Been standing on the side of the road with your thumb out for 4 hours and still haven’t been picked up? You’re probably making one of these classic hitchhiking mistakes. Welcome to a crash course in exactly how NOT to get a ride.
Pick Your Spot Well
How often have you seen a car pulled over on a bridge? Okay, you might have seen it once or twice in your life, but chances are it’s because they had a flat tyre and weren’t left with much of a choice.
Bridges are a terrible spot for pulling over, especially high-speed two-lane freeway bridges… so don’t stand halfway across one and expect to get picked up!
If you’re standing there with a hopeful face and an outward-pointing thumb, cursing at every car that flies past you and wondering why no one has had the decency to pull over and give you a ride, try to consider things from the driver’s perspective.
It’s not that they aren’t willing to give a friendly hitchhiker such as yourself a ride to the next town; it’s the fact that there is literally nowhere to pull over! There are plenty of kind drivers out there who are more than willing to offer a backpacker a ride… they’re just not willing to have their car rear-ended over it.
Bends have the same problem – if you’re standing on a bend somewhere along a main road, chances are the driver isn’t going to see you until he or she is already passing you.
Don’t forget, if you’re on a main road (which you should be if you’re looking for a ride, but we’ll get to that in a second) than every car that passes is probably going somewhere between 80 and 100 kilometres an hour.
By the time the driver has time to pull over, they’re going to be a hundred metres further up the road; they’ll probably just keep driving on their merry way right to the destination you’re hoping to score a free ride to.
Okay, one more thing on where you choose to stand with your big cardboard sign displaying a city name in big black bold letters. I would’ve thought this one was pretty obvious but you’d be surprised how often it happens.
I once saw a couple of guys standing on the side of the road right in the middle of Queenstown, New Zealand, trying to hitchhike to Mount Cook, a good three and a half hour drive away. I passed them once in the middle of the afternoon, and then a few hours later when it was starting to get dark I passed them again on my way back to the hostel (to be fair to them, they’d moved about two blocks further up the street…)
My point is that the city centre is never a good spot to hitchhike to the next town (or further) because it’s pretty unlikely that anyone on that road is just starting out a 4-hour cross-country drive – they’re more likely to be heading to the post office or to buy some milk!
You need to make your way to the outskirts of town, and make sure you’re on the main road that heads towards wherever you’re trying to go. If you’re trying to get from Munich to Prague, don’t start trekking along the westbound freeway – you may well get a ride, but you’ll end up in Switzerland or Lichtenstein!
Break It Up Into Bits
This is an important one: don’t expect to get from Paris to Berlin in one hit. It’s great that you have such a positive, ambitious attitude and everything, but you’d be extremely lucky to get picked up by a driver who just happens to be driving the 1000-kilometre, 9.5-hour journey directly to Berlin.
Anyone who passes you on the side of the road just outside Paris with your thumb out and a giant cardboard sign saying BERLIN is likely to scoff at you and continue on their way, spraying you with a big soggy puddle of mud as they pass (French can be real bastards sometimes).
You’re much more likely to get a ride from Paris to Belgium/Cologne or something, then pick up another ride from there to somewhere like Hanover or Hamburg, and then it should be pretty easy to make that last stretch to Berlin.
Don’t get me wrong: you could get lucky and pick up a direct ride (people are driving long-distance journeys across Europe all day every day) but it’s important to be realistic. And hey, what’s the rush?! Wouldn’t you prefer to see Belgium along the way anyway?
Don’t Feel Like You Owe The Driver Anything
Alright so by this point you’ve found a kind stranger, they’ve driven you to where you wanted to go, it’s time to say goodbye and you’re feeling super awkward because they’ve been really accommodating and you feel like you owe them more than a thanks but you really need that $20 in your pocket for dinner and a bed.
Seriously – you don’t owe them anything and unless they’re a total asshole, they’re not expecting anything from you either!
Most people will get it: you’re a backpacker. If you had lots of cash, you’d be getting a train/bus to the next town rather than standing on the side of the road hitchhiking on a miserable day getting soaking wet in the rain.
Don’t forget that this driver was heading to this destination anyway. They haven’t gone out of their way or spent any extra money by taking you here. The only hassle you’ve caused them is a brief 30-second stop to pick you up on the side of the road and hopefully some interesting conversation to make their journey much less boring.
If they do happen to stop at a gas station somewhere along the way to fill up and you’re standing around with your hands in your pockets whistling nervously while you watch the price meter rise and rise and rise to 50+ euro, you can diffuse this by offering to buy them a coffee or a sandwich or something.
Anything more than that, you’re being more generous than you need to be.
Check Out Blabla Car First
One last thing: rideshare sites like Blabla Car and Kangaride (different countries have different ridesharing sites) have really taken off in the last year or so, and it’s more common now than it’s ever been in the past.
Depending on how far you’re going and how large the two destinations are, there’s a big chance that someone is offering a ride on any given day for no more than a few bucks so it might be worth forking over 10 euro just so you can arrange to meet somewhere, jump in the car, and not have to worry about the inconvenient dramas that sometimes come with hitchhiking.
Okay, that’s it – I think you’re ready. Enjoy your trip!