United States of America
Earth > Americas > North America > United States of America
|Language:||English (de facto), Spanish widely spoken in southwest and Florida|
|Currency:||American Dollar ($)|
|Hitchability:||<rating country='us' />|
|Meet fellow hitchhikers on Trustroots or BeWelcome|
- For specific information on each state please check the links at the bottom of this page.
The United States of America, commonly called The U.S.A., or simply America is a country consisting of 50 states. For the convenience of the common hitchhiker, these states are discussed in detail along with their capitals in their individual pages (see below). The US is bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.
Hitching, like everything else in America, varies greatly depending on what type of area and what part of the country you are passing through. In general you can get rides fairly easily if you hitchhike the right way; in fact, often you can find more than just rides, such as offers for free meals, invitations to homes and parties, etc.
- 1 Culture
- 2 Transportation system
- 3 Methods for catching rides
- 4 Police/Laws
- 5 Food
- 6 Hitchhiking Books
- 7 Personal Experiences
- 8 Links
Many Americans have a limited worldview. (I can say this because I am one.) We think there are two places in the world: America and other places. Don't waste your time explaining that "American" is an incorrect demonym. And get used to our senseless system of measurement. In fact, enjoy it. It's a part of our culture.
Relatively quite a few people in the United States are profoundly religious. People who pick you up might inquire about your religion. If you're not religious, try to deal with it in a positive way and accept the difference.
More often you will be picked up by really cool people, and often dropped off exactly at the point of your destination, as hitchhiker Guaka's experience shows, for example.
- Driving in the United States is similar to driving in Canada, but very different from driving in Europe. It is not uncommon for Americans to drive more than an hour each way to work, and 77 percent of Americans drive alone to their jobs, while an additional 11 percent carpool. Most states allow people to drive unaccompanied once they have reached the age of 16, and all states require that one obtain a driver's license before they may operate a motor vehicle. -Wikipedia: Driving in the United States
There are more than 250 million cars in the USA, the most of any country. You may need to drastically change your technique to accomodate to unfamiliar infastructure. Although traffic is heavy, hitchhiking is hard because nobody trusts somebody with no car. (Why don't you have a car? There must be something wrong with you.) It would help to look like a foreigner, but don't go so far as to wave a foreign flag around. Hitchhiking is not as common as in Europe and Latin America, so expect to have to explain yourself, possibly to the police. (See the section on police below).
An 'interstate', also known as an expressway, freeway, or (confusingly) highway, is a large, multilane road that covers vast distances, and passes through major cities. If you aren't planning on going to the countryside, you probably won't need to stray far from the interstate system.
Interstates are designated on maps by "I-..." and have road signs like this. Even-numbered routes run from west to east and are numbered from south to north. For example, I-10 runs across the south from L.A. to Jacksonville, FL, and I-90 across the North from Seattle to Boston. Likewise, odd-numbered expressways start with I-5 along the west coast (Seattle to L.A.) and I-95 along the east coast (Maine to Miami).
The main interstates have two or three numbers, as in I-8 or I-76. Offshoots or ring roads will have a preceeding digit, for example, I-295, which runs along I-95.
Every state issues its own specific car plates, and most states have several different styles. In some states, the license plate will also show the county of residence. This can be helpful if you spot a car that might be going in the same direction as you. It might also be helpful to write down the license plate number in case of foul play.
Methods for catching rides
If you're going for speed over a long distance (3+ hours), then the best bet is to stay on the interstates. Highways are better for shorter or more senic trips.
Thumbing it on on-ramps is sometimes the best way to hitchhike the interstates. Standing along the shoulder with a thumb or sign can take a few hours so bring something to read. Try to stick to exits that large towns, truck stops, rest stops or any other reason for drivers to stop there (restaurants, gas stations, hotels, etc.). Ask a driver to drop you off at on on-ramp with plenty of traffic.
For this same reason, be prepared to turn down a ride with someone who's "just going to the next exit". Getting dropped off on a low-traffic exit is the gravest danger when hitching on interstates. It can easily lead to long, long delays of a car every ten minutes and none of them stopping. Eventually you may give up and stand on the highway or walk a few miles to the next exit. Since pedestrians are not allowed along interstates in most states, you are likely to be picked up by a state trooper. In the best case, your ID will be check and you may will be given a lift to the next exit. See the section on police.
When making signs in the states, it best to use the two-letter state abbreviations, which are universally understood, notable exceptions being OK, HI, and LA. The first two could be confused for words, the last (Louisiana) could be confused with (Los Angeles). Additionally:
- "Philly" = Philadelphia
- "D.C." = Washington, D.C.
- "N.Y.C." = New York City
- "S.F" = San Francisco
- "L.A." = Los Angeles
- "NOLA" = New Orleans (not universally understood, but in the South at least)
Asking for rides at rest areas or gas stations, is often one of the quickest ways to get a very long distance ride, but soliciting and loitering is might be prohibited there and sometimes you will be kicked out before finding a ride. A good way to avoid being kicked out is to greet everyone entering the building with a friendly smile and give them a friendly nod, then ask them for a ride as they leave the building. This gives them time to become comfortable with your presence and prevents them from having the opportunity to complain about your solicitation to the employees.
Asking for rides at truck stops is the same way. As a rule, Love's, Petro, and TA will be the quickest to kick you out. Pilot/Flying J truck stops and smaller locally owned truck stops are generally a lot more lenient. You may even find signs that prohibit you from soliciting a ride, so caution is necessary like asking instead of showing them a sign to your destination.
If you are only going a hundred miles or less, you can often make better time on US highways, state highways, or even local roads. Even if you are going long distances, if you aren't concerned about making good time, getting off the interstates can be a very rewarding experience. Local highways will grant you a better picture of what local life is like in that area, and typically offer a greater variety of drivers and scenery. To hitchhike on these highways, it is best to stand at the edge of town right before the speed limit picks up, even walking on the highways also helps as shoulders most of the way are pretty wide. Standing at stop lights outside of towns along these highways is also a great way to catch a ride, even if the speed limit is quite high.
Urban and Suburban Short Distance
If you are hitchhiking within a large metropolitan area and trying to get to another part of the city, it is best to stay on the interstate on-ramps unless you want to do a lot of walking. Most larger cities have interstates passing through them and often have one or more spur or circumferential interstates surrounding them. These spur and circumferential interstates are designated by a three-digit highway number with signs that look just like normal blue interstate signs. When hitchhiking on these roads, it is best to accept every ride, even if they are only going a mile, as each exit you get to is closer to your destination and you are unlikely to get stranded on any of these ramps due to the amount of traffic.
An alternate method to hitchhiking within urban areas is to walk up to cars stuck at red lights and ask them in person if you can have a ride in the direction they are going. This works best if they already have their window down, but usually people will roll their window down to talk to you if you stand in front of their car trying to get their attention.
Another way is to pay a small amount for public transportation to drop you off outside the city(check your map/GPS).
You may also wish to try asking for rides at smaller local gas stations, but you are unlikely to make as much progress doing this.
The legal status of hitchhiking in the United States is a bit of a difficult topic; laws and their enforcement differ greatly from state to state as does the information available online and in general knowledge. Many people (including police officers) mistakenly believe hitchhiking is illegal anywhere in the US; sometimes you'll get away with holding a cardboard sign but not with holding out your thumb, and sometimes nobody will hassle you even if you stand or walk right on the interstate. The specific articles on states will give you more information on this topic.
Many police in this country have arrest quotas, not to mention many police (not all!) are assholes. That being said, you may encounter an officer of the law who is a rather enthusiastic about giving you a hard time. Keep in mind that even foreigners have rights, such as the right to refuse being searched. For good information about dealing with the police, check out [flexyourrights.org].
Being in a state which permits hitchhiking does not guarantee that the police will not harass you. Most police don't know the laws and will tell you it is illegal to hitchhike in that state. Thewindandrain argues with cops on a regular basis and refuses to stop hitchhiking where it is legal. He has been innocently arrested for this twice, but has remained confident and never been taken to jail even after being cuffed and in the car and continuing to stand up for his rights. They are usually bluffing right to the very end. If you know the law in that state, don't be afraid to tell the police they are wrong!
Frequently when confronted with your response, law enforcement officers will react unprofessionally and occasionally aggressively and even in a discriminatory way if you are not their race (sad but true: white people will have an easier time than blacks or latinos). They may curse, call you names, and/or threaten to arrest you if they see you hitchhiking again and then leave the scene. This is usually a bluff. They may even cuff you then give you a ride out of their jurisdiction. Occasionally they may admit to their mistake and leave you alone. If you are uncomfortable and feel threatened by the officer, you may request to speak to his/her supervisor. Supervisors will show up to talk with you about the law openly and professionally.
The only nationwide law (Code of Federal Regulations) that prohibits hitchhiking is 36 CFR 4.31 which states that hitchhiking is illegal on any property under jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior: National Park Service. This includes but is not limited to National Parks, National Scenic Byways, and National Recreation Areas. This law is often amended to allow hitchhiking at the discretion of each park. Check with the park's respective state article for information
State and local laws
Look to the map pictured above which indicates each state's laws. Most often, the laws state that the hitchhiker may not "solicit a ride" "on a roadway". The word roadway is usually defined in state statute books as "exclusive of a shoulder" or "the traveled portion of the highway", making these statutes easy to circumvent.
In most states it's illegal to hitch from the interstates (motorways) themselves (though enforcement of this rule varies), but you can typically stand at on-ramps (highway entries). That being said, understand that the ramps are still technically considered interstate property and are illegal for pedestrians to be on, although it is almost without exception permitted if you stand in front of the "no pedestrians" sign.
In some areas (such as certain towns or municipal areas) hitching is illegal everywhere, however, it is still allowed de facto. In most cases, hitchhiking is legal or tolerated. There are also many limited-access highways (i.e. with on-ramps and off-ramps) that are not part of the interstate system which prohibit pedestrians as well. California is notorious for prohibiting pedestrians on many of its controlled access highways.
Even in states where hitchhiking is illegal, the law is rarely enforced. Wyoming Highway Patrol reports that in 2010, they approached 524 hitchhikers but only cited eight of them (note that hitchhiking is no longer illegal in Wyoming as of 2013!)
If the police pass you walking or sitting by the side of the road without soliciting in any way, they may still stop to check IDs, but you are not required to identify yourself unless there is suspicion that you could have committed a crime. You may wish to hide your thumb or sign when a police car is approaching to avoid being hassled.
Often, particularly close to major cities, the police will ask you for photo ID, but as long as you have one with you (such as a passport) there shouldn't be a problem. Most of the time they will be polite when you come up clean, and not too rarely they'll give you a lift out of their area to get rid of you.
Especially in smaller towns and in the countryside, the officer stopping you is likely to never have seen a passport before. If that's your form of ID, bear with the delay caused, help the poor guy out by point out which is your name and your birth date and enjoy the confusion and the hilarious misconceptions that arise.
Tourists who intend to cross into the USA by hitchhiking should note that the US immigration department will log that you have been hitchhiking, should they discover that you are. This log will be visible to any guard who subsequently checks your immigration status. If you decide to leave and enter the USA again, it may make your entry back into the USA more difficult if it is not a hitchhiker friendly state.
If you are friendly, people who pick you up will offer to buy you food quite a lot. Additionally, a lot of people will throw you some bucks to eat and even give you shelter if its late at night. From change up to $100. An anonymous hitchhiker has been given $100 dollars twice, and they have been given $60 dollars several times as has Zenit... If you are looking for monetary gifts, the key is the right type of answer when they ask, concernedly, what you do to eat - "Naw, we're pretty much all right, we got *some* money." (emphasizing the "some" slightly)- if they've asked this question and you answer this way you'll basically always get a friendly handout - for which you should thank them profusely, of course. :)
For vegetarians and especially for vegans traveling between cities, times can be hard. Zenit for one has sustained himself mostly on chips and granola bars for weeks at a time in the Mid West, however if you are looking in right places you can always find vegan food like cheese and bean burritos, biscuit, cheese pizza etc. You can even ask restaurants to remove the meat part from the meal,
Once you open your mind to it, there are actually many opportunities for dumpster diving in urban areas. Port cities are especially good. Note, however that dumpster diving is in a similar sort of gray area as hitchhiking, with local legality depending on the particular state's laws, and the prevalent attitudes of local law enforcement officers.
Grocery stores and gas station(with fast food)are prime targets for food (Trader Joe's or Starbucks are especially likely to have an unlocked dumpster, and has lots of organics). Grocery stores cannot sell packaged foods past their expiration date, and so throw them away still wrapped in dumpsters behind the store.
Another great place to dive is food distribution centers. As they supply restaurants, their food comes in bulk and they throw out their food sometimes days before the expiration date. Google Maps can help you turn up locations. Check Trashwiki for detailed information on dumpster diving in the United States.
Drink: It is often possible to retrieve used cups from the trash at fast food restaurants with "free refill" policies and refill them. Otherwise, American water is just as free and healthy as any other country of the world.
Rather than a genre of its own, hitchhiking books probably fit better in a genre of alternative travel books, with Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
To that list of fun and funny and moving and important books, we should add Colin Flaherty’s Redwood to Deadwood, a 53-year old dude hitchhikes across America. Again.
Redwood to Deadwood describes Flaherty’s hitchhiking trip across America.
"Before I tucked my thumb in for the final time, I'd run with wild horses. Visit a pot farm. Hunt big game. Poach big game. Get by a police helicopter. Get info family feuds. Ride in cop cars. Reconnect with old friends. Make new ones. Get tired and exhilarated. Lost and found. Kicked out and invited in."
"I know how to cook muskrat, squiirrel and rockchuck. And oh yea, I almost got killed.”
Book reviewer Janet Jay said the book is [“the best hitchhiking I have ever read or even heard about. My friend heard about it when she was sitting next to a guy on an airplane who was reading it. He was laughing out loud. So she asked about it. He said that was how he heard about it too. So books hitchhike as well as people.”]
Haven't hitched extensively there, but where I have, the experiences have been unique. I've hitched Oregon to Mexico along the famous highway 101. I also hitched from Oregon to Chicago on i90 in the dead of winter. Lots of clothes for that one, and a warm place to retreat to at every stop. The most remarkable thing about hitching in the States is that you get picked up by REALLY interesting people. Not all the time. But our beloved weirdos are more common in the US than anywhere else I've hitched. Regardless of what you think about the States, it's easily one of the most interesting places to hitchhike, especially if you LIKE adventure. - Chael
Have hitchhiked moderately in US, about 9,000 miles(including ferries and train hopping). Its a diverse country so generalizing a state or even a county(as I have been picked up in the most conservative counties) would not be right. I have been picked up by really awesome people(some of them are now my friends), Friendly cops(who offered me water and money) to discriminatory cops(who just wanted to get rid of me), people who turned out to be gay(asked sexual favors), bored people looking for a good conversation(what you have to do is just listen and and ask question to acknowledge that you are listening), people who saw me as a curious and tired foreigner etc. It was a great experience and helped me learn a lot about the culture here. One thing I learned is that if you are having fun then you get picked up easily as compared to when you are not. My personal favorite states are Alaska and Missouri. - Tarun
I have hitchhiked over 100,000 miles in the United States, been through every state, and while I have nothing to compare it to other than Canada, I would say in general that it is easy and fun to hitchhike here. Each state varies greatly in geography and ease of hitchhiking. In the south, for example it is easier to hop freight trains since the hitching is so difficult. My personal favorite states are Colorado, California, Texas and Arkansas. I have hitched alone, and with any number of other people. Hitchhiking with two people seems to be the ideal scenario with the shortest waits. Thewindandrain (talk) 04:42, 28 October 2012 (CET)
I hitchhiked from Panama to the US, intending to go through the whole of the US by hitchhiking with my little brother. I cannot recommend to hitchhike in pairs. It takes _days_ to find rides. We looked like regular guys, did 20k+ miles in more than 10 countries. If you do it, do it alone. Summer '14
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