Hitchhiking: Dangerous and Reckless or Adventurous and Fun?

Thumbs Up for Adventure

In one of my favorite novels, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” by Tom Robbins, the main character Sissy Hankshaw is born with abnormally large thumbs. She turns this unusual characteristic into a strength by becoming the best hitchhiker the world has ever known.

The way she wanders freely across the highways of the United States, making an art out of catching spontaneous rides wherever fate takes her, is an integral theme within the story.

However, in our culture hitchhiking is more associated with danger than with poetic peregrination. Mention to someone that you plan on hitchhiking and they are likely to recoil with alarm, their head suddenly filled with a vision of your dead body dumped in a shallow grave somewhere after you got into the wrong car.

But is hitchhiking really as dangerous as everyone thinks it is? Or can it be a cheap and fun way to get around and meet new people?

Do People Still Hitchhike?

There is a lot of stigma attached to hitchhiking. It is associated with vagrants, people with no money and weird hippies.

However, that’s only a stereotype. Many backpackers just like you hitchhike, for the money saving perks but also for the adventure of it. For example, check out this great post about hitchhiking on Nomadic Matt.

One of the common reactions people have to hitchhiking is asking, “is hitchhiking illegal?” It’s perfectly legal in most states the United States — as long as you aren’t standing directly on the road. Make sure to check the laws in the country in which you are traveling to before deciding to stick your thumb out.

People these days choose to hitchhike for different reasons. Think of it this way: if you couple hitchhiking with some free accommodation options, you’ve got all the fixings for the perfect cheap adventure!

Even Lee and I gave it a try when we were traveling around Newfoundland. It was easier than we thought to get picked up and we met a lot of wonderful, friendly people.

When Lee and I hitchhiked in Newfoundland, we found that most of the people who picked us up did so because they used to hitchhike in their youth. Standing by the roadside with our thumbs out, we reminded them of their younger selves and they wanted to both reminisce about their traveling days and pay forward the kind gesture of people who had picked them up.

Is Hitchhiking Really Dangerous?

The fear that many people have around hitchhiking is that anyone could slow down and pick you up — even someone who has bad intentions. However, is that really likely?

According to this post, your likelihood of being raped or killed with hitchhiking in the United States is 0.0000089%. When you look at the statistics, it doesn’t seem like you are any more likely to be murdered while hitchhiking than you are in any other situation.

There is a lot of scaremongering, but the risk really is exaggerated. However, as with any activity there are ways to do it safely to avoid danger.

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Tips for Safe Hitchhiking

  • Trust your instincts. If someone gives you the creeps, don’t get in the vehicle with them. Just make up any excuse and walk away. Don’t worry about offending them; you’ll never seem them again and your safety is more important.
  • Stand in a clear position so drivers can see you and are at no risk of hitting you.
  • Make sure you stand in a location where drivers will have room to slow down and pull over.
  • Pay attention to the way someone answers your questions. If they are telling the truth, their answers will make sense and they won’t hesitate. If they are not answering your questions honestly and openly, be on your guard.
  • If you can, hitchhike with a friend or a partner. It’s always safer to have a buddy with you.
  • Check out the website Hitchwiki. It is the Wikipedia of hitchhiking and is one of the biggest resources out there for hitchhikers. It gives you a lot of helpful info, including where to start, how to do it, where the best places to hitchhike are and much more.
  • Make sure you always have a backup plan. That will ensure you do not accept a ride out of desperation.
  • Always refuse a ride from anyone who appears to be impaired by drugs or alcohol, or who has alcohol bottles in their car.
  • Don’t hitchhike at night. People are more likely to act erratically under cover of darkness and there is also the danger that someone will hit you because they couldn’t see you at the side of the road.
  • Always wear light colored, highly visible clothes.
  • Even if you are sleepy, try not to fall asleep in someone’s car. Stay awake so you can be aware of what is going on and where you are.
  • A safe bet for hitchhiking are truck drivers. They are being tracked by the boss, so someone knows exactly where they are at all times. If they go off the road, someone will be on their case and will call to see what is up. However, sometimes truck drivers have to drive long hours so there is a danger of them falling asleep at the wheel, so it’s important to stay awake and keep them occupied with conversation.
  • If you are hitchhiking in extreme weather make sure you have the clothes and supplies for the situation. In the cold, make sure you are appropriately dressed to stand by the road for hours. In the heat, make sure you have sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water.

A Safer Alternative: Rideshare Websites

There is another option out there that offers the money saving advantage of hitchhiking as well as the chance to meet someone cool, but makes things a little safer rather than jumping in the car with any stranger who slows down.

A rideshare website is an online network that connects you with people who happen to be driving in the direction you want to travel. Here is a list of some of the most popular rideshare websites out there, including ZimRide and Ridejoy.

These websites allow you to chat to the person who you will be riding along with first, so they are not a complete stranger. You might find this a more comfortable way to travel, although maybe not as exciting and spontaneous as sticking out your thumb on the open road.

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