My wanderlust life for the last year have gave me many experience, in which includes unsuccessful hitchhiking trips where I got shot at. In China, I tried my first long distance hitchhiking adventure and ended up taking a total of 7 rides and spend 7.5h for a 4 hours bus journey. It is probably not the smartest hitchhiking trip but you learn from mistakes right?
Truth to the told, hitchhiking is not for everybody but if you are looking for a lifestyle of travel that are not restrained by money or bus routes. This is it. The beauty of hitchhiking is the ability of trusting the unknown and knowing that it going to be alright. That being said, don’t risk your life (like me) to save a few bucks.
1) Planning for your hike
I categorized hitchhiking trips into 2 groups based on their purposes.
– Adventure hikes (travel from one city/town into another)
– Day hikes (travel out and back into town within a day)
A comfortable hiking distance is about 6-7 hours of bus ride within a day. I don’t use distance here because the same 30km of road in Laos might take you twice or thrice the amount of time in America. Some recon would be helpful on the internet or by asking the locals. You could do a lot more than the 7 hours a day but you also might run the risk of getting stuck in no-man’s land. I suggest getting drop off in a decent town and try hitchhiking again from there. If you ran out of luck, at least you could find accommodation in that town.
The best time to hitchhike can be anytime from sunrise to sunset as there is less bad people around. Bad people travels at night right? During the day, it is easier for driver to spot you and stop in time to pick you up, also you look less like a “robber”. To note; in Spain there is Siesta “Nap” time in the afternoon which can greatly reduce traffic on the road.
2) Boys vs Girls
Yes boys; girls does has a higher betting average when it comes to hitchhiking. I am sorry. But to be honest, you only need one ride to get to your destination and also girls runs the risk of being harassed. If you a couple hitchhiking, you might want to let the girl do the stopping. On a funny note, if you are “white” guy with a “Chinese” girl, you might have a better than the girl. No offense*
3) Finding your ride
I learned this the hard way after my hitchhiking in China. I took any ride came along not knowing their destinations because I did not have a map. Next thing I know, I got drop me off in the next 10mins. Nevertheless, very grateful for their kindness and enjoy beautiful scenery in the stops. I have later learned that you are missing out good opportunities when you are on the ride instead of waiting for a better one.
Learning to spot a foreign car plate is one of the valuable skills as they have a better chance for a long distance ride. From my personal experience, 4WD, pick-ups, transportation lorries and mini bus are my favorite vehicles.
4) Preparing your equipment
A detailed map with the local language is the most important to bring on your trips. The driver will be able to pin-point his destination on your map even if you doesn’t understand what he is saying. Raincoat, drinking water, dry food and fruits are also your best friend.
If you are planning on a faster and adventurous hike, bring your camping equipments. It gives you the flexibility on the drop-off locations. You could camp close to the road for a early start the next day.
5) Places to hitchhike
The rule of thumb for a good location is where the vehicle is traveling on low speed or a place where they are able to spot you and stop in time. These could be a the exit of a gas station or highway, humps on street, traffic lights or a straight highway.
6) Dressing for your ride
Think from the driver’s point of view, they are also afraid of picking someone that will rob them just as much as you. I suggest to dress like a proper traveller, nothing to fancy nor shady. For props, I received suggestion of decorated signs, a bunch of wild flower that you could pick up from the side of the road or any musical instrument. The basic idea is to be interesting and catch their attention.
7) Safety precaution
I have spoke to some hitchhikers and gather some advices and little tricks to test and politely decline their offer.
– Always ask for his destination first and you could easily turn them down by saying that you are heading to another location.
– I ask them for permission to take photo of their car plate number and send it to your friends. (Sometimes, I don’t really do it but it is just to observe their reactions)
– You could also ask for a photo of their driver’s license
– For female hitchhikers, a pepper spray serves to be an effective weaponry to get away from rough situations.
– I carry a GPS devices so to know where I am at moment in time.
At the end of the day, trust your gut feeling. If it do not feel safe, you can always turn down the ride politely.
8) Worst case scenario
I have met more than 10 hitchhikers and 3 independent female hitchhikers. Some of the better stories are drivers taking them as their lost daughter and end up hugging and crying towards them. Another stories was a Korean girl hitchhiking through Europe and driver asking if they could kiss her. She smiled and shake her head. All in all, nothing extremely bad happened to anyone of these people. For your worst case scenario, the pepper spray would be your best bet to get out of bad situations.
Go for that adventure and stay safe 😀