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.

Hitchhiking attire:

  • 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.

Avoid hitchhiking in the middle of the day if you don't have any shade. This spot was tough.
Avoid hitchhiking in the middle of the day if you don’t have any shade. This spot was tough.

Your smile

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.

A 6 person hitch in Montenegro
A 6 person hitch in Montenegro

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.

Eye contact

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.

Not much traffic, but every car that came by would stop.
Not much traffic, but every car that came by would stop.

Body language

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.

Appearance Summary:

  • 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