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Hitchhiking for dummies: 11 tips

It’s a bit of a cliché image: a rugged backpacker stands by the side of the road – backpack slumped beside them, thumb in the air. As a child, I sometimes spotted them from the back seat of the car, although they are quite rare in Belgium due to our limited backpacking options. Until then, a very far-from-my-bed-show.
Later, I heard low-budget travel stories from friends who traveled the world for years, hitchhiking from one beautiful place to another. Free of charge! It all sounded so straightforward that I never realized hitchhiking also comes with its own set of rules. Because: how do you actually increase your chances of getting a ride? And perhaps even more importantly: how do you do it in the safest way possible?
Today, I present: hitchhiking for dummies. Do you consider yourself a dummy? That will change quickly!

Ahem, part 1: How to increase your chances of getting a ride?

Ah, the moment when after hours of thumbing, you finally see a car stop… only to discover that it’s not going your way. Or you’ve neatly made a sign with your destination in big letters, but no car seems to stop. If only there were some tips you could apply to improve your chances of getting a good ride. Good news: there are!

1. Choose a good location
It all starts with the location where you position yourself. Ideally, you stand in a place where the right cars pass by and where those cars can easily stop. So, avoid highways (duh), one-way streets with only one lane, or streets that go in all directions. Instead, choose a spot where there is room for an extra stopped car, on a road that specifically goes in the direction of your destination. A spacious spot just before the entrance to the right highway is ideal!

2. Make a hitchhiking sign
Simply sticking out your thumb as a sign that you’re hitchhiking doesn’t always convince drivers to stop. And if someone does stop, there’s a chance they’re not going in the same direction as you. To prevent that, it’s best to put together a hitchhiking sign. Just a piece of cardboard on which you clearly write the name of your destination in large letters. That makes it clear for the driver and prevents misunderstandings!

    3. Be clean and smile (if you can)
    Drivers naturally prefer hitchhikers who don’t look like uncomfortable company in the car. So make sure you look well-groomed. Put on clean clothes, freshen up a bit, and style your hair nicely. Additionally, try to have an open demeanor when hitchhiking. So go ahead and show that beautiful smile, it’ll come in handy here!

    4. Make eye contact with the driver
    When a car passes by, try to make clear eye contact with the driver. That way, they feel personally addressed and are more likely to decide to stop and give you a ride.

      Ahem ahem, time for part 2! How to increase your safety while hitchhiking?

      Scoring a ride is one thing, but you also want to ensure your safety when getting into a car with a stranger. Fortunately, there are some small tricks that can enhance your safety. Let me list them for you!

      1. Know the country you’re in
      Sure, you know where you are. But do you also know how the culture in this country generally views solo travelers? Or women (if you’re a woman)? Is this a culture where hitchhiking is common, and are women generally safe here, or not? Do some research beforehand about the environment you’re in, and based on that, decide whether it’s safe to hitchhike alone.

      2. Trust your instinct
      If a car stops and you don’t have a good feeling about the person driving it, politely decline the offer and say you’re not going to accept the ride after all. If saying no is difficult for you, keep in mind that the discomfort of saying ‘no’ here is much smaller than what you might feel in the car.

      3. Ask where the driver is going first
      Contrary to the ‘make a lift sign’ tip, so this safety rule only applies when you’re hitchhiking with your thumb out: before you share your own destination, it’s wise to first ask the driver where they are headed. This way, you avoid the driver trying to change their plans so you’ll get in. A small trick to make them tell the truth!

        4. Take a photo of the license plate
        Before getting in, it’s a good idea to take a photo of the license plate and send it to a trusted person. Let the driver know that you’re doing this. This has two benefits: firstly, someone else knows where you are and who you’re riding with, and secondly, you can immediately see how the driver reacts to this. Do they react understandingly and with trust, or suspiciously? If the driver reacts suspiciously, it’s wise to be extra cautious (or maybe not ride with them at all).

        5. Don’t put your backpack in the trunk
        Make sure to keep your belongings as close to you as possible and don’t stow your backpack away in the trunk. Ideally, place it in the space by your feet. If that’s not possible, you can place it on the back seat. Keep important items like your wallet, phone, and important documents with you at all times.

        6. Know the route you’ll be taking
        …and occasionally follow it on your GPS while you’re driving. The chance is small, but if the driver unexpectedly takes a detour, you can point it out and take action if necessary.

        7. Find a lift buddy
        The biggest tip: find someone who’s heading in the same direction as you and hitchhike together. Together you’re stronger and less likely to be fooled. That’s true safety!

          There you go, now you’re all set for a hitchhiking adventure. Keep it safe, and above all: enjoy your journey!

          Many kisses, enjoy the hike

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