Top ten tips on how to hitchhike

A bus or public space is so often characterised by people avoiding eye contact, brushing against each other and apologising for the interaction and it’s often all too easy to lose faith in the kindness of others. In seven days we were able to travel 2,088 miles away from home with no money, using only our powers of persuasion, improvisation and persistence in order to harness the goodwill of strangers.

Top Ten Tips

1) Stand out loud and proud

Bright t-shirts, fancy dress, pink guitars, silly hats… Use anything in your arsenal to stand out. If you’re raising for charity make it obvious from your attire. We did silly dances at the roadside, waved at people and Jaf played the guitar. The more creative you are the better your chances are of being picked up.
2) Pick your buddy wisely

Statistically you’ve got the best chance of a lift with two girls and the worst chance with two guys. Personally I think a girl and boy combination is the best and safest, the presence of the female seems to passify a driver’s worries about the guy. 

Pick someone patient, hitching is full of highs (the euphoria of scoring a lift) and lows (hours waiting outside in the cold at a bleak petrol station). Your hitch buddy will see you at your worst tired and unwashed so don’t pick someone too high maintenance or prone to sulking. You’re going to be spending an intense period of time together so a laid back friend if your best bet.

3) Location, location, location

Choose places to hitch with a high footfall/lot of cars pulling in and out. Petrol stations, airport/station pick up and drop offs or roadside cafes tend to work best. Roadside hitching is significantly more difficult as you’re asking a driver to do something ther weren’t intending to ordinarily do i.e. stop, and asking them to go out of their way whereas sparking up conversation outside the entrance to a petrol when someone’s already stopped for a break is much more effective. Once in transit, quickly work out together the nearest petrol station type place to their destination for your driver to drop you. Failing to plan this might lead you to be dropped miles from civilisation and set you back a few hours waiting for a lift.

 4) Safe words

Both you and your buddy need to be comfortable before getting in a car with a complete stranger, you may feel after talking to a potential lift that you’re getting weird vibes. It can be an awkward one to communicate to your buddy whilst your potential lift is standing there so it’s good to agree a safe word beforehand (ours was Oklahoma) we agreed that if either of us used it the other would support and try to back track out of a lift or negotiate an earlier drop off. Fortunately we never needed to use it but it was good to have in the background. You can always turn people down by saying they’re not going in the right direction or as far as you would like and politely decline. 

5) Go lightly

Pack lightly, your lifts are doing you a favour so you want to avoid deterring people by looking like you’ve packed the kitchen sink. Try to limit yourself to one bag each and keep your hands free, tie your sleeping bag to your rucksack to present the simplest image you can. Take one pair of shoes and some flip flops, a waterproof, if you have technical t shirts or base layers they’re quite good to re use as they don’t tend to hold sweat like cotton does! As gross as it sounds. A torch with a carabiner is quite useful to clip to your bag to save scrabbling around for it. My backpack was one you could zip open fully and access stuff like you van with a suitcase, mainly because few things infuriate me more than rooting around a big bag with only top access, but it’s personal preference.

6) Sign

We found the sign useful as it almost spelled ‘hitchhikers’ to anyone glancing at us without us needing to explain anything. Keep the sign simple – your destination and smiley face or followed with a please. Drivers will see the sign and can determine if they’re heading in the same direction before you speak which is quite useful and we had a number approach has directly. The other side to the sign is the misconception that if a driver isn’t going all the way to your destination you won’t want the lift. For maximum effect use the sign but don’t rely on it, smile and say good day to every person that passes you.

7) Smile

Obvious point, but even if you’re feeling fed up standing in the rain and you’ve been hours waiting in the arse end of nowhere always stay upbeat and smiley if anyone pulls up. No one wants to sit in a car with a wet misery.

8) Small talk

Once in the car get to know your driver, where are they from/going to, what do they do, their country and what they like about it, have they ever picked up a hitchhiker before or even done it? (Careful not to ask this one too early in the journey or risk accidentally sounding like you’re suggesting it will be their last!) your driver will want to know about you, your story, motivations for hitching. By a few lifts you’ll have nailed your patter. However tired you’re feeling do not sleep in the car as this is bad hitching etiquette, if you’re run down take turns to rest whilst your buddy makes small talk. 

9) Language

If you can speak a language this is a real bonus, my GCSE German came into its own. People appreciate you trying even if you’re not always grammatically on the money. A number of lifts spoke no English at all so this was a lifesaver in some of the longer journeys, equally plenty of people saw the opportunity to practice their English and if this is your drivers preference then respect it after all they are doing you a favour. We downloaded google translate app which proved useful to explain certain concepts.

10) Plan

Or rather, don’t. If you’re a planner like me this can be difficult! Hitch hiking is unpredictable and it’s not possible to determine how you will get somewhere or when you will arrive. It’s good to have an end destination in mind (we had thought broadly in the direction of Bulgaria) but better to see where the road takes you as you might meet someone and be offered the lift of a lifetime to some unusual far flung place!

Standing at the roadside and offering up your fate to a stranger with little or no control can be frightening but if you follow the tips above you may find it strangely empowering. Good luck!

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