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Hitch Hiking Rules of Thumb

By Edited Mar 20, 2016 2 0

In January of 2009, I set out on a hitch hiking journey across the US (and some of Canada!)
Going North

Here are some of the tips and tricks I learned on my adventure.

A lot of the people who gave me rides used to hitch hike back in the 50's 60's and 70's.

That's back when you couldn't walk 2 steps without some kind soul offering you a ride.

But it's the 21st century honey and people are generally much more suspicious of hitch hikers.

I've waited up to a day for a ride.

That said, you CAN get rides and get to your destination on the cheap and here are some of the things you'll need to know.

Things You Will Need

- Backpack

- Nalgeen Water Bottle

- Sleeping Bag

- Knife

-A GREAT attitude

- Some cash and/or a credit card

- Resourcefulness

Step 1

If you'd like to get your panties all in a bunch about how people stereotype and it isn't fair, go right ahead.

But it won't move you a single mile from your spot on the highway.

The fact is that people have all of these notions in their head about hitch hikers:

That they're nuts, homeless, criminals, smelly, etc.

If you want to dramatically up your chances of getting rides, you need to address these issues.


First of all, shave.

I've had several people give me rides totaling 100's of miles who said they wouldn't have picked me up BUT they saw what a clean shaven young man I was and decided it was probably OK (even though I'm 6'1'' and rather sturdy).




Step 2

It's not that hard to find a place to brush your teeth and splash some water on your face, hair and armpits in the States.

Almost any gas station, restaurant, etc. will let you use their facilities even if you don't buy anything.

It's inevitable that you'll wind up stinky after spending all day outdoors and showering infrequently, but if you do your best, it's that much more likely that somebody will feel comfortable letting you into their car with them.

Gum is your friend.

If you can afford it, pick moisture wicking clothing for your adventure (you can get these in military surplus and hiking outfitters). These are usually synthetic fabrics that dry in a matter of hours, breathe well and don't retain scents nearly as much as the typical selection of fabrics.

Step 3

For the first few states I went through, I walked with my back to the road with my thumb out.

This is a bad idea for a couple of reasons.

1. You wind up doing a LOT of walking
2. People can't see your face and have a fantastic rationalization not to pick you up
3. It's almost like you're saying "don't give me a ride".

Your feet will kill you after so much walking and the highway isn't all flat either.

Construction, local terrain, road borders all force you to walk on uneven, constantly changing topography. This is just a false sense of progress.

You think you're making up time but you're not.

A much, much better way was suggest to me by a guy from Oregon who, with this girlfriend, gave me a ride and regaled me with his tales of hitchhiking through the Western States.

Stand in a conspicuous place and wave

After I started doing this, my rides came much faster and I didn't have to trudge like a camel anymore.

It's imperative that you find a central location that also has room ahead of you for a driver to pull off the road safely.

Stand and wave at the passing cars with a pleasant look on your face.


Step 4

Ok, so now somebody has pulled over for you. Awesome!

But before eagerly hopping in, you'll need to make sure the driver is OK.

My method was always the following:

I'd come up to the passenger's window and say enthusiastically "Hi! Thanks for stopping! Where are you headed?"

At this point, observe their body language and voice tone carefully.

If they're ambiguous about where they're going, that's a fishy sign. Everybody knows where they're going (except maybe you). They should at least have a highway or cardinal direction in mind (e.g. North, Up through Pennsylvania, etc.)

If they seem sane, say: "Awesome. Would it be OK to ride with you to (your destination)."

Step 5

The understanding between hitch hiker and hitch hikee is that you're getting a free ride.

That said, you can still reimburse your benefactor by providing another kind of value to them: your ear and good vibes.

I highly HIGHLY suggest that you ask a lot of friendly questions (this will also help you get a sense of how sane this person is), talk little and generally allow the other person to confide in you.

The truth is that most of the time we love to hear ourselves talk and talk about our own issues non-stop.

Be different. Be the person who lends an ear to a driver kind enough to transport you at no cost for maybe hundreds of miles who just wants somebody to talk to.

In fact, that's usually the case. Yes, I've had a few men proposition me and I've also had a murderer and drug addict give me a ride.

In this case it's good to play stupid like you couldn't possibly know what they mean.

However, if you can't act this out convincingly, just be firm and use your intuition. You have a knife in your pocket, right? You should!

Hey, nobody said this was 100% full-proof. If you think vegetating at home in your comfort zone is safer, well then, it's your right to stay there.

But look at all the fun you'd missing out on!


Step 6

We're living in a truly amazing time.

You can walk into almost any gas station, anywhere in this entire country and get some decent, healthy food to eat.

I suggest sticking to the healthiest food you can find.

Hitch hiking is exhausting mentally, physically and emotionally.

You're constantly on your toes, looking for solutions and the next step to get to your destination.

Make sure you're putting good fuel in the engine:

Sandwiches (whole wheat bread beats white), trail mix, muscle milk (this is a lifesaving product - it's pricey but will keep you full and energized and has a high protein content but no sugar so you won't crash later), water.

Stay warm

This one's easier said than done, but find a way!

You're testing your resourcefulness, so be resourceful!

Step 7

I really suggest carrying a cell phone and making sure that one of your close friends or relatives knows where you are and who you're with as often as possible.

Even go so far so to call somebody once you get a new ride so that if the driver is crazy, he or she might think twice before trying any funny business because somebody knows where you're at and that makes their situation that much more tenuous.

Most states have outlawed pedestrians on the highways and only permit hitch hiking on off-ramps.

Let's get real, you only have access to a tiny portion of the traffic this way and you could wind up waiting for hours on end.

In my experience, only a few states really enforce this law (Minnesota being the worst so far).

Again, if a police officer pulls you over, act dumb like you had no clue about the law and 9 times out of 10 they'll give you a ride a couple of miles up the road to the nearest off ramp where you can grab a coffee at a station, rest for a bit and then make your way back out onto the highway.


Hitch hiking is fun.

It keeps you on your toes, lets you travel on the cheap and allows you to meet new people and see your country up close and personal.

It's not easy though! You WILL be challenged and you will be forced to figure out solutions to problems.

But when you're through with your journey, you won't want to trade it for the world, I promise you.

Similar crazy adventures of mine are documented on experiments in unconventional thought and living.

Best of luck!

Tips & Warnings

As always, use common sense.

Learn to ask graciously. If you're at a truckstop, it's OK to politely ask truck drivers for a ride.

Most will say no because they're technically not allowed to give rides to others due to liability reasons, but ASK, it might be the long ride you've been waiting for.

Have fun. Stay aware and grow. Enjoy the journey!
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