Top tips

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There are some essential things you should remember when you are going hitchhiking. Hitchwiki suggests you keep these in mind when starting your career as an enthusiastic thumber:

You'll be seeing a lot of this.

Take the most used route

The shortest is not the best in all the cases. If there is no traffic, there are no rides to share. Think where the trucks are going: industrial areas, ports/airports etc.

The fastest and easiest routes are usually ones between two major cities, passing a lot of countryside on the way. If you're planning to go through an area with dense population (eg. Ruhr Area, Randstad, Southeast England) and out the other side, then remember that many vehicles will be local traffic, so it's often a good idea to find a route that avoids these areas.

Avoid trying to get lifts along routes that don't make sense to the drivers. It's rare that a driver, travelling north on a motorway, will soon turn round and travel southeast for a long distance.

Carry a good map

You want to know were you are going. It also helps if gas stations are marked, and you don't need city maps. Try and find a map that you don't have to open out to one large sheet of paper every time you want to use it; you will be using it often. Book-style maps are best.

Map Tips: Positive

  • The Shell Euroatlas is good for Europe, however, it's difficult to find.
  • The Falk Länderkarte series (in German, but can be understood by everyone) is brilliant for individual European countries, with a useful, clever and compact fold-out page system. It is easy to find but only inside of Germany and neighbouring countries.
  • The maps by Marco Polo are excellent for Europe. The 1:800,000 ratio version is the best (the name of this map changes in different countries). It is printed in Germany but is available across the continent.
  • In Scandinavia (especially Finland) - the Esso country maps are great, and free from any Esso petrol station in Finland
  • In Germany, you can get a booklet for free at the rasthof restaurants which provide a map of all the country's rasthof and the information about every one of them.

It's recommended you have a map that is at least 1:1,000,000 ratio. 1:750,000 is usually good enough.

Remember that petrol stations often have maps for sale, including very local ones. If you need to find out the geography of the local area, simply walk into the shop, pick up a local map, study it, get the information you need, then put it back and walk out. Many service stations also have large maps on walls or notice boards.

Map Tips: Negative

  • Michelin Individual Country maps are not the best to use, they do not the Services Area and lots of useful information are absent, the scale ratio is often not good enough.

Be in a good, safe spot

This could be a good spot. You're easily visible, the drivers slow down at the junction, and there is an obvious place for them to stop.

Be in a place where the cars can see you from a distance and stop safely. You don't want to be driven over. This is maybe the biggest danger in hitchhiking.

This is the case that the drivers consider as well. Few drivers stop unless it is safe for them. Some do, but you shouldn't count on them, as they are the minority. Therefore consider the safety of the driver as well, you don't want to involve them in an accident if they can't pull over safely. Make sure to not stand on the way, the driver will usually make its decision to stop or not while he sees you at a distance and will get ready to pull over just next to you or right behind you. If you stand too much on the way (of the normal pulling aside triangle) you will make it complicated for him and he might change his mind. So one good option is to 'make sure' that your body language point out the area he would pull over in total comfort.

Stay positive, smile and laugh

It is easy to become bored or frustrated when waiting for a ride, but remember that a good attitude will help you get rides. Keep your spirits up by singing, laughing and simply smiling. A grumpy hitchhiker may get rides out of sympathy, but a happy hitchhiker will get better rides and go further distances in less time. If you're in a group, try dancing or clapping your hands at the same time, it makes the drivers smile and lifts come much more often!

Make eye contact with drivers

Hitchhiking means making a connection with a person driving by, convincing him or her to stop. To best do this, make sure drivers can see the 'whites of your eyes'. Remove sunglasses and keep your hat higher on your head. Smile while you look at the oncoming cars. If you are looking a different direction or your head is down it is easy for drivers to pass by without relating to you. If you cannot see the person in the car, just look at the windshield where a face should be. Focus on each car until it passes. If traffic is light, let your gaze follow each car expectantly. If there is too much traffic, pay attention to each nearby car for a moment. The more you do this, the less time you will wait for rides.

'Mark Snyder and his co-workers (1974) found that hitchhikers doubled the number of ride offers by looking drivers straight in the eye. A personal approach, as my panhandler knew, makes one feel less anonymous, more responsible.' (Source: Social Psychology, Myers. p.503 Social Relations)

Respectable eyes for male drivers and puppy eyes for female drivers seem to work quite well.

Work with the weather

If it's hot, choose a hitchhiking spot where you can get some shade, in case you have to wait for some hours.

If it's wet, drivers may feel sorry for you, and choose to help you out. No-one likes a soggy hitchhiker in their car, so keep an umbrella handy.

Thunderstorms are a blessing. If, during a dry day, you notice that a thunderstorm is coming, don't worry. When the storm hits you, keep you and your posessions under an umbrella and keep signalling. Drivers will feel very sorry for you, and many will stop for you. While waiting on the roadside, Tom was hit by three thunderstorms in 2006, all of which got him a ride in less than ten minutes. The best example was in Cologne - after waiting for two hours without a ride offer, a storm came and there were three offers in five minutes (took the third one, it was a short ride and at the next petrol station another ride came within two minutes).

Types of clothing

Many hitchhiking spots are dusty. White shoes not advised.

Although this may seem to be a small matter, types and colour of clothing are very important. Try to wear light, even bright and colorful clothes, and have your non-thumbing hand visible since light coloured clothes inspire more trust than darker clothes. Also, if the weather permits it, try to keep your forearms visible. If people can see your hands and arms, they'll be less likely to see you as a threat, or as someone trying to conceal something. A fun and colorful clothes/hat is a great way to inspire people to pick you up!

If you can, don’t wear your old clothes or clothes that might frighten a driver (such as a T-shirt with a skull). Conservative people only take well shaved guys with proper clothes. Open-minded people always take you, but even conservative (or old) people can be very helpful on your trip.

Avoid wearing black. Even having a smart black shirt could keep you stuck in one place for a long time. Some have found that caps and black or blue woolly hats are awful too. If the weather permits, wear light coloured shorts and a bright colourful t-shirt or a smart short sleeved shirt. Although you may have no choice on whether you have luggage, some hold that hitching without luggage is quicker as the driver knows you're not concealing anything. But some drivers think that carrying a backpack makes you more of a traveler and will only pick up people with backpacks (e.g. Guaka and amylin experienced this in New Zealand).

About the use of a sign

A thumb or hand gesture will work fine for hitchhiking (depending on the region). But in some cases, the use of a sign displaying your destination or general direction will increase your odds.

When you're hitchhiking on a road that goes to plenty of destinations: The driver will be more likely to stop if he knows that you're going the same way he does.

When the traffic is too heavy: The driver will be less likely to say "Somebody else is going to stop" if he sees that you want to go exactly his way.

If you're going from Barcelona to Amsterdam, consider writing "Paris", or just Perpignan, on your sign, when you start in Barcelona. Few people will be going to Amsterdam or even Paris, directly. There's a dilemma, though, because if the destination you write is too close, you won't make good time, and if it's too far, nobody will be heading all the way there and so won't feel confident in stopping for you. A good solution to this is to simply use your direction of travel, i.e. "East."

It often helps if you write the sign in the same language as the drivers you're trying to attract. If you can show some affinity to the drivers' country, it usually increases your chances of a lift. If you want to make a sign in a language that you don't know (whether you need it now or in the future), try asking drivers or petrol station staff for help.

To make the sign, it's better to use cardboard or similar with a thick black marker. Write neatly in big, block letters the name of a city or the name of a road, or both. You're in charge.

MayaCova using was using a white board with considerable success.

If you have a chance to plan a long hitchhiking trip in advance, some find using an erasable white board as a sign to be very useful for making big, clear and reusable signs.

If space dosen´t permit a long city name shorten it to something everyone will understand. For example Amsterdam could be A'DAM and Hamburg could be HH.

Signs don't just have to list a place - Much success can be had (in the proper setting) with more off-the-wall signs like "We're Awesome!", "Free Cookies!", "Runaway Bride", etc.

Artwork on a sign can also be helpful, particularly if there are simple images that are commonly related to your context. For instance, when hitching out of Austin, Texas (home of the Longhorns, which are absurdly popular there), adding a Longhorns logo to the sign was a big improvement.

While living in a small village near a larger town my housemates and I found that using a sign decreased waiting times from 20-40 minutes average to about 10-20 minutes even though there were no other villages on the way. When I put this to my drivers some of them said that the sign made me look like a proper hitch-hiker.

If you have the chance, adding "Please" onto your signs could be a great idea. As well as being polite, writing "Please" in a certain language can indicate that you are a good speaker of that language, and this can be used to attract certain groups of driver who were ignoring you before. However, your main message is the destination/road number/compass direction. "Please" is an extra word for the driver to read, and trying to read that word can become a big distraction from the main message. Also, as you're clearly in a desperate position it's already accepted that you are being grateful for any assistance; once a driver stops, you can say "Please" as much as you like. Experiment with "Please" for yourself, and see what happens.

In the UK, road names work well.
Keep the signs bold and simple!

Safe hitchhiking

Wear bright colored clothes or a reflective warning vest while walking along the road.

Say no, if you don't feel safe! Trust your instinct, when it says no. This doesn't happen often, though. Minimizing risk is not being a coward, it's being smart. If you don't feel comfortable with someone, just don't ask him/her, there will be enough other cars. Most people who pick up hitchhikers are friendly and don't mind a no. Tip: If you want more security, send an SMS of the number plate of the car to a friend.

In the car

Once you've actually managed to get in the car and start heading towards your destination, it's all a matter of being courteous. Remember, your driver didn't have to pick you up at all. Settle in, get comfortable, but of course, not too comfortable. Keep your shoes off the dashboard, don't pass any form of gas (from either end), etc. In other words, don't do anything to offend your driver!

Your driver may have picked you up for many possible reasons. One of the main reasons is companionship on a long journey. That means you have to talk to the driver. Have a few things to talk about in mind before you get in (What's your name? Where are you headed? Oh yeah? What's there?). If the driver doesn't seem too interested in talking you can relax or read a book.

If not, keep it simple to begin with. A solid rule that should be followed by any hitcher is to try to shy away from talking about politics with a driver who has differing view points than yourself. People have the tendency to get really worked up when it comes to politics, or religion, so if they mention something that your political or religious views disagree with, try to say, "I'm not going to get into that with you, my friend" or something like that. Many a hitcher has been seen thrown out of cars due to a fiery political discussion.

Some drivers will go extra kilometres off their route to help you, if you ask nicely.

Make sure you know where the driver will drop you off, and try to choose the ideal drop-off point yourself - despite their efforts to help, drivers sometimes leave you in very bad places. If the drop-off point is not helpful to you, then say so, and the driver may take you away to find a better spot.

Don't get lost while you're in a car! Some drivers have a terrible sense of direction and may need your help. Also, knowing where you are when you leave the vehicle will save a lot of time.

If you're lost...

...then it's maybe a good idea to stop travelling until you know where you are. Ask whoever you can for help. Look on road signs for city names and road numbers, and try to match them with your map.

If getting lost isn't a problem because you have no fixed destination, then stop worrying and enjoy the ride ;).

If you've gone the wrong way...

...then work out whether it's best to turn around, to carry on in the new direction (either trying another route, or changing your destination), or to stop hitchhiking. If you're on a motorway, then it might be tough to turn around.

If you decide to turn around, then watch out: it can be hard to find a lift that gets you back to your route, and travels in the right direction. You could easily get back to your route, and have to turn round a second time.

Finding accommodation

At night, it'll get tougher. Apart from much less traffic, people may trust you less (especially if you're male) and you may be in more danger (especially if you're female). Also, you're not as visible as you were before. But if someone does decide to help, they will probably help you as much as they can...

On longer hitchhiking trips you may need to camp along the way, if you did not receive a ride to your intended destination. Sometimes you can find a hostel or local host for the night, but just in case: bring a sleeping bag and tarp or tent with you. Make sure to bring clothes that will suit you for night weather.

It is also a good idea to check out CouchSurfing.com (more active) and Hospitality Club (good for finding phone numbers in smaller places) for free accommodation. If there's a YMCA center in town, see if they have a room for the night. There are many hitchhikers and it is easy to find a couple of places to stay while on the road or even at your destination. A fresh shave and shower will also greatly increase the chances of getting picked up.

If you can't find anywhere to sleep there are still other ways out of the situation. If you are lucky enough to be at a 24 hour gas station just keep drinking coffee and keep hitching through the night. At night don't bother trying to get lifts with a sign, just ask people at the gas station when they go to pay. Keep in mind that it gets really quiet between 2:00 and 5:00 even at a busy autobahn service area. The other alternative is to find a truck (or a car) going a really really long way and crash out on the way. Make sure you trust the driver or do it with 2 hitchers taking turns to sleep. The downside to this is that you might wake up a long way from where you wanted to be but at least you didnt have to sleep in the gutter.

Getting to the nearest city

It's tough to hitchhike out of city centres. But sometimes (if you're tired, hungry, thirsty, ill etc.) you'll need to go off your route and take a pause in the nearest city. Hey, if you're flexible with your travel arrangements, you may decide to stay there for a bit longer...

If hitchhiking to the city is too hard for whatever reason, and the city is too far to walk, then take public transport. Head for nearby areas of houses: they often have bus stops.

Most petrol stations on motorways have a special access road for staff and delivery/emergency vehicles. Many petrol stations also have local maps you can look at to find bus stops near you, if you exit via the special access road.

Use buses and trains

It's not worth trying to hitchhike at all costs. Sometimes it's just more convenient to take a bus to get to a highway or to your final destinations. This is the case especially when leaving or arriving at big cities or at night. Usaly you can try to get away without paying at public transportation anyway. Just go in and take a seet, you see someone at the station getting on that seems to be wanting to see your ticket when they get on - just get off before them and take the next one...

Related links and references