How to Successfully Hitchhike
Knowing how to successfully hitchhike means knowing how to find the most favorable ride with the minimum investment of time, energy and resources.
In this field, a person is able to truly learn only from its personal experience – the more one hitchhikes the more accumulates experience and the more knows how to successfully hitchhike. With this I want to say that after reading my tips You should not expect to hit the road and be immediately good at doing it – my hitchhiking tips, just like any other good tips on hitchhiking, will only provide You with knowledge that if put in practice will accelerate the process of becoming effective at hitchhiking. If You practice this extreme sport for enough years You will be amazed to see that learning, in this field, is a process that never reaches an end.
Understanding how to successfully hitchhike is a process that develops in time and that goes hand in hand with the experience accumulated in this field – the more experience You as hitchhiker will accumulate, the more You will know how to successfully hitchhike. Briefly, what helps to travel by hitchhiking is:
- Prepare for hitchhiking before hitting the road
- Hitchhike from where You think is a good spot, not from where others suggest
- Jump from a good hitchhiking spot to another good hitchhiking place
- To successfully hitchhike, have a friendly appearance
- Have a positive attitude and don’t let anything destroy your good mood
- Use your common sense
- Use hitchhiking signs wisely
- Try different hitchhiking techniques
Now I will explain in detail the meaning of each of the points I wrote above.
1. Prepare for hitchhiking before hitting the road
This sub-chapter is covered separately – to read it please see the page “Prepare for Hitchhiking (how to)“.
2. Hitchhike from where You think is a good spot, not from where others suggest
In this sub-chapter, part of my tips for hitchhiking concerning how to successfully hitchhike, I am explaining the importance of sticking to your route.
Often, some men and women that will see You on the street or some of those that will give You rides will recommend You to go or to take You to certain places as in their opinion that is where will be easy for You to find the next ride. These folks want to help You. The problem is that, unless they have concrete personal experience in travelling by hitchhiking, the spots they recommend are often no good and in most of the cases these places will only translate into a waste of time, energy and resources for You. You should not go to these spots. Once You study your route You should know more or less where You have to go to find the type of rides You are interested in. Go to the spots that You think are good ones, not to those recommended by people who even if they want to help You they have no idea what are the requirements for a place in order to be good for finding rides.
3. Jump from a good hitchhiking spot to another good hitchhiking place
In the process of learning how to successfully hitchhike, understanding this hitchhiking technique will save You a lot of time, energy and resources.
Someone who is first time hitchhiking usually goes to the exit of the city and waits on the side of the road until gets picked, then once in a car asks the chauffeur to take him/her to the center of the next town, then gets out of the car and repeats the loop until arrives at his/her destination. On the other hand, experienced hitchhikers what usually do is this: first study the route on which intend to travel and the area from where intend to start to hitchhike with the purpose to discover a great location to find rides, then from that location they find a specific type of ride that will drop them to another good hitchhiking spot from where can easily continue until arrive at destination.
Excluding boats, aircraft and trains from these hitchhiking tips, an ideal place to find rides is where many cars and trucks going in your direction stop for limited time, there is a facility there that offers some sort of comfort and the staff working there is friendly (an example of such good hitchhiking spot can be a service station located on an important road that has a big parking area and a bar, restaurant or motel where is possible to get water and food, stay warm, use the toilet services for free and offers an open unrestricted wi-fi Internet connection as well; another example can be a border crossing point).
If You are in a place like this then likely You are in an ideal location to find rides. This hitchhiking technique consists in getting a ride from a place like this to another place like this, “jumping” over the geographic area in between that otherwise would take a lot more time to cover. Example: lets say that your route crosses 3 or more countries and You are at a border crossing point on an important road where lots of cars and trucks drive slowly or stop for a short time and they are headed to the next country where You are also headed – the “jumping” hitchhiking technique in this case consists in finding one specific direct ride that will take You from this border crossing point to just before the next border crossing point, crossing the entire country in 1 ride and saving a lot of time and resources doing so, instead of taking any ride and going through many towns and cities.
4. To successfully hitchhike, have a friendly appearance
In this sub-chapter, part of my hitchhiking tips concerning how to successfully hitchhike, I am explaining in which ways a friendly appearance increases your chances in getting rides.
Hitchhiking depends a lot on how friendly the hitchhiker is and your appearance as hitchhiker is one of the major factors which determine your success or failure in finding rides. The friendlier and better You look, the more citizens will be willing to give You a ride. Appearance is so relevant that for two different persons who hitchhike on the same route in the same day the outcome can be very different.
When approaching people to ask for a ride, smile. As I explained in the “Importance of Smiling in Communication“, a smile on your face while You approach a person to engage him/her in conversation will help You appear more friendly.
To engage in conversation someone that stands next to its parked car – just like is common to see in gasoline stations or rest areas – is enough to walk towards the person and stop at circa 2 meters in front of him/her, smile or try to appear friendly when the person sees You, then greet politely and say directly
“Hello 🙂 Are You going to(wards) XXXXX?”
where “XXXXX” is the next point on your route where You want to get (usually a gas station, a border crossing point, an important road junction or simply the name of a city, town or village). If the answer is “Yes”, then the next thing to say is as straight forward and clear as the first
“Can I come with You to XXXXX? 🙂 “
and if its answer is “Yes” again then You are ready to go.
Often, folks have little time available, so being straight forward and clear is important.
If who You are approaching sees You while You are walking towards him/her from a distance where You are too far to speak, is important to greet him/her with your hand as soon as the person notices You – this way You will convey that You are friendly and avoid being perceived as a potential danger. You absolutely don’t want the person You are approaching to think “Who is this walking towards me and what does it want from me?!”. You want to be perceived as a friendly person. Do your best and You will be rewarded with a ride!
5. Have a positive attitude and don’t let anything destroy your good mood
In this sub-chapter, part of my hitchhiking tips concerning how to successfully hitchhike, You will learn why preserving your good mood while hitchhiking makes a big difference.
Whether You are hitchhiking alone or You have a travel buddy, sometimes will happen to get stuck, or You will not have any food with You left until the next day, or You will miss an exit on the motorway because your pronunciation is not that good and your chauffeur misunderstood You, and many other unpleasant events can happen which can negatively influence your mood. Whatever happens, You should always react in a positive way and don’t let your emotions have a negative impact on You. Sometimes You will find people that are in bad mood or xenophobic and they will have a negative attitude towards You, like giving You a rude answer when You approach them to talk or even insulting You without any reason – also in this case You should smile and say “Thank You” and then leave. Never lose your patience or allow anybody to destroy your good mood because your mood has a direct impact on your attitude and your attitude is one of the 3 key elements which determine your success or failure in getting rides; always remain calm and try to preserve your good mood. Our energy is perceived by who is around us; if You let your good mood to be destroyed, the next folks You will approach to ask for a ride will perceive your negative energy, and guess what, they will not pick You up.
6. Use your common sense
No matter if You are now reading my tips on hitchhiking because You are trying to figure out how to successfully hitchhike in Africa, in Australia, or how to hitchhike in Europe, wherever You will find yourself and whatever You will be doing your common sense will always help You avoid most of the dangers and problems of any sort that could arise in any of your trips, hitchhiking and backpacking included. Everything You do, do it with common sense.
7. Use hitchhiking signs wisely
In these hitchhiking tips concerning how to successfully hitchhike by day and at night I am explaining when the use of hitchhiking signs is more effective and when simply putting your thumb up is more effective.
You should use hitchhiking signs wisely. When hitchhiking, using a sign helps You only if where You are there are citizens going where You go. Otherwise signs will work against You as only a small percentage of people will stop to tell You that they are headed your way but not reaching your destination while the majority after reading your sign will tell You that they are not going there or ignore You completely.
If You have a sign with a destination written on it and persons are not going precisely there, the majority of men and women will not realize immediately that even some kilometers towards your destination can make a difference for You as hitchhiker so they will continue driving without stopping.
Over the years I noticed that generally putting your thumb up instead of using a sign will sooner or later make someone stop to pick You up. This because staying on the side of the road with the thumb up is seen in most of the countries as “looking for a ride”.
If You are a beginner hitchhiker, is always better to use only your thumb to get rides, or when able approach folks and speak to them directly. In time, as You will accumulate experience, You will be able to understand better in which cases use a sign to find rides and in which use only your thumb.
In places where there are motorists stopped to have a break, or to refuel, like in petrol stations, rest areas or parking lots, my experience recommends that, to successfully hitchhike, is always better to approach the people and speak to them politely. In this case smiling and being friendly is crucial.
If You are having a break in a bar or restaurant that is located on your route and You are sure that persons going where You go stop there for a coffee or lunch break as well, make your sign visible next to You while You enjoy your break so that citizens going where You go and willing to offer rides to hitchhikers can come to You to offer You a ride.
Engaging people directly is active hitchhiking. Waiting for someone to notice and stop to pick You up is passive hitchhiking. Active hitchhiking is always more effective than passive hitchhiking. Because speaking to someone gives to that person the possibility to see that You are friendly and a good human being. While in passive hitchhiking is possible to convey this only little and a major factor is played by your appearance. So if the location where You are allows it, always opt for active hitchhiking approaching people and engaging them in conversation.
When You are doing active hitchhiking, making a sign with your destination written on it will always increase your chances to find a ride. From a technical point of view, what You are supposed to do is to first write your destination on a sign and then walk around the parking lot to people to speak with them showing them your sign in order to avoid misunderstandings. This hitchhiking technique will do also another job for You: everybody who will read from a distance your hitchhiking sign while You are walking around the parking lot will know where You are headed and if people are headed your way they may come to You to offer You a ride.
Here is a true story that happened to me which shows the effectiveness of this technique:
In January 2015 I was headed towards the north-eastern regions of Europe, I was in the petrol station Murska Sobota on the motorway in Slovenia, which was a main stopping point for truckers headed towards the north-eastern parts of Europe coming from Spain, France, Italy and other cities in Slovenia. As soon as I got there I made a sign with my next destination point on my route written on it. I then started to walk around the service station looking for people to engage in conversation while I was holding the sign in one of my hands so that people could read it while I was walking around. As I was walking between the lots where the trucks were parked, a trucker that was there for the short 45 minutes break after reading my sign rolled down the window and said to me “Hey You! Come here!”. I went to him and he told me that he was going to Czech Republic and that I could go with him since my next point on my route was also on his driving route. I gladly accepted his offer.
When writing your destination on your sign, make sure that the letters are equidistant and that what You write is clearly readable from 20-30 meters. The purpose of hitchhiking signs is to convey in the shortest possible time where the hitchhiker wants to go. Nothing else. So keep your sign simple and avoid adding drawings, decorations or anything else that would only create confusion in who tries to read your sign. The optimum size of each letter on your sign is the size of the letters that You see on the registration plates of the majority of vehicles in the country in which You are.
In countries in which on the vehicle registration plate is indicated the province code where the vehicle was registered, is possible to write this province code on your hitchhiking sign instead of the full name of the city where You are going. However, based on my personal experience I can say that sometimes, especially in countries that are big and have lots of such provinces, writing the code of your destination city instead of its full explicit name can create confusion, so generally speaking is always more effective to write the full name of where You want to go instead of the province code. You should use the province codes only when You are 100% sure that their meaning is crystal clear to the majority of the people who drive around the country where You are. Hitchhiking signs that create confusion are not only useless, but often counterproductive as well, so if You decide that is better for You to use a sign, then keep it simple, keep it clear.
When You are doing passive hitchhiking, whether You are using a sign or just your thumb, over the years I noticed that better results are obtained when greeting the driver with your free hand while using your thumb or holding the sign in your other hand. It happened quite often to me that people when first saw me did not stop but stopped 50-100 meters behind me and when I asked them what made them change their mind they answered “I liked that You greeted me – it gave me the feeling that You are a respectful person”.
When You are doing active hitchhiking, remember to always say “Thank You” and greet the driver. Sometimes it happened to me that first when I engaged in conversation drivers that were parked for a short break their answer was “No” and then when they were about to leave they came to me to invite me to go with them as they changed their mind because at the end of the conversation I showed respect by politely thanking for their attention and then greeting them as “goodbye”.
8. Try different hitchhiking techniques
If You travel by hitchhiking and You get stuck, based on my personal experience I can say that there is always a reason why it happened – it could be the location, the people living in that place, the time, or You. After a while, if You see that what You have been doing since You got to that place didn’t get You any ride, then don’t insist in doing the same thing thinking that a miracle will happen, because it won’t happen and You will only waste your time, your energy and your resources. Instead, stop doing it, observe and analyze what is going on, the actions and their effects, and then, with common sense try a new hitchhiking technique by doing something different than what You did up to that moment.
If You are not hitchhiking alone but have a travel buddy who is more experienced than You, inform your partner of how You perceive the environment and let him/her make the decisions about what to do.
Someone once said that “only idiots expect different results doing the same thing”, which put in other words means that when we pursue a goal many times we have to try different ways to achieve it. When something goes not as we want it to go, to get a different result we must do something different than what we did up to that point.
Learning how to successfully hitchhike no matter where You are, no matter if is summer or winter, sunny or snowy, by day or at night, takes years of practice, yet is rewarding and most of the times entertaining. Slowly, while practicing this sport, You will develop also other skills that will prove useful in your everyday life, such as organizational and planning skills, prioritization, decision making, survival and problem solving. As is based on the interaction with other people, You will meet all sorts of people and You will have great positive experiences. There are lots of really good, wonderful people all around the world. However, based on how I experienced this sport during the years, I feel is my duty to bring to your attention also that hitchhiking is not a joke and You should be careful every time You intend to hitchhike and You should always treat it as seriously as possible. What You read here, my tips about how to successfully hitchhike are based on my personal experience accumulated during the years practicing this sport and are designed to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed. As author, I disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information I provided. No matter if You are preparing for your first hitchhiking trip or You are an advanced hitchhiker, whether You will be hitchhiking alone or with a companion, You are the only one responsible for yourself, for your decisions and for your actions. Every time You intend to travel by hitchhiking, do it responsibly.
Written by Claudio Adrian Dobre; first in 2017, last updated in 2023. © 2017-2023
> Prepare for Hitchhiking (how to)
> 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)
> Where to Sleep When Hitchhiking & Backpacking