Even when you thought you had nailed the fine art of cheap travel, you can go one step further. Don’t bother paying at all. Hitch hiking has held various reputations and many consider it not the safest option. However, if you do your research properly and you play your cards right, it can be a great way to see the country you are in and meet some amazing people along the way. Not to mention, you won’t spend a thing. Although it doesn’t seem to be practices as much as it used to, it’s still popular with Hitch Hiking races taking place all around the globe where participants race from point to point using only their hitched rides. If you’re going to give it a shop, here is what you need to know.
1 – Be patient
The first few cars may not stop and you could easily kill an hour or two just waiting for a ride deepening on a million reasons. Weather, route, where you are, events in the area, what you are wearing, your sex or where you’re going. However, you need to be patient and just wait it out. Your ride will eventually come, you just don’t know when.
2 – Face oncoming traffic
This is a simple one but you should be standing on the right side of the road. In other words, standing on the side of the road that has traffic going in the direction that you want to go. It’s just common sense that people don’t want to stop on the opposite side.
3 – Easy location to access
If cars can’t pull over, they won’t. This usually means big motorways. It’s a real hazard to pull over here with traffic at such high speeds. It also ruled out roads with no hard shoulder. Make ti easy for your driver and it’ll be easier for you. Easy.
4 – Service Stations
Here is a good spot as cars are pulling over and you can approach drivers yourself. Be brave, confident and just harass too much. You’ll have a lot more luck here than on the side of the road.
5 – Location
Every country is different and some are more familiar than others with the concept. Thumbs up in China isn’t all that well known and you may need to opt for a vertical wave that you may think means slow down. Even when they stop, you now have a language barrier to contend with. In saying that, smiles and friendly gestures have worked and two Canadians I met managed a good distance through western China. Do a little digging around online before you go.
6 – Route
Take a busy route. You want as much traffic going by as possible to increase your chances of getting picked up. It’s obvious but even if it’s a little of your route, you have a better chance of getting nearer to your destination. Getting near is better than staying in the same place.
7 – Maps
Cary a decent map, regional if you can. No point in carrying city maps as, when you get there it’s much easier to manoeuvre around or you are within walking distance. Don’t rely on your tech to stay alive if you have to spend an hour or more thumbing. Ideally go for a 1:1000000 ratio map. The names of highways are important
8 – Visible
Visibility helps you get noticed but do it safely, don’t be overly distracting or put yourself at danger of getting hit by a passing vehicle. Wear bright colours if you can. Some hitch hikers say it makes you more likeable and less threatening than wearing dark colours. There’s not much evidence to support this though. Also if you look well-to-do, then you are going to have a better chance of getting picked up. Wear a tux and stand at the side of a road and you have a great chance of getting picked up as you’ll definitely be striking their curiosity. Not that wearing a Tux is practical but you get my drift.
9 – Happy Hitcher
When I was giving a talk to 500 Indians in Delhi, my speech coach before hand gave out to me for not smiling. She told me that if you smile, you are instantly more likeable. This is very true and especially when hitch hiking. People want to pick someone up that looks happy and may even lift their mood. Happiness draws attention. Jump up and down, sing a song or do a dance. Look like you are having fun. It also helps you get some badly needed, extra attention. Listen, what have you got to lose. You’re hitch hiking after all.
10 – Timing
Use your head and give plenty of time when you are hitch hiking. If you have somewhere to be then this might not be the best option for you. You don’t know when you will get picked up, what route you are taking or how long it’s going to take you to get there. If you do have a deadline…. book a bus.
11 – Eye contact
You want to connect with your driver so that you can give them the trust to pick you up. Take of those sun glasses so your eyes are visible and if you are wearing a hat, lift it high away from your forehead to give them a better look. Flaunt those beautiful eyes of yours/
12 – Make conversation
The driver most likely didn’t stop while on they way to somewhere they needed to be, just to carry dead weight from A to B. They may have had a long drive and need entertainment or else they might have just had a bad day and need company. Either way, start making conversation, keep them chatting, tell them a good story, ask them questions and if you think they aren’t into talking, give them the space and crack out a book. Read the situation and make sure they are happy. They can pull over at any time and demand you to get out. So avoiding that is probably a good idea…
13 – Weather
If it’s roasting out, stand in the shade but stay in sight. If it’s raining, have an umbrella or stand under a tree. If it’s raining, it’s your lucky day, people are more likely to give you a sympathy lift. Guilt or not, it works. I read somewhere that a guy once used a big gallon tank cut in half and hinged with his belongings inside. Drivers would stop thinking he was another driver who ran run out of fuel and had great success. I’m not saying you should try this approach but pulling on the heart strings can be a good approach.
14 – Make a sign
What you put on your sign will make a big difference. Put a destination on there that’s too far and you lower your chances of getting picked up by a driver who is going that distance. Too close and you’ll never get to where you are going. Often times a direction or indeed a highway is plenty to let them know where you are headed. Make the sign big and clear. If you are efficient, a small white board and marker that you can use again and again will come in handy.
15 – Don’t be afraid to say no
So you spent hours thumbing and eventually someone pulled over. You don’t like of the look of them and you feel uneasy. In this situation, never be afraid to say no. Just politely say, you’ve changed your mind. Text the number plate to a friend and let them know you’ve been picked up. If it gets awkward, ask them to pull over so you can go to the toilet and get out. Then say you’ve decided to go a separate way, be vague and thank them for their help thus far.
16 – Respect
If you are lucky enough to have someone pick you up and haul you around, be nice. Don’t put your feet up on the dash, take your shoes off, spit, cough openly or anything else that might annoy them. Be clean, bring your rubbish with you, ask for permission to do things and be nice. You’re getting a free ride so being nice and entertaining them is how you pay your way.
17 – Avoid certain topics
When keeping conversation going for so long, it can be almost too easy to fall into topics like religion or politics. If there is two topics in the world that can divide two happy people quickly enough, it’s these two. Dance around them as much as possible and if faced with it, give no opinion if you can or do at your own risk. You never know who is who when you step into their car.
18 – Long distances
Your best bet for getting a long haul is to get vehicles doing the exact same thing. This means trucks, holiday vans and haulage vehicles. Truck stops rate a great place to pick these up and if you stand outside the food court or shop with your sign, you might have some luck. Most people feel much happier after eating a meal.