Hitchhiking 101

My fiance and I recently embarked on an around the world traveling adventure, and our primary means of getting from one place to another is hitchhiking. With some common sense and an adventurous spirit, anyone can enjoy a hitchhiking journey.


Our basic philosophy is that people are trustworthy. But one of the biggest responses we get from people who hear that we are hitchhiking is, "But that's not safe, is it?" Actually, you are no more likely to be the victim of a violent crime while hitchhiking than while enjoying a cup of tea in your favorite cafe (see Hitchhiking Crime Studies). If the statistics don't reassure you, reduce your worry with these simple precautions:

If you don't feel comfortable hitchhiking alone, don't. Having a partner not only provides you with a sense of security, but also provides you a source of amusement while you wait for a ride.

If possible, don't stand directly on major highways. It will be hard for a car going 60 mph to stop and pick you up, and it would hurt a lot if a car going that fast hit you. Stand at entrances to highways, and try to make sure there is space for a car to pull over without interrupting traffic. However, if you are at a light-traffic highway entrance and don't want to wait around all day, walk out to the median strip between the entrance and the highway. This way cars on the highway and cars entering the highway can see you, and there's usually enough room for you to stand at a safe distance from the cars rushing past.

Take a minute to evaluate the ride. Don't just hop into the first car that stops to pick you up. Approach the car and if the driver rolls down the window, take a minute to ask them where they're going and how far they can take you. If they don't roll down the window, open the car door but don't get in. Talk to them for a minute first and take a moment to decide whether or not you want to accept the ride.

Know that it is okay to turn down a ride. If someone stops to pick you up and makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, whether for lack of seatbelts or empty beer cans in the backseat, just say no. If you want to give them a reason, ask where the person is going, then say "No thanks, I'm hoping for a ride that will take me a longer ways" or "Hey, I just realized I'm headed the other direction!"

Keep your stuff with you whenever possible. If you are going on a long hitchhiking journey, you will probably have a backpack. Try to keep it with you. For example, if you are getting a ride with someone in a truck, don't necessarily throw your bag in the back of the truck. If there's space, keep it on your lap or next to you. Chances are no one who picks you up is going to try and take your stuff, so don't freak out if you do need to put your stuff in a trunk or the back of a truck because of lack of space in the car, but only do so if necessary.

I do recommend you always keep your identification and cash on your person. That way if something does happen to your bag, at least you've got the important stuff. One time one of our rides started to drive off before we had grabbed our bags from the back of his truck. He wasn't trying to steal our bags, he just forgot they were in there. We flagged him down in time to get our bags out, but if we hadn't, I would have lost my passport. Now I keep my passport in a money belt around my waist when I'm hitching.

To sign or not to sign? It's up to you.
To sign or not to sign? It's up to you.

Dos and Don'ts to Getting a Ride

Do look presentable. You are much more likely to get a ride if you are clean and put-together. By put-together I mean that your clothes are not ragged or dirty, and that your stuff is contained in a backpack or duffel bag rather than, say, a garbage bag.

Don't let yourself get too dirty or smelly while hitchhiking. Just because you're traveling by a cheap means of transportation doesn't mean you can't take care of yourself. Truck stops often have showers, and so do many campgrounds. Wash your clothes by hand one item at a time. That way, you can attach that item to the outside of your bag where it can dry.

Do look like you're trying to get somewhere. My fiance and I traveled with hiking backpacks and numerous people who stopped for us said they did so because we looked like travelers. If you're not traveling with anything, it makes you look purposeless and less safe to pick up.

Don't put out your thumb in a spot where drivers can't see you well or where there's no room for them to stop. You want to make it as easy as possible for someone to pick you up, so make sure they can see you for a long distance as they approach you and that there's space for them to pull over a long distance behind you.

Do use a sign, or don't. I can't say decisively whether or not a sign makes much difference in your ability to get a ride, but it doesn't seem to hurt. One of our rides said he didn't read our sign, but the fact that we had one conveyed purpose and affected his decision to stop. Another ride said he only stopped because he was going to the city written on our sign. Probably three quarters of the time we don't use a sign and we still get rides.

Do wear reflectors if you are hitchhiking at night and try to hitch in well-lit areas. If possible, though, don't hitchhike at night. People will be less likely to stop because they can't see you well, and it is more dangerous because they can't see you well.

Do travel with a buddy. It will be easier for you to get rides, especially if one of you is female. One of our rides said a traveling companion is known as a "road dog" and when she sees someone traveling alone, it makes her question why he or she would be traveling alone. You will seem like a safer bet if you have someone with you.

Don't be rude to drivers that pass you by. We've experienced about four different instances of people passing us, only to turn around and come back for us. One guy didn't have time to stop when we first saw us so he turned around, and another couple said they felt bad for passing us so they turned around. Just because someone passes you without stopping doesn't mean they won't give you a ride, but if you flip them the bird you can pretty much guarantee they won't.

Do ask truckers for rides at truck stops. It is great to get rides with truckers because they are usually going long distances. This is how we handle direct requests: We approach the trucker while the trucker is filling up or standing outside the truck. One of us walks up to speaking distance and says something like, "Sorry to bother you, but we are trying to catch a ride west/east/north/south. Are you headed that way?" If they say no, we say thanks anyway and try the next person. Do be discreet, though. A lot of truck stops don't like it when people approach truckers. If they ask you to leave, do so politely.

Don't freak out if a police car stops. We had police stop to talk to us a total of three times when hitchhiking from New Orleans to Seattle, and we never got in trouble. The first time, the police officer checked out our IDs, then told us it wasn't really legal to hitchhike but as long as we put our sign down when police cars passed, it was okay. He even said he would tell other cops over the radio that he had already checked us out and we were okay. The second time, the cop said they had had some trouble with hitchhikers in that town in the past, so while he personally didn't have a problem with us hitchhiking, he needed us to move outside of his district. Then he gave us a ride to a rest stop further up the road. We progressed in our journey, and we got to ride in the back of a police car without being arrested! It was awesome. The third time, the highway patrol officer said it was illegal for us to stand on the freeway entrance, but if we moved onto the nearby sidewalk we would be in city police territory and as long as they didn't have a problem with it, he didn't care. The important thing is to always be polite and respectful because they do have the power to arrest you.

Wind makes for ratty hair
Wind makes for ratty hair
My wonderful, waterproof shoes
My wonderful, waterproof shoes
Dress appropriately for the weather
Dress appropriately for the weather

General Hitchhiking Tips

Finally, here are some general hitchhiking tips I wish I had known before learning the hard way:

If you have long hair, keep it pulled back in a ponytail or braided. The hours waiting outside plus the occasional rides in the back of a pickup truck (only accept a ride in the back of a pickup truck if you feel comfortable with that!) equal incredibly ratty hair that is painful to untangle.

Bring clothes for all weather. A wet hitchhiker is a miserable hitchhiker. Waterproof shoes and a sturdy raincoat are worthy investments, and lighweight layers will help keep you warm.

Don't overpack. If you are hitchhiking long distances, you and your pack will become good friends...or worst enemies. While it's important to bring layers, keep them lightweight. A fleece jacket is better than a cotton sweatshirt, and one pair of jeans is plenty. Don't bring a lot of heavy items, like books, though you may want to bring one paperback to read in low-traffic areas. Bring a small flip-pad to jot down notes in rather than a large notebook. Use your own common sense to determine what's really necessary versus a luxury.

Bring sunscreen and use it! You may spend many hours in the wide open outdoors, and you need to protect your skin. Also, bring a hat with a rim to keep the sun out of your eyes.

Bring water and snacks. Again, many hours in the wide open outdoors, sometimes in the middle of nowhere. It is important to stay healthy while traveling, especially by such hard-core means, and that means eating well and drinking plenty of water.

Have some sort of easily pass-outtable contact information. Sometimes you will have a great conversation with someone who gives you a ride and you will want to keep in touch with them, but you don't want to make them feel uncomfortable by asking for personal information. Give them the power to initiate a continuing friendship by handing them a business card with your info. You can get them for nearly free (you pay for shipping and handling) from Vista Print.

Most importantly, have fun! Hitchhiking is an amazing way to extend trust in people. As a hitchhiker, you have to trust that the person picking you up means you no harm, and they have to trust you for the same. Beginning a relationship on that footing, however brief, can lead to some incredible experiences. You can read more about my hitchhiking experiences in my series of Hubs titled "Accounts of a Hitchhiker."

Comments 17 comments

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eric4640 7 years ago

Hey, Thanks for the great tips!

I was planning on hitchhiking from NY to Nebraska and i was wondering how long it took you to make your journey? I am doing it just for the experience (and to save money) but i want to get there quick as possible. i will be traveling about 1500 miles. i have never done anything close to hitchhiking before but it has been on my mind for a long time and right now seems like the perfect opportunity.

Stina Ann profile image

Stina Ann 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

We went approximately 250-300 miles per day, but we weren't pushing it. If you got an early start every day and continued until dark or later, I'm sure you could get a lot further than that. It depends on the kind of experience you want to have. We stopped in many cities along the way and took a roundabout route from New Orleans to Seattle, and it took us about a month, but that was staying sometimes up to a week in one location. I think you could get from New York to Nebraska in a week easily, but the thing about hitchhiking is it's unpredictable. Make sure you have time to spare and then be happy if it takes you a short amount of time. Good luck on your trip! When are you going?

The Good Reverend 6 years ago

I'm seriously considering hitching from the east coast to San Francisco come this fall, purely for the sake of doing it. I'd really like to see if I could effectively hitch around the world by way of a boat from San Francisco to Japan, but that's nothing I'm getting my hopes up on. It's a goal, but hardly a plan. Goals are nice, plans are messy as all hell. Get your heart to set on a plan and you're bound to get disappointed. But I digress, I have a few questions:

1: Where did you stay during your trip? Did you camp out? Stay in motels? Are there decent youth hostels in the U.S.? Was it some combination of the three?

2: Would you say hitching with a partner is absolutely necessary or simply a recommendation? I wouldn't hate company, of course, but a large part of why I want to hitch is to spend an extended period away from my family (both biological and figurative) and go to places I've never been before. Not that I have anything against my family or my home, I just think I'd stand to gain a lot from going far outside of my comfort zone.

3: How often would you say you were in range of easily accessible wifi? I don't plan on surfing the internet during the whole thing (when I'm not chatting up new people, exploring wherever I am, or doing any inherently travel-y things, I mostly plan to read and write), but I might need to sent an e-mail once or twice a week. Is that something I can count on or should I work around it?

Stina Ann profile image

Stina Ann 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hey, thanks for responding! I'm glad people are still reading this. So, in answer to your questions:

1. We planned our trip around people we wanted to visit or places we wanted to visit. The people were friends and family, in some cases second cousins I had never met in person before. That was cool. If we wanted to visit a particular place, or just thought that some old city was a good halfway point between two sets of people we wanted to visit, we would try to find Couchsurfers. Check out www.couchsurfing.com if you've never heard of it. It's awesome, but using it when hitchhiking can be difficult. It requires some planning ahead and internet access, which I'll address in a minute. It's possible, though, especially if you know your route and plan to stick to it and know how many miles you plan to cover each day. If we had neither couchsurfers nor family nor friends to stay with, we would camp. We carried a tent and sleeping bags. One night we actually stayed in a state park, but other times we just found a hidden away places to pitch our tent. A couple times, when we planned to camp, we were instead offered places to stay with the people who'd given us rides. That was always super cool. It takes a lot of trust for both parties and is a really rewarding experience. We never wanted to spend money, so we didn't look for motels or youth hostels...okay, except for one night when we really wanted to take showers and were cold and tired and grumpy...that night we stayed in a motel.

2. It's not absolutely necessary. It is a recommendation. I have hitchhiked alone once, but it was just a short trip. It was fun and not scary at all. But it's the long-distance thing I can't imagine doing alone. I would just be too lonely. However, my fiance, Brendan, has hitchhiked long distances alone, and he was fine. In fact, it was easier for him to get rides, because a lot of times truckers can only legally take one passenger. If the choice is between not going or going alone, I would say go alone.

3. Quite often, especially in the US. We carried a laptop with us and as long as we stopped in cities, we could find wi-fi. Starbucks for one, always has internet access, and if you are staying with family or friends or couchsurfers, you can hook on to their network. But if you're only planning on using your laptop to send emails, it might not be worth it's weight. If you stay with friends/family/couchsurfers, you can borrow their computers, and if you're in a city you can go to an internet cafe. Ehn. It's a choice. We were certainly happy to have our laptop for blog-writing purposes and such. Speaking of which, I don't remember if I linked to this in my hub, but you can read more about our hitchhiking trips at www.buskingjourney.blogspot.com. My hub never really became the series of hubs I intended it to be, probably partly because everything was already on our blog. We haven't been hitchhiking as much recently, so you'd have to go back and read older posts.

Your trip sounds like a great idea! I highly recommend that you do it! The most amazing thing to me about hitchhiking is that you find out how kind and generous people are. Even some of the negative experiences we've had, like riding with a stoned driver, were still examples of people being nice...just stupid. But it partly us being stupid, too, for accepting the ride in the first place. Anyway, I hope it works out for you. Keep in touch. buskingjourney@gmail.com

The Good Reverend 6 years ago

Awesome. Thanks for the info. I do have a few more questions:

1: You mentioned that truck stops were a place you could grab a shower. How reliable is that, and on average how long should I expect going without a shower.

2: Barring wether specific clothing, how many changes of clothes should I have for a good number to rotate between chances to wash them?

Stina Ann profile image

Stina Ann 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

I think just about every truck stop in the US has showers...to be honest, we never used them. We stayed with friends or family often enough that we never went more than two days without a shower. They're reliable, though. There is some cost involved, I think, but I'm not sure how much. The longest I've gone without a shower while hitchhiking is four days, but that was hitchhiking across Sweden and Norway where we didn't know anyone to stay with in the in-between places. So ultimately, it depends on how often you plan to stay with people along your route.

When we were hitching across the US, I had one pair of shorts, one pair of jeans and one pair of sweat-type pants. I wore the jeans nearly every day, but could wear the sweatpants when I was washing the jeans. I like jeans because they can get pretty dirty before they start to look really dirty. I think I had about three t-shirts, one hoodie, one fleece and my waterproof shell. But really, you just need one extra set of clothes so you have something to wear while you wash your main set.

The Good Reverend 6 years ago

Thanks a lot for the advice. I might ultimately go the hostel rout if couchsurfers isn't an option, but then that's fine with me.

joy 6 years ago

Heey do you know how i can hitch hike from Ile-a-la-crosse To Water Hen Lake ? Im 13 And I've been wanting to go there to go visit my Boyfriend.

Stina Ann profile image

Stina Ann 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hi Joy,

First off, I advise that you NOT hitchhike alone. If you cannot find an adult you trust to hitchhike with you, then maybe you can find one who is willing to give you a ride (kind of like hitchhiking... :)). Please tell your parents or guardian about your plans, no matter what your plans end up being.

I've only hitchhiked alone once. For years, I felt too scared to hitchhike by myself. I thought, what if someone tries to take advantage of me, a single female who doesn't look very strong? So I just waited until I had a lot more experience hitchhiking with a partner and until I felt more comfortable evaluating rides and knowing that I could always turn down a ride.

Safety was my primary concern, and I recommend that it be yours, too. Until you have some years' experience, you should hitchhike with a partner. Try to be patient and take the time to look for a good, experienced hitchhiking partner. It will ultimately help you have a better hitchhiking experience. Keep in touch and let me know what happens. You can contact me via my website, www.andjuggling.com.

PS I don't know the cities you asked about, so I can't give you more specific directions, sorry.

chucksbaby profile image

chucksbaby 6 years ago

Great info. I just recently went on a 3 month hitchhiking/backpacking trip with my fiance and we had a blast! All these tips are exactly what I'd reccommend. We had even more specific rules we abided by and thought worked too. There's so much psychology involved with getting a ride. You meet so many amazing people hitchhiking, we never once had a bad experience, many gave us money and places to sleep.

If you're ever hitching up the west coast, almost every single state park has hiker/biker campsites. We consistently stayed in these as they're usually $2 a night ($4 in oregon, but you get free unlimited hot showers included in that price) Camping stealth is always an experience as well though! Often we'd go to sleep thinking we wouldn't be seen and wake up the next morning to find our camp completely in the open! We never had any family we could stay with except once in San Diego, so if we couldn't find a place to wash clothes or shower, we pretty much had to get a motel even though we hated spending the money =( I just started a blog about our adventures, it was so much fun I wanted to encourage others to do it. It's not scary and it's not impossible to get rides anymore! We never saw any other hitchers our whole trip...

Stina Ann profile image

Stina Ann 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Thanks so much for commenting! It's great to hear about another couple who had a good hitchhiking trip. I had no idea there were campsites that cheap along the west coast. That is great to know for the future, as we are moving to CA in November.

We've had that same experience, thinking we were completely hidden, then waking to find the opposite. Once we were in some woods near the road we wanted to hitch along the next morning and thought we were totally secluded. In the morning we heard voices and realized that not only were we right next to a cemetery, but there was also like a highway work site. It was the workers who woke us up...they came over to find out who were these crazy campers.

We recently blogged all about our most recent hitchhiking trip, from Seattle to the Milwaukee area. Go to www.andjuggling.com if you are interested. What is your blog? I'd love to read about your trip.

chucksbaby profile image

chucksbaby 6 years ago

Those hiker/biker sites are great! It's nice to have a cheap campground to stay at for the water and showers and people you'll meet. We set up camp on the side of some railroad tracks one night after we realized one wasn't coming in to make a crew change. We woke up to a train blaring past us. We didn't want to get caught and packed in two minutes flat and were out of there. I think that's were we lost a couple things we couldn't find later. The next town we made it to we were successful in hopping the train. =)

I noticed in your blog about going to West Bend. Is that Oregon? We were somewhere past Bend when we got the best ride of our trip, a young guy was passing time until his job as a truck driver started in July and he said, "I just like driving, I'll take you wherever you want." So we spent three days with him and he drove us (and I drove a little bit too ha) all the way to my grandma's in Kansas. My blog's www.westplease.blogspot.com I just started it, but there's plenty more to come!

Stina Ann profile image

Stina Ann 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

How was it, hopping the train? I've often been curious about riding the trains. There's something about it that seems so romantic and old-fashioned.

West Bend is in Wisconsin. That ride you got sounds amazing. Brendan and I have thought that if we ever own a car again someday, it would be really fun to just take hitchhikers wherever they want to go. It's cool that someone out there actually did that.

Just clicked on "follow" for your blog and I'm going to read it now!

Mike Whone 5 years ago

This is really cool :) thanks for all the great tips, I'm planning on going on a 5 month hitch hiking trip to work the bc okanagan to pick cherries and apples and work in the orchard day and night, living in a tent and moving around from place to place.

Tyler 5 years ago

WOW!!!! ive been hitch hiking since 16 im 20 yrs old now. all these things u guys talk about i have learned along the way. im from portland oregon and ive been mostly all around the u.s. next month april,2011 im gonna have a friend with me for the very first time. were gonna go see yellowstone and a few other places. i love reading other peoples stories about hitch hiking. i love hitch hiking becuz u meet wonderful people and u see some beautiful things. id like to talk to those who have posted here. feel free to email me @ tmac493@gmail.com and we can swap stories :)

Jesse 5 years ago

Hello, I plan on hitchhiking this summer, but I have some questions:

-I want to hitchhike, but to nowhere in particular. Not only this, I have very little money (I'll probably have less than 200 dollars when I leave). I just kind of want to go wherever the wind takes me, if you will. Is this inadvisable?

-My friend told me to stay away from truck drivers. Do you think that they're bad news?

Thank you for any replies!

Stina Ann profile image

Stina Ann 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA Author

Hi Jesse,

Sorry I haven't responded before now! I hope you are having good luck on your hitchhiking ventures if you've already started.

In response to your questions, first off, I don't think it's at all inadvisable to just go where the wind takes you with very little money. You don't need much money if you're hitchhiking and camping, maybe dumpster diving to get food. Going hitchhiking without a specific time frame or end destination would be, I think, the best way to have some awesome adventures.

I've only had good experiences with truck drivers. Truck drivers are great because they are often going long distances and don't mind taking you with them to the end of their trip. I don't know if being a single person would change things. I've only hitchhiked with truck drivers as part of a male/female couple.

Would being a single male or female hitchhiker change what type of truck driver will pick you up? I don't know. I guess I would just recommend what I would always recommend, whether you're a solo hitchhiker or part of a pair: be on your guard, and trust your instincts. Don't just hop in the truck without talking to the driver first, finding out where they're going, how far they can take you, and gauging their personality while you're asking questions. If you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable, even if you can't pinpoint why, listen to that part of you. Give a vague reason you can't go with them, and just walk away if they become belligerent.

But again, my experiences with truck drivers have only been positive. And bonus for truck drivers: they often have extra-specially great stories from their years on the road.

Good luck! Let us know in the comments here how things are going.

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