Golden Hitchhiking Rules
Here the most important rules from my point of view, and some of the questions I hear most often.1. Ask, ask, ask In Germany and many other countries, there is no need to be standing on the side of the road with your thumb out. There are enough traffic lights, gas stations and rest areas around, where you can ask people in a polite way if they are going your way. I hardly ever stand at the side of the road. Exceptions are countries like Australia or New Zealand.
2. Highway rest areas In Europe you have an extensive network of rest areas and gas stations on the highways, in other parts of the world there might be just gas stations. If you hitchhike big distances, never get out at an exit! At rest areas, you can ask people, get cover when it's raining or cold, use the bathrooms. In Europe there is no problem with this, hitchhiking is not illegal.
3. Say no Choose the people that look trustworthy when you ask. You minimize your risk, which definitely exists. It is very small with this way of hitchhiking though. If you don't feel comfortable with someone, just don't ask him/her, there will be enough other cars.
4. Maps Get a good road map/atlas, you will need it. Check out if the rest areas and gas stations can be seen. If you get one for Europe make sure it's detailed enough if you want to do some major hitchhiking.
5. Use buses and trains To get to a highway or to your final destinations it is sometimes necessary to use public transportation. Don't try to hitchhike at all cost, you can cover small distances quickly if you jump on that bus.
6. Don't hitchhike in the center of town Try to hitchhike on roads that lead out of town, there you can often also find traffic lights or gas stations where you can ask people.
7. Not more than 2 people If you try to hitchhike in a group, the drivers will be afraid. Two is the right size - it is fun, and more relaxing, since you can take turns asking and later talking in the car. But of course, hitchiking alone is the easiest way.
8. Overcome your fear In the beginning, everyone is a bit ashamed or afraid to walk up to people and to ask them. But you'll see, after the first, second, third person, it will be quite easy.
9. Be patient Sometimes you will have to wait for some time, but you willalways get away at some point.
10. Be flexible If you are not successful in one place, think, and ask people if there might be better places to hitchhike.
11. Be friendly and clean No explanation needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Isn't it too dangerous? I hear so much in the news these days!
There is definitely a risk when you hitchhike - two unknown persons meet in a very small space. And of course there are crazy killers out there. But chances to pick one of those are really quite small. You can minimize the risk by asking people yourself - that way you choose your driver. If you stand at the side of the road, you will be chosen. In most countries, there are also a lot of cameras at gas stations and rest areas, and a lot of people will see you when you do your asking around.
I read a study of the German equivalent of the FBI somewhere a while ago, in which they found out that short-distance-hitchhikers (going home from the disco and stuff like that) are much more likely to be killed than long-distance-hitchhikers. Makes sense, because in those cases the killer might know his victim. As a hitchhiker you will also quickly learn how to disarm conflicts in the making. I never attack someone in his car, not even with arguments.
The biggest risk for a hitchhiker: to die in a traffic accident.
Should a woman hitchhike by herself?
I used to say no, but I changed my mind, since I have met a few women on the road that did hitchhike by themselves. A woman should be much more careful though - as soon as a female stands at the side of the road, men have different ideas in their heads, than it would be the case if a male was standing there.
But, as I have said before, the way to minimize the risk is to approach people, to ask them yourself. You as a woman could just ask other women, or couples for example. That way the risk should be the same as for men. But generally it is probably true that women are safer if they hitchhike with a male partner.
Do people still pick you up?
Of course. Hitchhiking is still very easy in most parts of the world, especially in Europe (exception are the U.S.). If you are not trying to go into absolutely impossible directions, you will always find people going your way. Of course there are always people that don't want to take you. But generally people are friendly, I hardly ever had problems to get away from places if there were enough cars going my way. So yes, people do still pick hitchhikers up.
O.K., I hope I've wiped away some of your fears and answered some questions you had. If you want to hitchhike yourself, check out the Hitchhiker's Data Base, maybe your home town or your dream destination is already in there. For any other questions, just send me an email.