Hitchhiking : One of the most misunderstood yet highly effective travel methods for the fearless budget backpacker. It’s by no means a new custom in the traveling world but for beginners, it’s often seen as a perplexing frontier to be explored. Most are weary to give it a try but deep down, everyone is curious how hopping in a car with a complete stranger will pan out.
I’ve recently joined the hitchhiking community whilst making my way through the Balkans and I must say, I want to profess my love for it from a mountain top!
Hitching is largely stereotyped as being unsafe and dangerous, however I’ve come to find that it’s actually quite a large community. Usually, drivers willing to pick up wanderers were travelers themselves at one point and know what it’s like to travel on a budget. In this case, the ride tends to get interesting once you start swapping vagabond stories. Some are just genuinely hospitable people that want to share their knowledge and love of their home country. Even if they haven’t given it a try, some drivers are curious and have always wanted to but couldn’t commit. This is when I take the opportunity to dispel some sour rumors about solo traveling, hostels, and hitching and reinforce the positive facts about travel!
The exciting rides, in my opinion, are those that the driver speaks little English, but is so eager to practice and have a little company. Music and body language become a bonding method and communication becomes painless and fluid. Enthusiasm and kindness freely cross language barriers, so don’t be discouraged about silences or not being able to speak the local language.
Since I’m still the new kid to the party, I’ve used my own experiences and feedback from fellow hostel-mates to make a list of tips and advice if you’d like to give it a go. Check it :
- Start early – It’s no fun standing in the heat at 4pm with your thumb out. It’s best to get out on the road before the sun is hottest and people become cranky. Be prepared to spend some time in the sun by lathering on the sunscreen and deodorant, and don’t forget to stay hydrated!
- Be obvious and accessible – Pick a spot on the road where a car can easily pull over after spotting you, before a parking lot or gravel shoulder for instance
- Gas stations are great for being forthright and directly asking for a lift. Drivers are already pulling over to fuel up, which gives you a chance to ask around and prove you’re not a creepy axe murderer
- Get a girl – As much as I hate to make the claim that girls get picked up quicker than guys, it’s proven true more often than not. That’s not to say guys don’t catch rides easily, but from the feedback I’ve gathered, people seem to generally feel more comfortable picking up a female and male, rather than just one or 2 guys.
- Three’s a crowd – I’ve thumbed it in a group of 5 recently and no surprise: it was not easy to get picked up. Some trucks and vans may stop, but if the trip is short, try to split up into groups to better your chances
- Use the snow and rain – Don’t be afraid to use these tools in accordance with the pity card and hitch in bad weather. Most drivers will stop much faster after you’ve guilt tripped them by looking like the saddest human alive standing in the pouring rain. Granted you may catch pneumonia, but you’ll get to your destination in no time!
- SMILE! Drink a pot of coffee before you set out, do a little dancing, and start cheezin because no one wants to spend hours with a stinky sourpuss in the their car
The Art of Sign Making
This part always gets me pumped for getting out on the road to find a ride. When constructing your sign, make sure to use a decent size piece of cardboard with black marker for thick dark letters. White paper is not advisable because it’s small and too vulnerable to the elements.
Adding a cute ‘please’ in the local language is usually a nice touch. Nothing too wordy that will clutter the sign and confuse the driver, but just enough to make them think, ‘aww what a nice gesture, let’s pick these kids up!’
Transiting by car across country borders can be a bit tricky. Often, drivers feel uneasy about physically transporting you through border control, so don’t be surprised if they ask you to walk yourself across or find another ride at the border. Don’t get too stressed though; walking across country borders can actually be quicker since you don’t have to wait in a line of cars.
Ultimately, anything can happen while hitchhiking. You should always be safe and use your best judgement in any scenario. I have yet to attempt a hitchhike completely alone as a solo female traveler, but I’ve met a handful of solo girls who have successfully done it and report overall positive experiences. Just remember – if it doesn’t feel right, say nevermind, thanks anyways, and keep trying.