Home » How to hitchhike: a 19-step guide to getting a ride

How to hitchhike: a 19-step guide to getting a ride

by Victor Eekhof
Hitchhiking guide

Travelers hitchhike for various reasons. Some don’t have the financial means to travel otherwise, some consider it more fun than the conventional ways of transport. In some parts of the world hitchhiking is even the only option, and is practically a substitute for public transport. Hitchhiking might sound simple enough, but when you’ve tried it yourself you probably experienced some of the frustrations as well. This inspired me to write this guide on how to hitchhike.

I have hitchhiked more than 3.000 km in 4 different continents and noticed that it wasn’t all that different if you stick to a couple of unwritten rules. I can best compare hitchhiking to speed dating on steroids. Instead of a minute, you have about 3 seconds to make someone pick you up, so better make them count! Here are some of my insider tips on how to hitchhike.

1. Face the direction of the oncoming cars

Perhaps quite an obvious one, but I’ve seen many people bail and turn their back when a car hasn’t even passed yet. Make sure you face the car so that the driver can have a good look at you to help him make a snap judgment in your favor. Don’t wear sunglasses and don’t put your hands in your pockets as if you are hiding something.

Hitchhiker covering face

Show your face! You have 3 seconds to impress a driver, and this is certainly not helping 🙂
Source: Nomadicforever

2. Walk backward while sticking out your thumb

There’s something soothingly psychological about a backward walking hitchhiker. It’s almost like it conveys: “I’m getting there by foot if I have to, but your help would be much appreciated”. Walking towards the cars comes across waaaay too dominantly, and should be avoided at all times. Standing in one spot works too, but I’ve had the highest success rate with the walking backward technique.

Hitchhikers walking

Walking backwards while hitchhiking is more effective, as the driver can make a better judgement wether to stop or not.
Source: The Plaid Zebra

3. Make sure your thumb is pointing in the direction you want to go

Another obvious one, but definitely an ingredient in the recipe for success. Sticking your hand out is generally how to hitchhike, but which finger to use varies globally. In North America, United Kingdom and most of Europe, the gesture involves extending the arm toward the road and sticking the thumb of the outstretched hand upward with the hand closed.

In some African countries, the hand is held still with the palm facing upwards. In other parts of the world, such as Australia, it is more common to use a gesture where the index finger is pointed at the road.

Hitchhiker in Ethiopia

A hitchhiker in Ethiopia, notice that no thumbs are used here.
Source: Rod Waddington

4. Wear your backpack while hitchhiking

Yes, it might be a bit uncomfortable, but if you leave your backpack on the side of the road the drivers might not see it. Remember, you have 3 seconds to make an impression, and it should be clear straight away that you’re but an innocent backpacker. They might even feel guilty about making you wear your backpack. Hey, whatever works, right?

Hitchhiker backpack

If your backpack gets too heavy, place it somewhere close to you so that there can be no misunderstanding about you being a backpacker.
Source: Theunivrsl

5. Hitchhike in a visible place close to the road

Think well-lit, open spots. Would you pick someone up who stands in a shadow holding a piece of cardboard?

Roadside hitchhiker

Hiking or hitchhiking? Make your intentions clear.
Source: Christiaan Triebert

6. Hitchhike in a spot where cars naturally have to slow down or stop

Think traffic lights, intersections, (after) sharp corners. Making it easy for the driver to pull over without becoming a traffic hazard will increase your chances significantly.

Foggy hitchhiker

Fog might not be the best circumstance to hitchhike in. Also, that’s one small piece of paper!
Source: Mika Meskanen

7. The letters on your piece of cardboard should be well visible

Too many times have I seen hitchhikers (presumably art students?) holding signs with curly, thin letters. NOBODY will see your sign from 100 meters away, or even up close going 30 miles an hour. Drivers should keep their eyes on the road, not try to decipher your artistic calligraphy experiment.

Your letters should be thick, bold, in caps and with enough contrast with its background (usually black will do the trick). Don’t write too much either, simply the name of the town you want to go will suffice. Sometimes, a little joke or smiley will work too (see point 6).

Hitchhiker Amsterdam

A good example of a clear cardboard sign.
Source: Teppo Moisio

8. Write something funny (but short) on your piece of cardboard

Don’t go overboard. A smiley or a short but cunning text will do. How about “Freshly showered”, “Almost there!” or “Hawaii” (when hitching a ride in a snowy place)?

Hitchhikers with TV

Funny piece of cardboard: check!
Source: Marcin Grabski

9. Look in the driver’s eyes briefly with a smile but don’t stare them down

Subtlety is king here. Looking the driver in the eye will convey your honest intentions, but stare too long and you’ll look like a serial killer. 1 Second is enough here, and you should still look at their general direction afterward. Most of the time they’ll be a glare on their windows; then just look in the driver’s general direction with a smile.

Hitchhiking Victor

Me practicing my smile and stare. I found the sign on the left next to the road and decided to use it. It worked, since I got a ride taking me 2000km in 2 days.

10. Don’t make any jokes about murdering or not being a serial killer

Writing “I’m not a murderer” on your cardboard sign can backfire easily since it might remind the driver that there are actually murderers with cardboard signs out there. Good luck turning that negative first impression around in 3 seconds. Don’t bring up the subject in the car either, it will make your driver hugely uncomfortable.

Hitchhiker murderer

This is what you look like if you write “Not a murderer” on your cardboard sign
Source: Tom Mabe

11. When a car stops, act like you’ve won the lottery

Act enthusiastically and gratefully (you probably will be anyway) by running up to the car with a big smile on your face. Chances are the driver is still watching you in his rear-view mirror, and it’s not too late for him to change his mind.

Hitchhiker taking a picture

YAAY! YOU GOT A RIDE!!
Source: Caitlin Regan

12. Don’t act like it’s your friend giving you a ride

When you arrive at the car that stopped for you, don’t just open the back door and drop your behind on the seat. Stay outside and ask the driver again if you can possibly ride along. It’s good form and gives the driver the opportunity to get a better impression of you from up close.

Hitchhiker feet

Don’t be this guy/girl…
Source: Daniel Lobo

13. Sit in the front if you can

The driver is not your butler and you did not hitch a cab. Ask to put your bag in the back and take the front seat. It’s much easier to have a conversation this way and implies that you’re interested in the other person instead of just using them for a ride. If there is already someone sitting in the passenger seat, don’t try to sit on their lap.

Hitchhiker passenger seat

A hitchhiker in the passenger seat, as it should be 🙂
Source: Pieter Morlion

14. Don’t offer to pay, you’ll only make things awkward

Your driver probably knows you’re hitchhiking because you are on a tight budget, or perhaps it’s simply your preferred way to get from A to B. Money shouldn’t play a part in your hitchhiking experience, unless the driver goes out of his way severely and turns a short ride into a 3 day road trip. Even then there is the chance that the driver was dying to get away from his wife, and you were actually doing him a favor by giving him a reason.

Taxi meter

If you see this, you’ve hitched the wrong ride!
Source: JL08

15. Don’t expect to get one ride straight to your destination

Ideally, you would stick your thumb out hitch a ride within 5 minutes taking you exactly where you want to end up. Although that has happened to me on several occasions, it’s much more often a collection of smaller rides that will get you there eventually.

In some countries, there is only 1 long highway from one city to the other, which makes it more likely you’ll find a ride soon. Sometimes there are endless turnoffs and roads branching out, meaning you would have to deal with a lot more cars “not going your way’. This is where points 16 and 17 are more than relevant.

Hitchhikers Iceland

Many times you will get dropped off in the middle of nowhere, where you’ll have to recuperate and stick out ye olde thumb again to continue your journey.
Source: Patrick Rasenberg

16. Practice patience and hide your frustration

Patience is a virtue, and especially when it comes to hitchhiking. I’ve waited everywhere between 5 minutes and 5 hours for a ride. Do (try to) hide your frustration; a frustrated hitchhiker is an unsuccessful hitchhiker. Your face will (unknowingly) show signs of anger and despair and be honest: would you pick up an angry looking hitchhiker? It’s all about those 3 seconds you’ll have to “impress” the driver, so the best time to express your frustration is in between two cars.

Frustrated hitchhiker

This is what you look like after 3 hours of waiting for a ride. Smile!
Source: Zhana Yordanova

17. Don’t take rejections personally

I’ve seen it all. People honking their horns, completely ignoring you, laughing sarcastically, shrugging, gesturing and, from time to time, actually pulling over. It sometimes feels like every one of the drivers is passing you because they don’t like you, as a person. Your level of confidence will plunge faster than at a speed dating session. Therefore, try to build up a shield.

People have their reasons for not picking up hitchhikers; bad experiences in the past (read: a smelly backpacker just who wouldn’t shut up) or simply too scared. Everyone knows all hitchhikers are murderers, right? Shield up and you’ll be fine. It might take a fake smile here and there, but it’s worth it if it gets you a ride!

Rejected hitchhiker

Got rejected? That doesn’t mean you can still hitch the ride 😉 (don’t actually attempt this)
Source: Rod Waddington

18. In fact, embrace a rejection with a smile and a wave

A top tip from Magnus: Whenever a car just swooshes past me I wave and smile at it. Quite often that makes the NEXT car stop, because they see that I keep positive even in the face of rejection. This has worked so many times! I’ve also experienced that the car I tried to flag down in the first place apparently didn’t expect my happy waving and stops 50 meters down the road.

Hitchhiker smiling

Must..keep…smiling..and..waving.
 Source: Thorin Nielson

19. It’s ok to get out of the car if you feel uncomfortable

So, you got yourself a ride. The driver seemed to be ok at first, but 30 minutes in you have your doubts. His/her stories about obsessive nudism creep you out, and all you want to do is get out of the car. Don’t forget that getting a new ride is an option 🙂 Make up an excuse that makes sure the driver can’t offer to stay and wait for you; something like “I promised to ring my mom for 2 hours (from a phone box)” should do nicely.

Hitchhiker funny

A salute to all the hitchhikers out there!

Explore this travel blog

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
7 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Walt

Think another big rule is: Don’t be eating or drinking anything. Nobody wants the chance of a mess in the car, or wait while you repack or dispose of food. Walking backwards with your pack on is best, but if you need a break, don’t start pulling a lot of things out of the pack. More time lost waiting for you to re-pack. You’re marketing yourself. In a few seconds, you need to convince the driver he’s getting a good deal by picking you up. Might make him feel he’s done a good turn, you might be bright and a… Read more »

Patricia

HI Victor…
Nice posts.. I am dreaming about going home to the Patagonia again.. and I have been to Ushuaia.. and dumb that I didn’t take an offer long time ago to go to Antartida on an English ship.. 20 year ago.. so now at 60.. life is passing by fast and I want to go.. When was the last time you were there.. maybe we can communicate via e mail.. my name is Patricia and below is my e mail
Thanks for sharing your experience.. I am most certain you have made a lot of difference for many…

Tara- Hippie Hits The Road

Great post with some good tips. The hardest one for me is the last one though… I’m a terrible liar and when I’m uncomfortable it can be hard for me to think something up. Not so great as a solo female hitchhiker, but I haven’t run into anything I can’t handle.

Sarah

These are some top tips! I’ve been using the same methods without really thinking about it and it got me to my destination incredibly fast! 🙂 To be honest, it helps to be a woman too…

7
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x

Ready for your new adventure?

Never miss Victor's budget travel tips, stories, and destination guides by signing up for the monthly newsletter!

No spam, ever.