Hitchhiking is the art of wandering fearlessly and exploring the world without any filters. Although, down the years hitchhiking has been looked down upon as a path taken only by hippies and crazy travellers.
Hitchhiking got a bad name due to some rare incidents in the USA in the 70s. Another reason why people don’t hitchhike often is due to technological advancement in road and communication infrastructure. The internet has brought the world closer with much faster ways of travelling and communication.
So, the ultimate question is ‘Is hitchhiking safe in the 21st century?’
Yes, it is if you take some basic safety precautions and don’t do something utterly stupid. I have hitchhiked three countries so far and covered almost 1200km on road. One thing that I learned from the little experience that I have is, hitchhiking is safe as long as you stick to your plans and follow your instincts.
If you have decided to hitchhike or even if you plan to do so sometime in the future, here are 11 safety tips for an amazing hitchhiking experience that you must know about.
So, let’s dive right in.
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Here are 11 Safety Tips for an Amazing Hitchhiking Experience
Know the location you’re planning to visit inside out
The first step towards having an amazing hitchhiking experience is learning everything about the location you are going to hitchhike. The first thing to check out is how safe and friendly attitude the people of that country have towards hitchhikers. Not every country that you hitchhike in welcome a stranger with open arms. There are many countries where hitchhiking is either banned or frowned upon.
What type of country or region are you planning to hitchhike? Is it a rocky mountainous terrain, plain region, valley or desert terrain? Knowing about the type of terrain you are going to hitchhike determines the level of difficulty of hitching, the things you need to pack for the trip and the fitness level you would need to successfully complete your journey.
Another important factor to consider is the weather condition of the region at the time of your visit. Is it going to be cold, warm or dry weather or tropical climate with frequent rainfalls? Knowing about the climatic conditions of the region helps you in choosing the appropriate clothes to pack for your journey.
Beware of the tourist scams prevalent at your destination
You have just arrived at your destination looking forward to have a great time ahead and suddenly after a few interactions with the locals, you realize later that you were scammed.
Being scammed on a foreign land is the last thing you want to happen to you. Tourist scams come in all forms and ways. There is no particular type of scam that is common around the world. Scams vary from country to country and region to region.
The first time that me and my friend were scammed was in Thailand. It was quite later that we realized that we had been the victims of the ‘Tuk tuk scam’ that is prevalent in Thailand.
What happens is, the tuk-tuk driver instead of taking you to your destination convinces you that the place is either closed, shoddy or too expensive for your budget. He then suggests you some other ‘great’ places you should consider that are better and cheaper.
This is a common way for tuk-tuk drivers to scam tourists and earn some commission from owners of hotels, malls, spas and other sites of tourist attraction.
Always be aware of the tourist scams that are prevalent in the country that you travel to. Spend some time researching about it on the internet or talking to someone from that country or somebody who’s been there before.
Make sure your gadgets are fully charged before hitting the road
It goes without saying that how important it is to keep your gadgets charged, especially from a safety point of view your – smart phone. You are going to depend on your smartphone way more than you think. This is the time the ‘smart’ features in your smartphone are really put to work.
You are in a foreign land, so from navigation to communicating with the locals, a lot of things become easier with a smartphone. As you will be on the road for a long time, you never know when you will get a chance to charge your gadgets.
Not to forget the beautiful landscapes and memories you would want to capture with your camera (or phone) when on your hitchhiking trip.
One way to ensure that you have enough battery power to last you a day is to have a power bank. Sure, it will add a few ounces of weight on your shoulders but considering the benefit, it’s totally worth it.
Download Offline maps of your destination beforehand
Sure, you might have fully charged gadgets but what’s the use of a smartphone without any network? You can and most probably will buy a sim card from the local company to take care of your network issues, but you never know that you still won’t face any network issues especially in the remote areas of the country.
The best way to make sure you don’t face navigation issues is to download offline maps from Google maps before you begin your journey. Beware that Google maps does not show proper data for some regions on the earth. To solve this issue you can download some of the best and detailed offline maps from apps like Maps.me and OSMand+ for free or just a few dollars.
Always send the details of the vehicle/ destination to someone you trust
Before heading to a new destination always send the details of your route and your plans to someone you trust in advance. It could be anybody your parents, a friend, guardian or a relative. Someone you could rely on if something happens to go wrong.
One thing you should make a habit of is noting down the license plate number, colour, model and make of the car you are getting into and text it to your friend/family. This way it’s easier for your family and the police authorities if anything goes wrong.
You must let the driver know that you are texting the details of his car to someone trustworthy in case something happens to go wrong. Being open about your plans to text your whereabouts will ensure the driver that his privacy isn’t compromised.
Make a signboard
One way to cut down on the time to get a ride is by flashing a signboard to incoming vehicles heading towards your destination. The signboard makes it easy for the drivers to spot you from a fair distance and lets them know where you want to go.
This gives the driver a few moments to reconsider the decision whether to offer you a ride or not. Also, it makes the driver aware that you are not just wandering aimlessly without any plan.
Choose a spot where the car can easily pullover
The best way to stay safe from oncoming cars is by choosing a safe and easily visible location on the side of the road. You must stand at a location where the driver can easily spot you from a distance and pullover.
When hitching a ride in major cities or in the middle of the city or highways, you are risking your own life and also of the driver who has decided to pull his car over to the side. Also, it is illegal to walk on some highways and on-ramps in some countries.
Gas stations, roads leading away from cities or highway entry points are some of the safest and easiest ways to hitch a ride.
Dress for the occasion
You might like wearing fancy stuff while you are at a party or family occasions or you just might be a weird guy wearing weird stuff. Yeah, don’t be that guy, especially when you are going to depend on the kindness of the strangers to get from one place to another.
Be as presentable as you could when you are hitchhiking. The way you present yourself will determine if you will get a ride or not. Bright colored clothes make it easy for the drivers to spot to from a distance. That said, do not wear too much of fancy stuff. The idea is to get noticed and not stand out from the crowd.
Also, remember wearing short clothes might not go down well with the people in some countries due to their religious or cultural beliefs even if it is not illegal to do so. So before going to a country learn about appropriate attire to be in.
Hitchhike with a partner
Having a travel partner while hitchhiking is a big pro, not only you both share a love for travelling but also you are aligned on the budget. It also ensures that you can cut down on travel expenses and compromise on expensive food, clothes or accommodation, the expenses of which will be equally distributed amongst you.
I have always travelled with a friend or with my brother, which just gives me the confidence that I can rely on somebody if something happens to go wrong.
If you are a woman then having a male travel partner is not just good for your safety but it’s also much easier to hitch rides when you are a couple (or at least pretend to be one).
Follow your instincts
With all said hitchhiking is all about following your gut feelings. Even though being rational in such situations sounds the best thing to do but sometimes you just have to trust your instincts to show you the right path.
If you think there’s something wrong with the way the driver is approaching you then make an excuse and avoid that ride.
If you are already in the car and find that there’s something suspicious about the way things are heading between you and the driver, then make an excuse and tell the driver that you have changed your plans and get out of the car as quickly as possible.
Remember, just because you have been offered a ride doesn’t mean you have to go along the whole way to your next destination. If you find yourself in such a dilemma, don’t think twice and get out of the car and thank the driver for his kindness.
Following your instincts isn’t just something you need to do only while hitching a ride but also when you do other activities on your hitchhiking trip.
Get a travel insurance
Travel insurance won’t just ensure you against any financial losses but also cover all the medical expenses if you happen to get injured, sick or attacked on your hitchhiking trip.
With travel insurance, you easily get access to the best medical support no matter in which part of the world you are. Some travel companies also provide you with safety precautions you need to take and any medical advice you need at any time of the day.
Travel companies like Medjet specialize in providing you with emergency medical evacuations with an air ambulance, no matter in which part of the world you are.
Your travel insurance won’t just ensure that you have a safe trip but also provide you with travel advice that will enhance your travelling experience.
Hitchhiking is really fun than it actually sounds. There’s no better way to explore different cultures and meet some of the kindest souls on earth than by hitchhiking.
The difference between a good and a bad hitchhiking trip is your preparedness and your presence of mind when in an adverse situation.
I hope these safety tips will equip you not just for your next trip but for wherever you decide to go in your life. There are still a ton of things that you need to keep in mind but these 11 safety tips are the ones you need to follow utmost.
If you think we need to add something to this list then feel free to express your opinions in the comment section. We would love to hear from you.