Hitchhiking How-To Part 1

By Dan "Mellow Yellow" Klein.

Hitchhiking may be quickly becoming an artifact of the past, but it is a long ways yet from becoming completely obsolete. The fact remains, if you need a lift in a rural area, hitchhiking may very possibly be your best bet. But before you go ahead and stick your tender lil’ thumb out with hopes of catching a ride, consider the following.

A successful hitch revolves around your ability to convince a driver that you are worth stopping for and that you have no intention of harming them. This is the most important thing to consider when attempting to grab a ride. Therefore, hitch in the daytime! We all know how the world around us tends to be much more intimidating when it is dark out, so don’t bother wasting your time with a hitch once the sun sets. (These times are much better spent either eating, drinking, or sleeping, anyways).

Before you even reach your roadside destination, assess your personal appearance. Make sure your lovely face is visible and (relatively) clean. This means, no hats, and certainly no sunglasses can be worn while hitch hiking. Regardless of how sunny it is, if a driver can’t see your face, your chances of convincing one to stop are going to be very low. Also, use a little bit of your precious water to clean your face and sort your hair out. If you’re carrying trekking poles take a moment to collapse them and attach them to your backpack. This serves two purposes. First, it gets those pesky metal poles, which can look like a potential weapon, hidden from sight. Secondly, it puts all of your belongings together so as to minimize the chances of leaving anything behind.

Next, have a look at your map and check your route. If you are “here” and wish to be “there” does this require a singe road hitch? Two-part hitch? Will it be obvious when you have reached your destination? Perhaps you’ll be hitching on a highway and it will be important to know what exit it is you wish to be dropped at. Having a plan before getting into a strangers car will help you prevent errors and put the driver at ease. A hitcher without a plan or destination is far more questionable than one who knows exactly where they are trying to get and how they are trying to get there.

Now that you’re cleaned up and you have mentally prepared the details of the ride you are looking for, it’s time to take to the roadside. Again, remember that your goal is to convince a driver to stop and give you a lift. Location is therefore of utmost importance. A potential ride needs to see you, evaluate their desire to help you, and be able to stop to pick you up.  An ideal hitching area is therefore situated on a long straight away with a wide shoulder or pull off. This allows a driver to see you long enough in advance gives space for him or her to slow down and safely stop their vehicle on your behalf. In some instances, such as leaving from a town, where there are a variety of turning points between your current location and your destination it may be best to walk far enough past these alternative routes to ensure that most traffic is headed to, if not further than, your destination. Finding the proper spot to hitch can require some effort, but in doing so you will dramatically reduce your time spent waiting on the side of the road.

And now… the moment of truth. Face the oncoming traffic (or audience as I like to consider them), smile, and stick your

lovely thumb up to the heavens in hopes of hailing a ride. Do your best to convey confidence, friendliness, and purpose. Remember, the line between a friendly smile and that of lunacy can be a thin one; one I am certain I step to the wrong side of more often than not. I prefer to keep my backpack on while standing roadside, as well. In a game of split second decisions concerning the character of a hitcher I hope to portray that of a backpacker or traveler as opposed to a homeless lunatic.

And with that, remember, it’s only a matter of time before a car will stop on your behalf. Keep a positive attitude, have patience, and you’ll be on the way to your destination in no time!