Finding a hitch is the easy part. Stand on side of road, stick thumb out, car pulls over, you get in. The hard part is then figuring out what to say, how to show gratitude and not have a silent awkward drive with a stranger.
Wind down the window
In day to day life you could be irked if a passenger wound down the window when you have perfectly good AC blowing. But, if you’ve hitchhiked, the chances are you’ve been hiking, so you are now a stinky hiker. Do the driver a favour and take the initiative to wind the window and give them some fresh air so they don’t have to once your El Natural odour wafts over.
Ask about them
A lot of people who pick up hitchhikers have travelled and hitch hiked before and have some epic stories to share. Start by asking if they are local, what they do for work, if they also hike, what other places they have travelled etc. It’s humbling to have a stranger interested in your story, so let them share theirs with you.
Talk about what you’re doing
Soon enough they’ll ask what you are doing in their neck of the woods and this will be your chance to shine. Let the driver live vicariously through your adventure by sharing the highs and lows and telling them a story from your journey. Be relatable and share with them a glimpse of life back home then tell them why you decided to go on your current trip. It usually makes for fascinating conversation.
Ask about the town
People often have a lot of pride for their hometown. Ask them how long they’ve lived there, what are the best places to eat and what’s the history of the place. You’ll get a feel for the town and even be able to explore like a local without having to search too hard for a good pub. Some of the best kept secrets are spilled now, like secret hot springs, the fruiting fig tree in the park and the $10 buffet breakfast in a tucked away cafe.
Offer fuel money and always carry cash
A little bit of gratitude goes a long way. Make sure you ALWAYS say thank you and depending on the distance of the drive and if they detoured for you, it’s generally appreciated if you offer to chip in for fuel. Try to always carry a few $5 notes in your pocket if hitching so it’s easy to tip them without causing a scene. It’s really not about the amount you give but more the gesture of offering in the first place, so it doesn’t need to be a lot. Don’t be surprised if the driver doesn’t accept, but they’ll appreciate your offer regardless.
Walk or stand
Drivers are making a judgement call on you in the 2 seconds they have to make the decision of stopping or not. There’s a lot to consider in that time. Do you look homeless or lazy? Or entertaining and friendly? You’ve got to sell yourself when relying on the kindness of strangers.
Make a sign
Help the driver’s decision-making process by making a sign reading the destination you are trying to get too. They’ll be more likely to stop if they know they are already heading where you need to go. If you are thru hiking, then locals are often used to giving rides as part of the hiker community. A sign reading “PCT Hiker to Town” or “PCT Hiker to Trail” will go a long way.
Hitchhiking with groups
Trying to hitch a ride as a group can be challenging, especially since you’ll be outnumbering the driver. Spread out and walk up the road with a few metres between you all to look less intimidating. Alternatively, have most of the group sit down by the road and have only one person standing up with their thumb out to flag down and talk to the driver. Once they pull over ask the driver if they can take you to the location and how many seats they have. Don’t have everyone swarm the car until they’ve said they are happy to take everyone.
Trust your gut
It’s ok to not accept a lift with someone if you don’t have a good feeling about whoever pulled over. Keep your phone on you at all times and consider keeping your pack on your lap to reduce the risk of losing items or having them drive off with all of your possessions still in the back. If you feel unsafe then don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask them to change what they are doing to make you feel uneasy (i.e. I don’t want to talk about it / slow down please / I’m not interested in anything other than a lift etc) and if all else fails ask them to pull over so you can get out.
It’s a beautiful world out there full of human kindness, stories of adventure and heartbreak and interesting people. Go out on a whim, meet new people and share your story with a stranger driving down the road. Best of Luck!!