories and stories to tell! Besides this, it is quite easier to be picked up when the drivers see a happy and smiling hitchhiker, ready to bring a nice energy to the car. One time, a partner and I invented a small “hitchhiking dance” that worked really well, hahaha! So give wings to your imagination, and don’t stop yourself from having fun and enjoying it the most!
Well, these are a few tips that I am happy to share with you. It is your turn now!! Get to the road, and feel free to leave a comment, sharing your hitchhiking experiences, or to leave your own tips!
I wish you a good way!