Shannon Wolf | December 5, 2015 11:00 PM ET
Hitchhiking 101: Everything You Need to Know
PHOTO: It’s always more fun to hitchhike in a group. Four people is surprisingly easy! (photos by Shannon Wolf)
Famed adventurer/author Mark Jenkins once said, “Adventure is a path. Real adventure — self-determined, self-motivated, often risky — forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind — and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.”
…And he was right. This is possibly the best way to explain hitchhiking to those of you who have never experienced or dared to attempt it. Sure, the idea is scary, but if you trust your instincts, have some street sense and are willing to push past your comfort zone (within reason), you may be shocked to find that this big bad world isn’t so bad after all. By the end of it, your faith in humanity may too be restored.
After almost a year of traveling, hitchhiking was one of the best experiences of my life so far and I will continue to hitchhike far beyond the Tramprennen race (an experience covered in a future blog). Below is everything you need to know about hitchhiking.
Useful Hitchhiking website: hitchwiki.org
First things first: Learn how to read a map and its symbols.
PHOTO: Norah and Graham mapping out our route from Albania to Greece.
For experience, participate in a hitchhiking race: tramprennen.org
Top Advice from Experienced Hitchhikers:
• For longer distance, stay on the highway and get dropped off at a petrol (gas) station.
• If you can talk to the people, it’s a lot easier to get a lift than trying to flag them down on a highway.
• Travel a lot with thumb, not a sign — you get further.
• Always try to hitch rides outside of a city.
• Trying to hitch a ride at toll booths is challenging.
• Think positive and you will attract positive.
• ALWAYS Bring a paper map you can unfold and show, makes things easier for directions.
• Carrying a lot of water is vital. You never know where you may end up.
• If a ride makes you feel uncomfortable, always turn it down. Better to be safe than sorry.
• Always keep an eye out roughly where you’re headed. It’s your responsibility to know where you are — not the driver.
• Keep an offline map handy on your phone as a backup.
• Keep a backup of blank paper and markers for signs.
• Avoid putting your backpack in the trunk if possible. If not, keep the door open while you get your bag from the trunk.
• When traveling as a pair — male gets in first, then female. When getting out, female first, then male (for safety reasons).
• It is better to sit in the front of the vehicle than the backseat.
• Bring a notepad and pen for writing down information/contact info.
• If they don’t speak English, point to the map to show where you’re going.
• Try to be a good conversationalist for the driver.
• Keep your most valuable items on/near you.
• It is best to travel during daylight hours.
• Smile often and make eye contact with drivers when trying to get a lift.
• It’s perfectly okay to act goofy — have fun and fun rides will follow.
• If a location doesn’t seem to work for you, wait 10 minutes and move on.
• You are better to wait a bit longer for longer distance lifts then a lot of short lifts.
• Keep a backup of lightweight food/snacks on the road: nuts/crackers/soup packs.
Start-up Conversation while talking to strangers:
• Hi, Excuse me — do you speak English?
• Where you going today?/which direction are you going?
• Could you take me/my friend and I?
PHOTO: One of the many wonderful people we met while hitchhiking across the Balkans.
What to Pack for hitchhiking/wild camping:
• Lightweight tent
• Sleeping bag
• Swiss Army Knife
• Duct tape
• Markers/blank paper for signs
• 1 travel pot
• 1 mini-gas stove
• Bug spray
• Car plug to charge phone
• Hat (standing in the heat for hours takes its toll)
• Running shoes
• Minimal clothing — 1 warm sweater, 2 shirts, 1 long pants, 1 shorts, 2 tanktops, socks/underwear
Easiest European Countries in which to Hitchhike: Poland, Slovakia, Balkans, Turkey
Worst European Countries in which to Hitchhike: Greece, Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic
More by Shannon Wolf
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