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Hitchhiking Tips and Tricks

Updated on October 3, 2010

I recently went on a three month hitchhiking adventure with my fiance and I thought I'd share some of the tricks we learned along the way. A lot of advice out there is either outdated or too vague. I love to give detailed tips in order to better help any fellow travelers out there. I'm no veteran to hitching, but we successfully flagged down rides time and again, and here's how we did it. This only applies to the United States; I have not been backpacking overseas but do hope to get thumbing over there one day as well.

Try not to go alone

 I can't stress this enough. Not only does a travelling partner provide you with some much needed company on those long stretches of empty highway, it also significantly increases your chances of getting a ride. It's definitely best to go in pairs of opposite sex in my opinion. If you're a woman, even some black belt in karate, a man will provide you with security. He may not be capable of stepping on an ant, but those psychos will think twice before stopping. On the other hand, if you're a man a woman will give you what I like to call "the safe factor." A driver passing by a single man might say to themselves, "Hmmm, I don't know about him, he might hurt me." Whereas, a driver passing by a man and a woman will be more inclined to say, "What a cute couple, I should give them a ride."

This won't always be true, as some people stop simply from experience or for want of company. However, we always asked why people picked us up, and many told us they wouldn't have if my fiance hadn't had me next to him.

If you really don't have anyone to go with you, don't let this tip stop you. There are still plently of people out there who pick up hitchhikers contrary to popular belief.  

Stay clean!

 If you haven't had a shower in a week, at least try to look like you have! This, to me, is a very very important tip. Ask yourselves, if you were to pick up a hitchhiker, would you pick up one who looks like he'll stink up your car? Most people would say no, they wouldn't. So even if you do smell to high heavens, at least look like you're as fresh as a daisy. Once they realize you've just rolled in the dumpster it'll be too late to drive off without you!

Also, have some gear with you, a backpack at the very least. This gives you purpose. Again, many who picked us up said they did so because we looked like travelers, not hobos. Chuck always stayed clean shaven and wore a travelling hat. He swears by that hat to this day. So go get one, guys! It'll keep the sun off your face and make you appear all "worldly and stuff."

Stay visable and in an easy spot for drivers to stop.

 Some drivers won't stop for you simply because they don't have a safe spot to pull over. When we were hitching out of El Rancho Cucamonga, CA, we stood on the sidewalk near the entrance to I-15. Unfortunately, traffic was very heavy where we were at and no one wanted to stop and hold up a hundred cars behind them. Then out of no where we hear a honk behind us in a restaurant parking lot so we go running. The young couple told us they had to turn around because they couldn't stop where we were standing.

So if you're on the highway, make sure there is plenty of shoulder for cars to pull over. If on on an entrance ramp, make sure there is a safe spot for drivers to pull over.

Make sure you're visable! If a driver can't see you, how will they know to stop? Carry a sign if you like; we implemented this at freeway ramps and truck stops but not while we walked on the highway. Drivers doing 60 mph won't have time to read a sign. Wear bright clothes; you'll stand out and look friendlier at the same time. Above all, be safe! Do NOT stand where you think there is even the slightest chance of getting hit. There are some crazy people behind the wheel out there. I was almost hit a number of times and I can't imagine it's any fun.


This one won't apply to everyone. If you're simply hitchhiking and have no cares about sleeping on the streets, you can disregard this. If you're a camper or you're just really trying to get somewhere, I suggest you read this.

Don't be lazy, if you need to get to that next town, start walking. We lived by this rule. We originally went on a backpacking trip, hitchhiking was just a pleasant addition. We had a map of the state parks in California as we hitched up Highway 1 and we always had a backup plan in case we didn't get any rides. Our backup plan: walking. It wasn't unusual for us to walk more than 20 miles a day. The coastal highway was beautiful though, and it was rarely that hot so we didn't mind. We tried to always be within walking distance of a state park with hiker/biker campsites.

The advantages of this extend beyond being able to reach your destination with your own two feet. As long as you're on a highway that has a shoulder safe for cars to pull off on, you will get rides. Many admitted to picking us up because we were walking. These people were in two different groups. The first group felt sorry for us walking such a long stretch of road. The second group liked that we were working to get where we were going and resented hitchhikers that just stood around and did nothing. Don't get me wrong though, you'll still get plently of rides waiting at the ramp entrance, I just believe that in today's age, there are some who don't like to give something out for free. So if you're determined to get somewhere, start hoofing it. Chances are, a car will pull over for you, and if they don't, you'll get there eventually.


Stay safe if you're walking on the highway! Walk as far off the shoulder as possible. I told you before, there are some crazy drivers out there!

Make conversation

 Chances are, the person who picked you up did so for company. It is common courtesy for the hitchhiker to make conversation with the driver. Tell them about your trip and other rides. Talk about your dog. Simply lend a listening ear. It doesn't matter. Remember that you're getting a free ride and you owe them something. You'll find some just want to talk, others will ask you a million questions. There's nothing more awkward than a silent car ride with someone you don't know.

The more friendly you are, the more likely they might take you farther! Almost every ride we had made a point to go out of their way to take us just a little bit farther. We really think it's because we tried to bond as much as we could with the driver and entertain them. If they like you, wouldn't they want you around just a little longer? There is nothing quite like the relationship between the hitchhiker and the driver. You might exchange numbers or emails, but chances are, you won't ever meet again. Because of this, all walls of judgement are knocked down. So keep talking, and lend an ear. As awful as it might sound, we tended to stretch the truth of our adventures. We only did this to make it a bit more entertaining; remember that you're making conversation for them, not you.

Be Prepared!

So you've been trying to get a ride out of some city all day, it's getting dark and you're having no luck. What are you going to do?

Hopefully, you've decided to prepare for your trip. You won't always get rides, and 9 times out of 10 you'll need to camp. Camping is a lot of fun, so take along the proper gear for it. I've listed an entire checklist of the things Chuck and I carried on our trip and how we shaved weight. Not all of it is necessary, and you might want to add a few things depending on the purpose of your trip, but it's a very good place to start. Also, don't feel like you need to spend a bunch of money. We went on a backpacking trip that turned into hitchhiking. If you aren't doing a ton of walking, you could probably afford to carry a bit more weight.

Always have a map with you, it will help more than I can tell you. Also, if you want to vagabond it and carry very little money, I have nothing against that. But if it's an option, I suggest carrying some sort of emergency fund. You may get stuck in the middle of a big city and need to take a bus to the outskirts or if you really can't find somewhere to sleep you may need to resort to getting a cheap motel room. Just budget yourself if you're bringing some money and carry it where there is no chance of it being stolen! As the saying goes: It's better to be safe than sorry.

Stay aware of your surroundings and the people around you. We never had any psychos pick us up (weird for sure, but harmless) but that doesn't mean it can't happen. I almost fell out the backs of 3 or 4 pickups and Chuck had his foot ran over once getting into an SUV. Just make sure you're safe and don't let the driver try speed off until you're settled. They don't want bloody hitchhiker all over the road either. Also, try to keep your gear with you. I doubt a driver is really wanting that dirty backpack of yours but they might accidentally drive off with it in the trunk. If you can't keep a hold of it, make sure the above doesn't happen. A good trick for this if you're traveling in pairs is to let one person get the gear out and the other stay in the car to stall the driver.

Set your own rules

 You're the one hitchhiking. I can give you all the tips in the world, but it will never compare to your own experience. So get out there and find out what works best for you!

Chuck and I had a system we always stuck by. When we walked on the highway, it was single file (this is much safer) and I walked behind him. When a car would approach, I'd turn and start thumbing. We were under the impression a girl is much more appealing to pull over for. Once a car stopped we chose our seating arrangements according to who was driving. If it was a man, Chuck would sit up front to add that little bit of security for us. If it was a woman, I would sit up front to add a bit of comfort for her sake.

So figure out what works well for you and keeps you safe and stick with it.

 These were the general principles we followed while on the road. Everyone is different and so if every road so, again, find what works best for you. These tips worked best for us. We never had a bad experience and managed to get plenty of rides. Give your number out or get some in return. It's a nice thing to do if you call one of those great rides up to thank them or get an address and send them a card on a holiday. Don't be offended if they won't offer up contact information. I would advise letting them initiate trading numbers and so forth. We have a whole stack of numbers, emails, and addresses from drivers who wanted to stay in touch. One even told us if we were ever in Santa Cruz to call him up; we could stay with him and borrow his car!

You'll meet some amazing people hitchhiking and it will completely change your view of the world. It's a very humbling experience to rely on the kindness of strangers. If you have a sense of adventure get out there and start thumbing! You'll be surprised by the results, I promise you that.

I'll be sure to update this list if I think of anymore good tips. Feel free to ask any questions.


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    • World-Traveler profile image

      World-Traveler 7 years ago from USA

      Great and wise information. I did some hitchhiking when I was living and working in Alaska. Dress warm if you are considering doing any camping or hitchhiking in Alaska.