I set a variety of intentions before taking off to travel, very few came true. Hitchhiking is one of them though. Upon leaving Europe, I had hitchhiked no more than 1000 kilometers. However, having hitchhiked most of my travels in South America, I can now add roughly 5000 kilometers to my curriculum. This does not necessarily make me an expert, nevertheless I hope that by sharing my experience I can make the step, to get you engaged in this awesome way of traveling, a little smaller. This blog will be the first in a series on hitchhiking. In the first two parts I will explain what hitchhiking is, provide background information and show how to get started.
Catching a ride, hacer dedo, autostop, liften, pegar carona and hitchhiking all mean the same thing (in different languages); trying to catch a ride while standing by the road holding up your thumb. The idea is that you get a ride from someone without paying for it. The entire concept is entirely based on “giving”, pure philanthropy.
The motivation to hitchhike often originates from the necessity to travel, but not having the money or the means of transport for it. The first is pretty straight up, but the second is not something you encounter in Europe often. In Argentina however, there are a lot of places where there is no public transport. The solution therefore: hitchhiking. For others, like me, the adventure and the unexpected experiences awaiting any hitchhiker are what might move one in this direction. Nevertheless, the fact that it is a transaction without money always plays a big role in the equation.
An Opportunity To Meet People
To give a ride on the other hand is also something that requires motivation, not everybody will stop for a stranger standing by the road. Even in countries where hitchhiking is very common there will be plenty of people driving by. Even though, most of the people that pick you up either believe in the art of giving, or see, like me, the added value of meeting a stranger. It is not just that you get a ride, it is an opportunity to meet somebody new, learn new things and most of all have some company. The last, is often a motivation for truckers to stop for a hitchhiker. Spending days on the road in a truck all by themselves, having somebody new next to them allows for a nice change of pace. On top of this, for you as a hitchhiker, this is great as well because trucks often travel long distances.
Furthermore, the beautiful thing is that there are no set rules. Yes it helps to be polite, and there are certain things that will definitely make it easier, (more on that in the second part of this introduction) but otherwise it is all up to you how you define your hitchhike. I used it as a means of transport but it could also be a day out. Definitely in Europe this is easily done. Meet up with a friend on Saturday morning, get to your starting spot by 07:00 and see how far you get until whatever time. Here after, you can spend the night somewhere or go back with public transport. In the meantime you will have experienced a million things you were not aware of before. Above all, having the best stories to tell when you get back.
An Opportunity To Learn
I believe the ultimate thing to gain from the experience, is the fact that it is all up to oneself. There are plenty of people that hitchhike together or with more people, but dealing with the whole process by myself has taught me a lot. First of all, I had to figure out where to go, where to start and how to get there in the first place. This forced me to talk to people, to ask them where there is more traffic, where there is less traffic and if there are any rules or situations I should be aware of. This not only helped me with my hitchhiking but automatically taught me a lot about the places I was.
Second, the fact that I am all by myself makes me totally responsible for anything that happens. I can curse all the people driving by me for not picking me up (trust me, I have done this), but ultimately I am responsible for how I live this experience. Over time I have become more confident and relaxed standing by the road. Allowing me to make quicker and better decisions and to stay in a better mood all throughout. Nevertheless, the unique thing that hitchhiking did to my emotions is that I sometimes literally went on a roller coaster from feeling depressed to super awesome after catching a ride and back down again. Over time however, experience helped me to make this roller coaster ride a little calmer.
Finally, to have the opportunity to meet random people I would otherwise never meet was of great value to me. It allowed me to learn and practice two new languages (Spanish and Portuguese) and I got insights into how life really was in the places I was traveling through. I have had great conversations ranging from the troubles in somebodies personal life, to discussing local politics and the way certain agriculture works. I have had quiet rides and I have made friends on the go.
The Flip Side
Just as much as hitchhiking can be amazing and liberating, it can be frustrating and severely depressing too. However, there are plenty of ways to increase the chance of an enjoyable experience throughout. A lot of the difficulties are easily diminished by teaming up with somebody. Next, hitchhiking in a familiar environment, like your own country or the region you live in is another way to reduce it’s strain. Last, hitchhiking in countries with better roads, more trustworthy weather forecast and newer cars all increase the chance of making it an enjoyable adventure, rather than a 12-hour grind leaving you dehydrated and hungry looking for a place to spend the night.
Nevertheless, I learned so many things that apply to every time hitchhiked, regardless of where I was. I summed up as many as I could remember.
To consider before hitchhiking:
- Bring sufficient water.
- How much time do you have? There is nothing more stressful than hitchhiking with a lack of time.
- Try to get as much information as possible from locals, before you start your hitchhike. Ask them for information on where, how and what to be aware of. Information from locals is more valuable than anything! If a local tells you something entirely different than what you figured out after hours of research online. Trust the local. The moments I didn’t do this, it always meant at least more discomfort up until hitchhiking in the wrong direction.
- Do not hitchhike at night. Your chances are heavily reduced because the people can’t see you well, and you can’t see them either. Also, depending on where you are, the security situation might change.
- What day? Weekdays are usually better because of work traffic.
- What time? Early is usually better and in rush hour. Also depends on the distance you are traveling.
- How far? Shorter distances are always easier and are definitely preferred if you have the time.
- The weather. I try to be prepared, depending on where I am and want to go. I always carry rain clothes, sun glasses, sun screen, and a cap.
- Try to be aware of anything special happening during the days I hitchhike. Things that influence the amount of traffic; like holidays, strikes, demonstrations or parties.
- Write the name of the place I am going on a carton. I prefer to do this if I am no more than 150-200 kilometers away. If there is more distance to my destination, I prefer to go without. A direction like north or south can also help in some cases.
To consider during hitchhiking:
- I look for spots where traffic is slow and can stop easily, think of highway entrees, crossings, traffic lights and gas stations.
- If you are unsure about anything ask locals, they know where traffic is slow or where there might be a gas station.
- Try to position yourself so that oncoming traffic can see you well, colorful clothes or an attention-grabbing hand movement can help a lot.
- If you do not feel well, because you feel unsafe, need to go to the bathroom, are hungry or whatever, take care of that first. Your (unconscious) presentation by the road is everything. You are all by yourself/together and you never know how long your trip will last.
- If it is sunny look for a place in the shadow. Even the shadow of a lantern or traffic light might work if your position yourself well. This sounds funny, but it saved me a couple of times when I was out on midday, with just the sun in the sky and temperatures reaching 35 degrees Celsius.
Finally, the following is something very simple but has increased my experience often in times when it was not that great; I try to say hello to anybody walking by, show thankful hand gestures when people communicate from their car things like “we do not have space”, “we are going in another direction” or are giving you the thumbs up telling you you are awesome but they are too lame to pick you up. Whatever reason, I try to smile and thank them.
I challenge you to redefine hitchhiking according to your terms to make your next couple, or thousand kilometers of travelling even more exciting.
If you make it to the side of the road, give me a heads up. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions please let me know.
This post was originally posted in two parts on questforauthenticity.org.