The Art Of Smiling At Strangers
Hitchhiking, put simply, is getting a ride for free. Many people have tried it, a surprising number practice it regularly, but very few do it properly. I’m here to teach you the techniques necessary to use and control certain variables of hitchhiking in your favour, ensuring you’ll never have to wait long anywhere in the world.
Hitchhiking has suffered a decline in the past few decades due to fear. The unknown, which hitchhiking embodies, scares the shit out of us. Thankfully there’ll forever be those that travel by thumb and those wonderful guardians of freedom and generosity who pick us up. There is always a ride out there, it’s just a matter of how long you will have to wait for it. My goal is to teach you the skills necessary to bring that ride to you in the shortest possible time.
The joy and confidence that comes from stepping beyond the veil of what people believe to be possible, is, for me, why I love hitchhiking. It’s not just a way of travelling, it’s the habit of getting all that you can from this life, a conscious choice for freedom and adventure. Hitchhiking is a constant series of first impressions and fresh starts, it’s through these interactions that you begin to whittle away at who you thought you were and discover who you are.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m sick of the negative press hitchhiking gets. Here’s why hitchhiking is such a wonderful thing:
- It limits your environmental footprint, as you share rides, resulting in one less arsehole on the road.
- People. Amazing, magical, incredible people. Our world is crawling with spectacular beings we do our best to avoid. Hitchhiking throws you in the midst of a random person’s life and for some reason strangers tend to open up and pour their hearts out to the anonymous traveller.
- In this way hitchhiking will restore your faith in humanity.
- Good karma. You are giving someone the chance to do a good deed for another. Keeping those big wheels of love turning and churning.
- You learn determination, patience, perseverance, how to smile, how to laugh at yourself, small talk, listening, sharing, receiving and acting in spite of fear.
- Intuition, that long neglected voice will begin to guide you through this world so that you trust and rely upon yourself.
- Your legs will be tanned sculptures fit for a Greek statue by the time you have walked to those perfect hitchhiking spots.
- People are intrigued and drawn to you as you dip into that great well of experience and hold the party by the balls as extravagant tales of the road flow from your lips.
- Oh have I mentioned it’s FREE!
Can I get a hell yeah!
Your appearance has nothing to do with the features you were born with, it has everything to do with how you present yourself to others. The ugliest bastard in the world can still land a ride. Having said that, it definitely helps if you aren’t too weird looking.
The big ‘no no’s’ are sunglasses and hats, anything that hides your eyes. Your eyes and your smile are the two most important tools you have for hitchhiking. Once you have removed anything blocking your eyes the rest is easy. I suggest being clean shaven just to look a little less like a bum, but if you have a really winning smile, most of us do, then your facial hair could add a new charming aspect to it, like Santa Claus.
Don’t smoke, inject meth or wave your army knife about while trying to hitch, people tend not to like these things.
Clothing – Best to wear some
I was once told by a driver that hitchhikers should always wear bright colourful clothing as dark is considered sinister. It also makes you easier to see and therefore less likely to be run over. There is an actual School of hitchhiking in Moscow and they are very big on wearing bright colours. I agree you should wear something bright rather than dark or dull, but don’t overdo it, hitchhiking is not the time for reflector vests. Girls, dress casual, don’t have your physical assets hanging out too overtly, drivers will be racing to pick you up with all the wrong intentions.
It all depends on where you are. Adapt to your environment.
As for me, I tend to err on the well dressed side, helps you to stand out from the usual riff raff drivers see by the side of the road. It’s never hurt me to be well dressed, people often tell me that I presented myself well and that’s why they picked me up. Look at yourself in the mirror, if you look like the type of person who would probably be carrying a knife then best to change the way you dress and clean yourself up a bit.
- Simple coloured t-shirt or shirt
- Jeans or shorts
- White shoes or thongs
- Backpack (to show I’m a traveller)
- No sunglasses
- No hats
- No cigarettes
- No alcohol
- A big smile
Don’t worry if you have just emerged from two weeks lost in the wilderness, as long as you look half decent the smell of your festering feet is irrelevant, thank god for that. Please note, this does not apply when approaching drivers at petrol stations, if they can smell you over the petrol fumes then you may have some serious issues.
Ninety percent of my rides are attributed to this beautifully simple act.
Hitchhiking is the art of smiling at strangers.
The importance of smiling cannot be understated, it is the main variable you have absolute control over, and perhaps the one action that you can take that will have the most profound effect on getting you a ride.
At first smiling can be a chore for some, and personally I think this says a lot about that person and their life experiences. The more you smile the better your world and others becomes. Yes you do feel like a douche bag smiling at drivers as they are busy ignoring you, but soon your smile will attract attention and all important banter from the drivers. A nod of the head, a thumbs up, mouthing the words ‘I’m sorry’ or just a guilty little smile, these are all great responses from drivers.
Don’t be alarmed if you find yourself laughing alone by the road. Laughter, smiling, anything that makes you look jolly is a good thing. You could try other techniques such as waving or dancing, but personally I feel these make you look slightly pathetic. You want to look friendly but strong, in control, conscious.
Play around with this, have fun, see what works for you and run with it. What works for one won’t for another, so the best thing you can do is finish reading this guide and get out there and test it out, discover your unique touch of magic and own it.
Waiting by the road is made far more enjoyable if you are hitchhiking in pairs. In fact there are many benefits of hitchhiking in pairs, especially if you are female. It’s a win win situation for girls to hitch in pairs as the added security and confidence will make your trip far more enjoyable. Hitchhiking is all about how threatening you are to the driver. Theoretically a solo female hitchhiker should get picked up before a solo male hitcher. So it basically follows this order from there, two girls, then a guy and a girl, then two guys. Anything more than that makes it particularly tricky to land a ride due to the lack of available seats. Though, it’s definitely possible to land rides with large numbers, just not as easy. Six of us managed to land a ride in Montenegro, that was one girl and five guys, it’s doable. We also got four person rides frequently throughout Eastern Europe. While hitching in multiples make sure you can all be seen from the road, some drivers are frightened and annoyed if they pull over for one hitchhiker and three more jump out of the bushes.
There is one large downside to hitchhiking in pairs. The conversation tends to be stilted when within the ride, people aren’t as comfortable confiding with hitchhikers when there are a few of them. The interior of the vehicle can become more of an interview than a confessional. That’s the main benefit of hitchhiking solo, you have no pressure, you can be a different person for that hour long ride, you can experience another perspective on life without pollution from your own beliefs and stigmas.
Do you talk to people without making eye contact?
Stop that right now.
No one trusts people who can’t even look them in the eyes.
Look the driver in the eyes. Seek them out and lock on. Your eye contact and smile are a tractor beam few can resist. Don’t be surprised by the drivers who do everything in their power to avoid your gaze, they will be racked with guilt for the rest of the day. Some people are so incredibly scared of this world that locking eyes with you is all too much for their insecure self. Don’t be bothered by this, they are living day to day the best they know how, don’t judge them, don’t curse them, instead hold the high ground and look to the next opportunity rumbling towards you. Smile. Smile with ease knowing there is always someone who will pick you up. No matter how many cars have passed you without a second glance, the very next may be the one that opens their hearts and lets you in. Every new car is a second chance.
With good eye contact you get into the drivers head, you make a connection, you feel you can almost read their thoughts. I feel their uncertainty, their desire to help and the immense fear that they struggle to overcome. I see their fingers twitch, their hand shifts on the steering wheel dropping down on the blinker before a second thought enters their mind. I can still see it in their body language when I open the door, they can’t believe they have pulled over, they just ignored thirty years of fear rammed down their throats to reach out and connect with a fellow human being.
Hitchhiking is a glorious act of stepping out into the unknown and becoming a beacon of burning light and love by the side of the road. We are giving so much by having the courage to dare to live a life of adventure. We are a symbol of exploration, excitement, travel, sharing, cooperation and hope.
The way you carry yourself screams so much about you.
Stand tall and proud, not hunched and shy, walk with purpose rather than a sneaky shuffle. This doesn’t just tell the drivers you have nothing to hide, it also reveals you have an unshakable inner confidence and are not easily pushed around. You transform yourself from a position of vulnerability to one of power and control.
Do I have to tell you to face the traffic?
Hopefully, for the vast majority of you reading this, that goes without saying, but I’m constantly stunned when I see a hitchhiker meandering along the side of the road, arm out, head down, back to the traffic. How they expect to get a ride is beyond me.
Having said that I’ve done this when in tough times in younger years, when it was all too much to face another rejection. Yes I did get picked up, eventually. Goes to show there is always a ride out there for you, you’re just making it a hard decision for people to pick you up if they can’t see your face.
Make sure you enjoy yourself while hitchhiking, approach it with a light heart. Think of yourself as a yacht at sea, all ties to land are severed and you are subject to the wind. Don’t be fixed and rigid, adjust your sails as the wind changes. Be flowing and fluid, ENJOY THE RIDE, because that’s what it’s all about. Here’s a simple motto my friend hitches by which ensures you take things easy and go with the flow:
“Wait two hours, grab a beer, then a bus.”
No messing around and straight to the point, I like it.
- Be clean
- Dress neat and to appropriate climate/culture
- No sunglasses or things blocking eyes
- Bright colours help
- Smile always
- Make eye contact with drivers
- Face the traffic
- Stand tall and confident
Everyone thinks they’re an expert when it comes to where you should hitch from. Sadly if they have never hitched then they have no idea! The amount of times a driver has assured me they knew a perfect hitchhiking spot and then gone and dumped me in the center of a city, leaving me with a wave and thumbs up as if they’d just left me in hitchhiker paradise. Don’t listen to those who have never hitchhiked, they know shit all.
Location rule number one: Get out of urban centers.
It’s common sense really, that oh so rare of things with the misleading name.
Simply find yourself a patch of road that has a moderate flow of traffic moving at a reasonably slow speed, and has room for them to pull over. Voila! That’s a spot hitchhikers sell their left nut for. Or more accurately walk half a day for.
First we shall deal with standing by the road with your thumb out, and then we graduate to the fine art of soliciting rides from people who are trying to ignore you.
Preferably long and straight with ample room for a vehicle to pull over at the shortest possible notice. It must be a spot where traffic is travelling at a reasonable speed 50-60kms is perfect, nothing more than 80kms though.
Visibility is vital.
The driver has to have a minimum of three seconds to see you and decide you’re safe to pick up. This is why the speed is important, if they only see you at the last minute then they will be well and truly past you before they can even contemplate pulling over. Not to fear though, I’ve had a surprising number of people turn back for me (going incredibly far out of their way) they all said it was because I smiled at them and they felt guilty leaving me hanging by the road. I can’t stress enough the importance of smiling, wear your smile everywhere.
The type of location you choose will depend on what part of the world you are hitchhiking in. For example, I would be mainly using service centres on motorways if I was hitchhiking through Western Europe, but in Australia or Canada I would generally be standing out by the road. In some countries there are actual designated hitchhiking spots just like bus stops, such as Trempiyada’s in Israel and Liftershalte in the Netherlands.
That first ride can take the majority of your energy, once the ball is rolling life generally flows with abundance. If you begin hitching from a small town then that’s perfect, you merely have to walk to the edge of town to a spot where traffic can pull over and stick out your thumb.
Sadly most journeys begin in cities. This complicates things.
When I’m in unfamiliar cities Google Maps is my best friend and will come to be yours too.
The night before the hitch I peruse the roads snaking in and out of the city and work out which one I want to get on. The beautiful thing with Google Maps is you can zoom in close on satellite setting and get an idea of what the road and surrounding terrain looks like. Sometimes, within urban areas, you can even get a street view. Websites such as Hitch Wiki and Digi Hitch offer area specific advice and I suggest you check these out. I tend not to like them because they are cluttered and messy, overflowing with information, often useful information but too much of it. Be wary, it is easy to read too much and begin to feel overwhelmed, hitchhiking can look like a daunting task when reading instructions on how to get to a specific spot posted on Hitch Wiki. I much rather have a glance at Google Maps and find a good spot for myself. But those websites definitely have their uses and I highly recommend you check them out.
When looking at maps you are looking for the beginning of the highway on the edge of town, some roads leading towards it, on ramps, or petrol stations and service areas. In Europe there are quite often little paths to the back of Service centres on the highways (they can be almost impossible to get to otherwise). I like to get public transport as far as the line goes and hitch from there. There is no point in trying in the centre of a city, even if it is the right road, chances are most of the traffic is only heading a short distance and will not pick you up.
So you have managed to extricate yourself from the lecherous tangle of cement and smog and found that little patch of paradise on its periphery. Congratulations, that’s most of the hard work done, and probably enough walking and waiting to have sent the weak packing. Now you are in prime position staring at the meandering traffic shuffling toward you like a herd of bison. Your thumb is cocked, your chest pumped, your sunnies stuffed in you bright blue shirt and your eyes are scanning the luminescent windshields ready to burst with a winning smile.
The poor driver never really stood a chance. They lock eyes with you and in that quarter of a second their brain absorbs your beaming face and open posture, well kept appearance and backpack on the ground. The location you are hitching at has a wide shoulder, the empty space beckons to the driver.
Yes, much of hitchhiking is luck (landing a ride with the Swiss volleyball team who shelters you in their alpine chalet keeping you warm with back rubs and mouthfuls of chocolate coated nipples…wow, my imagination has gotten away from me again) but I’m of the school of thought that believes luck only visits when provoked. Therefore I influence and manipulate as many variables as I can in my favour, then stand back and smile smugly as lady luck rushes into my life.
Some roads are illegal to hitchhike on, check in with your local authorities website, or ask around. It’s generally only illegal if you are considered a traffic hazard, or if you get caught. Also depends greatly on the mood the police are in at the time, so be friendly and apologetic if they do pull over for you. Don’t hold your thumb out when you see the police, if they do pull over you can say you’re waiting for an organised ride share. I’ve been picked up by police in Japan, Germany, France and Canada, and helped out by Officers in many other countries, they were all positive encounters except for one in Quebec where I got a fine for hitchhiking, mainly because he was in a bad mood.
Petrol stations/service centres
Hitchhiking from petrol stations has some huge benefits over hitching by the road, and in my opinion is the best place to start if you have never hitched before.
Here are the pros:
- Added safety. You choose the drivers rather than them choosing you. You have the luxury of observing a driver before approaching them, generally you can tell if they are a freak or not. You’re also in the vicinity of other humans, a public place, rather than alone by the road.
- Access to amenities. There are toilets, food, phones. Service centers can be a great place to sleep. Also the bins out back are a potential wonderland of cardboard, that useful travelling tool, and out of date food, if you’re that way inclined.
- Shelter. It can get pretty grim waiting by the side of a deserted road in the peak of summer, or winter for that matter. Hitchhiking in the rain is miserable work. Some people believe rain makes drivers sympathetic, maybe, but I think it makes drivers view you as if you were a wet dog rolling in mud by the road. No way you’re getting in their sweet ride. The awnings and picnic areas of Service Centers provide great shelter when needed the most.
There are a few different ways to hitchhike at service areas and petrol stations.
I pick a target after checking people’s number plates, which indicate where they’re from, a hint to where they’re going, and assessing the vibe I get from them. I approach from the side or front on (people are on guard when someone engages them from behind). Be polite and courteous, use your smile and open body language showing you have nothing to hide. Greet them and ask them if they speak English or where they are going?
If they reject you don’t get angry, keep that smile and thank them for their time, wish them a safe trip and move on. Often, if you handle the turn down well, people will change their mind while in the store, seeing you get rejected by others helps. This is why you approach them while they are filling up their car, before they have entered the store. It gives them time to change their mind. Approach as soon as there is an appropriate opening. The longer you linger in the background umming and ahhing the less likely they are to pick you up. Approach them before they realise you are hitchhiking and put up their shield of indifference. This will also help your nerves, dive straight into it and your fear will disappear.
On the road drivers can say ‘the next car will pick them up’ easing their conscience with this statement and driving on, there’s no accountability. They don’t see the hitcher getting turned down by car after car for the next hour.
At the petrol station they do.
Hitchhiking at service centers works especially well in countries where they don’t speak your native language. Foreigners have a greater ‘cute’ factor and are less threatening. Especially when you speak a little of their language, get yourself a phrase book and get to work.
Many hitchers don’t like approaching drivers at service stations, and that’s their right. I understand, it can be nerve racking and at times terrifying. If you don’t want to impose yourself upon others or you just can’t work up the energy to speak, then head out back and rustle up some cardboard from a recycling bin. Here’s where a permanent marker comes in handy (refer to Hitchhiking Inventory for more useful hitchhiking items). Scribble the name of the town or city you are trying to get to, if your destination is thousands of kilometres away then choose a major town closer to you, but still on the way. Also, in some places it is more common to write the number of the motorway you are hitching on, adapt to whatever is the most common for where you are. Stand with your sign by the service center entrance and smile to those who come and go.
This is a less efficient hitchhiking technique, but still works if you make eye contact and smile, a small greeting never hurt anyone too.
Use leverage, have other drivers looking out for you. Get talking to people even if they’re not going your way, they may speak the language better and find someone for you, or they may be a local who knows someone heading your way.
If that fails or you don’t feel like talking walk to the service area exit and set up there with your thumb out.
Mix things up, anything and everything works, find your niche.
- Get out of large urban areas and cities
- Find straight stretch with good visibility (driver needs a minimum of three seconds to make their decision)
- Must have plenty of room for vehicles to pull over
- Traffic moving at slow speed
- Google Maps
- Approach people at petrol stations without hesitation
- Handle rejections well, they may change their mind
- Use cardboard from recycle bins to write your destinations/motorways name/number
- Use leverage, get everyone looking out for you
- Smile and take it easy
Talking to Strangers
I appreciate the fear this conjures in many, including myself. Approaching strangers who are deliberately attempting to avoid your eyes is a bloody daunting task. But you will come to relish the approach and banter with strangers. It’s quite addictive. I guess it has something to do with fear and the sheer pleasure of flicking it the bird and getting on despite it. Or maybe it’s just human interaction, it’s fun, interesting and exciting.
I also realise that regardless what I have to say on this topic, many of you will still be in need of fresh underwear when it comes to getting down to the nitty gritty and asking a random for a ride. And that’s perfectly fine, nerves are natural, I like to think they are showing me I’m doing something important, if I’m not nervous then what’s the point? Almost every exceptional event or moment in my life has been worth overcoming the mountain of nerves before it.
Hitchhiking is walking, waiting and talking.
I’m assuming most of you know how to do the first two, the latter often requires practice. Just remember the old saying “interested is interesting”. It’s easy to sit in a car and babble about ourselves and how amazing we are, but the truth is, that’s boring as bat shit for the listener. So as a hitchhiker it’s often our role to provide an attentive ear for strangers. If you embrace this role there is no limit to the things you can learn. The lives we’ve lived are there just waiting to pour out. With the right questions and attention the trip will fly by for all involved and you’ll have reached your destination in record time with, perhaps, a new perspective.
Respect is important.
Hitchhiking is not the time to fiercely defend your beliefs or world view. Gauge your driver’s perspective and be sensitive to their beliefs. Everyone is free to think however they want and seeming as you are the guest in their car I don’t recommend getting in an argument over global warming with the hundred kilo truck driver. I’m not saying be weak and overly eager to please, just understand that if you’d walked in your drivers shoes you would no doubt view the world the way they do too. In the spirit of reciprocity treat people how you would like them to treat you.
Sometimes though you will be picked up by people who really don’t want to talk or listen to you crap on about all the cool places you’ve travelled to. In these situations chill out, enjoy the passing scenery, maybe listen to the radio or just revel in the silence, it’s one of the most beautiful sounds you may encounter. Life is full of moments when we fill the air with unnecessary chatter. Relish this rare opportunity in the presence of an individual comfortable enough to ignore social normalities and sit in silence in the presence of another. If that’s too intense then politely ask if it’s ok to have a nap, and chill out.
I rode with a guy for two whole days from Mt Isa in Queensland to Katherine in the Northern Territory of Australia. I don’t think he said more than ten words in the whole trip. Instead he stared ahead and listened to Brittany spears mixed in with horrible country music that made me want to punch Dolly Parton.
If talking to strangers is daunting for you then do some homework. Knowledge mixed with action is the antidote for fear. Prepare discussion points on a small piece of paper, have your cardboard sign with you so the driver already knows what you want, practice your best smile and ‘hello’ in the mirror. And remember, you will never again see the people who reject you. What are you losing? “What other people think about me is none of my business” so get on with the job at hand and pound those rides.
Here are some conversation points for those really battling with the idea of keeping up a healthy conversation:
- The weather. Yeah I know that sounds boring, but it’s pretty much the only thing that you can talk about where ever you are in the world.
- Ask questions about the driver’s personal life: family, husband/wives, children, occupation, travel, childhood, parents.
- Ask about hitchhiking, whether they do it or used to, why they picked you up, their thoughts on it, their thoughts on why it isn’t as popular as previous decades, their thoughts on the revival we are bringing about, etc.
- Look around you, use the things you see to use as discussion points, the traffic, the local terrain and environment, distances and travelling times, cars (some people seem to love having hour long yarns over their shitbox cars).
- The economy, religion, politics (best not to hold too strong of an opinion on these topic)
Good conversation really is only limited to your imagination and level of creativity. Don’t be afraid of appearing dumb, approach each ride with a goal of learning something new. The key is to be a good listener, don’t just ask a question then not pay attention to the answer. Listen to what people have to say, every word that leaves their lips is a line tied to a story, follow the leads and pull gently with questions and interest at the cords, you will be amazed by what comes tumbling out.
Talking to Strangers Summary:
- Relish the fear and exhilaration of acting in spite of your nerves
- Remember, those who turn you down will never enter your world again, so what have you got to lose?
- In a month, will you still be embarrassed for approaching those people?
- Respect is important
- Interested is interesting
- Be a good listener, ask questions that will lead to further conversation.
- Chill out, know when to be silent (why hitchhiking where you don’t speak the language can be brilliant fun)
- Look around you, gather the clues of your environment (interior of the vehicle, scenery, roads and traffic etc.) and use these as discussion points
- Be prepared to relinquish that which you think you know, and learn something new
Your attitude, transforms the world around you.
If you are positive and an eternal optimist then your perspective shall be substantially different to that of one who lets trivial matters get them down. Do not feel sorry for yourself. If it takes you three hours to get a ride don’t whinge and whine and bitch and moan, be grateful for the ride. You are the one in control of your life, blaming others achieves nothing but weakening your power.
Hitchhiking requires a certain amount of hard work, persistence and determination. The way you view the world will have a huge impact on your hitchhiking experience. If you approach hitchhiking as an exciting adventure where everything is an ‘experience’ to be cherished and appreciated with all your senses, then you will have a ball. If you are hitchhiking to a deadline, focusing solely on the destination, you will miss every tiny step, which is a tiny victory, and arrive at your destination exhausted and worn out.
Relish the small triumphs and ignore the big pains.
For example, some may view the fact that you have to lug your bag around and walk for excruciatingly long distances, as a negative. Others may relish this opportunity to work on their ‘hitchhiker’ physique: lean, fit and tanned as camels hide.
Your outlook on life must be a positive one if partaking in hitchhiking, or anything for that matter. If you always celebrate and rejoice in the small wins, travel with a light heart, laugh often, smile always, and take nothing seriously, including yourself, then your experience hitchhiking shall be spectacular, robust and one hell of an adventure.
It is important to know when to call it quits too. All too often I have hitchhiked for the sake of hitchhiking, for bragging rights. Sometimes it’s just not your day. Realise when this occurs and go easy on yourself, don’t be ashamed of taking the bus, it’s all part of the journey. It goes back to my friends motto: Wait two hours, grab a beer, then a bus.
If you’re not enjoying the ride then what’s the point of it all?
- You make your world, if you don’t like your world then change the glasses you view it through (perspective)
- Don’t feel sorry for yourself
- Rejoice in the small triumphs
- Know when to call it a day and get the bus.
- Enjoy the ride
Intuition, our most primal form of self preservation. That little knowing sitting between the base of your spine and bowels. Often ignored, much to the detriment of the being. It will guide us through this life in perfect harmony if we were just to listen to it.
You will find you begin to assess people in a flicker of a moment, like a slide of film, you will know whether their intentions are flawed. You will simply feel it. Do not ignore these feelings.
Intuition is a critical tool for hitchhiking, the only bad experiences I’ve had where when I ignored my gut feeling, the voice whispering from within. Awareness is the key, become aware of all that is around you. Get in touch with your inner voice, practice listening to what it has to say, learn to act on its wisdom, learn to ignore doubt, fear and hesitation. Intuition and a fertile ear are all you really need in this life.
Your safety on the road is your responsibility, no one else’s, don’t compromise it for any reason. No matter how long you have been waiting by the road, if that ride doesn’t feel right, don’t get in.
The fear surrounding hitchhiking is incredible, the amount of times people have told me I’m crazy, that I’ll die, I’ll be raped, no one will pick me up, it can’t be done. The strangest part of these comments is that they all come from people who have never hitchhiked, yet they’re so certain they know more than me about it. Don’t listen to the weak, they’re free to live their second rate lives and you are free to live yours.
Hitchhiking has the potential to be dangerous only to the degree you let your guard down.
There are many steps a hitchhiker can take to maximise their safety. First and foremost is knowing what you are capable of. I do not carry weapons as I see them as escalating or attracting a negative situation. My most powerful weapon is my mind and how I use it. Always remember, the way you think, speak and act is more powerful than carrying a weapon.
The risks and how to minimise them:
- Getting robbed by a driver:
It’s possible that someone could view you as a soft target and try and take advantage of this. Ways to prevent this are hitchhiking at petrol stations so that you are visible to others and are able to choose who you want to ride with. Carry yourself with extreme confidence, shoulders back chest out, tall and strong. Don’t act like you owe them anything, act as if you are doing them a favour. Fair chance if you look like a soft target then desperate people will treat you accordingly. Carry a minimum amount of cash in your wallet and no important documents or money in your bag. I like to travel with a small backpack that has everything I could possibly need in it, if things get sticky all I have to do is grab that and run, forget the other stuff. I keep money dispersed throughout my body. Something I picked up from my time in Brazil is putting money in my sock or underwear.
It’s important to remember that if you know a driver has malicious intentions and they won’t let you out, you do have options. A friend of mine told me about how she dealt with a taxi driver trying to rape her in Mexico. She covered his eyes so that he had to slow down the car so not to crash, also think about gauging the eyes or a hard punch to the throat or balls, know peoples weak spots. People’s instinct when they can’t see is to hit the brakes. As she covered his eyes and he braked she hit the gears out and pulled on the handbrake (once slowed enough) allowing her to jump out of the car screaming for help. Your voice is very useful.
Getting out of the ride is your first priority. The driver has to drive, they don’t want to die, so you are at an advantage.
- Sexually amorous drivers:
Many people believe this only applies to women, but this is not the case. While the vast majority of these incidents are directed towards females, men do also get targeted. One of the scariest experiences I’ve had hitchhiking was in Thailand when the driver tried to have his way with me. That was one moment I ignored my intuition.
No matter how desperate you are for a ride, make sure your safety is your first priority, nothing else is as important.
The best way to deter unwanted sexual advances if you are a female hitchhiker is to hitch in pairs or with a guy. Don’t dress too sexually and never get into a vehicle that has more than one occupant.
Two incredible eighteen year old Polish girls I met hitchhiking at a truck stop in Spain had made it across Europe this way. They figured if there were two of them and only one driver then they would be able to handle any situation. They did have an unfortunate experience with a Turkish man in the Netherlands who pulled out his penis while driving. When they asked him what the fuck he was doing (not as polite as that) he apologised and took them to where they needed to go.
Be strong, confident and don’t take shit. Just because they have given you a lift doesn’t mean they have the right to force you to do anything you don’t want to.
If all else fails go crazy, everybody’s scared of crazy. Scream, kick, punch, bite, scratch, throw things, slam the window, punch seats. Go caveman on those pricks and make them have no choice but to leave you alone and get the hell out of your way.
Here is where one weapon, a can of mace, can come in handy.
- Drunk Drivers
These are all too common. The best way to avoid them is to have a quick scan of both the driver and the interior of the vehicle before accepting the ride. Open the door and ask them where they are going, this gives you an opportunity to check things out. If you are hit in the face by a strong odour of liquor then it’s a pretty safe guess that they have been drinking, the same goes with marijuana, though other drugs are harder to smell.
Look at the driver, do they look like they are on something, are they sweating like a priest in a preschool, or have a constant twitch and scratch their needle scarred arm?
Don’t get in the ride.
If you are already in the ride – which was the case on my very first hitchhiking experience with a truckie crossing the Canadian Rockies – and they begin drinking it’s a good idea to ask politely to be let off at the next petrol station. You don’t have to carry on with the ride for the sake of niceties, I unfortunately did.
Be smart, travel in pairs if you feel you’re too vulnerable by yourself. Assess the driver before approaching (families and woman are good starts) don’t get into rides with more than one male, be prepared to stop the ride if you feel it’s going wrong. Most importantly listen to your intuition. It will always look after you. Never be afraid of turning down a ride if it doesn’t feel right.
Often drivers will offer you food or drinks or even accommodation. Be mindful of these things, judge their intentions. Ninety nine percent will be pure.
Staying with someone I have hitched with is one of the most rewarding experiences of hitchhiking. Human beings are incredibly generous and charming creatures, they love that they have the ability to help out another being. Hitchhikers are providing a good karma service, in that we give people the opportunity to do a good deed for another and add to the bountiful reservoir of good in this universe. So don’t be ashamed of accepting a helping hand, just don’t take advantage of this hand. There is a fine line between a welcome guest in someone’s home and a leech on their generosity, it’s generally about three days. Once your novelty has worn off then you have definitely overstayed your welcome.
- Hitch in pairs
- Keep your bag with you
- Only one occupant
- Use mace if you really must carry a weapon
- Know where you are
- Adapt and change with the terrain, people and culture
- Divide and hide many small portions of money on your body
- Keep valuables with you
- Awareness is key
- Don’t hitch by the road at night
- Take a good look at the driver and interior before accepting ride (look for alcohol, weapons, drugs etc.)
- Discuss drivers wife/family and your imagined or real boyfriend/girlfriend
- If necessary attack driver by covering eyes and hitting weak spots (eyes, ears, throat, groin)
- Use peoples natural reaction to slow down when under stress
- Hit out gears and pull handbrake
- Scream and shout, let it be known what’s going on
- Forget your belongings and run
Act in Spite Fear
Fear, a symptom of our modern day favourite pastime, playing zombie in front of TV being spoon fed chaos on an hourly basis. It’s vital to switch off the constant chatter of ‘what if’s’ spewing into our consciousness and step out of our heads, step out of our comfort zone. Life was never meant to be lived in a ‘comfortable’ little bubble. Everything that is great, everything that is spectacular, everything that is unbelievable, is waiting for you just beyond your field of vision. Don’t be fooled by what you know, what you know is the only thing holding you back from living up to your full potential.
There are times when your fear is legitimate and reasonable, I’m not telling you to ignore this kind of fear, it is the irrational, unnecessary and constant petty fear that is inhibiting our lives that I’m talking about. Know how to differentiate between the two. The former is a real danger, the latter a distant ‘what if’.
Ask yourself the next time you experience fear, ‘Is this really serving my best interests?’
Fear is the fence you must jump in order to run free in the unknown. We must all act in spite of our fear. We must recognise why we are scared, we must acknowledge it, and then step forward into it. Only then, once we have pressed forward through our fear, do we realise that it has been ruling our lives, holding us back, limiting our experiences.
Go ahead, act in spite of fear, and experience the world that has been waiting for you. I never would have dreamed I could hitchhike from the south east corner of Australia to Darwin, but once over the initial fear, everything is possible.
Act in Spite of Fear Summary:
- Fear rules our lives and limits our experiences
- Push beyond the incessant negative chatter within the head
- Know when to heed your fear and when to ignore it
- Act in spite of fear to set yourself free
Hitchhiking lends itself beautifully to travelling on the cheap. You will be amazed by how little you spend while hitchhiking. All it requires to spend less on the road is a little preparation.
Getting yourself a hiking tent (small, light and easy to carry) will give you an incredible amount of freedom. A sleeping bag, depending on the climate is also a good idea. As is other sleeping equipment such as hammocks which have the added benefit of getting you up off the ground away from bugs or wild animals. Be warned though, my mate and I hitched through Japan sleeping in hammocks and we came to a shocking conclusion, hammocks are shit to sleep in. we ended up spending a substantial amount of money on alcohol just so that we could get some shut eye.
Sober+hammock=pins and needles
Keep that in mind.
Having something that allows you to sleep outside comfortably acts like a safety net. I often find that I’m less stressed while travelling with my tent, it’s a better back up plan than sleeping on a park bench or in a bus shelter.
Take a lesson from snails and hermit crabs, bring your bed with you.
Ask people if you can pitch your tent in their yard for safety. Most drivers, even complete strangers (if you present yourself well) are cool with this. Once they have opened their home to you they feel guilt that you’re sleeping outside when there is a perfectly good spare bed or couch inside. You will be amazed how often this happens. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, the worst thing they can do is say no, which takes nothing from you.
Sleeping for free can be a daunting task when within a city and is not always viable. Best to do it in a group as it’s bloody scary when on your own in a dark park with drunks and hobos roaming.
In that situation I try and stay with whoever gave me a ride there or one of their friends, this almost always works. Simply be friendly, spark up conversation, explain your situation and people will run to your aid, it’s amazing.
There are other options, depending on where in the world you are and what time of day it is. You could begin searching out parks and nice quiet spots to nestle yourself once dark, or universities for nap spots. Or you could get a hostel, or an overnight bus to somewhere else, or public transport to a smaller town with better chances of finding a spot to nap. Or sit in a café and befriend someone getting them to let you camp at their place. Or stash your bag in lockers and hit up some bars, who knows where you will end up, even if you don’t end up at someone’s house, party until the suns up then pass out in a park or beach, sleeping during the day time is a lot safer than night.
Personally I stay at people’s homes or hostels when in large cities. Parks and beaches can be too dodgy, I don’t fancy waking up with a homeless man snuggling up to me or rifling through my things.
Searching for a spot in a smaller town is better, any parks, riversides, forests, bus stops, quiet corners etc. You can also knock on someone’s door and ask if you can sleep on their property (will be gone by the morning etc.). This works especially well if you’re somewhere obscure and don’t speak the language. Get someone to write out in the local language a note asking to sleep on their property for the night, a group of us did this with a piece of paper written in Serbian while hitching in the border hills of Montenegro, with resounding success.
Remember you want to be out of the way so that drunks or anyone else for that matter is unlikely to stumble upon you causing you grief. Be wary of security guards and police, they can be a real pain in the arse when they wake you up and move you along at three am. Also, you will want to be close to water and an area where you can go to the toilet, mother nature is the best place for this.
Potential Sleeping Spots:
- BUS SHELTERS
- TRAIN STATIONS
- 24HR STORES
- BENEATH BRIDGES (the homeless generally have the monopoly on all the warm and dry spots within cities, they can fiercely defend their turf, so be careful)
- FOOTBALL FIELDS
- OVERNIGHT BUSES OR TRAINS
- SERVICE AREAS
In Europe the large service areas are ideal for sleeping, they have food, water, shelter, amenities and probably more important than the rest, they are populated solely with travellers, so you will not be frowned upon for sleeping on a bench. In fact at one service area I slept at in Slovenia all throughout the night drivers parked and followed my example, stretching out on the picnic tables to sleep. Felt very safe.
Cardboard is very useful in these situations providing an extra layer between the earth or cement and your tired back. In Croatia I frequently stumbled upon foam beach mats that tourists had discarded on the stone beaches. These are ideal for rolling out and sleeping under the stars.
As a general rule, the less humanity nearby the easier it is to find a quiet spot to sleep for the night.
So make friends, take advantage of the networks people have. Travellers bring an excitement into people’s mundane routine that is greatly appreciated, it’s a mutually beneficial interaction, not one sided as some believe. Why do you think Couch Surfing is so popular? Be a cool guest, be kind, courteous, easy going and one who laughs and shares a lot. Respect people and their things and they will respect you. Always give something, no matter how small: a smile, laughter, a story, a compliment, chocolate, wine, flowers, food, etc. Whatever it is will be returned tenfold.
Most of all enjoy yourself. Those that have fun and revel in the small joys of life are prized by all others. If you bring light into another’s life then they will cherish you and your presence.
Hitchhiking removes transportation and quite often accommodation costs. These are the two most expensive parts of travel, but we can go cheaper still.
I tend not to eat at restaurants or cafes unless I’m in Asia, where the food is exceptionally cheap and ridiculously awesome. The supermarket is the hitchhiker’s friend, with just a few dollars you can feed yourself for a few days. My favourite items for hitchhiking are those that don’t easily spoil and can handle being thrown around in your bag. Seeds, nuts, carrots, canned anything (mainly beans or tuna), oranges, apples, a jar of tahini, peanut butter or Nutella are my standard inventory. It’s vital there is an item of food in your pack that picks you up when you are down, gives you a burst of energy and helps with moral. For some this is chocolate, for me it’s tahini (yeah I’m weird, I know) whatever works for you as long as it’s easily portable. This food will be your secret weapon when you are having no luck, feeling home sick and need something to boost your spirits.
I often find myself dragging along a bottle of red wine too. You never know when a party will spring up.
There is also the option, personally I have never tried this, of dumpster diving. Having worked at a supermarket when younger I was constantly amazed by the extent of the waste. Perfectly good products being thrown out because there use by date was approaching or just past. This is a possible free meal if you are willing to scrounge through the bins out the back of supermarkets and service centers. Use common sense, be discreet, most people don’t react well to others with their heads in a bin, choose only that which looks fresh and is wrapped or sealed. Don’t dumpster dive for meat or seafood, that’s asking for a severe case of the squirts, which is the last thing you want while hitchhiking.
I like to spend my money on good times rather than crap I don’t really need, such as four walls and a roof, a bus that takes longer than hitchhiking would, a greasy meal that repeats all day. Spend your money freely on friends, parties, education, books, experiences out of your comfort zone and occasionally on food that is really special.
Often money is one of those things that limit your experiences while on the road. Constantly striving to stick to that budget, you miss what’s around you. How about you disregard your budget, make it redundant? Get outside into nature, climb a mountain, wander through a forest, eat wild berries and drink from streams. Go off the radar, disconnect from that which you know and merge with the lives of a foreign culture.
This style of travel, I promise, is transforming.
Cheap Travel Summary:
- Travel with your bed
- Drink alcohol if sleeping in hammocks
- Ask the people who pick you up if you can pitch your tent in their or a friends yard
- The less humanity around the easier it is to find a quiet place to sleep
- In cities stay with the person you have hitched with or one of their friends or family if they can’t have you.
- Don’t be afraid of asking
- Avoid places where there are likely to be drunks unless you are getting drunk
- Take advantage of the wonderful value of supermarkets
- Purchase food that can handle being thrown about in your bag
- Have a secret weapon, a food that will pick you up when down
- Dumpsters out the back of large supermarkets can be a treasure trove of perfectly good food
Hitchhiking can take you anywhere in this world, even across the oceans. It’s simply a matter of adapting your technique depending on where you are and how the local culture influences your actions.
In some parts of the world Hitchhiking is more accepted than others, such as Romania, where it is common to compete with grandmas for a ride. Though in other parts of the globe certain cultures are unfamiliar with the practice of hitchhiking, much of East Asia falls into this category. Sometimes this can work in your favour as the locals will be curious as to what you are up to. Other times, especially in touristic parts, you can be viewed simply as a walking wallet for the locals to tap into. Japan is a prime example of the former, where hitchhiking is rarely, if ever, done by locals, though most people understand what hitchhiking is and are eager to pick you up, the same with Taiwan and Malaysia. Cambodia and Thailand are examples of the latter.
The hand signals for hitchhiking by the road can differ from place to place. Most of Europe is the thumbs up signal, as you move further East it turns hand out flat, palm to the ground. In Asia it is this but with a up and down motion. Except in Japan, I always used the traditional thumbs up gesture as that is what most Japanese people have seen from movies. In other places, such as Israel, it is the finger pointing down to the ground. I suggest you refer to my ‘Useful Links’ for more thorough information on country specific hitchhiking conditions.
In some cultures it is normal to pay a small amount for the ride, so it’s important to make it clear if you intend on not paying. If you don’t speak any of the language and don’t know the country and culture so well, it is best to try and find yourself a local to teach you, or even better, travel with you. This will ensure you’re not unnecessarily ripped off. You can’t blame the locals for trying to take advantage of an ignorant foreigner, they probably earn in a year what you get in a week. So as much as I love hitchhiking I believe that in some parts of the world we should pay a little for the privilege.
For inspiration, tales and great tips check out Ludovic Hubler, an incredible Frenchman who spent five years hitchhiking around the world. Also Kinga and Chopin two incredible Poles who have been hitchhiking pretty much everywhere and their website has some great information on the status of hitchhiking in obscure countries.
Sadly in many parts of the world a solo female traveller is a confusing site and can often be misinterpreted. When hitchhiking in male dominant cultures it’s best to do it with a partner if you are female, it will avoid a great deal of danger. It also wouldn’t hurt to say you and your friend are married, or at the very least engaged.
Be careful in truly destitute countries, you do not want your hitchhiking to take away from someone’s much needed income. Make sure you hitch with private vehicles that are picking you up for the novelty and company rather than the financial benefit you may provide.
International Hitchhiking Summary:
- Adapt your hitchhiking technique to suit where you are in the world
- Be aware of the culture and beliefs involving solo travellers, especially female travellers
- Don’t take away from someone’s lively hood, pay if that’s their job, or don’t get in the ride
Yacht hitching is easier than you think, it’s merely a matter of getting the seasons right (cyclone season is not the right time, I discovered that the hard way) and networking with people who sail. This is code language for hanging out at yacht clubs getting drunk and making friends. I spent a month in Tonga doing just that until I landed a ride to New Zealand.
Make yourself known with the people who own businesses and interact with sailors on a daily basis. If they like you they will keep an ear to the ground and have you a ride in no time. Printing out posters with your photo and contact information is a good idea, stick these up in areas that the yachties frequent, the marina laundry, yacht club or marina notice board are good spots to start. Get talking, spread the word, make friends and be open to suggestions.
Freight ships rarely if ever take on passengers anymore due to insurance reasons. Every time I’ve tried to get on a freight ship it has been one hell of a battle, which I’m yet to win.
Don’t worry about experience, although experience at sea will definitely help you get a ride it is not the main thing. Captains want enthusiastic people willing to learn and work hard, so if you show yourself to be resourceful and capable then that helps. Although if you tend to get seasick, I suggest you don’t go to sea. Seasick crew are useless burdens to the captain and boat. I personally had never been to sea and gambled whether or not I would get sick. I came close but thank Christ I never vomited over the weeks at sea. Ginger and lots of it, it increases your circulation and helps with motion sickness, there are tablets of varying strength and all sorts of gadgets and gizmos (pressure point bands) to help you resist seasickness. But in my opinion it is mainly psychological, if you are strong there, you can do anything.
You have to be a malleable person who is able to adapt to any situation, no one will give you a ride across the ocean if they don’t like you and think you won’t fit with the rest of the crew.
Be patient, open and enjoy yourself, before you know it you’ll be bobbing on the open ocean twirling in circles amazed at the alien world you’ve merged with. Once in this world it is very easy to continue on, sailing the world by hopping from one yacht to another. The more experience you get the easier it will be to find a ride and you will find that the rides tend to stack up before you with minimal effort. There are websites such as Find a Crew which are a great way to work out when is the right season and what is the right route for you to target.
The ocean is a place all mankind should experience at least once in their lives. There is nothing more awesome, terrifying, beautiful or humbling than drifting across the seas.
Yacht Hitching Summary:
- Get the right seasons
- Be outgoing, befriend the people and businesses that deal with yachties
- Have fun, no one wants a boring crew mate, besides, most of the yachties I’ve met so far have been raging alcoholics and party animals
- Don’t get seasick
- Be enthusiastic and eager to learn, everything!
- Live with patience, determination and persistence and you will get your ride
- Bring a camera for those stunning sunsets and sunrises at sea, but be prepared to be disappointed with how they turn out, never a true reflection of the blinding divinity of the sun after a horrific night at sea.
There are so many girls out there who want to hitchhike. They have the bursting desire to experience life in a raw and unfiltered form. Yet unfortunately things are not equal on the road, regardless of how things are in every other area of your life, the risks are sadly stacked against female hitchhikers. It can be frustrating for women to have to find a partner who shares their desires in order to hitchhike. There are a rare few who set off and do it on their own, this takes guts, but is also risky. I’m not here to say what you can and can’t do, I’m just here to say, based on my experiences, what is the smartest, safest and most effective way of hitchhiking.
So if you are a solo female hitchhiking here is how you are best to do it:
- Use the petrol station hitchhiking technique almost exclusively
- Dress as bland and unattractive as possible (mind you in some parts of the world no matter how bland you dress the guys will still be leering at the foreigner, it’s just the way it is)
- Always carry a phone
- Always have an escape plan in your head
- Talk about your friends waiting for you where you are going and how they know how you are and where you are travelling, even if they don’t exist
- Talk about your boyfriend/husband even if he, also, doesn’t exist
- Talk about the drivers family (to create a sense of duty)
- If possible only get in rides with other women or families
- Consider carrying mace
So go out there, make friends, find a partner who you can rope into hitchhiking with you. You will both have a hell of a time.
- Pocket knife:
Never know when you might want to stab someone.
Only if you’re young and nimble, with a healthy liver to handle the alcohol you will inevitably guzzle.
Works well in wet weather.
- Sleeping bag:
Great at four am when the deep freeze sets in.
- Foam beach mat/cardboard/sleeping mat:
Your back can thank me later.
- Water bottle:
Mine was once abused by my penis while on a bus in Argentina that wouldn’t stop for a toilet break. Life saver, to say the least.
- Permanent marker:
For poetry on bathroom walls.
- Small torch:
For discovering what’s making those scurrying noises while you sleep in a bamboo forest (it was a wild bore).
- A lighter:
For the inevitable joint getting passed around.
Soothes the loneliness of the road.
To get the hot drivers numbers and making flip drawings while waiting for a ride.
So much more than a sign – a bed, umbrella, dinner plate.
- A towel:
Because ‘Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’ said so.
For that Swiss volley ball team who pick you up.
To communicate with them.
To document your experiences with them and later upload to the internet to finance your travels.
- The ultimate country specific hitchhiking guide.
- Useful, but cluttered.
- Inspiring and informative country specific information.
- Please note this one appears to only be in French…it used to be in English too. So, ahh, goodluck with that!
- Don you sailing cap and ball crunching short shorts, the high seas await.
- One of my all time favourite and most inspiring alternative travel websites. It was Road Junky and its founder who inspired me to give hitchhiking a go in the first place