- The Jro Guide to Hitch-hiking -

Appearance is everything

There is no industry in the world where appearance is more important than that of a professional hitch-hiker. The majority of cars that pick you up, will drive by you, and then pull-in if they like the way that you look. And if you look threatening in any way, if you look dirty, if you look like you smell bad, then what the fuck are they going to want you in their car for? Don't look at it as they're helping you out, look at is as an exchange of mutual benefit. You'll get a free-ride to where you're going, and they'll get someone to talk to. If you don't look like an interesting, smell-free person, then they aren't going to want you in their car. On most highways, people will only be close enough to you to make that kind of judgement for about 2 seconds. When you can, shower in the morning, have a shave, and always keep your face clear. Any kind of facial-distortion, whether it be sunglasses, a hat, a hood, even taking a sip of water out of a bottle; any of these in the 2 seconds that they're driving past you, and they aren't going to stop. You can tell a lot by a persons face. And if they can't see yours, then they can't tell that you're someone that they want in your car.

People often want to talk to travellers. We lead much more interesting lives than everyone else, so keep your backpack in full-view on the road. If you look like someone that has stories to tell rather than just someone that's out for a day, you'll have more luck. Just make sure it's clean and packed neatly.

If you look too neat, shirt tucked-in, polished shoes, you're going to look suspicious. What's someone with the money to dress like that hitch-hiking for? Go too far the other way though and look a mess and no one's going to want you stinking out their car. The trick is to look clean but travelled. I always try to wash my hair so it's all wavy. I look like someone that has more important things in life than appearance, but at the same time I'm clean and hygenic.

And the less clothes that you're wearing, the less places that you have to be hiding something. Wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, you have nowhere to hide a weapon. Where as wearing a big jacket, you could have anything in the pockets.

At the end of the day, the less threatening, the less suspicious and the more interesting that you look, the more likely you are to get picked-up. And people will make that judgement after looking at you for 2 seconds.

Appearance is everything. This is the most superficial industry in the world.

Position on the road

It always astounds me how many people you see hitching, that haven't figured out that if there's no place for a car to stop, no one is going to pick you up.

First-off you have to get yourself to a place where the bulk of the traffic will be going towards your destination. Basically, don't try picking up a ride in the middle of town. It's amazing how many people you see doing that. Most of the traffic passing you will be stopping in town somewhere. Get to the outskirts so that the only people passing you by will be heading further afield.

And then you have to make sure you're in a place where cars can actually stop. This may sound obvious, but you'd be amazed how many people you see trying to pick up a ride, stood on a corner where there's no shoulder and nowhere to pull-in. Think about if you were a driver. Would you be willing to get in trouble for stopping in an illegal space to help out someone at the side of the road that you've never met before? And this will often mean that you're hiking for a while just to find a layby or until a hard-shoulder materialises. But you aren't going to get anywhere if cars can't stop for you. And it's amazing how many people don't realise this.

Another point is that you want to cars to be passing you when they're moving as slowly as possible. That gives them more time to look at you, and it's less of an inconvenience for them to stop for you.

Whether that means standing near traffic lights, or after a sharp corner, or in a slow-zone, the slower the cars are moving, the more likely they are to stop for you. Though have the common-sense to make sure that you're visible.

If you're right over the crest of a hill or directly after a sharp corner, then yes, cars will be moving slowly. But they're going to be seeing you so late that they aren't going to have the time to think about stopping for you.

Put yourself in the position of the driver. Where would you be willing to stop for someone that you've never met before?

Prepare for the worst, at the end of the day, it's all about luck.

The first thing that I always do when I get to the side of the road, is look around, and say that if I'm still here come the end of the day, then 'this' is where I'll be putting my tent up. Because at the end of the day, no matter how friendly you look, no matter how well positioned you are on the road, if the right drivers aren't out that day, then you aren't getting a ride.

Everytime that I go hitching I approach it the same way. And sometimes I'll have a ride in 15 seconds. Other times it'll take 5 hours. And the only thing that determines which of these it'll be, is luck.

You can prepare yourself as best you can. But sometimes it's just not meant to be. So go there expecting nothing. Get to the side of the road with the expectation that you'll still be there in 10 hours. Prepare for where you're going to sleep tonight in that eventuality. And that way you'll never be disappointed.

The most stressful hitching that I've ever done, is when I've done it with a timetable. Where I had to be at a certain place at a certain time. And hitching this way just wasn't enjoyable.

Hitching's supposed to be fun. It is fun. You'll meet loads of great people, and unlike on a bus, the people you meet want to get to know you. That's why they pull-over. But some days aren't going to go so well, and you've just got to keep smiling. If you lose heart then that time at the side of the road will seem like an eternity. And if you aren't smiling, you're less likely to get a ride. No one wants to have the angry guy in their car.

Hitching is often quicker than taking the bus. But just don't go out there with any expectations or you'll get eaten alive. Prepare for the worst and then everything else is a bonus.

When you get a ride

Once you're in a car then you might think that the work is done. But for a start, people have stopped for you for a reason. The majority of people want you in their car as someone to talk to. Someone to keep them awake on a long journey. Someone to entertain them. And it really won't go down well if you get into their car and are angry or you take a nap.

More than just for their sake though, you'd be amazed how many people will buy you lunch, or divert off of their route to help you, or will buy you a beer if you're getting along really well. Because you're only strangers when you get into the car. By the time that you get out you'll be friends. And the better you've been getting along, the more you can get from people.

This is not the only reason to be nice. It's going to be a much more enjoyable journey for the both of you if you're getting along well. But if you can make someone laugh for the 3 hours that you're with them, you'd be amazed at how far these people whom were previously strangers will go to accomodate you.

I've had people drive different routes to help me out. I've had people take me to restaurants. I've had people buy me beers. I've had them even buy me porn, or take me to meet their families. One couple that I met, I stayed with for 3 days as they went on their holiday, they took me with them. Would they have done that if I wasn't making them laugh or engaging them in some way?

It's not always easy. But you have to be eternally happy when you're on the road. You may have been stood there in the rain for hours waiting for a ride. You have to keep smiling. You may have hitched for 36-straight hours through the night without sleep or rest. You have to keep smiling. If you're happy, you'll enjoy it a lot more. And whether on the road or in a car, if you're smiling you're going to have a lot more success.

Sign or no sign?

You wouldn't think that there would be any disadvantage of using a sign. But I've often felt that people won't pick you up if they aren't going to your exact location. If you're hitching with just your thumb however, people will often stop just to find out where you're going to. And even if they're only going 5-minutes in your direction, that could get you to the junction that your next ride turns onto the road at.

Though at other times, letting people know where you're going, especially over the longer distances, has helped me in the past.

Though it's not just a case of writing your destination on some scabby piece of cardboard. As I've said above, appearances are as important as anything. And if you have a dirty piece of card covering half your front, then you aren't going to look like a clean person. You've got to write it big and write it neat.

Personally I prefer hitching with just my thumb. That way I'm not obscured in any way, and drivers will be focussing on a friendly-looking me rather than trying to read my sign as they drive past at 70mph. But think about your destination. Think about the ratio of drivers that will be heading there, and then determine if it's going to be beneficial for people to know where you're going before they pull-over.

Time that you're making this sign, time that you're looking for card and writing the sign, that is time that you could be hitching for a ride. And it's one more thing to carry.

It can help you. But my opinion is really that unless there's an obvious advantage, don't bother. I've always had plenty of success with just my thumb.

Alone or in a group

This really comes down to success over safety.

You're undoubtedly going to be more successful at getting a ride when you're alone. But you're also pretty damn vulnerable.

People can't feel intimidated if they're going to let you into their car. And as I've said, most drivers will stop and give you a ride when they want some company. When they're travelling alone. And two hitch-hikers is going to be a lot more intimidating to an individual driver than one. Though how safe are you when you're alone?

Personally, I always hitch alone. Keep a weapon of some sort accessible if you can just in case things go wrong. But if you're confident in your abilty to defend yourself, then you will inevitably have more success on the side of the road when you're alone. Because although you're paranoid about your safety from some crazy person giving you a ride, a driver feels that same threat from you. If there's one of you and one of them, then it's even. It's not threatening. If there's two of you and one of them, then in all liklihood they won't stop.

You will almost always have more success when hitching alone.

With that being said, there are some crazy bastards out there. And I would not be comfortable with any girl that I care about, hitch-hiking by herself. Especially if she was attractive.

A hot 21-year old trying to get a ride at the side of the road will invariably have success. And many of the, mostly men, that will pick her up will do so without any malous intent. It's just human nature for a guy to help out a pretty girl. It's just the way it is. Fat girls: Who gives a fuck? I'm not saying this to be controversial. It's just the way man is made. You treat hot girls better, just because they're hot. Even if you don't expect anything in return.

So if you're an attractive female then you won't be stood at the roadside for long. And most guys that pick you up will do so with no malous intent. Though not all. And it's a safety versus success issue.

Is it worth hitching alone, and doing very well at it, on the chance that you could get picked up by the psycho rapist?

Hitching at night

I'd never recommend doing this if it can be avoided. I mentioned above times where I've been hitching on a timetable, and that's meant that if I haven't got to my destination by nightfall, then I've had to hitch through the night. But just be warned, it's not fun.

First off, the likelihood that you actually get a ride severely diminishes. People can't see you until they're much closer than they would be in daylight, and what they can see of you in the shadows of their head-lights is much more intimidating. So it's imperetive that you find some way of illuminating yourself. Preferably this would be a street-light or light from a building. But failing that, use a flash-light and either lay it down so it's pointing at you, or keep it in your hand at least so drivers can see that there's someone at the side of the road.

And secondly, in the event that you do get a ride, you're basically hitching blind.

Whether it's day or night, you always have to make that snap-judgement about whether or not you're going to get into someones car based simply by looking at them. At night though, you cannot see the car approach as you'll be blinded by their headlights. So you cannot make a judgement based on the look of the car. And then once they pull over, their car will be dark and your vision will have spots on from the headlights. So perhaps try talking to them for five seconds before you get in just to make a quick judgement on what they say and to give your eyes a chance to clear again. But basically at night, you're hitch-hiking blind. I've never enjoyed it when I have done it, and I recommend that you avoid it when you can. Particularly for women on the road alone. It's not fun when you can't tell anything about the person whose car you're getting into.

Summary

At the end of the day, the main thing that you need to do to be successful, is put yourself in the driver's shoes. Think about the way that you look, the place that you're standing, your demeanour, and everything else, and think that if you were driving on the road alone (as most people that pick you up will be), then would you stop and pick you up? If you answer no to that then you could be in for a long day.

It's almost like an employer/employee relationship. They're the ones with all the power, they're the ones that choose whether or not to give you a ride, so although some of the things that I've said may seem like a chore and a hassle, you're not really in a position to call the shots.

And remember that hitching's about more than just getting a free-ride. You'll meet some amazing people and you'll have some really memorable times. People who pick you up will take you to bars and restaurants, they will take you to meet their family, they will keep you with them for days at a time if they're going your way, they'll even occasionally pay for a hotel room for you. But look at it as a mutual thing. Don't look at it as they're doing you a favour by picking you up, look at it as they want a service for your ride. Tell them stories, make them laugh and keep them entertained on their long journey. That way you won't feel in debt for their service and you'll both feel at ease. And just remember that you're going to have bad days out there. You are going to have days quite simply when the right drivers aren't on the road. But don't get disheartened. Because the bad days that you have, they're worth it to have the good days. You'll meet some people and you'll have some experiences. And believe me that it'll all be much more satisfying than sitting on the Greyhound.

Related blog entries

Hitching to Dawson City: Day 1
Hitching to Dawson City: Day 2
Hitching to Dawson City: Days 3 to 5
Hitching to Jasper
Little America
Hitching to Manitoba: Day 1
Hitching to Manitoba: Days 2 and 3
WWOOFing at Black Family Farm in Manitoba
Couch-surfing in Winnipeg
Shit happens