I am going to hitchhike from June 7th to June 20th. Being new to this, I could use some advice.
June 6, 2005 9:58 PM   Subscribe

I am going to hitchhike from June 7th to June 20th. Being new to this, I could use some advice.

I am a young college student who has until June 20th for summer term. I am going to hitchhike from the Pacific Northwest to southern california, then east. I will be packing a knife and I am in good enough physical condition to protect myself and be safe for the journey. Has any of you done this before, and if so, I have some questions.

1. What is an effective way to get people to pick you up, besides looking non threatening?

2. I am considering bringing my MP3 player, for use in emergency bartering and music enjoyment. Is this a good idea?

3. I am going to live on $4 a day. Is this enough?

4. What are some neat tricks to hitchhiking?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1. the spot is EVERYTHING. pick a piece of freeway or road or whatever with plenty of room to see you AND plenty of room to stop. make sure you look like you're obviously just a poor college student and nothing more.

2. totally up to you - you meet the wrong person, it will be a ticket out of sodomy, i suppose. you can always hide it in your rectum.

3. no

4. make a funny, simple sign. if you're not accustomed to meeting people spontaneously, you're in for some uncomfortable situations until you settle in.

that's about it. be careful. if you get scared, don't be macho. bolt.
posted by oog at 10:24 PM on June 6, 2005

wait, you're not scared about getting in a stranger's car on an empty road, but you're scared to post this under your real name?
posted by judith at 10:27 PM on June 6, 2005

I pick up hitchhikers but I haven't hitchhiked. This is what would make me pick you up:

- a sign indicating that you were going where I was going
- no more than one non-gigantic backpack [this is sort of a double-bind. a big enough pack and you don't look like a drifter, but you do look like you might have a giant stinky pack that would fill up my car]
- stand somewhere where I can easily pull over
- this goes counter to some conventional hitch hiking widsom, but look like you're walking with your thumb out and I'd be more likely to pick you up.
- you don't mention if you're male or female, but if you're male you'd want to downplay your strength and knife skills, if you're female you might want to play that up a bit. If you are female especially remember: you don't have to take a ride from anyone who doesn't sit well with you. If someone looks off to you in any way, just ask where they're going and find a way to not be going that way.

If you have time for some reading, I recommend browsing the digihitch web site and seeing if you can track down Irv Thomas's book Derelict Days which is a fun sort of autobiography about his decades of hitchhiking in just that area. In fact, if you're in Seattle you should stop by and say hello to Irv.

$4/day will work if you're smart about it and pack a lot of high-protein stuff -- bags of nuts, something salty, lots of water, maybe some vitamins -- and avoid fast food entirely, but it won't be fun. Moochy hitchhikers suck, so make sure you're at least covering your own expenses and offering to pay for gas never hurt.

Are you going to be sleeping out, or staying with friends or in hotels? The answer to that question will help determine a lot about what you pack, and whether it's worth the risk to bring items like an MP3 player. I'd also bring a camera or sketch book if you're not plannign to already.
posted by jessamyn at 10:32 PM on June 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Have you read Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild yet? Chris McCandless's journey is significantly more extreme, but it's an interesting read for a prospective hitchhiker.
posted by hamster at 10:56 PM on June 6, 2005

Sleeping out almost all the time, staying in with friends if I can find em.
posted by Dean Keaton at 11:07 PM on June 6, 2005

Watch out for Keyser Soze!!!! Seriously, I wonder if hitch hiking is just too dangerous these days? I wouldn't let my kids do it, even though I hitched for years in the '70's

Or am I just old and paranoid?
posted by Instrumental at 11:57 PM on June 6, 2005

Or am I just old and paranoid?

Yes, it isn't any more dangerous now than it was then. But it's probably harder because people are more scared now than they were then. Thank the media.
posted by knave at 12:08 AM on June 7, 2005

I've done some hitchkhiking...might hitch from MO to NY later this summer in fact.

Jessamyn has very good suggestions to which i would add some things.

Always have enough water...fill up water bottles EVERY chance you get.
Be prepared to walk and wait for hours before getting a ride.
Have good stories to tell...a lot of people that pick up hitchers are just lonely on a long drive. Or be willing to talk quite a bit about whatever is the driver's pet cause.

I thought it was weird you said that you would be hitching from june 7th to june 20th...usually destination is the defining factor in hitching, primarily because you have no idea how long it will take.

good luck!
posted by schyler523 at 12:39 AM on June 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

do people hitch in CA?

all the time I've lived here, I've at most seen like ... 4 hitchers? I suppose some people might just pick you up for the novelty, and I've known people who have picked up hitch-hikers, but I'm doubtful that it's the sort of state that really "does" that thing. I can imagine hitch-hiking to be easier to do in homey-type towns in the south, or alaska (where my friend spent lots of time hitching).

i've only "hitched" once, and it was when we were taking a little walk in Utah and actually got offered a ride by a nice lady in an expensive car because she saw it was beginning to snow and we were under-dressed (stupid californians in utah).

i suppose this means I don't have much to add, but maybe other folks can surmise what your relative success in hitching will be once you get into CA.

(apparently train-hoppin' is popular with some of the tougher kids down here in NorCal, but it sounds pretty crazy and def. excessively dangerous to me).
posted by fishfucker at 12:43 AM on June 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Don't get your heart broken if you don't get a lot of rides. That's the norm.
posted by wsg at 12:53 AM on June 7, 2005

Carry anything you can't afford to loose in a bag over your shoulder that is with you in the car, just in case you have to run for it. A bag in the trunk or back is a handicap. My one bad experience in a LOT of hitching involved my ride taking off during a shuffle in seating. I lost everything but the clothes on my back.

Most folks are nice. If you're male, be prepared to be hit on by gay men. Be nice to them but don't give up anything you can't deal with. These sort are usually quite closeted, so don't react to an attempted fondle aggressively. If you panic a driver, you endanger yourself and everyone else on the road. (I'm gay and usually welcomed the advances and made plenty myself) No reason for you to panic, these guys usually want your manhood, not your manhole.

In some states (California is one) you will be harassed by police if you try to hitch on the freeway. You MUST use the ramps. This means you're going to have trouble if you get stuck at a ramp with little traffic. Be alert to this, and ask to be let out where there is traffic, if your ride is coming to his exit.

A sign is most helpful when you are in places where freeways divide soon (like when one goes east, the other south). If you get stuck at an interchange between 2 freeways, you're hitching where it is likely forbidden. My guess is that the cops are going to be nasty these days.

If the police stop, be polite, they might help. If you look young, they will want to make sure you're not a runaway minor. If you are under 18, this is a real problem in California, they will probably arrest you. Other locations vary. Don't lie to the cops, they don't like that. Of course you must not carry any contraband! That knife better be legal or you're going to have bad trouble.
posted by Goofyy at 1:51 AM on June 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I hitched coast-to-coast years ago. I had a couple of hundred dollars in my socks, but I didn't use much of it; people were very generous. And no, I wasn't 'mooching'; people refused to accept my money.

Don't come off macho, if you're a guy. (If you're not a guy, just forget this trip; odds are you'll get more adventure than you want.) People picked me up fro one of probably two reasons: they wanted company, or they had a hitching past of their own, and remembered how hard it could be to get anywhere. Acting like Rambo is not going to encourage either of those motives, and you will probably not get the long rides, like the guy who drove me all the way from Pittsburgh to Denver. That knife may wind up being a liability, if you meet any policemen, which you probably will. They'll look at it as a concealed weapon, and won't be pleased.

When you get a ride, be pleasant and entertaining, without being weird. Do not discuss politics or religion. Do not discuss things like Michael Jackson, unless the driver brings them up, and be cautious even then.

FWIW, California was the worst part of the trip. I spent 11 hours standing at a ramp in Buellton. The entire trip took ten days, so that was a huge slowdown.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:56 AM on June 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Try to be generally neat. Wear a hat but not so it covers your face making you look shifty. Look the drivers in the eye and smile. Use a sign (take markers with you!) and maybe make it look a bit 'pretty' or humorous or just don't bother - if there's little traffic, I'd probably not bother.

Be attentive - if you hear a vehicle approaching, put the drink/book/food away and be ready. Just don't get in the vehicle if you 'feel' a bad vibe. Once you're in, it's harder to get out. If you're going to be taken for more than say 200 miles, you really ought to offer gas money. But most people don't expect it when they pick up hitchers anyway. But be nice! It means that the driver will be similarly disposed in the future - karma.

I've never had a bad ride (Oz & Asia) and have many fond memories. Hell, I used to hitch from suburb to suburb around Sydney and was always successful. Be careful about trying to keep to your itinerary - you may have to opt for arranged travel somewhere along the line - I'm sure there's places online that will have traveller carsharing - you might want to register/make a note of a number for a few major centres just in case.
Enjoy. I'm a little jealous actually (Oh..I hope you keep an emergency $50 note in your shoe just in case.)
posted by peacay at 2:40 AM on June 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've hitched extensively in Europe and just used my thumb for a short trip in Morrocco. This is what works for me.

- Look as clean and neat as you possibly can.
- Keep your back-pack as small as possible.
- Make eye-contact with drivers, smile/wave/whatever, get their attention.
- Carry a big black marker pen for making destination signs on the fly.

I don't know the law in the States but here in Europe you're not allowed to hitch-hike on the motorway/freeway/autobahn, once I'm on the motorway/freeway/autobahn network I use service centres (truck stops?) as my start/stop points. Have a map with these marked and get a prospective lift to agree to drop you at one if they are not going all the way to your destination. DO NOT get dropped off at on/off ramps, use the service centres, trust me on this.

Cars are MUCH faster than trucks and you usually get better conversation from car-drivers. I never ride with trucks anymore.

Good luck.
posted by DelusionsofGrandeur at 2:54 AM on June 7, 2005

My sister & hitched up the east coast & back a few times in the earlyish 90s (NYC to Maine - mostly I-95). We brought pepper spray & a knife and had safety words and agreed to trust one another's 'sense' about people, yadda yadda, but never had one even mildly tense moment. Many people warned us that what we were doing was dangerous, though. A lot of people seemed a little lonely and liked having someone to tell their problems to - kinda like that taxi-cab confessions thing. I kept a diary of the rides at the time, though I've since lost track of it. It was definitely a worthwhile experience in my opinion, though.

And driving cross-country with a friend (also female), we picked up a number of hitchhikers. Most were young and broke; near reservations there were often native americans who just needed short rides. We picked up one couple who turned out to be really cool & who we even kept in touch with for a while afterward.

I would say looking neat/clean is a plus for pretty much anyone; other factors will be particular to drivers (eg, cultural references, t-shirts, humorous signs, etc). One man traveling alone is the most common kind of hitchhiker and also the most likely to be passed by - it's just the stereotype of 'loner guy' that influences the subconscious vibe people get in that two second assessment they have to make of you. Whatever details you can affect to counteract that will be worth your while.

As Goofyy said above, there is a cruiser/truck stop culture out there, too, so if that's not your thing, just be aware of its existence. (As a woman I've obviously never dealt with it directly, but have friends who have).
posted by mdn at 6:08 AM on June 7, 2005

- Never get in a car that makes a U-turn to pick you up.
- If the driver is making you uncomfortable, e.g., hitting on you, tell him/her that you are underage (if you look young) and hopefully they'll stop whatever they're doing. If they start touching you, be forceful in taking their hands off you and say that you don't like what they're doing. Ask them to pull over so you can get out. This worked for me when I was 17.
- Hitching with another person is safer, especially if you are a girl.

I agree that position is everything. On/off ramps are great as well as truck stops. Bring a big black marker and shove some cardboard into your pack. Stand with your backpack on the ground beside you so that the driver can get a full view of you and how much stuff you have.

I've hitched a lot in Canada and Europe and have never hitched in the States. I've only ever had one bad experience (see the one above) and that was when I was first starting out and near my redneck hometown. I have fond memories of hitching and would only do it now if I was with a guy.
posted by KathyK at 6:13 AM on June 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've hitched a lot in S.America, Europe and the Middle East.

Somebody said:
Be prepared to walk and wait for hours before getting a ride.

This is very true. Hitchhiking is basically walking, hanging out, and being very happy when (if) you get a ride.

Don't approach hitching as "I'm gonna stick my thumb out and get a ride within the next 15 mins". Have a laid back attitude, don't get pissed at all the morons in big cars who don't stop, and be prepared to spend 6 hours by the side of the road an like it.

Gas stations are a good place to approach people corteously and ask for a ride. Truck drivers are as close to God as you're gonna get in this lifetime.

Be a woman if you possibly can, if not try to get one to go with you, this helps a lot.
posted by signal at 10:30 AM on June 7, 2005

I did tons of hitching in the late 70s early 80s, here is what worked then: Be clean cut, wear a shirt with a collar, no dog. A cardboard sign is good, with your destination followed by the word "please." Lots of people who picked me up said it was because of the please. Make eye contact with drivers as the pass, an open smile on your face. Offer to pay for gas--and be prepared to do so when the rare person agrees to it. No, $4 a day won't cut it.

You'll spend hours waiting sometimes, and some rides will be pretty weird. I never felt in danger, but some days every ride was from either a gay guy or a born-again Christian, both with agendas in which I was not interested. The difference was that the homosexuals would accept no for an answer!
posted by LarryC at 10:51 AM on June 7, 2005

If you have a few spare dollars to take a bus out of town, that's usually a help. $4/day may be too tight for comfort.

As others said, pick a place where (1) you will be visible from afar and not hidden in shadows, and (2) where the driver can stop easily.

I used to hitchhike, still give rides quite often. I prefer "normal" looking people who can converse intelligently but can shut up if I don't talk myself. Do use your thumb to signal you want a ride -- a sign isn't important to me, but I don't stop unless it's clear you're wanting a ride. I usually don't commit to distance until we've talked a bit.

If you stay in hostels (it's not within your $4 I know) you'll get info on best places to get rides, and possible company -- hitching with a girl really does make a huge difference.
posted by anadem at 11:01 AM on June 7, 2005

This makes me think of the one time I ever picked up a hitcher - it was on a major metropolitan street, not really a highway. It was late fall or early winter, it was snowing, and there was a woman struggling to walk through the snowplow's leavings beside the road. As it turned out, she had just had surgery on both ankles, too (or so she said). She wasn't going far, but she really appreciated the lift, and I felt good for doing it. This leads me to think of a ploy that might help you get picked up a little more often - walk with a limp. If you appear to be put out by having to walk, you should get a little more sympathy all around. It's up to you whether you feel comfortable basically lying to prospective and actual rides.

You could also wear something like a highway worker-type reflective vest - both for safety, and to subliminally indicate to people that you're not a drifter, but rather specifically going somewhere, and hitching to do so.

I would second the "please" on your sign(s), that's a good tip. Also trying for some humor in them. If you have no particular destination, just heading south, maybe a sign that just says "thataway" with an arrow. That sort of thing. (If you wore the vest, you could write on it, "NOT A PSYCHO KILLER." Or maybe not.)

Sounds like fun - hope you enjoy the trip!
posted by attercoppe at 12:57 PM on June 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

This is a lot of great advice. The last hitching thread on mefi garnered a lot of panicky "this is how people end up dead" rather than balanced responses.. More info, off the top of my head:

- Stay clean & look respectable and not too grubby. Shower whenever you get the chance. Don't ever talk politics or religion unless you and the driver really see eye-to-eye; otherwise, don't get more confrontational than "I disagree but I see your point."
- I hitch a lot from truckstops & large gas stations (less so from rest stops & the side of the highway, though I definitely like on-ramps). It allows both me & the driver to size each other up with plenty of time, rather than the split-second side-of-the-road decisionmaking, and if you get stuck overnight, there's always the truckers' lounge to sleep in.
- By the end of the trip you'll be pretty familiar with truckstops. For now: when hitching from gas stations that're primarily truckstops, stand near the entrance to the fuel desk (where truckers pay) and ask "hey, where're you headed?" with a big smile to everyone who passes. Most people won't want to take you, but don't take it personally otherwise you'll get grouchy & bitter quick! Also, truckers will often offer you showers (free to them, "bonuses" for buying gas), which is nice.. Like others have said, trucks are slower than cars, but they also keep longer hours. Sometimes truckers'll let you use their radios to ask for rides, which can be helpful...
- I only use signs when I need to go to a very specific place that's not necessarily directly en route, or when I'm hitching on smaller roads. Otherwise, a thumb & a big smile are good enough. Sometimes "We tell jokes!" gets good responses from traffic.
- If you're going near/through a big city, be picky about your rides. Getting stuck in the suburbs can suck, especially if you're trying to get to the other side of the city. That's when an "I-17" (etc) sign is crucial. If you're not planning on going TO that particular city, do your best to get a ride headed all the way through. If you're stuck & can get a bus from one side to the other, do--it's probably worth it to spend the extra couple bucks.
- Don't expect rides to be quick--sometimes you'll wait five minutes, but sometimes several hours is more the norm. Take things as they come & don't rely too much on a schedule. Approach talking to drivers by erasing as much of your personality as you can and practicing elicing amazing/peculiar stories from all different kinds of people. Drivers open up to hitchers more readily than you'd ever expect.
- Choose clothes that layer well in case it gets cold at night. Look for church doorways & unlocked ladders to flat roofs (if you're in the suburbs) for sleeping in/on. Use hospitalityclub & globalfreeloaders to find places to stay.

I know you're already on the road, so hopefully this'll be useful to someone else someday! I hope your trip is going wonderfully!
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:28 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

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