Don’t be surprised when people tell you, you are insane or crazy when you tell your friends and family, that you are going hitchhiking alone. Even better, people will actually pull over when you are showing thumbs up while holding your sign, just to warn you about all the dangers that are out there waiting for you.
In most, if not all cases people base their opinion on a story that they saw on TV, heard from a friend’s friend or overheard in the hair salon from Louise who was getting her perm done. The TV would not sell if it only screened positive news. “Good evening London, today 1478 hitchhikers made it safely to their destination.” Unless they tried it and got into trouble…even then…they are still here to tell you what happened, it could not have been fatal, am I right? Of course, taking safety precautions was my first step the minute I decided to do this trip, problems can arise. Life on the road is not any more dangerous than life in any big city after darkness descends, in my experience.
Here are my stats of 25 days hitchhiking:
- 8000 km
- 40 cars
- 4 lorries
- 8 countries
- Highways and national roads
Here are 11 tips to help you catch a ride – 100% Hitchhiker tested:
Tip 1 – Pack light and only the necessary
You might need to buy a few things, but trust me it will make your trip easier and your backpack lighter. My slogan for hitchhiking would be: #onlytheminimum
What to pack:
I won’t mention the obvious, sleeping bag, sleeping roll, travel credit card, hand sanitizer…etc. I will focus on some specifics instead.
- A 2.5L rubber water sack for easy access water that changes its shape in my bag depending on level of water. Why was this useful? It doesn’t make plastic noises, it has a tube over my shoulder to take easy sips and I can choose not to fill it full for more space
- Travel sized towel. This is a must.
- Pepper spray in the side pocket
- Decoy wallet and decoy phone while the valuables are well hidden
- Always have some food on you, power bars, puffed rice, anything that does not go bad, light and small
- Girls, only one dress. No, you are never going to wear the second, it just takes up space
- Thick pen and papers
This lesson was learned on the trip as my bag was way overweight, 18 kg.
Tip 2 – Talk, don’t wait
Instead of only sticking with the old-fashioned holding the sign with a thumbs up, talk to people. Trust me, when they have space in the car and they are going in the right direction, they won’t refuse to take you.
|Holding the sign method||Talking to people|
|Average waiting time (alone for a girl…)|
|20-25 minutes||5-8 minutes|
Tip 3 – How to approach people
Smile, smile and…hm there was something else I forgot. Ah yes, smile. You genuinely need to be in a great mood, so if you are having a bad day, take a train. After a short experiment, I found this worked every time for me:
- Hi, excuse me, are you going towards XYZ? (With a Colgate smile on my face) Do you have 1 space left in your car? I would love to come with you.
Also look decent, be clean, tidy, wear presentable clothes and this could be a challenge on the road, but try not to be stinky. Every petrol station has a bathroom, use it.
Tip 4 – Proper pen and paper use
Make a sign and display it on your backpack. This increases your chances of getting picked up, as you are searching for a ride combining different methods. I had plenty of people coming up to me saying they saw the sign on my back while I was talking to someone and they wanted to take me.
Make sure you write a destination that is no further than 150-200 km and if you are stuck on the wrong side of the road or on a small petrol station just write in the local language “next petrol station”. That sign got me out of trouble at least 3-4 times.
Tip 5 – Share your food and your story
As you are getting free rides, your story will be your currency, engage with your driver. Share your story or listen to theirs, or just simply let them practice their language skills. Some drivers are interested in only that. You never know when will you meet a new friend, business opportunity or someone who adds value to your life, so stay engaging.
Sharing food has a different purpose. According to science, people tend to eat to seek comfort, sometimes in stressful situations. On that chain of thought, you are sending a subconscious message about your level of comfort (also increasing your chances of avoiding danger) and it builds more trust. Eat a little to get comfortable and share to gain trust.
Tip 6 – Highway vs. National roads
Highways work best if you are looking to cover great distances with relatively easy access to cars, trucks and petrol stations with bathrooms and food. Personally the most I covered in a day was 1150 km. Mainly with trucks.
National roads are great to meet more people and depending on the country, it is easy to get picked up the minute you flash your sign, but it takes ages to get from A to B and you might not see a petrol station for a very long time. If you choose the road well, you might get amazing views you would not have from a highway, but I personally wouldn’t choose it again. I covered 200 km in 9 hours.
Tip 7 – Accept that it might get uncomfortable on occasions
Never lose motivation, the right car will come. It always does, the question is when. I had some very low moments over the trip where I was about to give it all up; when I slept next to a train because the station was closed, when I was very tired from not sleeping for 2 nights, when I walked for 7 km with my 18 kg backpack off road on the boiling hot sun and had to climb over fences, when getting out of a big city took me 5 hours…I could go on and on about all the hardships I faced, but I never gave up.
Remind yourself why you started hitchhiking at the first place, listen to your ‘get psyched music’ and enjoy the challenge. It is all in your head. When it gets hard, – and it will – it means you are outside of your comfort zone, learning life lessons and defeating monsters. That sense of accomplishment will be one of the 3 main rewards I will talk about shortly.
Tip 8 – Leaving a major city aka the ring road challenge
Being wiser than before this experience, I would not recommend getting into big cities just for a night. If you don’t actually want to visit the city and you only need a place to crash, choose a small town or sleep on the highway, but getting out of a metropolis is a pain in the ass. Most of these giants have a ring road around them, aim to stay on it, or outside of it. Simply because there is international traffic. Within the ring road, your chances are very slim for finding someone who is getting on the highway.
Milan (Italy) challenged me twice. When I went into the center, what a mistake that was! It took me about 5 hours to leave the Milan area and the whole city was cooperating to get me out of there. Free taxi ride, the bus taking a different route, Polish hitchhikers’ advice and many more. Madrid (Spain) was the same experience, after a short train ride, I reached the outskirts and even then I had to walk the 7 km off-road. The ‘get psyched mix’ came in handy to keep my positive energy flowing.
Tip 9 – Avoid hitchhiking during the night
Less traffic, tired people behind wheels are unsafe, you seem dodgy to them, no one can see your sign. The night is so challenging you just set yourself up for losing motivation. Don’t let this happen, go to bed.
Tip 10 – Don’t judge a book by its cover
How often do you look at someone and think “that guy must know where that place is”, “that woman must be having a bad day, I rather not ask her anything”. Wrong! I got rides from people who had faces like life is painful and when we started talking they cheered up. You are the highlight of their day, you might influence or inspire them for the rest of their lives. People have so much good in their hearts and you can’t judge that just by taking a glance at them.
Remember, when you are having a low moment that shows on your face, but when someone smiles at you on the street you can forget all your troubles. The same principle applies here – a grumpy old Russian man with a car older than me drove me for 400 km and dropped me in Madrid at the address I needed to go to, which was way out of his way. Dare to ask people for rides regardless of their appearances.
Tip 11 – Self-reflection – open mind equals open doors
Traveling changes you, hitchhiking is just a form of travel. You will put your faith and trust in people, you will share a part of you with strangers, you will overcome huge obstacles, sometimes literally, but more often psychological roadblocks. On top of all, you will develop into a new you. Your current lifestyle ends and a new starts, just like a chapter in a book. It sounds vague and mushy, but you must be prepared for an incredible shift within.
Now, do you remember the very first sentence I started this post with? Go back and read it.
You will not only prove people that impossible is possible but most importantly you will prove to yourself. You will peel off the layer of fear, self-doubt, low confidence and many more layers that hold you back in life. Hitchhiking is a great way to search for answers to questions like these:
- What do I want out of my life?
- What am I passionate about?
- What do I fear and why?
- How far can I push my limits?
- Who can I become?
The trip has changed me forever. Traveling is the best education you can get, a custom-tailored course for self-development and self-discovery.
To wrap this up, let me tell you about the 3 main rewards I experienced which made the experience unforgettable:
- Sense of achievement
- Self-development and confidence
- Clear goals for the future
The road answered questions I never asked before, simply because I wasn’t aware. Learning about my own limitations and making connections between deep thoughts opened my mind. Coming home with newly gained courage, confidence and future goals. I’m tackling bigger and bigger challenges fearlessly.
Listening to what the world is telling me to do is all I have to do now. Hence, a new blog. An entirely new person was born on the road. The journey changed me for the better, brought ambitions, confidence, open-mindedness out of me and I can only recommend you take some time off and find your own way to open the tap of positive thoughts and energy. Lastly, when you do, I would love to hear about your experience and share it with this community.