10 steps for successful hitchhiking

Just in case there are any first time hitchhikers out there at the moment… This post has been dwelling as a draft of mine for quite a while now, but as I haven’t written anything in weeks and since the theme of this month’s seikkailijattaret.fi magazine is also on the road, I decided to finally publish this simple guide on successful hitchhiking with 10 easy steps.

Hitchhiking is fun, but there are some things to keep in mind before sticking out your thumb (or in some countries waiving your hand) on the side of the road. I’ve learned all these through trial and error during the past 16 years, but unless you want to, you don’t have to go through all the trouble. Just read this post.

1. Get yourself a thick marker

Destination sigs are often very useful. Yet, it’s no fun trying to write to write a sign with a thin ballpoint pen or a pencil on a white sheet of paper in a moving car. Therefore, prepare for the trip with investing on a good, thick, visible marker. As for the background, white reflects a lot of light and a thin paper moves constantly with wind, so I always prefer using brown cardboard. This can be found at nearly all gas stations and often also on the side or roads.

2. Write down your destination

It’s good to write down a place, but it’s bad if no one knows it. So, if you’re going to e.g. Äkäslompolo, it’s better to write down the name of a bigger city near it. Also, don’t write down a destination which is too far from where you are. As a rule of thumb, 200kms from where you are is good. It’s easier for drivers to take a stranger on a two-hour-ride than if they know they’ll be spending six hours with you. You can always tell your destination to the driver once already in the car, and see if he/she offers to take you there.

3. Choose your spot well

The best places for hitchhiking are such where cars can see you and where it’s safe for them to stop. In cities, it’s a good idea to head for the suburbs, as hitchhiking out from the center of the city is nearly impossible (there are just too many options for where the cars may be going). Unless you’re leaving from a city or deliberately wanting to visit one, avoid entering cities altogether and get out of the previous car before your driver takes an exit for the city. You can do this e.g. at a gas station, as hitchhiking on highways is generally forbidden (although usually works well…). For more info on hitchhiking spots, see hitchwiki.

4. Carry a paper map with you

It’s a good idea to carry at least some kind of an old-fashioned paper map with you. This is due to map apps using up the battery life of a phone surprisingly fast. So, unless you want to be left on the road without a phone (and subsequently a map), buy yourself a cheap map. As for those map apps, I personally love maps.me, which works like a charm without internet or phone connections.

5. If in a hurry, avoid small roads

Although I generally don’t think rush and hitchhiking go well together, it’s a good idea to avoid small roads if you’re in a hurry. It’s better to turn down a few extra kilometers than end up waiting for cars for hours and hours on an empty road. However, the good news is that it’s often that one car on an empty road which will most likely pick you up, aware that there are no others coming along on behind it.

6. Try not to look too scrubby

Everyone knows a hitchhiker has usually been on the road for some time and is, therefore, not always the freshest sight to see. Yet, for your own sake, it’s great not to look way too scrubby. It just might make some drivers turn you down, that’s all. Especially those who have neither hitchhiked nor ever picked up a hitchhiker before.

7. Consider having company

Even though I’ve never had huge problems in getting a lift within the past 16 years, there are some tendencies in who drivers like to pick up: two girls awake trust, so does a “couple” (man and woman, who people automatically assume is a couple). Three people is already a lot (as many don’t have the space in their cars), but if it’s three women, it still works. As a single female it can be a bit more tricky, as e.g. some truck companies don’t let their workers pick up single female hitchhikers (in avoidance of false rape accusations). I don’t have experience in hitchhiking as a solo male (because I’m a woman), but I assume it’s a bit more difficult (simply because a man is seen physically as more of a threat than a woman). And two men? Probably the most difficult, yet still not impossible.

8. Let someone know where you are

With modern technology, it’s not a bad idea to let someone know where you are (if you can). Take a picture of the license plate of the car before stepping in and send it to someone you know. You can also turn the GPS of your phone on, if you have such. Just for extra safety, let the driver know what you have just done. (I’ve never had problems so far, but traveling alone as a female I’ve had a couple of proposals for sex from male truck drivers. Therefore, I’ve started doing this and carrying pepper spray with me at all times.)

9. Take your belongings inside

This is a personal preference, but when I get a ride, I like to take all my valuables inside. I suggest doing this, just in case the driver decided to drive off without you. Hasn’t ever happened to me, but nevertheless, I still wouldn’t want to have all my personal items shut inside the trunk of a stranger. Taking them inside also makes it easier for you to grab them with you when e.g. going to the toilet if traveling with someone who you don’t fully trust (as opposed to asking the driver to open the trunk because “you need something”…).

10. Use common sense

The good old saying goes also for hitchhiking: if something seems suspicious, it probably is. There’s nothing that forces you to step inside a stranger’s car, so if you don’t feel comfortable with it, don’t. Trust your intuition and use common sense. (E.g. if traveling alone as a female, reconsider getting into a car with four men on a small isolated road on a Saturday night.)

See also my Visual Guide to Understanding Drivers. And, if Urban hitchhiking is a new concept to you, check this out!

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.