Discount Travel Means Hitchhiking for Hi-tech Hippies

Hitchhiking used to be the domain of happy hippies and kings of the road like Kerouac. But in these days of serial killers and just plain distrust of your fellow man, is it still possible to bum a free ride?

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While many hitchhikers have perfectly wonderful experiences and meet lots of oddball characters, hitching is now generally frowned upon. Whereas guidebooks used to at least provide the best places to hitch, most of them now totally advise against it.

Let’s Go publications, which had a hitchhiker’s thumb as its logo for decades, dropped it in its most recent edition. Editor Tom Mercer said: “Though Let’s Go readers might still choose to hitchhike in certain circumstances, we felt that the logo was no longer emblematic of budget travel.” Today’s budget travelers are most often backpackers. The writers at artoftravel.com said, “…the vast majority of travel backpackers rely on public transportation and never hitch rides.”

So how do budget travelers get around?

Ridesharing is the New Hitchhiking
When I was in college, rideshare boards matched up carless students with drivers looking for some company on a long trip. The internet now brings this casual carpooling to the masses. The number of rides offered in the US are usually only a fraction of those offered in Europe – possibly due to the extreme price of gas, or that Europeans aren’t as xenophobic as Americans.

  • Ridecheck (for US and Canada) – Ridecheck started out as a rideshare service for college students, but it’s morphed into the carpool arena, being offered as an alternative for commuters during NYC transit strikes.
  • Digithitch Rideboard: the site is free, ride offers are posted and you e-mail the person. They have pages for rides offered in the US and rides in Europe.
  • Drive2Day (europe)
  • BugEurope BugRide

Hitchhiking the old fashioned way…
So you still want to wing it? Throw plans to the wind and chance being stuck outside to die of exposure in Alaska if no ride appears? If you do want to hitch the old fashioned way, follow these tips from the experts:

  • Show where you’re going. Have a bold destination sign, one visible from two-three seconds drive-time away. This shows where you’re going (so drivers can figure out if they can help you) but also that you’re literate and you’re on a planned trip. Try to be creative. Some examples I saw online included something as simple as “please,” “We’re fun!” (from a couple), and my favorite, “I don’t smell.”
  • Don’t look like a serial killer. Even though most serial killers hold down jobs and look normal, there’s still the stereotype of the rumpled crazy-looking dude who maims good Samaritans. “Dress like the people you want to pick you up, “ says LifeHacker.com.
  • Consider your location. In countries where crime rates are low and standard of living is high, hitchhiking is probably pretty safe. New Zealand is oft mentioned as the “hitcher’s paradise.”
  • Make eye contact with drivers. Respectable eyes for male drivers and “puppy eyes” for female drivers. And SMILE!
  • Be prepared to wait. Average “wait time” is 45 minutes, even near an urban area. Don’t be afraid to turn down a ride if it doesn’t feel right. Trust your gut.
  • Go alone or go with a friend. Some argue single drivers won’t pick two people up, and some say it’s safer to be with a friend in the car.
  • Pack light, and keep your bag in your hands in the car. If things get ugly, you can hop out quickly.

Although common wisdom would have you believe that there is a high rape/maiming/murder rate for hitchhikers, in fact the #1 danger in hitchhiking (or backpack travel in general) is being in a vehicle accident. So before you accept a ride, do a visual cursory check of the car’s condition, and check out the driver to make sure they’re a sober.

Hitchhiking Sites to Ogle
Digihitch.com: the modern hitchhiker’s hub. Everything you need to know about hitchhiking, rail and road travel, with 10,000 members and growing. I almost don’t need to post other sites – this one has stories, resources, blogs, and some interesting road polls.

Let Me Stay For A Day: the website, book and blog about Ramon Stoppelenburg. Stoppelenburg traveled the world for two years with no money, hitchhiking and staying with generous souls who invited him into their homes through his website. Read an excerpt of his time in Scotland here.

Artoftravel.com has some great hitchhiking tips as part an online book by John Gregory, on seeing the world on $25 a day or less. Great common sense advice from a man who has visited 35 countries and still retains his sense of humor and all his phalanges.

Gonomad.com: another wonderful comprehensive alternative travel site. I was especially interested in the women’s travel resources and stories.

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