Hitchhiking has reaffirmed my faith in the generosity and kindness of human beings. After hitchhiking through the US for four months many years ago, and throughout our trip in New Zealand, I have no horror stories, only stories about the kindest most inspiring people i wouldn’t have met any other way.

Hitchhiking is an act of trust and generosity. The only currency required is conversation. Accept this generous gift with humility and realize the reason for picking up hitchhikers is as varied as the places you’ll want to get to.

I have had too many amazing coincidences and experiences hitchhiking to write here, and not a single horror story. As for a way to get around (especially in New Zealand), I can’t recommend it enough. It is usually faster and more interesting in every case if you aren’t driving yourself. The people you meet will fascinate and entertain you, as well as give you local and insider tips you’d never get any other way.

How to get a ride hitchhiking in 20 minutes or less.

  1. Don’t smell
    • This can’t be emphasized enough. If you stink your ride will be far shorter than it could be. Deodorant works, enough said.
  2. Look clean (Or better yet be clean!)
    • Stay clean shaven and don’t hitch with more than a couple days of stubble. In a couple I can get away with having a well trimmed beard, but when I was in the US and hitching as a solo male, it was required to shave often.
  3. Wear a white shirt often
    • Nothing establishes you are clean and not smelly like a traveler with a bright clean white shirt.
    • Buy a clean bright white shirt at a thrift store every couple weeks if you don’t get a chance to do laundry often.
  4. Don’t wear sunglasses
    • It hides your eyes and we need to look people in the eyes to assess their trustworthiness.
  5. Look each driver in the eyes and smile
    • A friendly face is a trustworthy face.
  6. Look like you are going somewhere
    • A traveler with a pack will easily get picked up over someone who could be mistaken for just being homeless or a vagabond.
    • Walk backwards in the direction you want to go with your thumb out (US ONLY).
      • This will establish at least you’re willing to walk if you didn’t end up getting a ride.
      • Obviously this isn’t always possible but in the US most roads have long wide breakdown lanes for people to pull over and stop.
  7. Position yourself so there is an easy way to pull off and get you safely
    • This we found was crucial in New Zealand where there was almost no shoulder on the roads.
  8. Don’t get lazy! Stand or walk backwards, don’t ever sit or worse yet face away from drivers with your thumb out.
  9. Don’t bother making a sign
    • I’ve tried a huge assortment of signs from actual places, to “Not a Murderer”, to fictional lands such as Atlantis or Timbuktu.
    • Signs use up crucial evaluation time drivers need to judge you and usually by the time the’ve read the sign they haven’t even gotten a chance to get a good look at you.
    • Instead position yourself where you will get people going to where you need to be.
  10. Take a bus or walk out of cities.
    • Hitching within urban areas isn’t easy; there are far too many people just taking short trips.

How to stay safe hitchhiking

  1. Always take a moment to talk to the driver before getting in the car
    • Even if they say they are going to wherever you’re headed, ask which route or what their final destination is. This is just as an excuse to judge the driver a moment yourself.
    • Also make introductions before getting into the car as another point to judge your driver’s body language.
  2. If you throw your bag in the back be sure to open a door before you head to the back
    • This helps avoid drive offs with your stuff as they usually get dodgy when you don’t do what is expected.
    • As a couple have one person be designated to stay in the car till the other person goes to the back to open and get their hands on your bags.
  3. Don’t hitchhike at night
    • Serial Killers only come out at night. But seriously I doubt the safety of trying to catch a ride at night.
  4. Never fall asleep during a ride
    • No matter how trustworthy a driver is, falling asleep is not only unsafe, it is rude while hitchhiking.
  5. Be friendly and upbeat
    • People mirror our emotions. If you are safe, but positive, polite, respectful, and always friendly, you will receive the same. If you are fearful, quiet, aloof, and not easy to talk to, you will attract the same.
  6. Never pay the driver for a ride, offer to get out and get another ride if asked.
    • Hitchhiking is a non-monetary exchange, money irreparably changes the power dynamic.
  7. Don’t be afraid to cut a ride short or get out
    • Even a bad excuse will get you out of a ride. In a pinch try feigning nausea, no one wants you to puke in their car. You can just say you need to walk it off and will catch the next ride.
  8. If you get a bad feeling, trust it.