Mom-Approved Hitch-Hiking Tips


This article was guest-written by our friend and fellow dirty vagrant Carmella Guiol. 

Sometimes travel can get really expensive, and we need to choose between taking the train or feeding ourselves. [Ed.: We all met in a coop house. We love food - this isn't even a close call at all.] Luckily, there is one very convenient, cheap, and exciting way to travel that all dirty vagrants should know about: hitch-hiking! It may get a bad rap in the States, but it is a common form of transportation in most of the world.

I have spent the past few months traveling in Europe and I have done a fair sharing of thumbing to get rides, with great success. Not a single negative incident to report. I love it; hitch-hiking gets you talking to locals, you get to enjoy the scenery, and best of all (for us thrifty travelers) – it’s free! Plus you can impress all your friends and fellow wannabe Beatniks with your bravery.

Hitch-hiking is about embracing the unknown, relishing in the open road, expecting the unexpected. A train couldn’t have replaced hurtling down a tiny country road in a beat-up tow-truck with a sweet old man swerving all over the road every time I open my mouth because apparently he has to look at me in order to hear on what I’m saying. On the way, he gave me the lowdown on all the towns we pass through, pointing out particularly beautiful mountains, and telling me tall tales about local fountains and the saints who drank from them. This old man insisted on going 20 km out of his way to take me to my final destination. Better still, he waved away my offers of payment, shouting “Nonsense!!” as he jerked the wheel to miss a cow crossing the road.

We can forgive them for accidentally taking a photo of their reflections, because this actually looks like it was a pretty cool adventure through Bolivia. [Photo Credit]

Although hitching a ride is largely about luck – right place, right time – here are some rules of thumb to make your experience a bit easier.
1. Do your Research
This can be as simple as asking the cashier at the supermarket in town if hitch-hiking is popular in that area. If people seem confused or hesitant about it, that’s a sign that it isn’t popular there. You can still try anyway, but be prepared to stand out there for a while. On the other hand, someone you talk to might let you know where’s a good spot to stand to increase your chances of getting a ride. Either way, do your research and talk to the locals before sticking out your thumb. Also, familiarize yourself with a map of the area, and preferably, have one on hand. This way, if a ride tells you they are going to a different city than your final destination, you’ll know whether it’s on your way or not. This is an important security measure as well; get acquainted with your route to make sure you’re always going in the right direction.
2. Location
You want to place yourself in spot that is accessible for drivers to a) see you and b) pull over to pick you up. Take into consideration that, depending on where you are standing, cars will be driving at different speeds and you need to leave enough room accordingly. Cars moving at a faster speed need more space to pull over once they have seen you, while slower moving traffic can stop sooner. On that note, it is usually inadvisable to hitch-hike on the highway, maybe even illegal – not saying I haven’t done it. (Talking to locals will clue you in about the legality of hitch-hiking in that region, as well.) Standing on the on-ramp is a better idea, or on the road itself if it’s a smaller country road. Don’t try to hitch-hike inside of a city; it’s more likely that people are on smaller errands and going shorter distances, which are not to your benefit. Rather, position yourself just outside of the city, near a signpost pointing in the direction you’d like to go. Roundabouts are great hitching posts, when available.
3. Signage
Depending on how far you are going, it might be a good idea to have a sign with the name of your final destination. If you are on a long journey, it is usually wise to break down your ride into smaller segments (unless your destination is a popular one that many people are traveling to, such as a concert or major city). This will increase the likelihood of someone picking you up. I have gotten rides with and without a sign, and I can’t say I know the right answer to this one. You’ll need to feel it out for yourself, and it might differ depending on the situation. Someone might see your sign that wouldn’t have stopped otherwise except they are going to that destination so they think, “what the heck, I’ll help out this crazy foreigner.” If you decide to use a sign, make sure it is readable from a fast-moving car, with bold letters and maybe the word “thanks” underneath (in the language of your host country, of course!).

A+ for the arty photograph; I would totally pick him up. But the sign could have used more bold. [Photo Credit]

4. Smile!
It’s been an hour already, it’s raining, you’re standing in the middle of nowhere, you have no back-up plan, and you’re freezing your butt off. Hitch-hiking can be a frustrating and humbling experience when people are just whizzing by you without even a glance. But keep your chin up and a big smile on your face! People might pass and make gestures at you to indicate that they have a full car or they are not going very far. Thank them with a wave and a smile. The most important thing is to keep it friendly, even if you feel like crap. Making eye contact with passing cars is also a good idea- in a happy, nonthreatening way. (Making a vigorous praying gesture, as my sister once did to every single car that passed us, proved ineffective. Try not to seem too desperate, even when you are.) If you are walking and hitching at the same time (as in, you’ve given up any hopes of a ride and you’ve decided to walk the 30 miles to the nearest town), be sure to turn your body full-on towards the passing car when you hear one coming. No one is going to stop for someone with their back to them and a thumb out (even if you do have a cute butt…  plus it’s probably covered by your enormous backpack, anyway).

The smile is a good start, but you might also want to button up your shirt if you want a ride, buddy. Some of us are a little prudish. [Photo Credit]

5. Initiating Contact
So, someone has pulled over for you and you’re making your way to their passenger window. Remember the basic rules – smile and keep it friendly. If possible, ask them where they are headed first. This way, you can decide whether or not you want to ride with them. If the person rubs you the wrong way, you can always say, “Oh, I’m going a bit farther. But thanks for stopping!” Like I said before, I have never gotten bad vibes from anyone who has picked me up, but it’s a good rule of thumb anyway. Communication might be more difficult if you don’t speak a common language, so be sure to have some choice phrases memorized.
6. Use Your Intuition
Trust your judgment. Don’t be afraid to turn down an offer for a ride; lie if you have to. Also, and hopefully it never comes to this, be prepared to ask your driver to pull over and drop you off if they are making you feel uncomfortable. Be firm.
7. Stay aware
If you do decide to ride with them, be sure to stay aware of your situation when you get into someone’s car. It’s great to get a good vibe from them, but that isn’t a reason to lose your focus. Read the passing road signs to be sure you are on the right road. Also, make sure to keep your bag with you, or at least your most valuable belongings (passport, wallet, camera). If you are traveling in pair, it’s a good idea to have one stay in the vehicle chatting with the driver while the other one gets your bags out. This avoids the chances that they might make off with everything you have. It might sound a bit paranoid, but when traveling, it’s better to be safe than sorry!It’s better to hitch-hike with another person, but hitching solo is usually fine, even as a woman. As long as you use your best judgment and stay aware of your surroundings, you should always have a great time. I have met some very interesting characters on my travels, including a classical Corsican musician, a dairy farmer (and tow-truck driver on the side), and many new parents (I don’t know why, but I’ve been picked up by tons of dads, some with their little ones in the car! Children = good sign). Don’t be afraid to ask questions; people are usually very happy to talk to visitors about their culture and their region, and they’d probably love to hear about where you come from as well. On that note, some drivers might prefer silence; in which case, be quiet!

Sometimes your ride will come  equipped with sweet boat memorabilia, and that’s the only ice breaker anyone really needs.

Although hitching is a perfect way to travel cheaply on a budget, try to compensate your driver in some way, especially if they are taking you a far distance or going a bit out of their way for you. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, and compensation is not usually expected from hitch-hikers, but a nice gesture is always appreciated. Offer them an extra snack you might have or buy your driver a coffee if you stop at a rest area. And don’t forget to pay it forward. Next time you see someone thumbing for a ride, give it a second thought. You might make a new friend!
About the author: Carmella has been meandering across sea and land since she was a small tyke. She’s trekked El Camino a few times and lived at sea with her captain father. She’s done more awesome things than we could adequately relay here, so we shall direct you to her blog instead. 


  1. c. d. says:

    love this post–and really love this awesome writer!

  2. PG says:

    I finally took the time to read your By-line
    very nice ;)

Trackbacks for this post

  1. [...] Be creative. I met a guy in Cartagena who was hitchhiking around the world.He hitched on a boat from Africa to South America, and hasn’t paid a dime for [...]

Leave a Comment