Having hitched for a fair bit in the past year or so, I’ve noticed what things work and what don’t when it comes to scoring a ride. As I’m such a nice person, I don’t mind sharing some tips with you ;)
While hitching practices (and signals) differ depending on which part of the world you’re in, generally the following tricks work well wherever you are (note that some tips might be a little bit more geared towards girls since, well, I’m a girl and the advices are based on my personal experiences). So let’s start with:
First off, don’t be in a rush. I guess most hitchers would agree that hitching should be done when you’re not on a tight deadline to get somewhere, since you never know when you’ll get there (but get there you will, wherever there might be).
Be well rested and generally in a good mood. I’ve hitched a few times when I was rather tired and not really into it because of long stretches I did the day before. I noticed that during those days it was much harder for me to stop rides, because - one way or another - people can pick up if a person is sending out bad vibes. And nobody wants to have a crabby person in their car. So be happy and smile :)
Needless to say it’s probably not such a good idea to wear hotpants and a tight low cut top when you’re hitching as a girl. Unless you’re hitching to hitch up some physical action. When I hitch I wear flabby pants and t-shirt (plus hoody if I’m hitching in cooler climates).
Though it’s advised to hitch without sunglasses on, sometimes it’s kinda hard to not wear them, especially if you’re hitching at midday. I, mostly, hitch with sunglasses on, and I can tell you that I’ve always managed to get rides, so it’s not impossible, as long as you have the right attitude.
Obviously it’s important to smell fresh, but I wouldn’t recommend to use perfumes or flowery (or other nice smelling) deodorants for that matter. The less you smell like a girl, the better. You don’t want to titillate the driver.
I always hitch with a scarf - the most versatile cloth ever - which I use to cover up, should I want to avoid any unsolicited stares at certain parts of my body (think hair, chest, and bare arms).
Basically: if you look (and smell) like a boy, you should be just fine.
Personally, I don’t use signs. Though they may be useful in some cases, I find that cars pull over much quicker and more often when you just stick your thumb out. But if you do stick by them, don’t forget to have a marker or at least a pen in your pack. Pieces of cardboard can always be gathered at gasstations or supermarkets. And it helps if you put something funny on the sign - the more creative you are the better - even if drivers don’t stop, at least you made them smile.
Reusable bottle - don’t think I need to tell you that it’s important to stay hydrated, so it’s always smart to have a bottle with you that you can fill up at gasstations (some of them even have taps outside the shop). Though it’s not always advisable to drink the tapwater in some countries, when worst comes to worst and you’re really dehydrated hitching in 30+ degrees heat, you’ll be glad you got that bottle.
Don’t forget to bring some water purification tablets and/or some ORS with you.
The further out of town you are the better really. Hitching inside the city, though not entirely impossible, is not recommendable. Best is to get a bus/tram/metro as far out of the center as possible and walk from there. Check Hitchwiki for great places to start from. It has always worked well for me when I stand near a roundabout, intersection, speed bump, zebra crossing, stop sign, red light - when cars actually have to slow down. Remember that if a car can not safely stop for you, it probably won’t , so make sure you leave enough space for cars to pull over.
Other places to try are bus stops (near the highway), toll stations (péage), service stations, on/off ramps and truck stops. Though it’s not advisable to hitch on the highway, sometimes you may find yourself in situations where the driver drops you off at one of the off ramps (because he isn’t going any further, but you are). To get out of there, and to catch your next ride, walk to the nearest on ramp. It’s much more likely they will stop for you there rather than trying to stop one of the cars that are passing you at 666 miles/hour (though I’ve had several occasions where these road devils did stop for me).
As a rule of thumb, I always stick my thumb out, whenever I’m walking (inside the city, towards the edge of town, on/near the road/highway). You’re walking anyways, so you might as well give it a go. I’ve stopped many cars this way (and yeah, even inside the city). Try attaching a sign on your backpack with your destination, this way drivers know you’re a hitchhiker and they can read where you’re heading to.
If you find that cars aren’t stopping (and you’re getting rather bored at just standing there) do some crazy dance or (try to) juggle - basically whatever catches people’s attention (and keep yourself entertained in the meanwhile).
If you can avoid it - don’t hitch in bad weather. Not only do fewer cars stop, you really don’t want to stand out there in the pouring rain. But if you have to get on the road, make sure you’re prepared and have the gear to keep you (and your backpack) dry.
When it comes to hitching solo vs hitching with a (several) partner(s), in general it’s easier to be picked up when you’re alone. Sometimes cars only have space for one passenger. So as nice as it is to have company on the road, if you need to get somewhere and make some serious miles, you’re probably better off going at it alone.
OK, so you’ve managed to stop a car. Now what do you do?
Walk at a normal pace, don’t run, and while you make your way over there, check the car out (if it makes you feel better remember the license plate and text it to a friend) and when you get to the driver, ask where he is going. If they reply with: “Wherever you’re going” (or something similar) then 9 out of 10 times they are probably not going very far and their intentions are not so pure, so you might want to skip that ride (say that you’re going to some city in the opposite direction) and wait for the next one.
If you do get a good vibe from the driver, then by all means, get in! Strike up a conversation if you feel like they’re up for it (and most of them are), or if you don’t speak eachother’s languages try to teach a bit of your language and vice versa, sing, play games, listen to the radio or whatever there is to do to pass the time. If you’re really tired and all you want to do is just take a nap, tell the driver that. Most times they understand and will even let you sleep on the bed (if you’re in a truck).
Before you doze off, don’t forget to tell the driver where you want to get off, so he knows when to wake you up. Depending on where you’re going, it’s best to be dropped off at a gasstation on the highway (if you still haven’t made it to your destination and you’re looking for further rides) or in town (depending on where you want to go). I usually find that drivers are more than happy to drop me off wherever it is I want to go, as long as I ask them nicely.
Bravo, you’ve made it to the end of my list and by now, you should have a pretty good idea of how to stop a ride and make it an enjoyable one. But even with all these pointers, sometimes it’s hard to believe you will ever get a ride, especially when things appear hopeless (if you’re stranded on some back road with no cars in sight and damn the sun is starting to set), but it’s universally known that no matter where you are and how long you have to wait, eventually somebody will pick you up. It’s hitchhiking law.
So, keep the spirits up and enjoy the roads my sisters and brothers :)