How to Hitchhike
People usually think I’m mad when I tell them I travel around from country to country by hitchhiking, even the drivers who are picking me up give me strange looks! Why? I personally think people are mad for spending 1000s of Euros on planes, trains and buses! And missing out on half of their journey! If you want to travel cheaper, longer and have more unique experiences, then hitchhiking is a must!
Hitchhiking is relatively safe in most countries, most people will tell you they have hitched 1000s of cars and never had a single problem, but as with everything you must take care.
Make sure you stand in an area it is safe for the driver to stop. Stand clear from the speeding traffic, especially when walking, stay as far out of the road as you can and make sure you are wearing colours that cars can easily see. And when inside the car ALWAYS wear your seat belt if there is one, you will probably be travelling many thousands of kilometers, usually at high speeds, and your driver may also be excited or distracted by your presence.
Don’t be afraid to say no to a driver if you do not feel comfortable, you should always think very hard about every single car to decide if you feel safe travelling with this person. This goes for their driving ability and their personality. Also be weary of drivers to seem too eager to pick you up, some might just be helpful and friendly, others might have another reason to want to pick you up. I have rejected many cars over the years, and so should you. Just smile and thank them and tell them that you are ok, waiting for a friend, or going in a different direction. If you feel unsafe once inside a car, just tell the driver you feel sick and would like to stop, and then let him to continue without you.
Carry a pepper spray. Don’t ever carry a weapon that could be used against you, but a pepper spray could be very useful to defend yourself if you ever needed to, but remember that in an enclosed space it could affect you as well as the driver. I have also heard some people carry a roll of toilet paper with the intent of lighting it on fire and throwing it to the back seat to force a driver to stop the car and alert other drivers haha.
Appearance is important, ask yourself; would you pick you up from the side of the road? Try to wear bright colours and not block your face so the driver can get a good look at you, make eye contact, and most important of all SMILE! Also if you are hitchhiking in a group, try to spread yourselves out so the driver can see that you are not hiding anything, just 1 or 2 meters should be enough though.
Where to stand
Where to hitch your ride is probably the most important factor while hitchhiking. First of all make sure you pick the right road, if not many people on your road are going in your direction it can be very difficult to find a ride. Just after junctions can be very useful for this reason, and it also tells the driver that you are going that way.
Try to pick a spot where drivers can see you relatively easily, can stop safely, and if possible a place where they are slowing down like a junction or just after a corner. I also find quieter roads much better to hitchhike on than busy ones. And always try to avoid getting dropped off in cities and towns.
Tools of the trade
Take a map, that is obvious! A map is not only useful to know where you are and where you are going, it is also good to show foreign drivers where you are going or where they can drop you!
When hitchhiking in a foreign country where you don’t know the language, get someone to translate a short note for you. The note should explain that you are trying to go to X place but don’t have much money, and if the driver is going in the same direction could they please help you. It could also be useful to mention that they can drop you at the side of the road or at a petrol station, and that even just a short distance is fine because you will find another car. The most important thing though is to mention that you do not have money as many countries do not understand the concept of hitchhiking and may expect you to pay them some money. This is the most awkward moment you can ever experience while hitchhiking and could even be dangerous in some cases!
Signs are also useful. If you are trying to go in a certain direction but many of the cars on your road may be going a different way, writing the name of a town or road on a sign can be a good idea. If all the cars are going the same way and you just want any one of them, a generic sign works best. My favourite is to draw a big cheesy smile with an arrow pointing up (forwards). It usually makes people smile and encourages them to stop for you. You can also write things like “please” or “anywhere” in the local language, or something humorous like “just showered” 🙂
Places to sleep
When you first start to hitchhike it is better to stick to short distances that can be easily covered in a single day, but if you want to cover larger distances, or sometimes when you just get stuck for some reason or another, you might need to find a place to sleep for the night.
I always carry a tent when hitchhiking, I paid about 5 euros for one in Thailand and it has given me 100s of nights of accommodation, not a bad rate huh? I usually just try to find a quiet place to camp behind some bushes. But you can also often camp inside petrol stations, highway restaurants, or even ask local house/farm owners if you can put your tent on their property. Safety is the most important thing when camping out. As a basic rule of thumb, either make sure absolutely no one knows you are there or could ever stumble across you, or make sure many people know you are there, so that there will be people to help in the unlikely event that you needed them to.
Another great place to sleep is in a temple, church or mosque. In Thailand especially you cannot travel 5 kilometers without seeing a temple on the side of the road, just walk in and ask the monks (or hand them a note if possible) if you can sleep here until sunrise. Just make sure you arrive before 9pm as usually they sleep very early. The same works for mosques which you can find in pretty much any country in the world, especially across Europe or the Middleeast.
You can also sleep in airports, large bus or train stations, or just try to find an overnight ride and sleep in the car!
Cities are the biggest obstacle while hitchhiking! If you are starting out inside of one it can be very difficult to escape. Often the best way is to take a bus or train to the edge and start from there, though it can also be possible (although difficult) from inner city highway entrances or petrol stations. Hitchwiki has a great database of good spots to hitchhike from when getting out of a city.
Cities also cause problems for you during your trip, especially if the highway runs through the center of them. If your driver is heading to the center of a city, ask them where would be a good place to find a car going in your direction. If they don’t seem like they can take you to a good place then it might be better to get off somewhere before the city begins. Avoid getting stuck in the center at all costs, 99% of cars will only be travelling locally and it could take you hours to get back on your way.
Apart from a few states in the United States it is completely legal to hitchhike in almost every country in the world, in fact I’ve hitchhiked several police cars, even had one cop use his sirens to pull cars over for me! However it is illegal to walk on some highways and express ways, generally this will be obvious, and these roads usually have such fast traffic that you wouldn’t be able to catch a ride anyway. If any kind of officer ever tells you that you're not allowed to hitchhike there, just tell them that you didn't know and are very sorry, and kindly ask them if they could take you to somewhere safer. You could also tell them that a driver dropped you there and you are stuck, and you just want to get back to a safe place.
Free or wild camping is also illegal in many places since recent law changes in the EU. The best way is to ask permission from a petrol station or highway restaurant, or make sure you are in an area no one could possibly find you so you don’t get caught. The chances of being caught, reported and then actually fined are very low though, so the reward definitely outweighs the risk.