Hitchhiking is a dying art. It is a relic of a time of hobos, dirt roads and big band music. In the summer of 2011 HWM embarked on our cross country hitchhiking tour to find out why the practice has stopped being commonplace. We took every precaution in order to pass our insight along to future hitchhikers. We’ve compiled sixteen tips we learned from the road as well as insight passed along from previous hikers. I hope you’ll find these useful and informative. Safe travels.
First things first. Every state has different regulations on hitchhiking. Make sure you do your homework before heading out. If you are approached by an officer of the law, be polite, positive and informed. Make sure you know your rights and the laws regarding hitchhiking. The best case scenario is you get a free ride across a border by a kind policeman.
Look clean and approachable
No one wants to pick up a shady looking character covered in hair and mud. Get a haircut, shave and shower before hitting the road. You have about 3 seconds to make a good impression on a passing car. Don’t blow it by wearing tattered clothes and a goatee. We found that playing an instrument made us look non-threatening. We used a ukulele and dulcimer but we’ve also heard that people with dogs have great success hitchhiking.
Wear bright colors
Your appearance is the only thing that will make someone pull over. Bright colors are regarded as less threatening and cheerful. Avoid camouflage and dark colors as these play into negative hitchhiking stereotypes.
Many people are going to pass you and glare. Many will be rude and insulting. Don’t let this get you down. Always be hopeful that a ride is coming soon and that maybe just maybe, that last car that passed noticed your cheerful demeanor and will turn around as soon as they can. A friendly wave never hurts.
Keep your bag in plain sight
Keeping your bag in plain sight shows that you a person with a plan and a destination. Without seeing your backpack people may think you are running away or reckless. I have hitchhiked many times without a pack but having one is certainly helpful.
Find a good hitchhiking spot
A good place to hitchhike is somewhere that cars can see you long before they pass, has plenty of space to pull over and has a speed limit 55 or slower. You want to be seen as much as possible. The more face time you get with potential rides the longer they have to see how friendly and fun you are. You want to be near a place with a lower speed limit so cars can see you better and can stop sooner. If you are in a place without a shoulder on the side of the road then forget about it. A place for the car to pull over safely is possibly the most important piece.
It was our experience that on ramps were the best place to hitchhike. Often onramps are next to stop lights which gives people lots of time to see you. Cars are moving at slow speeds as they enter them and there is always room to pull over. Many states have laws against hitchhiking on interstates but on and off ramps are not included.
Avoid cars that pull directly up to you
The thought process to picking up a hitchhiker looks something like this: see hikers in distance, evaluate situation, see them closely, choose to stop. By the time they have seen you closely enough and started applying the breaks they will come to a stop a little ways down the road. The person that pull directly up to you did not evaluate and didn’t care what kind of person got in their car. This is a potentially dangerous situation and is a helpful tool to weed out bad rides. It worked very well for us.
Have a sign
Having a sign is another helpful way to communicate to potential rides. It lets them know where you’re going and that you have a sense of humor. “Boys to Boise” or “Portland Please” were our favorites. It helps people relax and lets them see you as human beings. We used a white piece of poster board covered in packing tape and used black electrical tape as our reusable letters. Black on White stood out to passing cars and made our message easy to read.
Communicate before getting in a car
When you do get a ride, try talking with that person for as long as you can before getting in the car. There will be lots of pressure to hop right in- but really evaluate the situation yourself. Read their body language; are they making eye contact, do they look shifty, are they overly eager to get you in their car? We took comfort in getting rides with people that were also a little tentative. If they ask you questions, it’s a good sign that they’re looking out for themselves too.
Text license plate number to a friend
Let the driver know you’re doing this and even ask their permission. If they say no then simply pass on the ride. Make it clear that you have a cell phone and people are expecting you.
Say you have no money
Some people will ask if you can help pay for gas. If this is a first conversation then simply say that you have no money to give. This could be a tactic to see if you have money to steal. Certainly offer to pay for gas once a relationship is established or when you’re getting out of the vehicle.
Be prepared for the unexpected
This isn’t to say that you should always be anxious. But you should keep in mind that hitchhiking does have an element of uncertainty and danger. You should always be prepared to defend yourself if need be but do not enter a situation anticipating it. On our trip we brought along pocket knives and a small container of pepper spray. Never bring a concealed firearm into a strangers vehicle.
Be able to have a conversation
Most people pick up hitchhikers because they’re on long journeys themselves and they want someone to talk to. Do not disappoint by falling asleep upon getting in the car. Keep conversation light and continuous. It’s a wonderful experience to get to connect with a stranger. In some instances you may get people divulging extremely personal information about their lives and families. They could see you as a listening ear that they never have to be accountable towards. We were told by a woman that she regretted having children and one man opened up to us about his stomach cancer. It really is an incredible opportunity to connect with people.
Leave them with a positive experience
Do this for the driver AND for all the future hitchhikers they may pick up someday.
Pay it forward
Go and pick up a hitchhiker yourself. Use your best judgement. When in doubt- follow your gut.
Safe travels and be sure to check out our film, ‘The Highway Walkers’ and other projects by Highway Walkers Media.
A short we made from the road.
-3 Lessons from ultrarunner
-Role Model: Search Local
-How to Sleep in Your Car
-How to Hitchhike: Advice
-How to Adjust a Backpack
-How to Hitchhike Safely
-Dustin: Hitchhiker *video
- Zach at Niagara Falls *video
-NYC Interview *video
-Trouble Crossing * video
-Iron John Journey *video
-Letter From a Viewer
-Ibn Battuta: Exploreer
-Danny Schmidt/Carrie Elkin
-Top 5 Famous Hitchhikers
-Hitchhiking:Trip at a Glance
-3 Things Lionel Said
-Radio Interview: WEHC
-Adventure: Idea to Action
-Miller's Gourmet Popcorn *
-Poem from a fan
Darrell and Josiah