Hitchhiking: The ultimate newbie manual.

I’ve been often asked how is hitchhiking, how do I do it and of course quite a few people hearing some stories about getting a hitch, were giving me these funny looks which were supposed to let me know “that they think I’m crazy”.

From the drivers that picked me up on the other hand I used to hear that there is not many people hitchhiking nowadays, how dangerous it is and how lucky I am that they picked me up.

By myself, before I started, I never knew how it’s actually possible to do it physically – where to go at the beginning? How to leave the city? How to navigate? Etc. Even though some things may sound now quite common sense I remember how confused I was hitchhiking on my own for the first time.

 

Hitchhiking in a nutshell

In one sentence what is it about:

Getting to the highway, getting a hitch as far and as direct as possible and landing as close as possible to your final destination at the end of the day.
I’m not sure whether it sounds simple or doesn’t but the biggest difficulty is unpredictability of what can happen. Sometimes you can end up sleeping in the forest or in a city different than the one you were originally heading to. A guy can ask whether you would like to have sex with him or will ask money for the ride. Sometimes you will have to get out of the car more or less voluntarily. Sometimes, starting by yourself you can end up in a group of people hitchhiking together. Similarly, your prospects of getting to your destination may change entirely in one second when the right person stops by.

Hitchhiking cover

1. Preparation

From my experience without proper preparation it’s not possible to hitchhike effectively.
Hitchhiking maybe doesn’t require you to book any tickets but in the end, preparation can take even more time than it is in case of mainstream transportation. Especially, on longer distances in “really” foreign countries. In exchange, it gives you the kind of independence and flexibility which other means of transportation normally don’t provide.
..and you can end up having a few adventures per day.
Preparation is not only information but as well equipment which you may need and lack of which could lead to some serious self-caused dangers.

All the info you can check on http://www.hitchwiki.org and it’s the most valuable source providing general info that you can find.

Example of what may happen: Once, I was coming back home to Poland from Spain and because of some miscalculations I ended up at a German gas station in the middle of the highway after the sunset. It was quite a dodgy place and during the night no one wanted to take me out of there. After a while I decided that I need to take some sleep ( last few days were really tiring). Luckily for me I had a sleeping bag and a tent but anyway the night was really cold and in the morning I got a fever and since it was a Sunday in southern Germany – there were no people who would like to take me. Finally in the afternoon, I got out of the highway to the nearest city thanks to some mafia-like Hungarian guy but at that moment I could hardly stand on my legs and was already mumbling. In the end there was no other option than to take a train and it cost me more than if I had taken a plane.
That’s probably the worst thing that can usually happen (well in countries like Russia in the Winter you may die from cold and there were few cases of rapes and murder that everybody has heard of) and the biggest problem is usually underestimating the distance.

2. Before you go

You need to know where are you going, what is the way (getting to the highway, local roads etc), what is the legal situation of hitchhiking in the country and what are the customs and what to expect. The biggest mine of information is the already mentioned website http://hitchwiki.org/ – There you can find everything. Descriptions of cities, countries regions, methods, laws – literally everything.

It’s best to:

  • Memorize the way. The biggest cities, distances between them, numbers of the roads/highways etc.
  • Note somewhere or memorize the way to get out of the city (bus numbers, stops etc)
  • Print from Google maps the map of the area where you are going to stay, with the exact address pointed out. It can save you a lot of time and sometimes the driver can give you a direct lift.

3. Equipment

Of course I know people that hitchhike basically without anything and they are successful although I don’t see a point of taking a risk.
What you need to take

  • Big and comfortable but not too heavy backpack – sometimes walking for a few kilometers is no that unlikely and the fact I walked around with a backpack that weighted around 30 kg for a few kilometers made me much slower and getting into the car less convenient.
  • Sleeping bag and some warm clothes which will not let you freeze at nigh. In case if something unpredictable happens and u will be forced to sleep outside
  • Some spare dry food which you can consume even after a few days. (usually u can get something at gas stations but it’s really expensive and not always possible(sometimes you will spend a whole day in a car or even waiting).
  • An emergency mobile with a full battery . – you never know. Personally I used to carry with me an old Nokia 3310 (yes the one with “Snake” on it) which I was forced to use two or three times after my main phone got wet or lost.
  • Maybe a cheap Smartphone (best with 3g internet if it’s possible) or netbook. Just to access internet and check out necessary info, (e.g. hostels or couchsurfing). Sometimes some simple information or access to your mailbox can make a difference between shitty two days of sleeping in the forest or partying in a nice atmosphere.
  • A stable, consistent self-esteem and high amount of trust in people. If there is a possibility that you will lose your heart after someone rudely declined taking you to his car (e.g. at a gas pump) or made some offending comment, then it’s better to not to do it. If you are suspicious of people that you are going with – then the same thing applies. Being nervous you actually create an unpleasant or even dangerous situation for yourself.
  • Cigarettes or some stronger stuff. . – That s the way to make friends.
  • Something to write (the best would be a black marker) and paper.

4. Leaving the city:

The first part is at the same time often the most difficult one. Leaving the city. If you have bad luck it could sometimes even lead to a situation when going by hitchhiking can be more expensive than taking a coach or train to your final destination. The most common sense (and sometimes the way which spares you much preparation) is walking or taking a bus to the suburbs and then trying to get a hitch in the direction in which you are heading. Usually you need to get to the entrance of the highway. Many times, I did the mistake of following a sudden impulse and grabbed my things hitchhiking to a remote location without preparation. At least a few times it didn’t work.
On the way
That’s paradoxically quite easy. May sound surprising but there are not many things dependent on you anymore as far as you don’t do anything stupid. Either someone will stop or not. There are different strategies. As mentioned I prefer waiting on the road but it’s maybe not suitable for everybody. Some of female solo-hitchhikers that I’ve met, told me that they would never do it. They always choose people by themselves to avoid dangers. I can understand this. If you ask people at a gas station (and you want it or not sometimes it’s a necessity) then don’t take it personally if they say no. Usually they will give you an avoiding answer anyway saying “I’m not going there”. Maybe that’s an important trick as well to ask “where are you going?” instead of “are you going to..?” because to the second one people can simply answer “ no” and it’s easier to simply say no. The first type of asking will however make you less credible. Up to you.

5. When you are looking for a place to stand there are some important factors:

  • Cars cannot go too fast around there(they will simply drive by)
  • There cannot be too many cars (paradoxically too few is a smaller problem.) If there are too many cars the drivers won’t feel any personal connection with you or even it will be difficult for them to stop because of traffic
  • You have to be visible. Another obvious thing, but if you are standing just 5 meters after a turn, wearing a khaki coat on “foresty” background then they will notice you probably too late to stop.
  • Cars need to have enough space to stop. If they don’t have then they simply won’t.
  • It’s better to have a piece of cardboard with your direction written on it since if someone is going exactly there it is more likely that he will stop.
  • You should have a bit of hitchhiker’s look! (No homeless or Jehova’s Witness look!).

6. Getting there

After you got to the highway and managed to get a lift then getting right to your destination is quite easy as well. Mostly people will help you get as close to your final destination as only possible, dropping you off at your hostel or next to the couchsurfing host’s place. Sometimes they don’t but then you are nearly always able to take a bus or get another hitch. It would be highly advisable to be nice to the driver so he will help you. It’s nothing what needs to be described though.

Originally posted By Jan Piatkowski on December 4, 2014

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