Hitchhiking has gained in popularity after several decades of being a mode of travel only used by hobos and vagabonds. Today, it is seen as a free way for young people to see parts of the country only accessible by road, or simply to get from point A to point B. But the reality is that hitching can be quite hazardous. Sketchy people and bad drivers are very real risks and can put you in situations of extreme danger. Still, there are ways of getting around with free rides with relative safety by following a series of tips.
Road safety is a crucial aspect of safe hitchhiking. When you are standing on the side of the freeway, make sure that you’re standing along a safe part of the pavement, ideally on the unimproved part of the road shoulder. Be sure that you are visible to drivers while staying at a safe distance (300 yards is ideal) to allow the driver time to assess whether or not they feel like picking you up and safely pull over to the side of the road. Another important part of traveling with caution is to wear especially bright and visible clothing, particularly when walking on the road. It is worth purchasing a bright reflecting safety vest and a small flashlight at a gas station. You won’t be winning any fashion contests, but your safety will be much increased. A further precautionary measure is to attach reflectors to your backpack.
Another road safety precaution is to be aware of the tiredness level of the driver. It is more than possible that drivers will pick up a hitchhiker because they are suffering from exhaustion and hoping to find someone to help them stay awake. If this appears to be the case, don’t fall asleep in their car. This is a good rule of thumb in general unless you want to risk getting your belongings stolen or worse, drugged against your will. Even if you can’t think of a good conversational topic to keep things interesting, make sure to stay alert. If you feel up to it and have a driver’s license, offer to drive. The driver will likely be quite grateful.
Awareness of the potential driver is absolutely essential. No matter how desperate you are, never ask someone who is clearly under the influence or is yawning up a storm for a ride. Better to wait, even for a long time, for someone else to come along who will get you to your destination safely. Chatting with the potential driver for a few minutes to get a feel for their character is also a good way to assess their current situation. Are they being vague or flirty? Best to politely exit the conversation. Do they seem like friendly and genuine people? There’s a good chance you’ll get a ride or at least a break from complaining about the challenges of hitching.
Some other common-sense tips include following your instincts. If something about the ride offered feels off, locate someone else to go with or take public transportation if that’s an option. Also, be aware of the vehicle. Don’t be snobby about riding in a particularly nice car, but make sure that you are able to open the passenger door from the inside of the car by pretending to not have closed it properly. Also, text the license plate and car make and model to a loved one in case something does end up happening to you. Similarly, if you see other people around when you’re getting in the car, wave to them so that the driver thinks you are saying goodbye to a friend.