The Ultimate Hitchhiking Guide

Knowing how to hitchhike properly is an art you should master to travel the world on a budget. It has been around since cars were invented and although it’s popularity decreased in the last years hitchhiking can still be a very reliable way of getting around for free.

 

How to hitchhike

A. Presentation

 

Looking good is fundamental if you want to raise your chances of getting picked up. People will judge you and if they don’t think you look good, they simply won’t pick you up. Here are a few guidelines before trying to get a ride:

 

1. Smile

Make sure people know you are happy, relaxed and someone they can trust. It may be weird at first, but with practise you will be able to smile for hours if needed. Don’t underestimate the power of positivity!

 

2. Be Clean

A lot of people won’t pick you up if they notice that you are dirty. Who would want to pick up a hitchhiker and then have to clean his car afterwards. If you are not clean, don’t hitchhike.

 

3. Don’t Stink

I’ve heard from people who picked me up that they usually pick up hitchhikers but some of them stink and although they want to help them, it is a very unpleasant experience. Of course they will only notice your smell after they give you a ride but they will think twice next time they see a hitchhiker.

 

4. Accessories

Forget about wearing sunglasses or even hats. Make sure the driver can see you! The more info they get from you and the longer they have to think about it, the more chances you have of getting a ride.

 

5. Colors

If you wear colorful clothing more people will stop. They can see you better and bright colors are less associated with violence and danger compared to someone dressed in black.

 

6. Look Confident

Have a nice posture to go along with your positive attitude. Make sure your arm is parallel to the ground and stick your thumb up. Don’t give the impression that you are tired, shy or scared, even if you are.

 

7. Props

What you carry around will determine you chances of getting picked up. I was carrying a ukulele when I was hitchhiking from Germany to Portugal and I can say it helped a lot.

 

B. Finding The Right Spot

 

Finding the right spot can be tricky, but with these guidelines and your own experience you will be able to find a good place to hitchhike from, raising your chances of getting a ride.

 

1. Get Out Of Cities

It is nonsense to hitchhike in the middle of a city. Most of the people are going home, shopping or simply looking for a parking spot. You might have to walk, or you can take a city bus/subway to the city exit. If there are no hitchhiking spots on the city exit you can get a cheap bus to the outskirts of the city and hitchhike from there.

 

2. Find The Right Road

You can do this by using google maps or any other GPS device. Remember that when you are hitchhiking everything is unpredictable, sometimes it is good idea to get out of your traced route because you can still go further with that ride.

 

3. Crossroads & Roundabouts

Never wait for a ride before one of these two. What will happen is that when someone stops for you they might be making a turn and going somewhere else. If you hitchhike after a roundabout or a crossroad you will avoid this situation and you will have more cars going your way.

 

4. Be visible

You want to be visible for a long time. Hitchhiking in a turn or a place where cars are speeding is a bad idea. In the other hand, traffic lights and long straight roads where cars are going slowly is a very good idea.

 

5. Parking Space

If you are hitchhiking on a place that has enough space for someone to safely stop for you, your chances of getting a ride go up dramatically. Sometimes this is not possible but don’t expect people will stop if they are putting themselves in a risky situation.

Hitchhiking Spot

A Good Hitchhiking Spot

This image shows real life example of a good place to wait for a ride. I used this one on my last small trip to the southwest corner of Portugal. This is a 10 minute walk from my house and it worked great. It is outside the city, it is the main road going in the direction of our destination, we stopped after the roundabout, people can see us for a long time and there is more than enough space for a car to comfortably park.

C. Accepting The Right Ride

 

This is fundamental to make sure you get to your destination in the fastest time possible. Just because someone stops it doesn’t mean you should say yes, I refuse a lot of rides and that has contributed a lot to my success as a hitchhiker.

 

1. Long rides vs Short rides

A long ride is the best you can ask for, but if they don’t come and you get a short ride instead these are the situations where you should accept them:

  • No place could be worse than this spot for hitchhiking so you get in the car and ask for the person to leave you in a good place to hitch from.
  • You have been waiting for a long, long time, no one else stopped and you are better off spending the night in a city/village than on the side of the road.
  • You are in a country where hitchhiking is not very hard and you can rely on many short rides to get around.

And here are the situations where you should definitely refuse a short ride:

  • You started hitchhiking less than 30 minutes ago.
  • You are in a very good spot to hitchhike from, some cars have stopped and there are many chances of getting a long ride.

This depends on the distance you want to cover, but I would say a long ride is when you would only need 1-4 of those to get to your destination and a short ride 4+.

 

2. Lucidity Of The Driver

One time I was hitchhiking in the morning and I accepted a ride from 3 guys who came from a rave party and were completely drunk. This was not a very pleasant experience and I was ready to die. I really don’t want this to happen to you and I still don’t know why I said yes to that one, but I learned the lesson…

 

3. Safety

If you feel like you shouldn’t take a ride, just don’t. I have never refused a ride because the driver looked suspicious, but maybe I’m not the best person to follow when it comes to safety. If something doesn’t look right it’s better not to take the ride, even if you have waited for a long time.

D. Inside The Car

 

Every ride is different and depending on the driver and you it can be fun, boring or very interesting. This is what I would recommend you doing:

  1. Introduce yourself to others and ask how their day was.
  2. Don’t break/scratch anything with your bag.
  3. Keep the car clean.
  4. Engage in conversation with the driver.
  5. Kep track of where you are and where you are heading.
  6. Make sure you don’t leave anything in the car.
  7. Be very thankful to the driver after they drop you off.

 

E. Getting Out At The Right Spot

 

If you get a good ride but they leave you in a really bad place to keep going, that might have been your last ride of the day. You should follow some of the principles of “How To Find The Right Hitchhiking Spot” to look for a place where people can drop you off.

 

1. Driving To A City

If the driver is going to a city you have three options:

  • Explore the city and stay there for a day or two or even a week if you really like it.
  • Ask to get dropped off near the bus/subway station to go to the right city exit, or you can simply walk.
  • You can also ask the driver to drop you off before the city. This works better if you are on the highway. You get dropped off in a gas station and there might be some people going beyond the city, if not you can simply get a ride to the city, so you have nothing to lose but time.

 

2. Making A Turn

Unless someone is driving you to your destination, they will make a turn at some point. You don’t have to necessarily get dropped off there. What if there is no place for cars to stop or they are speeding? You should ask for information like this to the driver, if not sure, just find a good spot before he makes the turn and ask to stay there. 

Hitchhiking On Gas Stations

Asking For Rides In A Gas Station Outside Madrid

F. Hitchhiking On The Highway

 

If you want to cover a big distance I would highly recommend hitchhiking on the highway, but it’s pretty different from hitchhiking elsewhere. You cannot walk or stand directly on the highway, you can’t get dropped off when you want to, the view sucks, but you can cover great distances in a short time.

 

1. Getting On The Highway

This is the first thing you should worry about and these are the two methods I use:

  • Gas stations: If you are in a big city there might be a gas station where everyone goes before going on a long trip on the highway. Gas stations outside cities, but close to highway entrances also work.
  • Highway Entrances: If you are not feeling lucky in gas stations or if you couldn’t find any, this is the next easiest way. Simply find a good spot before the entrance and wait for your ride.

 

2. Staying On The Highway

You have waited for the perfect ride, you are now on the highway, the last thing you want is to get out and have to repeat step number one again.

You should always try to get dropped off on a gas station before the highway exit your driver is taking. The bigger the better.

If you are unsure on how many service areas there will be just stay on the next one. Even if there was one 15 miles ahead that won’t really make a difference.

Never risk getting out of the highway, never. If you do it’s not the end of the world you can easily find another one in, if you have followed my advice.

 

3. Getting Out Of The Highway

When you are close to your destination you should always try to get a direct ride there. If you are a few gas stations before the city you want to go, it is not worth spending time trying to find a ride to the next one.

Some people have taken me out of the highway on purpose, they didn’t mind and it was very helpful. Always let them know exactly where you want to go, they might be familiar with that place and share with you a couple of ideas.

 

G. Hitchhiking On Gas Stations

 

Sometimes you cannot find a good place to hitchhike from, but you find a gas station, that’s jackpot. Hitchhiking on service areas has come very handy specially if you are on the highway:

  • Ask in the local language for a ride.
  • Look at license plates to determine where people might be going (only works in some countries).
  • Standing on the exit of the service area is also an alternative.
  • Don’t be annoying and change what you are doing if it isn’t working.

 

Check out this link for common hitchhiking phrases in many languages.

H. Thumb vs Sign

 

You probably have seen a lot of people using a sign when hitchhiking, but is it really better than using the thumb only? From personal experience I can say that the thumb works great for me and signs have too many disadvantages in my opinion. But here are my thoughts on the subject:

  • Finding and making a sign is more difficult than using your thumb only.
  • Some people who are going in the same direction as you don’t stop because their destination is different from the one you have on the sign.
  • Not all drivers will read your sign.
  • On the other hand, if someone is going to the place you have on your sign, there might be a bigger chance of them stopping for you.
  • You can also use the name of the roads on your sign instead of the destination.
Hitchhiking Sign

Yep! Those are my Moroccan sandals.

 

I. When To Hitchhike

 

Depending at what time of the day, day of the week and even month of the year you are hitchhike, your experience will be different. The best months of the year to hitchhike would be during the touristic season and the worst would be in the beginning and end of it, because cars are completely loaded and during the worst months of winter. Weekdays are good because there is a lot of traffic, specially in the mornings and after people finish working. I haven’t noticed much difference on Saturdays, but Sunday morning is a very bad time to hitchhike.

If I’m covering great distances I start hitchhiking around 8am or even sooner. For short distances (90 miles/145km or less) hitchhiking after lunchtime is not a bad idea. I never hitchhike at night because I would rather spend that time sleeping and waking up early the next day to continue my journey. If you are in remote places it is best to start hitchhiking early due to the lack of cars.

J. Hitchhiking Partners

 

Hitchhiking can be done solo, in pairs or groups. In my opinion hitchhiking alone increases your chances of getting a ride, unless you are a guy and you decide to hitchhike with girl, maybe than you will get more rides. Guys tend to lower your chances, so if you are two or three guys hitchhiking remember it will take longer, but maybe it is more fun than being alone on the road.

If it is your first time hitchhiking it’s better to do it with someone else that has experience so that you learn quickly what you have to do and don’t feel lost. If there is someone else hitchhiking near you, you can consider joining them. I only join other hitchhikers if they are girls, because than we still have a chance to get a ride. If there is another guy I think it’s better for both to hitchhike solo.

K. Hitchhiking A Truck!

 

I want to let you know that trucks are also an option. They might not stop as often on the side of the road, but you can get in a truck by following the same strategy you would on a gas station. Many service areas are full of trucks drivers and looking at their license plate’s country can help you figure out what country they are going to.

They are very slow, but they drive very long distances. I would recommend asking truck drivers for a lift if you really want to cover a long distance. A portuguese truck driver in the french/spanish border near Barcelona gave me a ride to Lisbon. I spent 2 nights in the truck and it was the longest and probably the most enjoyable ride of my life.

Hitchhiking A Truck

We Got A 6 Hour Ride In This Truck, Morocco

L. Plan B

 

This is something you should apply not only on hitchhiking, but in all areas of your life. Having a plan B is never a bad idea. You never know. Maybe it’s not your lucky day and you might need to take a bus or a train. What if you didn’t reach your destination and it’s getting dark? Use your survival instincts and find a place to set up camp.

Or what if someone is driving you the wrong way? Now you have to find a different plan, trace a different route on your map. Always keep in mind that not everything might go as you plan, so be willing to embrace uncertainty and be ready to change plans and figure out the next best strategy to follow.

Camping By The Road

If Airport Security Takes Your Poles Away And You Can’t Find A Ride Use Plan B

M. Patience

 

If you don’t have the patience to wait, hitchhiking is not for you. Sometimes it takes 10 minutes, other times 30 or even a couple of hours. The waiting time depends on many factors, but mainly on the country you are hitchhiking in.

Hitchwiki let’s you know how difficult it is to hitchhike in many countries and offers you some pretty nice tips.

While you wait you could do something else like juggling, playing an instrument, thinking about something important to you, listen to music, whatever floats your boat. Use that time for something productive or fun if you are in a difficult country to hitchhike in.

 

N. Being Thankful

 

You asked for a ride, someone decided to stop and helped you go further on your adventure. Please be very thankful, because this person helped you in exchange for nothing, they trusted you and treated you nicely, don’t take this for granted.

When you get into the car don’t start celebrating because you got a free ride, start thanking the driver because it was thanks to him that you got a ride. Don’t generate negative thoughts about people who chose not to pick you up. It’s not easy to trust strangers and I perfectly understand, that’s why I respect so much the kind human beings that stop for me.


Truck Ride

Inside A Truck In Portugal

What are you waiting for? I gave you everything you need to get to your next destination for free and have tons of fun on the way! Go out there and tell me how these tips worked for you! Is there something missing in your opinion? Help me out by leaving a comment. Thank you for reading, you are awesome and good luck on the road! If you liked this article please help me out by sharing it and don’t forget to follow me on social media or by e-mail for more travel related posts!

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