A couple young Chilenos hitching a ride to a rodeo
Hitchhiking may not be as popular as it once was, but it is still a great way to travel in foreign countries. Better yet, it is possible to successfully fish self-guided and use hitchhiking as the main mode of transportation from one river or lake to the next. Especially when you are in remote regions where there are no buses. Hitchhiking can allow a fly fisherman on a tight budget to move about a country for free! More importantly, hitchhiking can provide a fisherman with great opportunities to meet locals, and if you are lucky enough, a fellow fly fisherman may stop and give you a lift. If you do not speak the local language, you will have ample time to practice your language skills.
There are many stigmas around the safety of hitchhiking, and without a doubt, there are risks involved. But if you take the appropriate precautions, you can minimize the potential hazards. Assume 1 out of 100 drivers who stop for you may be a safety risk.
One of the great things about hitchhiking is the huge array of people that you can meet: from families on holiday to blue collared or white collared workers. The people who pick up hitchhikers are often more interesting than the average person you will come across – they have to be pretty open minded to invite a complete stranger into their vehicle!
How do you hitchhike?
You are keen to give hitchhiking a go, but how do you do it? Let's cover the two types of hitchhiking, active and passive.
Active hitchhiking means that you approach a person who you do not know and ask them if you can ride with them in their vehicle. This normally takes place at gas stations and rest stops.
- Walk up to a driver, preferably when they are out of their vehicle and strike up a conversation (if you speak the local language).
- Ask the driver where they are going and if you can go with them.
- In the case that you are not proficient at speaking the local language, have the name of your intended destination and the names of other locations along the route written down on a piece of paper. You can hand this to the driver and ask if they are going to any of those places.
A ride into Paris
Passive hitchhiking means that you allow drivers to see you as they pass by in their vehicle and they decide whether or not they want to give you a ride based upon your appearance.
- When traveling from a town or city, you will need to get yourself as far to the outside of the edge of town as possible. This might mean walking a mile or two, or catching a local bus and riding it to the outskirts of town. It is ideal to position yourself just before the highway. Bus stops are often great places. Do not waste your time trying to thumb from the center of a town/city.
- Make yourself visible to passing traffic. You should stand in a location where there is enough room for a passing vehicle to safely stop.
- Smile and extend a thumb! Holding a sign with the name of your intended destination can also be useful, but is not always necessary. In some countries, extending a thumb may be considered rude, so find out what gesture is appropriate to entice a driver to stop for you.
- Make as much eye contact with each passing driver for as long as possible, so that you know their attention is on you.
- When a driver stops for you, run towards the vehicle! Don't give the driver any time to second guess their decision.
- Ask the driver some questions to get an idea about them. If they seem alright, ask the driver about their destination and if you can go with them. Be polite. Do not just jump in the vehicle without saying anything.
- If you are on a rural road, it is sometimes best to keep walking until you get a ride. You may entice a driver to stop by showing that you are putting some effort into getting to your destination.
- Look as presentable and positive as possible. If you can, be clean shaven. If you have a backpack, make sure that you display it in front of you, so the drivers can see that you are a backpacker. There are some drivers who are more inclined to pick up foreign backpackers than locals.
- If you have been waiting a long time for a ride, it's best to stay positive which is easier said than done. Even if its cold, windy and raining, you need to continue smiling as each driver passes.
- Do not expect that everyone speaks English. If you cannot speak the local language, try to learn a few useful phrases. “How are you?”, “Where are you going?”, “Can I go with you?”. At the very least, its best to always first ask “Do you speak English?” People generally don't care if you cannot speak their language, but making an effort to do so will help earn some respect.
- In the case that your ride cannot take you all the way to your final destination, request that they drop you off in as good of a spot as possible so you can continue on. Ask to be left on the outskirt of the town/city closest to the direction of your onward travel or at a rest stop on the highway before the driver's destination. Being dropped off in the center of a town/city that is not your destination will likely add a lot more travel time.
- As a male, hitchhiking alone or with a female will be the easiest way to get a ride. Any more than 2 hitchhikers can decrease your chances of getting picked up.
- If you arrive to a location where there is already another hitchhiker waiting, show some courtesy and do not encroach on their stake. Do not move ahead of them so you get picked up first. If anything, walk further down the road to another spot until the other hitchhiker is out of sight. If it is not possible to walk further down the road, stay out of sight and wait until they get picked up to take the spot.
- If you are dropped off in a bad place on the highway, your best bet is to walk to the nearest rest station. Drivers will normally not stop to pick up anyone on a road where traffic is moving faster than 60 mph (unless there is a bus stop on the highway).
- When active hitchhiking from a rest stop/gas station, it is not recommended to approach the driver the moment they get out of their vehicle. You don't know if they have been driving for hours on end and are dying to use the toilet. Give them at least a few minutes before approaching them and asking for a ride.
- Have all of your possessions accounted for before exiting the vehicle. Make sure bigger items that you attach to your backpack (eg. sleeping pad/rod tubes) are secure.
No ride? You better start walking!
- One of the biggest risks in hitchhiking is getting a ride from a drunk driver. If you smell alcohol while talking to the driver, politely decline the ride.
- It is ideal to have an idea of the exact route that you will be taking from Point A to Point B. This will most likely require some research beforehand. If you know the route you should be traveling, you may easily detect when the driver has made a *wrong* turn.
- Go with your gut instinct. If you do not feel right about a driver who has stopped for you, do not get in the vehicle. It is completely OK to turn down an offered ride. If you get into a vehicle and begin to have a bad feeling about the driver, do what you can to get the driver to stop and let you out.
- Try to glean as much information from a stopped driver as possible. Is the driver wearing a wedding ring, is there a baby seat in the car? Is there a female in the car? How clean is the vehicle? What is the driver's body language - do they appear relaxed or tense? Do you smell alcohol or drugs? Ask some questions to the driver to get a feel for them. If a driver won't give you a straight forward answer on their destination, it is a good idea to second guess whether you want to take a ride with them.
- Make sure that all places that you thumb from have ample room for a car to stop and pull over safely. Do not encourage a driver to stop in a dangerous place on the road.
- Keep your most valuable possessions (eg. passport) on your person. Having a small day pack is useful to keep other valuables (eg. journals, flies/reels) in the case that you have to bail the car.
- Caution to females hitchhiking on their own. Drivers who will stop for you will be different than those who will stop for you if you are with a male.
HitchWiki.org is an invaluable resource for all-matters related to hitchhiking. The website has a great world map with hitchhiking spots - very useful for hitching around Europe by saving you a bit of time with finding out how to get to the outskirt of a town.
Be sure to research the hitchhiking protocol for the specific country you plan on traveling in. In some places, using an extended thumb can be considered a rude gesture and in others, there may be an expectation that the driver be paid some amount of money.
You may feel a bit of worry with your first few rides, but once you gain more experience, hitchhiking can be as normal as taking a bus.