Hitchhiking is the best way to travel. You’ll listen to the stories of people from places you’ve never heard of, you’ll visit places only locals know, and it’s free. You’ll sit on mountainside roads that you could never have gotten to on purpose, you’ll learn patience and be happy with the little things – and it’s free.
You’ll sit in the burning sun for hours at a time, you’ll lose feeling in your thumb from the relentless freezing rain, and you’ll feel mentally dead inside – but, you know, it’s free.
Hitchhiking can lead to untold places and adventures, but it can also be relentless, mentally torturous, and very possibly dangerous. This is, in my experience, the best tips to start off hitchhiking.
Different hitchhikers do this differently. In general, you need a sign with the city you want to go to in big bold letters in the language of the place you are in. For example, if you’re going to Munich write, “München”. If you’re going to Copenhagen write, “København”. Be respectful of people’s language and culture; don’t put everything in english.
I kept a notebook and big black sharpie in my backpack for writing signs. Others use whatever cardboard or bread bag they have on hand. Either way, you’re more likely to get a ride with a sign saying where you’re going.
You can go sign-less, but you might get someone going the wrong direction whereas someone going your direction may pass you because they didn’t know.
Depending on which city you are going to and where you are, you may have to pitstop at others. You aren’t going to get from Milan to Rome in one ride. I tried. You very well could pick a city not too far away and no one will pick you up when many are going to a city nearby. It’s better to go to that city and then try again.
I sat for four hours at a truck stop just outside Lübeck, Germany trying to get to Puttgarden — a port famous for its ferry from Germany to Denmark. I eventually changed my sign from Puttgarden to Lübeck and got a ride in literally 10 seconds within stepping outside. He may have picked me up with the Puttgarden sign, but I realized a lot of people didn’t know what Puttgarden was when I did eventually get more rides.
Not to discourage some from trying to hitch a ride as far as possible, the brother of another hitchhiker I met got a ride straight from Strasbourg to Budapest. The longest ride I ever got was from Paris to Metz, 330km.
You will end up at truck stops in the middle of highways, trying to get city to city. A lot of times its the best place to get dropped off as many people will stop for gas. You can stand at the exit of the truck stop or ask around the people going in and out of the store and pumping gas. Just ask if they are heading in that direction and for a ride if they are.
Where to Stand
One of the most important parts of getting a ride is standing at the right spot. When leaving a city, go to the edge of the city by a highway on-ramp towards the direction you need to go. This way traffic passing you is only in the direction you need and will immensely lower your waiting time.
Hitchwiki has many useful and more detailed tips for specific regions and countries. Their map covers the entire world and can be extremely helpful in finding that good spot to get out of the city like I described above. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for directions either, I would routinely use the public transport to get as far to the edge of the city as possible and have to ask for directions on how to do so. No one ever refused to help, a couple actually rode with me to make sure I got to the right place.
Always stand on the side of the road where the cars are coming towards you as well. Most importantly, you need to stand somewhere where pulling over is safe for you, the driver and the other cars. Most highway on-ramps have a stoplight very close by – this is your best bet for where to stand. Cars have to stop, its safe, and you’ll get a different set of cars to walk by every minute. Just walk along the side and make sure your sign is visible and listen for a horn or a wave.
I’ve never had a problem while hitchhiking, never felt unsafe, never had an overzealous ride. I’ve had misunderstandings on where I want to go and language barriers, but that’s all. Unfortunately, these things do happen though. Always pay attention to your surroundings, make sure you know where the driver should be going to some extent, be aware of their language, body language, etc.
There was a Hungarian truck driver I was with for five hours who repeatedly offered his cab bed for me to nap because he saw I was tired and also offered food and water. I politely declined all of this. By the end of the ride he had told me, through broken French and English, about his grandchildren’s birthdays, children etc and I realized he really was just being that nice. People are generally like this, especially because most people picking you up will be other hitchhikers.
I wish I could say women should feel just as safe but obviously that’s not the case. I have met and heard stories of many women hitchhiking without a problem for long periods of time, one Russian girl of which hitched from Moscow to Nuremberg in the winter. Just be aware of your surroundings all the time and never reveal too much about where you are staying once you get there. I’ve had many people go out of the way to being me directly to a Couchsurfing host’s house, but others whom I’ve given a fake address. Be your own judge of people’s character.
Hitchhiking can be a pain, literally and mentally, with the weather and having so many cars pass you by. You have to enjoy the moment though. You’re seeing places tourists don’t see, you’ll meet amazing friendly people, and a lot of times they will buy you food and a place to sleep. I’ve gotten over 50 euro in one day from rides giving me cash and three meals one day from rides as well.
When you’re standing by the side of the road, laugh, smile, maybe even dance a little. Show that you’re a traveller who loves what you’re doing, it’ll be contagious. You may not realize it at the moment or ever, but you probably will change that person’s view on a lot of things. Just from enjoying yourself, and being kind.