Part One: Hitching the Ride
First and foremost, you’ll need to seek out the best hitchhiking spot. After you get dropped off, or even if you are just trying to find your first ride of the day, assess your surroundings. Are you in a town, or a city? If so, it is advisable to walk to the outskirts, as being picked up in a town doesn’t happen very often. Most people are going only a short distance, to the grocery store or to the pub. As you are walking, stick out your thumb for good measure – sometimes, you will get picked up. Depending on the country, taxis will sometimes give you free rides. Here are some countries where I’ve gotten the most free rides in taxis:
Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Perù, Bolivia
Be wary – some cars that look like normal cars may in fact be taxis. Ask before you get in.
The best hitchhiking spots are places where people have to slow down. This is because you have the opportunity to make eye contact with the driver, an essential part of building driver-hitchhiker trust. Good places include:
Make sure your spot has ample room for someone to pull over.
You can also try gas stations and truck stops, although this works best if you are in a country where you can speak the language, as you need to converse directly with drivers when explaining what you need. If you don’t speak the language, a phrasebook is helpful. Hitchhiking phrasebooks for most European languages can be found here.
If you do find yourself at a truck stop for a period of time, watch the off ramp so you know who is headed in your direction. If they appear to be travelling alone, strike up a causal conversation, and then slip in the fact that you’re looking for a ride. They will either lie to you…or lift you. Don’t argue with them, even if you know they’re lying.
The on-ramps at truck stops can be much better than normal on-ramps. Stand at the very beginning of the ramp, since the lower the gear the truck is in, the higher the chance they will stop for you.
In the U.S., hitchhiking on most interstate highways is illegal. But it is not illegal on the on-ramps, and don’t let any cop tell you otherwise. If you are hassled, be polite and co-operative. For a list of hitchhiking laws in the US, click here.
Once you’ve found a good spot, set down your pack at your feet so drivers can see that you’re in it for the long haul. Smile, but don’t force it. Try and make eye contact with every driver – as mentioned before, this is an essential part of building driver-hitchhiker trust.
When a semi passes, be sure to raise your arm up a bit, as it’s easier for the driver to see, and it decreases your chances of losing an arm to a ten ton hunk of metal barreling along at sixty miles an hour.
You might try shaking your arm about. I’ve found this sometimes helps, but can be a bit tiring after awhile. Or maybe it doesn’t help, and it’s just luck.
The intent to actually get a ride is also important. If you’re sitting on your pack and playing “Stones,” no one will stop for you (though this can be a great way to pass the time if there are no cars coming). Stand up, put your shoulders back and be proud of what your doing.
Personal apperance is important as well. You don’t want to be too well dressed, as it may lead a driver to belive you’ve got cash on you. That being said, you don’t want to look like you’ll bring a cloud of dust into the car with you like that guy from Peanuts. Find the happy medium of cleanliness.
Sunglasses are a bad idea. They obsturct eye contact. If you wear sunglasses, the driver may assume you’re either stoned, or Charles Manson. Push them onto your head or just take them off while you’re hitchhiking.
Hats are sometimes good, depending on what kind of hat and the area you’re in. I usually like to cover my head with something while hitchhiking.
Facial hair can sometimes slow you down, but it really depends on how much you have. I hitchhiked around with a pretty long beard for awhile and didn’t notice any negative effects. Then again, I grow a pretty sparse beard, so if your facial friends come in like ZZ Top then you might have different results. Unless ZZ Top drives by, I guess. Or somebody who thinks you are ZZ Top.
Move. Bounce around the speed-limit sign. Balance-beam on the curb. Juggle. Learn to juggle. Dance. Do whatever you can to convince passing drivers you’re not coming off a three-year heroin binge and are looking for some quick cash and a free car. But don’t act too crazy and make them think you’re in the middle of a two-week coke bender.
Make a sign, either with your destination on it, a distance, a direction, or something funny. I once had luck in Arizona with ‘Maybe I’m Jesus.’ Signs definitely help a lot, so carry a permanent marker with you at all times and be on the lookout for pieces of cardboard that can be used to make a good sign.
I rarely start my hitchhiking wait off with a sign, unless I know I am in a slow area. If nobody picks me up for the first hour or two, I usually find some cardboard to make a sign. Sometimes, if there´s no cardboard readily avalible, I write something in the inside of my left forearm.
If you’re a smoker, smoking while hitchhiking can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes, a driver will pick you up just so he can bum a cigarette. Other times, drivers will pass you up because they don’t like the smell, so use at your own discretion. Generally, I wouldn’t reccomend hitchhiking while smoking; still, sometimes on those long waits, you’ve got to have a little bit of nicotine.
If you don’t get a ride in one spot after an hour or two, walk a bit farther up the road. Keep facing traffic by walking backwards – remember that eye contact!
Sometimes rides just don’t arrive, especially if you’re in a high-traffic area. Oftentimes, the fewer cars that pass, the better. When there are 15 cars passing you every fifteen seconds, drivers may assume that it’s the next guy’s responsibility to pick you up. If you’re in a low-traffic area, they tend to feel a bit more obligated. If you are stuck in a high-traffic area, my advice to you is: just start walking. Eventually you’ll get to a more remote area, or perhaps people will think that since you are walking you aren’t going very far, and you may get a series of short rides to a better spot.
Note: if you ever hit the road with me, you may notice the frequency in which I break my own rules. The most frequent violation is not standing up while hitchhiking. On very long waits I have been known to actually lie prone on the shoulder of the road with my head propped up on my pack, thumbing lazily at passing traffic from ground level. It usually doesn´t work, though. But rules are made to be broken, eh?