I absolutely love hitchhiking.
When I travel, it’s probably (rivalled only by hiking and finding good nightlife) my favorite thing to do.
And in this post, I’m gonna tell you why. No, it’s not dangerous. No, you probably won’t get murdered. And, no, you don’t have to be a tramp to do it.
Whenever I tell people I love hitchhiking, they always seem confused. And in a way, I get why. But maybe after reading this, you won’t be.
An Introduction via Azerbaijan
Alright, I’m gonna start with a story.
About five or six years ago, I went to Azerbaijan for ten days, as part of a longer trip. During those ten days, I spent £40. That’s around $55.
$55 dollars over ten days.
You probably think I’m a big fat liar, but I promise I’m not.
I spent an average of $5.50 a day because I was hitchhiking. Pretty much every day, someone would pick me up, drive me to the town or village I was going to, let me spend the night in their house (or the house of a friend or whatever), then make me up a packed lunch and drop me off at a new hitchhiking spot the next day.
Hitchhiking is the best way to experience generosity and hospitality, and the best way to get close to real people and real experiences.
I want to be clear here: the money isn’t the important thing. I’m not trying to save money at the expense of others (especially people who are poorer than me). But the ridiculously-tiny amount of money I spent shows you how generous, kind, warm and open people were. I always offered money, but no-one ever accepted it.
The two people in the picture above – here’s how I met them: I hitchhiked to Lahic, a small village in Azerbaijan. I wanted to do some hiking in the area, and see the traditional old village. When I got there, the guy who was driving me stopped at the side of the road, next to a truck selling watermelons. He spoke to the two watermelon-sellers in Azeri. They gave me some watermelon and tea. One of them called his brother, who spoke to me on the phone in English – and he invited me to stay at their family home. They gave me food, and stories, and warm welcomes.
Now, unless you hitchhike, you’re not gonna experience that stuff. It just isn’t going to happen. We travel for new experiences, and to learn about local people and local culture. And hitchhiking is the absolute best way to get those experiences, with (in my opinion) no exception.
In the modern world, (and even moreso cos of Covid), most aspects of travel are sanitised and inauthentic and insincere. The only way to get past that is by meeting real people – and hitchhiking is the best possible way to meet real people.
I know I sound like a massive pretentious knobhead. But if you want a real experience, you have to chase it.
People who pick you up will take you to their homes, their favorite restaurants, their favorite views. You’ll end up going on day trips with people you’ve just met. You’ll make friends with people who you stay in contact with. You will have experiences you could have had no other way.
An on top of all that, it’s usually quicker than taking public transport, and you might even save some money.
Wow! People From Azerbaijan Are Nice! But, Paul, I Don’t Want to Go to Azerbaijan…
You don’t need to (although it’s lovely, so you should).
Yeah, I reckon Azeris are probably the most hospitable people I’ve ever met.
But that experience I outlined above – it’s not exclusive to Azerbaijan. I’ve had similar experiences all over the world…
If you hitchhike, you’ll meet interesting people, you’ll hear interesting stories, and you’ll have experiences you’ll never forget. Every ride is different, every person who picks you up is different, and every journey is different.
But Paul! Hitchhiking is Dangerous and I’ll Get Killed!
I think you’ve been watching too many films.
Most hitchhikers don’t get killed. Yes, it’s possible that you’ll be picked up by a maniac and tortured to death. That is within the realms of possibility.
But it’s also within the realms of possibility that you might choke on your breakfast. Or die in a plane crash. Or fall down some stairs to your death. But you’re not going to stop eating or flying or walking down stairs are you.
Not everyone is trying to murder you; get over yourself.
If you’re a woman, and you’re traveling solo, I can’t really give you any advice, because I’m not a woman and I never have been. But I’m obviously aware that things (sadly) can be very different for women compared to how they are for men. And until the small minority of horrible men are willing to change, that means you have to make changes.
That said, I’ve hitchhiked with lots of women (friends, girlfriends, my sister), and they’ve all been fine. And I’ve met lots of women who’ve hitchhiked solo. But I can’t give you first-hand advice as a solo female hitchhiker.
I’m Not Convinced – I Still Need Hitchhiking Safety Tips
- Don’t hitchhike at night. You look like a lunatic, so people are way less likely to pick you up.
- Hitchhike with another person if you can (though I’ve hitchhiked solo the vast majority of the time), because you’re easier prey if you’re riding alone.
- Don’t get into a car with someone who looks like they might murder you, or who cackles ominously when you get in the car, or has an axe in the back seat. It’s also not a great idea to get into a car with a drunk person (but good luck with that in some parts of Eastern Europe).
- When you’re going along in a car, look out for road signs, so you can work out whether the person driving is actually going where they said they are.
- Hitchhiking is illegal in a small few countries and places, including Singapore and some US states. Honestly, it being illegal wouldn’t stop me, and I’ve hitchhiked illegally in the past – but if that stuff puts you off, check the legality before you get started.
- Don’t stand on a big motorway or a big freeway. You probably don’t need me to tell you that, but it’s dangerous. And no-one will stop for you anyway, so you’re wasting your time.
- Start early. The earlier you start, the earlier you’ll get where you need to be. And the earlier you get where you need to be, the less chance there is of standing in the dark, with nowhere to go or sleep. Note: this has literally never happened to me. Hitchhiking is way more reliable than people want you to believe.
Again, I’ve never had a single problem hitchhiking, and I reckon I’ve been in at least 2,000 cars – and I’ve probably hitchhiked in around 30 countries.
Do I Need to Pay to Hitchhike?
It depends, but the answer is usually no.
When I had less money, I sometimes offered money and sometimes didn’t. Now, my rule is this: if I’m in a poor country, I always offer money. If I’m not in a poor country, I offer money for longer rides, but not for short rides.
The vast majority of the time, people will refuse money, even when you offer it over and over again.
The only big exception is when you’re in a country where hitchhiking is a commonly-accepted method of normal transport. When I was in Tajikistan, for example, lots of locals hitchhike, so hitchhiking is considered a method of public transport, rather than a niche hobby that some foreign weirdo has.
Okay – I’ve Decided I’m Not Scared of Literally Everything, and Now I Want to Try This. How Do I Actually Do It?
Like anything else, there are rules and techniques. You can’t just stand on the side of a road in central London and expect that someone’s going to drive you directly to some remote mountain town in Iran.
So that means you’re gonna need some tactics.
The most important thing when you’re hitchhiking is planning your route. Get a map out, and look at where you are, and where you want to go. Whatever is the main road between those places, that’s the road you want to get on. So you get very close to that road (usually using public transport), and hitch a lift with people going on that road, in the same direction you want to go to.
This advice changes if you’re going really rural. In built-up areas, there are hundreds of roads to navigate and negotiate, and they all go to countless different places. So in those cases, you need to plan wisely. But let’s say you’re in a little remote village, and you just want to head an hour north. In that case, just stand on the main road going north. Hitching in rural areas is WAY easier than hitching in built up areas.
The next most important thing is finding a good place to get picked up. Obviously, the middle of a motorway isn’t great. Neither is a footpath, cos car’s can’t go there. Broadly speaking, you want to stand in a place where:
- Cars can pull in. If there’s not enough space for a car to safely pull in away from the road, not many cars will stop. Anything will do: a lay-by, a car parking space, a little muddy patch off a dirt track.
- There is a straight stretch of road. If you’re right on a bend, no-one’s going to see you until they’re really close to you. But drivers need a few seconds to decide whether or not they want to stop.
- Drivers are stopping anyway. Places like gas stations and parking lots and food stops are great, because people stop there anyway. And if people have already stopped, they’re much more likely to pick you you. Standing on the exit ramp of a place like this is a great tactic if you’re hitching along a major freeway, highway or motorway.
Here are my final top tips: make sure you look friendly and happy. Don’t dress like a homeless murderer. Don’t look miserable (people are way more likely to pick you up if you smile). Use a sign if you’re going a long distance while in a affluent country. Don’t use a sign if you’re in a poorer country, or if you’re only going a short distance (no matter where you are). In most places, sticking out your thumb is the way to indicate that you want a ride. But in other nations, that gesture is offensive or misunderstood, so a palm-down flat hand is better.
For more tips and information on specific countries, routes and tactics, Hitchwiki is an absolutely incredible resource, and I’ve used it to plan lots of routes. On there, you can even find information on local bus routes, to work out which buses you can use to get the the outskirts of a city, and right beside a main road.
Choosing good countries is also important (if you’re impatient or nervous). I would hitchhike anywhere, but some countries are way more hitchhiker-friendly than others. Broadly speaking, poor countries are easier – in poorer countries, fewer people can afford cars, which means locals are more likely to hitchhike. But lots of expensive countries are great for hitchhiking too.
Some of the easiest countries I’ve been to for hitchhiking are Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Scotland, Germany, Albania, Romania and Thailand. But with enough patience, you can do it anywhere.
So, in summary, I love hitchhiking, you should love hitchhiking, and more people should love hitchhiking.
If you want any more tips or information, get in contact with me. I’d love to help you out. Or if you have any hitchhiking stories of your own, stick them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
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