Safe hitchhiking – it’s not an oxymoron, we promise. While hitchhiking is far from the preferred method of travel in the United States, you’ll be surprised by how easy, safe, and enjoyable it can be in getting around Europe. Follow these tips to become a hitchhiking success, instead of a cautionary tale.
Travel during the day
We can’t even count all the reasons you should avoid hitchhiking at night. Let’s start with visibility. Unless you’re wearing bright colors and reflectors – and sometimes even if you’re dressed for visibility – you stand a much higher chance of getting hit by a car at night than you do during the day. There is also likely to be less traffic during the night than there is in daylight, meaning two things. First, you’ll be on the road longer, giving you more opportunities to get hurt. Second, you’ll have fewer ride options, which might lead you to hop in a car with a driver you wouldn’t normally trust.
Choose the right spot
Picking the best signal place will not only keep you safe, it will make getting picked up more likely. Gas stations are often safe places to set up camp, but if there isn’t one nearby, select a section of the road with a wide shoulder or clear pull-off point. If there isn’t a convenient place to pull over, cars just won’t stop for you. Keeping a shoulder between you and the roadway also gives you a buffer, preventing your chances of getting harmed by a vehicle. Facing oncoming traffic with a clearly lettered sign also does double duty in improving your pickup chances and keeping you out of harm’s way. Finally, stay away from major highways. Faster speeds are more dangerous, and drivers are less likely to notice you – what’s more, in some countries, hitchhiking on a highway is illegal. So stick to the back roads.
Listen to your gut
Trusting your instincts comes first and foremost on the road. Generally, there are two kinds of people who will stop for a hitchhiker: really nice people and total weirdos. Always talk to the driver before getting in the car. Ask where they’re going and if there are any safe drop-off points along the way. Listen carefully to their responses and use your best judgment. If anything makes you uncomfortable – particularly if it seems like the driver may be intoxicated – politely refuse the ride. Accepting a ride doesn’t mean you have to stick with it either – if something comes up on the road, you can politely ask to be dropped off at an earlier stop of your choosing.
Tell a white lie
If you’re nervous about hitchhiking and want an extra assurance, tell a little white lie. Getting picked up near a residential area? Wave in the direction of a house before getting in the car – the driver will think someone saw his vehicle. Want to get out the car early without arising suspicion? Fake motion sickness. When the driver pulls over, take your bag and tell him there’s no need to wait for you. Two fibs you should always tell: call or text a friend (or pretend, if you don’t have service) with a description of the car as you get in, and double check that the doors open from the inside by acting like it didn’t shut properly.