A Rough Guide to Hitchhiking Part 2

Friday, September 16, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by Chris Coulon.

As promised, here is the continuation of our tips and tricks to hitchhiking.  Continued from A Rough Guide to Hitchhiking Part 1.

Places From Which to Hitchhike:
Location, much like well placed real-estate, can be of utmost importance in your attempts to be picked up.  An ideal location will have several key features:

-          You must be clearly visible to oncoming drivers.  75-100m is ideal but this can vary depending upon the speed of passing cars.  For instance, cars moving faster will need more distance so that they have more time to think about stopping.
-          Ideally, choose a location where cars are not traveling more than 25mph, so that it is easy for them to stop.
-          Choose a location with a wide shoulder or turnoff so that cars can easily pull-off just beyond you without impeding traffic.
-          The elements can be of utmost importance in affecting your hitching experience.  It pays to find a good shaded spot on a sunny day or like-wise a covered place on a rainy one.  After all you may very well be there for quite some time.  You may you gain more sympathy from drivers if you are out in the middle of a desert, but remember… you’ll be out in the middle of a desert.  Likewise, drivers don’t tend to welcome soaked hikers into their cars from heavy rains. 
-          Make sure your driver is not just going as far as a high mountain pass or a desolate location with little traffic as you will find it most unpleasant to wait around in these locations for your next ride.

You will not always manage to find a spot with all these luxuries but it never hurts to try and fulfill as many as possible.

Ideal Hitching Location
 A good example of an ideal location for hitching.  Notice the pull-off zone behind me!

How many hitchers does it take to get a ride?
I have heard countless times that you should never hitchhike alone, most often from those who have never done it themselves.  This may well be true for many, but more importantly you should just do what makes you feel most comfortable.  I have met many lone hitchhikers who have never had any problems, on the contrary often you are more likely to be picked up as you take up much less room by yourself--and like traveling solo you will have no choice but to immerse yourself in the company of your host/driver.  However, I will admit that there is a certain fondness that I have with sharing the long periods you might spend on the side of a road, with another hitcher.  Someone you can not only commiserate with on slow days in the heat, but also a person you will be able to reminisce with after the trip has finished.  I believe, while by yourself is the easiest to get picked up, two people is the optimal number for enjoyment.  Three people is beginning to be too many and you are unlikely to find lots of people with that much free space in their car.

Hints and Advice of the Trade:
Now that we have established the traditional means of hitching, it comes to me to mention another, more efficient, method of getting where you need to go while still satiating your vagabonding desires.  This method is best implemented at roadside stops frequented by long distance drivers.  Locations such as rest-stops or gas stations, the more remote the location the more likely the drivers that stop are going a long distance.  Once at these locations simply approach drivers and strike up a conversation, the theme of which should be their direction and destination. 

An average conversation may consist of “Are you by any chance heading North?”  If they reply “yes” then follow-up with an introduction of yourself and where you are going.  “My name is Chris, I am trying to get to Seattle.  Any chance you can help?”

This is a great way to get a ride and also allows you the opportunity to have significant influence over the type of rides that you will be receiving.  Often it helps to converse with the driver for a little bit, tell them who you are, what kind of trip you are taking, how long you have already been traveling and/or what you are hoping to do once you get to your destination.  This gives you the opportunity to build up a rapport before popping the question for a ride.  Much like any other kind of sale, you will be advertising yourself as a friendly person and potentially a great conversation to augment their trip.

Yet another bit of invaluable advice that I can impart upon you is to use license plates as a guide.  For example, if you are in California and heading north, look for Oregon, Washington or even Canadian plates (all of which are almost guaranteed to be heading in your direction and covering a good distance).  This also works very well in Europe, where each country has their own license plates and most of those plates will even signify the exact region in each country that the car belongs to by the numbers on the plate. 

Hitching at Rest-stop
 Danalynn at a rest stop in France waiting to chat with drivers.

Appearances can also be of vital importance.  Imagine what you would think if you were the driver.  If you are dressed very dirty and haggard, your chances of being picked up by, say a soccer mom and her children, is fairly limited.  First impressions are important in every other facet of life, why would hitchhiking be any different?  In my experience, if you present yourself as a traveler, i.e. backpack, not too dirty, traveling apparel, your chances of attracting a ride will be very good.

Using Signs:  I have found that writing my destination, or even just the direction, on a sign for passing drivers to see does little for assisting to get a ride.  However, in many instances it cannot hurt to have one and even in some specific situations it can be helpful.  If you are close to your destination (within 25 miles) it may help to use a sign informing drivers that would otherwise not pick you up because they themselves are not traveling more than several miles.  But if you find that you are getting nowhere with a sign, as I often do, just put it away and try for a bit without.  

Departing France Hitchhiking
Danalynn making use of our sign (we ended up ditching it after 20 minutes and decided to just "thumb it")

Next Friday will the the third and final installment of our guide to hitchhiking and will cover fun topics like hitchhiking internationally and some legal considerations!
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