A girl hitchhiking alone? Are you crazy?
If you’re anything like me, you were raised to think of hitchhiking as an activity only for criminals or the opening of a bad horror movie.
But when I hitchhiked 500 miles across the UK in a day, exchanging stories with the friendliest, funniest, and most awesome set of drivers you could imagine, I wanted to shout from the sunroof: hitchhiking is awesome!
We’re talking adventure, freedom and a refresher course on the basic goodness of humanity. This girls guide to hitchhiking will help to give you the basics of hitching, as well as some dos, don’ts, and safety tips.
But first, a public service announcement.
To Hitchhike or Not To Hitchhike
Hitchhiking is something to do for its own sake. It’s NOT a fallback, or something to resort to when you don’t have the money, time, or additional options to get you from A to B.
You can’t be empowered when you have no choice but to rely on a stranger.
Never put yourself in a situation when you’re feeling too edgy, desperate, or tired to make an informed decision about getting in someone’s car.
Think of it this way: If you really can’t get there any other way, stay home. Do it from a place of positivity, and you’re on the right track.
Plan Your Budget Wisely
Do you have enough cash to fold up your hitchhiking sign and take a hostel room for the night if you can’t reach your final destination?
Do you have enough time to enjoy hanging out at a service station for four hours, watching the uninterested cars whiz by?
Can you take a mental map of the cab, bus and train routes you might have to take instead when hitchhiking doesn’t go your way?
Excellent! Then it sounds like the joys of hitchhiking are yours to partake in. Hop in, and buckle up.
Safety Tips for Hitchhiking
First off, utilize the buddy system.
Would I hitchhike alone?
Yes (and I have), but I’d also say hitchhiking with a friend is the way to go. Not just for safety, it’s also more fun.
The last time I took a long hitchhiking trip, I was with a good friend I’d made on the road, who was also a seasoned hitchhiker. When she wanted to grab lunch, I held our spot on the sidewalk and watched the bags.
When I almost choked on my fruit snacks as our third driver announced she was an “Aura Healer” by profession, my friend effortlessly picked up the conversation so I could recover my composure.
Research Your Route & Plan Ahead
Hitchhiking definitely has an air of effortless, spontaneous travel. But if you’re able to get ready for a hitching trip in advance, you’ll have an easier time.
Research your route, and bring a map so you can keep an eye on your progress.
Talking your trip up before you go can also help you feel more secure. I liked knowing that plenty of people knew where I was going before I hit the road.
Tell Everyone Your Plan
I was so excited leading up to the big hitch, I told plenty of people: fellow volunteers, neighbors, Facebook friends, even my 79-year-old housemate.
The more people who know where you are, the better. Before starting hitchhiking, be sure you’re sharing your location with a friend or family member. Shoot them a text when you’ve gotten in a car with the make of the car and a quick description of the driver, just for safety.
Something like “Ford F150 Denver to Boulder, driver named Mike,” will help give peace of mind to worrying friends and family.
Give Me A Sign
Pair your best and boldest thumbs up with a cardboard sign bearing your destination. It lets drivers know where you’re trying to go without having to pull over to check. Bring a marker in case you want to change routes or strategies mid-stream.
And don’t be afraid to go big. Our massive placard that read “SCOTLAND, PLEASE” got plenty of jaws dropping and bursts of laughter from disbelieving morning commuters in Southern England… you want to go how far?
But in the end plenty of drivers headed in our direction were happy to take us as far as they could, and seemed to appreciate the audacity of our attempted distance.
Know The Laws of Your Destination
Did you check into the local laws that apply to hitchhiking? In most places, hitchhiking is not illegal outright, but there are a lot of laws governing roadways and pedestrian actions. Lots of localities make it illegal to stand on the shoulder of a major roadway, or on a highway on-ramp.
While some people recommend international borders as a good place to find lots of cars slowed way down, there are also lots of police and heightened security here. And they don’t want anything out of the ordinary going on and might be more inclined to hassle hitchers.
Learn the local laws before you go, so you don’t end up on the wrong side of them. And remember: there are unwritten rules, too.
The vibe of a place can make or break your hitchhiking experience.
As a traveler in England, I soon discovered droves of 20-somethings who’d hitchhiked all over their native land. The English have a real love for the underdog, so when they see a brazen traveler sticking their thumb out, it appeals to their sense of whistle-and-smile solidarity.
Hitchhiking is always a bit of a counterculture activity, but are you attracting good attention, or making your host country severely uncomfortable? Don’t be afraid to ask locals about it before you hitch. As a guest in their country, and hopefully their cars, be mindful of how your current locale feel about hitchhiking.
Who’s Driving This Thing?!
This is the ultimate question.
The chance to have a genuine talk with a perfect stranger is what makes the whole experience of hitching such a blast. It’s a mish-mash of open-mindedness, compassion, friendship, trust and plain old faith in humankind. All packed into the simple act of driving down the street.
Don’t worry if you’re not the world’s greatest living conversationalist, even if you never get past introductions, just sit back, relax and enjoy the chat.
The great thing about hitchhiking is that you often bring out the best in your drivers. After all, the trust you place in them is the sincerest form of flattery. I’ve found drivers often become totally engaged in your journey, almost more excited to help you than you are to have a hitch.
On my Cross-UK Hitching Extravaganza, our first driver was a local churchgoer in a minibus, on his way to a Sunday service.
After we chatted, he ended up taking us 30 miles out of his way to a traffic light where he thought we’d have more luck hitching our next ride. He also gave us his cell number and asked us to text him when we got to Edinburgh. At midnight that night, we dropped him a line from our comfy Scottish couch. Five minutes later, we heard back “I told everybody about you today! We were all thinking of you, glad you made it safely!”
Nothing like the prayers of an English village – or just the genuine goodwill of a nice person – to propel your travels in the right direction.
If you’re excited to tap into the thrill of a true travel connection, I highly recommend hitchhiking. No matter how many miles you make it, a hitchhiking journey is the kind of enthusiasm fill-up that can fuel your passion for travel.