How to Hitchhike

Finding a spot

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A good hitching spot refers to a place where there is a high likelihood of being offered a useful ride you are willing to take. The first step to finding a good hitching spot is to identify the which roads have the most traffic going your way. Most of the time this will be the main road that connects to the next destination on your route.

Unfortunately, main roads are usually fast moving with few good places to stop safely, so it's difficult to hitch on them directly. Instead, look for smaller roads that lead on to that main road – these will still have a high quantity of useful traffic, but are much more likely to have safe places for traffic to stop. Remember that you need to be on the edge of the town or city nearest your next destination. Pick the most convenient smaller road and walk (or take public transport) there.

Once you're on your chosen road, start walking along it in the direction you want to travel. You’re looking for a spot that fulfils the following criteria:

Drivers should be able to see you easily

Most drivers will consider several different factors before they decide pick you up. These will differ from person to person, but examples might be: do they want company? Are they driving through places in which they will feel safe with a stranger? Is there enough room in their car? Most importantly, they need to make a judgement about you. Are you someone they’ll feel comfortable having in their vehicle?

It is important that drivers have a chance to consider these things, so you should maximise the time they have between seeing you and passing you. Most normal people are not willing to let strangers into their vehicles without having the chance to judge them. The less time drivers have to judge you, the less ‘normal’ your lifts might end up being. The more time drivers have to make that judgement, the more likely they are to offer you a lift, and the more likely it is that you will want to accept that lift.

There is a counter-argument that says that allowing drivers to see you for too long also gives them time to talk themselves out of picking you up. This may be true, but the increased safety that comes from giving drivers plenty of time to see you is worth it, in my opinion.

Try to find a spot that has traffic approach you on a straight road. Don’t hitch just after a corner, and (of course) don’t hitch after dark.

Vehicles should be able to stop safely

It doesn’t matter how much a driver wants to pick you up, if they can’t stop safely then they won’t give you a ride. This means that your spot must have space for a vehicle to pull over without getting in the way of traffic.

Lay-bys and turnouts make for ideal hitching spots, but are uncommon in some countries. Most drivers feel comfortable pulling into turnings on quiet roads, but you’ll get your hopes up every time a vehicle actually turns on to it. Bus stops are also good, although you must make it clear that you aren’t there waiting for a bus. It is also possible to hitch in places where the traffic is forced to stop periodically, such as on intersections and roundabouts, but you’ll miss out on many rides from drivers who do not want to inhibit the flow of traffic when it is moving.

Do not be a danger to yourself or others

Finally, remember that you are a pedestrian on roads that are usually the exclusive domain of vehicles. You need to gain the attention of drivers, but this should not come at the expense of your safety, or the safety of those around you. At the very least, getting in the way of traffic will annoy drivers and be counterproductive to your hitching experience.

The faster the traffic moves on the road, the more distance you should keep from it. Keep your bags back from the road and out of the way of anywhere a vehicle might want to pull over. If possible try not to obstruct road signs. If a road is very narrow with high verges, you may need to find another road to hitch on.

Always walk on the side of the road that faces oncoming traffic when travelling between spots. Use pavements where possible and walk in single file where no pavements exist. Don’t walk on the inside bend of corners – cross to the outside before the corner and cross back afterwards to make sure traffic has the best chance of seeing (and avoiding) you. Always look both ways and wait for traffic to pass before crossing the road. Do not run in front of vehicles when you cross the road and, especially in poor weather conditions, consider wearing something bright or reflective in order to increase your visibility.

Taking advantage of bad hitching spots

If you have found a place where drivers have plenty of time to see you, plenty of room to pull over, and you’re out of the way of traffic – then you have found a good hitching spot. Of course, you will not always be able to find spots that fulfil the criteria perfectly, but it’s not always necessary to do so. You can get rides from the worst hitching spots possible – you’ll just spend a lot more time waiting for them.

However, bear in mind that spending an hour finding a good spot where you’ll get a ride in 20 minutes is the same as spending 20 minutes finding a bad spot where you’ll be waiting an hour – except an hour of walking leaves you a lot more tired and smelly than an hour of waiting.

My normal strategy is to start hitching from the first possible hitching location I come across, even if it isn’t great. Sometimes drivers who know the road will pick me up and take me to an area where they think I’ll have a better chance of getting rides. If I wait longer than 30-45 minutes and no cars have stopped, then I’ll spend 30-45 minutes looking for a new spot. That way I can balance the time spent looking and the time spent waiting fairly evenly, and the hiking makes for a pleasant break from the monotony of waiting.

If I’ve been waiting more than an hour, but cars have been stopping and I’ve just not been accepting their offers, then I’ll generally just take the next ride – even if it’s not that useful. At least that way I can try to find my next hitching spot from the comfort of their passenger seat.

Good hitching spot examples

  • Lay-bys, turnouts, T-junctions leading to quieter roads.
  • On the shoulder of a quiet or slow moving road.
  • Bus stops, truck stops, rest stops, petrol/gas station exits.
  • Roundabouts, intersections.

Bad hitching spot examples

  • On the shoulder of a busy, fast moving road.
  • Highway/motorway on ramps or exit ramps.
  • Immediately after a corner.
  • Roads with multiple lanes.
  • From within (or immediately before) a town/city.

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