14 Methods to Safely Hitchhike Throughout the US

Matthew Karsten hitchhiking in the USA holding a sign offering free cookies
Up to date: 8/18/18 | August 18th, 2018

My first expertise with hitchhiking was in Belize. Again in 2005, I hitchhiked your entire nation, because it was the commonest method locals obtained round. In the event that they had been doing it, why not me? It was a whole lot of enjoyable and far simpler and safer than I assumed it might be. Since then, I’ve hitchhiked round a handful of nations and met some fascinating (and never so fascinating) folks. Hitchhiking remains to be a well-liked and customary method many individuals worldwide get round, nevertheless it evokes a whole lot of fears and considerations, particularly amongst Westerners. At present, Matt Karsten from expertvagabond.com shares his expertise hitchhiking round the US and recommendation about how one can safely do it too. Enter Matt.

It was a cold and overcast day on the Oregon coast once I nervously caught my thumb out on the aspect of Route 101. For the following 20 minutes, drivers handed me time and again — most with seems to be of disgust on their faces. However I stored on smiling. Would anybody cease for me? Was I losing my time? I wasn’t fully certain.

Ultimately my persistence paid off, and an enormous orange pickup truck screeched to a cease in a cloud of mud. A wave of pleasure rushed over me as I jogged as much as meet CJ and her canine, Set off. My first journey!

But this was simply the primary of many such nice surprises on my journey.

CJ wasn’t going far, solely to the following city. Once I requested why she stopped, she defined that I appeared comparatively regular and that she’d additionally performed some solo hitchhiking in Montana when she was youthful. This could grow to be a typical theme over the following 5 weeks. Drivers will usually cease so that you can pay again kindness they acquired previously.

Earlier than I left on my mission to hitchhike throughout the US from coast to coast, I used to be informed that nobody picks hitchhikers up anymore. They mentioned that it was harmful lately, and that the golden period of hitchhiking was, sadly, over.

However after 5 weeks, 3,500 miles, 36 rides (from each women and men), a bike, a ship, an airplane, a freight prepare, and a tractor trailer, I can say that these folks had been incorrect. In case you’ve at all times dreamed of hitchhiking however are uncertain of methods to do it, the place to start, and methods to keep secure, listed here are 14 tricks to hitchhike sensible:

Be Assured

At all times look drivers within the eye and smile as they cross. Not in a loopy axe-murderer method, however in a pleasant and personable method. Smiling is essential. Faux the following automobile is a buddy who’s planning to choose you up. Attempt waving hi there or holding your gaze expectantly as they drive previous. You actually solely have a second or two to make a optimistic impression. Consider it as a drive-by job interview, with solely your eyes, look, and physique language to information the opposite particular person’s resolution. Smiling for 3 hours straight within the solar or rain regardless of a continuing stream of rejection isn’t straightforward, however you’ll get higher at it. In case you look nervous or scared, you’ll appeal to the incorrect kind of individuals, so be assured.

Look Presentable

Two guys posing in front of an airplane with a backpack and a thumbs up
Nobody desires to choose up a lazy, stinky-looking hobo. Costume in mild or shiny garments. Keep away from carrying black in the event you can. Don’t put on sun shades (folks must see your eyes), and hold your arms out of your pockets. Don’t smoke, drink, or sit down on the aspect of the street.

Moreover, many drivers choose up individuals who look much like themselves. I used to be having a tough time getting a journey on the border of Colorado and Kansas till I purchased myself an inexpensive cowboy hat! Quickly after that strategic buy, a trucker couple from rural Tennessee pulled over and proceeded to drive me 1,200 miles over the course of two days, nation music enjoying all of the whereas.

Select a Good Spot

A hammock tied between two trees and a backpack sitting on the ground
Automobiles is not going to cease for you if they’ll’t do it safely. Interstate on-ramps are nice as a result of vehicles aren’t shifting very quick and there’s often room to tug over. Different good areas embody intersections with stoplights or a cease signal and gasoline stations. The longer a driver can get a superb have a look at you, the higher. Maintain an eye fixed out for shady areas with safety from the solar, too. When you have Web entry in your telephone, Google Maps in satellite tv for pc view will present you the place the perfect on-ramps are.

Hitchhiking out of massive cities may be very tough, and generally utilizing public transportation to get to the outskirts is the best choice. There are some locations the place it’s nearly inconceivable to get a journey, equivalent to spots close to delicate authorities services (staff are forbidden to choose folks up), prisons, or neighborhoods with excessive crime charges.

Make Dialog

There are various the reason why folks choose up hitchhikers. Possibly they’re bored and wish to hearken to enjoyable journey tales. Possibly they had been as soon as hitchhikers and wish to share their expertise (and karma) with you. Possibly they’ll attempt to convert you to Christianity/Islam/Scientology. Possibly they need assistance staying awake on an extended drive.

Offering good dialog is the way you pay these folks again for his or her generosity. It may additionally result in a free lunch, drinks, or perhaps even a suggestion to host you for the night time. Ed the yacht builder was the final journey on my cross-country journey, and he spent his complete afternoon giving me a private tour of the Maryland coast earlier than taking me out for dinner and drinks at his favourite seafood restaurant.

Be Ready

At all times pack sufficient meals and water to final a day, in case you get caught in the midst of nowhere. I prefer to carry a couple of bananas, apples, tortillas, tuna, refried beans, and perhaps a bundle of cookies to share. A filtered water bottle will allow you to safely drink from rivers and ponds. Take a few dark-colored everlasting markers to create indicators, some sunscreen, a primary help package, heat garments, and a rain jacket.

A USB automobile charger and exterior battery to your cell phone is a good suggestion too. They’re good for listening to music, checking Google Maps, or calling for assist in an emergency. A light-weight tenting hammock or bivy sack will allow you to get monetary savings on lodging. I steadily camped within the woods on the aspect of the street or behind church buildings on my journey.

Use a Cardboard Signal

Guy in a dumpster holding up a piece of cardboard for his hitchhiking sign with a truck passing
A easy cardboard signal indicating a city close by helps loads. Maintain it quick and write in giant capital letters with a Sharpie marker. It must be readable at a distance from a fast-moving car. Use locations which are comparatively shut (inside 20–50 miles), and also you’ll be extra more likely to rating rides. You possibly can then negotiate longer ones contained in the car if the motive force goes farther in your supposed course.

Humorous indicators work nicely too. A couple of profitable ones I used had been: “Free Cookies,” “Gained’t Kill You,” and “Rabies-Free Since June.” That final signal was humorous sufficient that Dan, a retired theater actor and pharmaceutical govt, had already pushed to the following exit when he modified his thoughts and rotated to return get me!

Yow will discover cardboard for indicators at any gasoline station or fast-food restaurant, both by asking inside or by opening up the dumpster within the again.

Select Your Experience Fastidiously

You’re below no obligation to get into each automobile that stops for you. Is the motive force in a superb temper? Are they wanting you within the eyes? Are they sober? How many individuals are within the automobile? In case you don’t really feel snug accepting a journey, thank the motive force and say no. Make up an excuse if you must. Faux to be sick, or clarify that you just’d reasonably look forward to an extended journey. Belief your intestine instincts. By myself journey, I solely turned down one journey. I used to be in a sketchy neighborhood (prostitutes had been strolling round in the midst of the day), and the car that stopped was a truck full of 4 younger guys, with the scent of weed pouring from the home windows. They had been additionally solely headed to the following exit. Odds are good I’d’ve been effective, however the scenario didn’t really feel proper and I made a decision to attend for a greater alternative.

Use Widespread Sense

At all times put on your seatbelt, and if the particular person begins driving erratically, keep calm and well mannered however ask to be set free on the subsequent secure pullover spot. Keep away from hitchhiking (or selecting up hitchhikers) at night time. Not solely is it very tough to cease on the aspect of the street safely after darkish, nevertheless it’s additionally a lot tougher to see pedestrians at night time. To not point out, persons are more likely to commit crimes below the duvet of darkness.

Keep Constructive

Two guys on a motorcycle, on a motorcycle owner, the other is a hitchhiker in America
Hitchhiking is certainly a psychological problem. You’re placing your self on the market in public whereas partaking in an exercise that isn’t thought of mainstream. You’ll be judged by everybody who passes you, usually in a adverse method. Folks will snicker, flip you off, yell, honk, rev their engines, or perhaps even throw matters.

Keep in Management

Predators prey on weak spot and insecurity. Don’t make your self a simple goal. Costume conservatively and steer sexual subjects to one thing unsexy. Make it crystal clear you’re solely concerned about attending to your vacation spot, and nothing else. Preserve an aura of confidence.

Maintain your valuables on or close to your physique so in the event you should escape shortly, you don’t lose them. Keep away from placing your bag within the trunk if attainable, so the motive force can’t take off earlier than you may seize it. Snap a fast picture of the again of the automobile together with your telephone earlier than you get in, then ship it to a buddy or your Twitter account. As soon as contained in the automobile, discover a second to name a buddy and inform them the place you’re and the place you’re headed so the motive force can hear you doing it.

Keep away from Arguments

Hitchhiknig sign saying that Montana Won't Kill You
Attempt to keep away from speaking to your driver (or hitchhiker) about politics, faith, race, or different controversial topics, at the least till you get to know one another a bit and might gauge how they could react. You don’t wish to provoke them into changing into indignant or emotional whereas behind the wheel. In the event that they try to start out a dialog on these subjects, attempt to change the topic or give boring/obscure solutions to their questions till they lose curiosity otherwise you really feel snug speaking about them. That is how I responded to Captain Kitty Litter’s overly racist remarks and questions. Despite the fact that I disagreed along with his views, I simply type of nodded alongside and let him discuss.

Hitchhike with a Buddy

If it’s your first time hitchhiking and also you’re notably nervous about it, attempt hitching with another person who’s performed it earlier than. This can be a unbelievable solution to be taught the ropes and get extra snug. Whereas it may be tougher to get somebody to cease for 2 hitchhikers, it’s going to at all times be a bit safer. I’m not saying to not go alone, however in the event you’re nervous about security, hitchhiking with a buddy may be a great way to start out out.

Count on to Wait

Male hitchhiker with a female driver riding along the road in a top-down convertible
My common wait time whereas hitchhiking throughout the US was about an hour. However there have been some days when it took 2–3 hours or extra. You have to be ready to attend in a single spot for at the least a couple of hours. Nevertheless, there have been additionally many occasions once I was picked up after solely 15 minutes. You simply by no means know the way lengthy it’s going to take.

In case you’re in a very dangerous spot, it would take days to get picked up, which occurred to me as soon as exterior Denver. I spent two nights in a motel ready to get out of there. Are you getting sick of ready? Possibly take a break and go do one thing else to interrupt up the time. Having tenting gear with you may assist in these conditions too. Strolling a couple of miles to the following exit or catching a taxi to a greater location are additionally choices.

Shield Your self

You’ll nearly actually by no means want to make use of it, however packing a weapon of some form to assist with self-defense is at all times a good suggestion. I prefer to carry pepper spray together with me. When Captain Kitty Litter began telling me concerning the time he threw one other hitchhiker out of his shifting automobile, I subtly positioned one hand in my pocket the place pepper spray was hidden (simply in case). Fortunately I by no means wanted to make use of it!

My skilled hitchhiker buddy Shannon carries a stun gun brazenly on her belt (this may be unlawful in some states). Nevertheless, a easy pen shoved into the ear or eyes of an assailant ought to work in a pinch too. For my part, a knife shouldn’t be your first alternative for self-defense except you’ve been skilled to make use of it, as it could actually simply be turned towards you if the scenario takes a flip for the more severe. Please notice that utilizing a weapon is an absolute final resort — solely use it when communication doesn’t work and also you actually worry to your life.

Is Hitchhiking Secure?

Hitchhiking has grow to be progressively extra uncommon over time. Irrational fears about hitchhiking are introduced on by paranoid horror tales promoted aggressively by the information after which changed into motion pictures by Hollywood. Dangerous information is what sells, in order that’s what we’re uncovered to. I’m nonetheless ready for CNN to do a narrative about my profitable hitchhiking journey, however I’m not holding my breath. I had a beautiful time, met nice folks, and nothing dangerous occurred. It’s not sensational sufficient to be thought of information.

Based mostly by myself expertise and after listening to different folks’s hitchhiking tales, it’s doubtless that some weirdos will choose you up. However not often will it lead to a harmful scenario. Out of 36 totally different rides throughout my very own journey, I had perhaps two or three “odd” (socially awkward) drivers.

I used to be informed numerous occasions that hitchhiking can be harmful. Whereas it’s sensible to be ready for worst-case eventualities, in actuality you don’t have to fret about these horror tales an excessive amount of. The general public I met whereas hitchhiking had been pleasant, fascinating, and filled with entertaining tales. However that doesn’t imply it’s best to let your guard down.

Whereas hitchhiking isn’t practically as harmful as some folks make it out to be, there may be danger concerned. In case you select to have interaction on this exercise, you’re accepting these dangers. Crimes are dedicated towards hitchhikers now and again, in addition to towards drivers (though a lot much less steadily).

In case you ever really feel threatened or uncomfortable when you’re already within the car, first ask the motive force to cease and allow you to out on the subsequent exit or gasoline station. Make up an excuse if you wish to. If the motive force nonetheless fails to cease, remind them that you just despatched a photograph of the automobile and plate quantity to buddies. In an absolute emergency, you may at all times seize the steering wheel or handbrake and trigger a small accident. Bear in mind, solely use these strategies as a final resort, once you genuinely worry to your life. Even small accidents can kill you or another person. It’s not one thing to take evenly.

One Last Authorized Word

Hitchhiking in the US is authorized. The confusion lies with the United States Uniform Automobile Code. The regulation states:

“No particular person shall stand in a roadway for the aim of soliciting a journey.”

Sounds unlawful, proper? Sure — till you learn its definition of “roadway:”

“That portion of a freeway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular journey, unique of the sidewalk, berm or shoulder though such sidewalk, berm or shoulder is utilized by individuals using bicycles or different human powered automobiles.”

What does that imply? It’s unlawful to face instantly on the street (for apparent security causes), however standing on the aspect of the street, the shoulder, or a sidewalk is okay.

Every state additionally has its personal legal guidelines, although, and some particularly ban hitchhiking. These embody New York, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wyoming.

Nevertheless, getting caught hitchhiking in these states doesn’t essentially imply you’ll go to jail. Cops might cease and query you, provide you with a warning, or effective you. In truth, hitchhikers might expertise this from authorities even in states the place it’s technically authorized, attributable to ignorance of the regulation or boredom.

Man standing on the beach with 3 girls in bikinis and a cardboard hitchhiking sign saying THE END

Hitchhiking will certainly be a problem. However it’s going to additionally open your thoughts, construct your confidence, train you endurance, and introduce you to new buddies. There’s one thing magical concerning the open street and the uncertainty that comes with protruding your thumb with no plans.

You can meet a pleasant schoolteacher who’s by no means picked anybody up or an ex-con with hilarious tales to share. Or perhaps you’ll meet the inventor of the Final Pancake Sandwich. I used to be picked up in fancy Land Rovers, an airplane, a ship, a bike, and a automobile held along with duct tape. You don’t know who will cease, if anybody will cease, or how your day will unfold when somebody finally does. That’s what makes hitchhiking so particular. It’s the unknown.

It’s an absolute curler coaster journey filled with feelings: thrilling one minute, then fully discouraging the following. However ultimately, hitchhiking would possibly simply be one in every of your most memorable or rewarding journey experiences, because it has been for me. I’ll always remember the sensation of accomplishment I skilled when leaping into the Atlantic Ocean on the finish of my lengthy journey.

Helpful Assets for Hitchhiking

For extra info on the legality of hitchhiking, journey reviews, organized meet-ups, and route maps from all over the world, try HitchWiki.org and Reddit Hitchhiking.

To find lodging whereas hitchhiking, you need to use Couchsurfing.org to satisfy native folks keen to share their houses with strangers in trade for fascinating dialog. You’ll certainly be capable to present some after a couple of days of hitchhiking.

Matthew Karsten has been vagabonding all over the world since 2010. Hooked on journey journey and images, he’s on a mission to encourage your subsequent journey with entertaining tales and pictures from his travels. Learn extra about his five-week hitchhiking journey throughout America at ExpertVagabond.com.

E book Your Journey: Logistical Suggestions and Methods

E book Your Flight
Discover a low cost flight through the use of Skyscanner or Momondo. They’re my two favourite search engines like google and yahoo. Begin with Momondo.

E book Your Lodging
You possibly can guide your hostel with Hostelworld. If you wish to keep elsewhere, use Reserving.com as they constantly return the most cost effective charges. (Right here’s the proof.)

Don’t Neglect Journey Insurance coverage
Journey insurance coverage will shield you towards sickness, harm, theft, and cancellations. I by no means ever go on a visit with out it. I’ve been utilizing World Nomads for ten years. It’s best to too.

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