How to prepare for hitchhiking: tips for hitchhiking designed to help You be ready for hitting the road. The preparation divides into 3 parts:
- study your route
- choose your luggage & equipment
- get your inner self ready & prevent hitchhiking dangers
1. Prepare for hitchhiking: study your route
In this sub-chapter, first of the three parts of my tips about how to prepare for hitchhiking, I am talking about the benefits of knowing in advance what your route offers You, such as where can You have a warm shower, where can You stop for a break in a petrol station or bar to have a warm drink and refill your bottle with water, where can You put your tent to rest well for the night or where is the most convenient place for You to buy food.
Hitchhiking, as sport, can get so extreme that You might even get to the point to hate being on a certain road in a particular moment.
In January 2014 I was hitchhiking in the southern part of Poland, towards Barwinek border crossing point with Slovakia.
I started at 5 o’clock in the morning hoping to catch a first class longer ride in a truck, it was still dark outside. The air temperature was -22°C; everything was frozen and covered by circa 1 m of snow. Nobody was driving around, the streets of the town were completely empty, the truck drivers were still sleeping and the only things that were attracting the attention of my eyes in the silent darkness of the early morning were the flashing yellow traffic lights at the crossroad where I was.
After about half an hour waiting my feet were freezing, so I decided to walk to the closest petrol station 15 minutes away to get warmer, then after about an hour I went back to the crossroad and finally the second truck that passed stopped and took me. Though there were only 90 km to the border, because of the adverse weather conditions it took almost three hours to Barwinek. The driver decided to stop for the long break, so I had to find another ride.
At the border it was windy, the blowing snow was reducing the visibility and it was really hard to walk on the side of the road in the deep snow. Many cars and trucks were passing, but nobody stopped and after circa 1h in the blowing snow I was so cold that I was feeling I could not take it anymore.
The blowing snow, the freezing cold and the fact that nobody wanted to stop
to help me, made me hate being there in that moment and myself for having decided to hitchhike in such adverse weather conditions. I almost thought to head back to Rzeszow and buy a plane ticket to fly directly home when on the opposite side of the road I saw a sign indicating that the closest Slovakian village was 2 km away. I decided to walk to that village on the side of the road through the snow hoping to find a bar, petrol station or coffee shop there to get warmer. That is when a Polish couple heading to Hungary stopped and saved me from the freezing cold of the winter.
Because it can get so extreme, every little comfort that You can benefit of while on the road is important for your health and good mood. Without being healthy and without good mood is not possible to hitchhike.
Studying your route in advance allows You to know where You can find rides easier. For example, is always easier to find rides engaging other wonderful citizens in conversations rather than staying on the side of the road waiting for somebody to notice You and be willing to pick You up, so You might want to look for spots along your route where automobilists stop to have a break or refuel, such as petrol stations, or if You prefer to get rides in trucks then You might want to go to parking areas where truckers stop to sleep or have the short breaks.
The image shows what a huge service station on a motorway looks like in satellite view (open image in a new tab to see it better) – this is a great location to engage folks in conversations, have a break, and even put your tent to sleep for the night.
Another aspect that can be of your interest as hitchhiker, is noticing where the bigger cities are located in relation to your route and keep in mind that usually in the mornings people will drive inbound those bigger cities as they will go to work, while in the late afternoon and early evenings they will drive outbound bigger cities as they will return to their homes from work.
One last thing that is relevant concerning your route is the type of road that You will take: is it a national road going mostly through countryside (this usually translates into shorter rides at slower speeds and more time wasted in finding new ones, but the benefits are that is possible to easily find food and water in all the villages and towns along the road and also to camp pretty much anywhere), is it an express road or maybe a motorway (this usually means longer rides at higher speeds and less time wasted in changing vehicles, but the disadvantage is that is possible to find water and camp only in gasoline stations and is necessary to carry food in your backpack at least for the next 24 hours until You reach a new supermarket located in a good location close to another gas station).
In some countries the hitchhiking laws forbid to hitchhike on motorways, so when choosing a route is wise to ask yourself “Is hitchhiking illegal on motorways in this country?“; also, on motorways is forbidden to walk so the access to pedestrians is restricted. Knowing this type of information when You intend to hitchhike allows You to prepare yourself in advance and to better estimate the time that will take You to cover a certain distance.
When making an estimation about the distance that is possible to cover in circa 12 hours, with consideration to all hitchhiking parameters that can occur in a day, my experience suggests that the average speed reduces to as low as 55 km/h; this means that usually in circa 12 hours is possible to cover circa 660 km. Generally speaking, based on my personal experience I can say that hitchhiking alone is always faster than with a hitchhiking companion.
Are parts of your route going through desert or through the mountains? Knowing this in advance You will be able to take with You clothes that are more appropriate for the temperatures and weather that You will face and will allow You to make better decisions about where to stop to sleep for the night. There is a saying about weather which is absolutely true when it comes to hitchhiking: “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”.
Knowing in advance if there are any dangerous predators (like bears for example) in any of the areas cut by your route can prove useful as this way You will be able to make wiser decisions about where to sleep when hitchhiking and backpacking in that specific area.
The study of your route is easy to do using services which provide updated maps and satellite images, like Google Maps for example.
2. Prepare for hitchhiking: choose your luggage & equipment
In this second sub-chapter, part of my tips about how to prepare for hitchhiking, I am talking about the importance of your luggage and of your equipment.
There is no second chance to make a good first impression. Before starting to hitchhike, make sure that You are clean and don’t look like anything that can be associated to a dangerous person in the area where You intend to hitchhike.
Quoting a truck driver that I met two times in two different countries in the same year, “as hitchhiker You do lots of kilometers on the right seat, but You do lots of kilometers on foot as well”. Is when You will have no other choice but to walk that You will have to be ready to deal with the burning sun and showering rain in the summers and with the blowing snow and icy cold in the winters. Even in common circumstances sooner or later on your route is likely You will have to walk off-road in order to save time. Before getting on the road, I strongly recommend buying a pair of good quality waterproof hiking shoes and a good quality waterproof rain jacket.
In the winter, hitchhiking is not like going for a walk around town for few hours and then returning to your home and enjoying its warmth. Hitchhiking, You will be outdoors from morning until evening, and if among the things to carry while hitchhiking and backpacking You intend to take also a tent with You in order to save money on accommodation, then is likely You will be outdoors during the night as well. In the winter, for this You will have to wear warmer clothes than what You would normally wear when going for a walk around town.
Now I will show You the three ways in which carrying a small and light luggage helps You to find rides faster.
First, there are persons who have little space in their vehicles (for example those who drive sport cars) and carrying a big luggage would make it not possible for those persons to take You even if they want to.
Second, sometimes because of other traffic the driver has only few seconds available to pick You up or drop You and carrying heavy and big luggage would make it difficult for You to get in/out the vehicle in just few seconds. Third, hitchhiking from morning until evening is already enough tiring, carrying big and heavy luggage would make it exhausting.
I remember that in June 2013 when I was hitchhiking in Armenia I was in a small petrol station and an old lady stopped to refuel. She was driving a Mazda MX5 – a two seats sport car. As soon as she saw me she came to me and said “I would love to help You but your backpack is too big for my car.” To which I replied “Is not so big, I can keep it on my lap – I think I fit on the front seat together with my backpack on my lap”. She said “Sorry, that would not be safe” and then she went inside the petrol station to pay for the fuel. When she came out, she came to me again and said “Okay, lets try”. My backpack was 38 liters and I barely fit on the front seat of her sport car keeping it on my lap. It was a 100 km ride and I was glad of having found it, but that was not a comfortable one.
Moral of the story: a smaller luggage is better – You will enjoy your trip more and You will find rides in less time.
As luggage, is way more practical to carry a backpack instead of a trolley or a bag.
Concerning your backpack for hitchhiking, whether You intend to travel as a backpacker for one week or for one year, the ideal backpack volume is around 40 liters, between 38 and 42 liters. This way, in case You will have to take a plane, most of the airlines will allow You to take for free your backpack as hand luggage with You in the cabin. Based on my experience accumulated during the years, the best backpack for hitchhiking is the one that has also a rain cover built in – because there is no waterproof backpack and rainy days exist (especially when hitchhiking around Europe or in parts of the world where it rains for several days or weeks in a row) – and that has a separate compartment for the sleeping bag usually placed at the bottom.
Also, to successfully hitchhike You should always have your hands free, and carrying a backpack instead of a trolley or a bag helps in this as well. Remember that hitchhiking means also walking a lot.
3. Prepare for hitchhiking: get your inner self ready & prevent hitchhiking dangers
In this sub-chapter, last of the three parts of my tips about how to prepare for hitchhiking, I am talking about your inner self and how to hitchhike preventing the most common hitchhiking dangers.
Prepare for hitchhiking: get your inner self ready
Some of our fears are caused by the society we live in, society that has its own rules and in which people are expected to behave in a way that mirrors its rules, and sometimes when we intend to do something that doesn’t really reflect such rules, that is when we start to be afraid of what might happen if we actually do what we want to do.
My “career” as hitchhiker started in 2004 but only in 2009 I decided to sleep outdoors pretty much anywhere. In 2009, I wanted to go to France and I decided to try something new, just to see what was it like – I wanted to sleep outdoors on the street all the time.
It was something totally new for me and all the people I talked to, on travel forums and similar included, told me that I would die, that someone would stab me while I am asleep, that someone would steal my stuff and all this kind of negative things. Obviously, I was really scared.
In 2004 I started to hitchhike with my girlfriend – it was her idea. One day, in 2004, this woman told me “Adrian, to become stronger You must face your fears, not to avoid them”. In 2009 when I felt so scared about this trip, this piece of advice returned in my mind and I knew that this was the right moment to apply it. I told to myself: “You cannot know what will be like, but if this is how You pictured this trip in your mind then You have to face your fears and do it, because otherwise You will not be satisfied”. So I did.
The first day of my trip around France was 12th of May 2009 and for that night I was in a small village called Donnas, located in north-western Italy very close to the border with France. At that time I did not have much experience about sleeping outdoors so I just looked for a place covered from rain, I put my mattress on the ground and my sleeping bag over it and I used my backpack as pillow. I was so tired that my mind did not have the time to think about all the possible negative things that people said could have happened to me, and I fell asleep almost instantly.
Next morning, when I woke up everything was alright, just as it was when I fell asleep. The second night, I still had a bit of fear, but not as much as the first night. From the third night I felt really confident and my fear disappeared completely.
In 2009 I slept outdoors in France for 29 days – all this time I never had any problem at all. All that people told me before the trip didn’t mirror the reality at all. Actually, about four times in 29 days it happened to me that people even invited me to their homes to rest better, have a warm meal and a warm shower.
What I want to say with this is that is in our human nature to be afraid of what is unknown to us, especially when is something uncommon in the society we live in, but most of the times this fear has nothing to do with what actually the reality is because it doesn’t reflect the reality and is based only on our imagination. In reality things work out in most of the situations and realistic goals can be achieved, but to achieve them, first we must find the courage to face our fears and do what it takes.
You must dominate your fears, otherwise they will dominate You.
Prepare for hitchhiking: prevent hitchhiking dangers
Many people who never hitchhiked in their life often think that a concrete hitchhiking danger consists in getting in the car with a deranged person. This is unlikely to happen. To obtain the driving license people are required to successfully pass also a medical exam which certifies that they are mentally sane. During the years I was picked by thousands of people and none of them to me seemed having mental problems of any sort. The few unpleasant hitchhiking experiences I had were caused by people who were mentally sane and aware of their own actions – they were simply bad intentioned.
I am an adventurer and hitchhiker who spent a lot of time outdoors on the roads of many countries of different cultures hitchhiking by day and at night in any season. Based on my experience the most relevant hitchhiking dangers are:
- being robbed
- become subject to sexual harassment, abuse or assault
- have a car accident
Now I will go into detail explaining how to prepare for hitchhiking preventing each of these dangers.
Prepare for hitchhiking: safety tips about preventing the danger of being robbed
Being robbed happens rarely and between the three hitchhiking dangers mentioned above is the most common. As hitchhiking danger can be easily avoided given that when it happens is usually because the hitchhiker didn’t take enough measures to prevent it.
The most common way to be robbed as hitchhiker is to leave your luggage in the trunk of the vehicle You are riding instead of keeping it with You in the car. Just as You read in my hitchhiking tips that I previously wrote, carrying luggage as small and light as possible is important as, besides other benefits, will also allow You to hitchhike more safely as You will be able to keep it on your lap.
When You get into someone’s vehicle, I strongly recommend to always keep your luggage with You and not put it in the trunk of the vehicle. If your driver insists that You put it in the truck, my experience recommends that You refuse that ride as likely You will get into some sort of trouble or dangerous situation.
In May 2013 I was hitchhiking in Poland on the national road 45 that connects Opole with Wielun.
Inside my backpack the only object more valuable was my laptop computer and the previous night after I found a place where to sleep in my tent I changed my clothes putting the dirty ones in a plastic bag inside my backpack on top of everything with the purpose to wash them once arrived in the area of Wielun.
It was a sunny afternoon. At a gas station near Opole a man of about 30 years old offered to give me a ride in his city car as was headed in my same direction. At first sight he seemed okay so I accepted. Before getting into his car he opened the trunk and suggested that I placed my backpack in it. I insisted to keep it with me and after he agreed I got into his car and sat on the front seat keeping my backpack on my lap. After few kilometers our interaction evolved like this:
Driver: What do you have in your backpack?
Me: Nothing special, only food, water and clothes.
Driver: I am black belt in karate, as job I am cop and now I have my gun with me. No smartphone, no computer? I want to see what do you have in your backpack. Open your backpack!
Me: [I didn’t say anything and while my instinct told me that he intended to steal my computer I opened the top of my backpack and the plastic bag with dirty clothes to show him while trying to keep hidden my computer that was at the bottom. Immediately, the bad smell of my dirty socks and clothes that were in the plastic bag flooded the ambient.]
Driver [while sensing the bad smell]: Oh! Close it immediately!
Me [with half smile on my face]: [I closed my backpack, waited about 5 minutes until he reached the first village on our way and then got out of the car]
What I learned about hitchhiking safety from this unpleasant experience is that if You have dirty clothes with You, it can be a good idea to put them on top of your other things inside your backpack until You wash them as when You will open your backpack their bad smell may discourage some thieves, just as it happened to me in the experience You read above.
Concerning hitchhiking safety, a general rule that is wise to follow to successfully hitchhike is this: never wear objects or clothes which can attract unwanted attention upon yourself.
On September 17th, 2009 I wanted to go from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria. I was aware of this rule but I did not respect it. On my right hand I was wearing two silver rings – their value was less than 10 EUR put together, almost nothing.
Around eight o’clock in the morning I was on the side of the road in Sofia trying to get a ride towards Veliko Tarnovo. I was smiling and full of enthusiasm. The spot was not ideal but okay, yet in almost three hours I was there nobody stopped.
After three hours, somebody finally stopped. Two men, around thirty years old, looking pretty badly and not speaking a word of English. When I saw them, the first thing that crossed my mind was “Adrian, don’t get into this car or You might get into a dangerous situation”.
That day after three hours waiting for a ride I wasn’t so full of enthusiasm anymore and I ignored what my instincts were telling me. I got into the car and sat on the back seat.
After about twenty minutes driving, one of the two men asked: “Passport?”
For hitchhiking safety reasons or simply curiosity, is absolutely normal that a driver wants to see your passport before accepting or refusing to take You in the vehicle that he/she is driving, especially when is You to approach him/her to start the conversation, as hitchhiking is also about mutual trust – the driver trusts the hitchhiker and the hitchhiker trusts the driver.
This time it was not like this – the driver wanted to see my passport after twenty minutes I was in his car and this seemed really weird to me. When I heard his question I immediately understood something was wrong.
I took out my passport and handed it to him. He browsed it and noticed that I was living in a country of the European Union. Then he handed it back to me. After about five minutes he said: “EVRO?”, while making the gesture with his fingers indicating money. He wanted me to give him some money. I replied “Nimam evro”, which means “I do not have euros”. Then he said: “Phone?” – since I had no money, he wanted to have my phone. I said: “No phone”, while gesturing with my hands that I did not have any.
Then he kept driving and after about ten minutes, as I was keeping my hands on the upper side of the front seats, he had a quick look at my two silver rings and said: “Rings, beautiful” and indicated with his hands he wanted to have a closer look at my rings. I removed one of my rings and handed it to him. He looked at it and handed it back to me. He kept driving and after another ten minutes he pointed again at my rings making me understand he wanted to have another look at them. I removed my rings and handed them to him. He stopped the car, the other guy got off and opened my door, took my backpack that was next to me and threw it out on the ground and gestured that I should step out of the car. I got out and then they left.
They took my rings. I wasn’t upset – I was aware that it was my fault because I did not respect one of the main hitchhiking safety rules and I also did not listen to my instincts which clearly told me not to get into this car.
What You just read is a true story about one of the common hitchhiking dangers: the possibility of being robbed. This negative experience that happened to me in 2009 teaches two important hitchhiking safety rules:
- always trust your instincts
- never wear objects or clothes which can attract unwanted attention upon yourself
Between these two hitchhiking safety tips, trusting your instincts is the absolute most important. Don’t misunderstand me: wearing objects or clothes which can attract unwanted attention upon yourself has the potential to get You killed in some areas of our planet. There are people who died because they dressed in a way which attracted unwanted attention upon themselves. But trusting your instincts, not only about people but about everything You will deal with in your journey, and using your common sense in everything You do will allow You to hitchhike safely most of the times and have mostly great positive travel experiences.
Prepare for hitchhiking: safety tips about preventing the danger of becoming subject to sexual harassment, abuse or assault
Sexual harassment, abuse or assault happens more rarely and as hitchhiking danger is less common than being robbed.
Both male and female hitchhikers are sometimes subjects to sexual harassment, abuse or assault and hitchhiking is equally safe or dangerous for both men and women.
To increase your safety, no matter if You are man or woman, if You carry a smartphone with You, taking a photo of the vehicle registration plate and letting your driver know just after getting into his/her vehicle that You are now sending it to your family to keep them informed about where You are and what You are doing will contribute in discouraging your driver from doing anything bad to You.
As a woman, to increase your safety, saying that You are married and telling a story which conveys how your husband (real or fictional) is waiting for You in a specific city can help You evade unwanted proposals. Some men think that when women dress sexy is because in that moment they are looking for sex and dressing sexy is their way of conveying this message; to hitchhike safely as a woman, not dressing sexy and keeping yourself more covered while hitchhiking will help You avoid attracting unwanted attention. In some Muslim countries women who are hitchhiking alone are seen as women who are looking for easy sex; if You backpack through Muslim countries, some women recommend as safety measure to always wear a period pad whether You are menstruating or not because once sexually assaulted the period pad may save You as many Muslims hold back from intercourse during women’s period.
Using your common sense and trusting what your instinct tells You, You will be able to avoid most of the dangerous situations. However, there may be times when it will actually happen to meet someone that will make You feel uncomfortable through words or behavior – in that situation You will have to decide if is the case to leave the vehicle or not. Trusting your instinct, also in this case, You will know what to do.
Here is something that once happened to me:
In June 2015 I was in an Iranian truck wishing to get to a city which was at about 200 kilometers from where I was. The driver was an Iranian man of about 65 years old. Inside the truck’s deck, between my seat and driver’s seat there was almost 1.5 meters of space. Almost immediately after I got in the truck deck, this is what followed:
Driver: Are You married?
Me: Not yet; but I have a girlfriend.
Driver: [shows me the wedding ring on his finger] I am married; but I like sex with both women and men.
Me: Me no. I like only women.
Driver: Why don’t you like sex with men? Sex with men is as nice as it is with women. Would you like that we have sex? I can stop the truck, pull the curtains and we can have sex.
Me: No. I like only women. I don’t like men.
Driver: [smiles] Your arms have beautiful skin. Do you have hair on your chest?
Me: I am not answering to this kind of questions. Only my girlfriend has the right to know this.
Driver: [smiles] Ah, please, show me your chest. I think you have beautiful chest.
Driver: [while keeping his left hand on the driving wheel, with his right hand tries to grab my shirt to pull it upwards to uncover my chest]
Me: [while still on my seat I try to avoid it by moving away towards the door and put my fingers on the door opener ready to open it to get out] Hey! If You continue I get out of your truck!
Driver: [puts his arms up in the air like apologizing] Ok kolega! No problem.
Afterwards he continued driving without manifesting other sexual intentions.
For me this was an experience in which I felt uncomfortable and I was ready to get out of the truck if the driver continued to show signs of sexual interest.
Prepare for hitchhiking: safety tips about preventing the danger of having a car accident
Most of the hitchhikers I spoke with about car accidents, agree that to hitchhike is equally safe or dangerous as is to walk on the street. While hitchhiking, a car accident can obviously happen mostly in two circumstances: when You are walking or standing on a road and when You are in someone’s vehicle.
I have seen many car accidents on the roads on which I hitchhiked, and some of these happened to the vehicles that were just in front of the vehicle in which I was. Up to a certain speed, it is proved that wearing the seat belt decreases the chance of dying in a car accident; so wearing the seat belt of the vehicle You are riding no matter if You are staying on the front seat or on the back seat may make a big difference.
Being visible from enough distance is important for your safety as hitchhiker and in the same time gives people the few seconds they need to decide if they want to take You or not. When walking or standing on a road by daytime is a good idea to wear a high visibility vest, while when hitchhiking at night I strongly recommend to have also lights and make sure that people see You from enough distance to be able to avoid You.
Preparing your hitchhiking backpack before the trip by attaching high visibility reflective stickers to it will increase the chances to be seen by other people when hitchhiking at night and increase your safety as well. Top quality high visibility stickers can be bought from stores which sell truck parts and accessories.
When walking on the side of the road is strongly recommended to walk facing oncoming traffic in order to be able to prevent accidents by avoiding those vehicles that drive too close to the side of the road. Never walk or stand on the side of the road when hitchhiking at night without having lights on You because to most of the drivers You will be invisible and the space and time needed to avoid You in relation to the speed and weight of their vehicle will be insufficient. There were hitchhikers who died like this. Having a headlamp with You among the things to bring while hitchhiking and backpacking will allow You to hitchhike at night more safely and more effectively. If You use a mobile device please notice that its built in led light is not powerful enough to replace a headlamp; is also not practical: You should always have your hands free ready to use them. I strongly recommend to buy a quality headlamp before starting to hitchhike.
Walking on the side of the road at night is extremely dangerous and You should not do it unless You have no other option.
To prevent car accidents when hitchhiking at night, instead of standing on the side of the road is more effective and more safe to hitchhike using the “jumping” technique that I described in “How to Successfully Hitchhike“, going from a place where there are people always working and lights (such as a service station that has a built in restaurant as well) to another similar place where there are lights and people working.
Your personal safety is your number one priority when You travel. No matter what happens, through your body language You should never convey vulnerability and in the same time You should always prevent and avoid conflicts and dangerous situations. Is unlikely to meet bad intentioned people as long as You use your common sense and try to keep yourself out of troubles. You should not carry any weapon with You when You travel by hitchhiking or just as backpacker, simply using your common sense and trusting your instincts is enough to avoid troubles and prevent dangerous situations in the majority of the areas of our planet. Another aspect is this: avoiding arguing over a topic because of different opinions is a good way to avoid conflicts – if your driver says something that You disagree with, is not necessary to contradict him/her, is enough to answer with a simple “I understand” and nothing more. To hitchhike safely always use your common sense and trust your instincts.
When You are backpacking or travelling by hitchhiking your family and the people who care about You will be worried about your safety. Is not possible to stop them from worrying. If who loves You would not be worried about You, then his/her/their would not be love. If You love yourself then is likely that You naturally take good care of yourself. Convey to who loves You that You are able to take care of yourself and their mind will be more at ease with You being far away from them.
Written by Claudiu Adrian Dobre; first in 2012, last updated in 2020. © 2012-2020
> Where to Sleep When Hitchhiking & Backpacking
> How Appearance Affects Perceptions of One Another
> The Importance of Smiling in Communication
> Things to Bring When Hitchhiking & Backpacking
> Hitchhiking Etiquette (once Unwritten Rules of Hitchhiking)
> How to Successfully Hitchhike