Travel Like Your Grandfather: How to Hitchhike Around the USA

by A Manly Guest Contributor on June 4, 2012 · 76 comments

in Travel, Travel & Leisure

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Benjamin Jenks.

I know, I know…You are probably thinking two questions.

1. Isn’t hitchhiking really dangerous?

I know a man who hitchhiked around the world, another who hitchhiked through Afghanistan, and I hitchhiked over 14,000 miles around the USA. It can be done and it can be done safely.

Ronald Reagan did it. Dan Rather did it. Author James A. Michener did it—around age 14 with 35 cents in his pocket, to boot. All three of these men survived their hitchhiking adventures and you can too, if you go about it the right way.

Just don’t tell your mom about your trip, until afterwards…no need to worry her.

2. Why would I want to hitchhike?

Hitchhiking is a lot of fun, an inexpensive adventure, and a great way to meet the locals of a region. However, it can also teach you two important masculine values that are sorely needed in today’s world.

A. How to solve problems on your own.

“To find yourself, think for yourself.” – Socrates

Picture being dropped off in a city that you have never been in before. You must quickly figure out where you are, where you can find food and lodging, where are the safe places to be, and where the best spot to continue hitchhiking is.

It is a practical exercise in problem-solving that can help you in multiple areas of your life.

B. How to connect with many different types of people.

“The ability to deal with people is as purchasable as a commodity as sugar or coffee and I will pay more for that ability than for any other thing under the sun.” – John D. Rockefeller

You might be surprised to hear that a wide range of people pick up hitchhikers.

You could get a ride from: a wealthy CEO wanting to reminisce about his or her younger and more adventurous days, a mom who can’t bear to watch a young man standing out in the cold, or a farmer who drives a pickup truck and will pick someone up simply because they are going that direction anyways.

A hitchhiker is put in situations where they are forced to practice their social skills over and over again. The better a hitchhiker is at connecting with others, the easier his trip will be. It is similar in the business world or when dating.


The rulebook for how to become a successful man has changed. You can no longer work for a company for 30 years and expect to move up the ranks to a secure position. Even a college degree won’t guarantee you fulfilling work that can support those you love.

However, a man that can solve problems on his own and a man that can connect with other people is a man that can weather the challenges of our day.

Hitchhiking as a Manly Rite of Passage

Centuries ago, some Native American tribes would send their young men into the forests without food, where they would have to fend for themselves and figure things out on their own. These rituals were a rite of passage to manhood and taught these boys how to weather hardship and think for themselves, and instilled confidence in their abilities.

In our own history, many boys were taught the lessons of manhood by working alongside their father in the fields. Every challenge was a lesson to be learned from.

Today, as our culture becomes more and more technological, the men of tomorrow are learning manly values from the latest television show, viral video, or the video game with the best graphics.

Hitchhiking is an adventure that can teach men, young or old, skills to help them be happier. Your mom was right though, that it can be dangerous, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Here are some practical tips to help you hitchhike safely.

How to Hitchhike Around the USA

1. Research the Laws

Despite what most people think, hitchhiking is legal in all 50 US states. However, each state, city, and town has subtle differences in their laws that govern the roadways. In most places, if you stay off the highway and are in a place where cars can safely pull over, then you are legally hitchhiking.

The website (yes, there is an online community of hitchhikers) has the most detailed information on the laws in each state. Read about the region you intend to travel in before you go.

2. Pack Light

The lighter your pack, the happier you will be. Just be sure to have enough gear and supplies, in case you get stranded.

Carry a backpack and pack it like you are heading out on a 3-day hike.

Pack an extra change of clothes, a light jacket, a raincoat, more socks than you think you will use, long underwear, a stocking hat, and great boots.

Put at least 2 jugs of water, some snacks, and suntan lotion in your pack. Also, take a small sleeping bag and a tent. If you can make a warm shelter almost anywhere, this will take a load off of your mind.

Don’t bring anything you would be devastated to lose.

3. Get Your Mind Ready

Be prepared to be looked down upon by most of society and to wait by the side of the road for hours. Look at it as a challenge.

Can you maintain a strong belief in yourself, despite what others think?

If you go in trying to hitchhike just to get somewhere cheap, you will probably end up frustrated. A successful hitchhiker is happy wherever he ends up and is content to amuse himself for long stretches of time.

4. Dress the Part

People pick up hitchhikers that dress like they do. Dress like the people in the area for much better “luck.”

Wear jeans and a flannel shirt in a working-class community. Khakis will work better in a more white-collar community.

Of course it goes without saying that you need to be clean.

5. Choose Your Spot

Choose an on-ramp that has steady traffic on the outskirts of town. The more space for a car to safely pull over, the better.

A nearby stop sign or stoplight will give drivers a chance to look you over. You want to give them as much time as possible to make their decision.

6. Stick Out Your Thumb

Stick out a confident thumb. Look drivers in the eye and smile. Be proud and stand tall. Don’t be sheepish or insecure.

Make sure the drivers can see your eyes and smile. Keep your backpack on, as long as you can without killing yourself.

Find something to do to keep you happy, whether that is singing, playing an instrument, thinking, or listening to music. Don’t sit or read a book though.

Definitely don’t smoke, drink, or do any illegal activities.

If someone flips you off or gives you a dirty look, accept it. Smile or look away and keep doing what you are doing. Don’t let it get to you.

If you start to get in a negative mood, then go rest for 20 minutes. A nap in a warm field or a hot cup of coffee can really rejuvenate your energy.

7. Choose Your Ride

Yes… make sure that you choose your ride.

Learn as much about the driver as you can. Ask them where they are heading and why, before you hop into their car.

As you are listening to their answers, ask yourself a handful of questions.

Are they answering your questions honestly and openly? If they are telling the truth, their answers will make sense and they won’t hesitate when answering.

Are they looking you in the eye? This is an indicator of trustworthiness.

Are they asking you questions and trying to determine if you are a safe person? A trustworthy driver will be a little suspicious of you and concerned for their own safety.

Do I feel comfortable and relaxed around this person? Trust your gut feeling on this.

Does this person generally seem like a happy, relaxed person?

Don’t accept every ride that pulls over. Don’t accept a ride out of desperation—make sure you always have a backup plan. Only accept rides from people you will be safe with. Keep in mind that there will always be another car.

Warning signs to look for in a car:

A. A filthy, strange-smelling car: This can mean the person is irresponsible and doesn’t care for their personal needs.
B. Strange eye contact: Too much or too little eye contact is a sign they have something to hide.
C. Bottles or cans in the car: Look for empty alcohol containers or signs that the driver is intoxicated.
D. More than one person in the car: You have an increased chance of being taken advantage of.
E. Angry, impatient, or controlling mood: These people are less stable and less fun to ride with as well.

If you don’t want to ride with them, some good excuses are:

A. “You know, I was really hoping for a ride going a long ways (no matter how far they are going).”
B. “Actually, I just realized that I forgot to get something back in town. Thanks anyways.”
C. “Ugh…(and look nauseated), something I ate back there is not sitting right. I better go back to town. Thanks though.”

7. In the Car

I always set the tone by asking them questions about where they are going and taking a genuine interest in them. I figure out at least one of their interests and focus our conversation on that. Most drivers want to talk and will be eager to share. Listen intently and ask thoughtful questions.

Some drivers will be curious about you. Share where you are going and why you chose to hitchhike. Most will be fascinated by your courage and admire your freedom.

Share your personal details when you feel comfortable. With some rides, you will be instantly at ease and with others you will always want to stay guarded. Let your instincts be your guide.

Take any gifts that are offered to you, even if you don’t need them. Most people don’t meet someone on an adventure and will enjoy being able to help.

8. Getting Dropped Off

Start to talk with your driver about where they will drop you off early in your ride. I also recommend having a smartphone to check the map.

Insist on getting dropped off somewhere safe like a gas station parking lot.

If you want to continue hitchhiking, shoot for an exit with a truck stop. The more travelers exiting the highway for gas or snacks and then continuing down the road, the better.

Cities can be a challenge too. Ask to get dropped off before or right after a city, because hitchhiking in cities is almost impossible.

Extra Hitchhiking Safety Tips

A. Tell your friends and family where you are heading before you go and set up a time when you will give them a call.
B. Before you get in a car, text the license plate of your driver to a friend or at least pretend to.
C. Be confident, sit up straight in your seat, look your driver in the eye, and be relaxed.
D. Be non-confrontational about philosophical, political, or spiritual issues.
E. Stand up for yourself if you have to, and say no, if you feel the need.
F. If you feel unsafe, look like you are going to puke all over their car and ask to be let off as soon as possible.

Have you hitchhiked before? Have any more tips? Share your experiences and tips in the comments!


Benjamin Jenks continues to hitchhike around the USA and is traveling around the world over the next 5 years. He makes inspirational videos about his adventures and gives out practical travel tips at


{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tyler Smith June 4, 2012 at 10:29 pm

I hitchhiked all around Europe. I love having hitchhiked, but will probably never do it again unless I’m forced to. My advice: throw out any romanticized notion you have of hitching and be prepared to spend lots of time at the side of the road. Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you sit in one spot for a day or so.

2 Ethan Glover June 4, 2012 at 11:03 pm

I love the references to pretending to be sick. I think I’d be able to come up with something a little less obvious than suddenly coming down with the flu. But, good points!

3 Brent June 4, 2012 at 11:07 pm

I have hitchiked two times before. Both were short distances to get to a destination, and both times, I arrived there safely and successfully. I got to learn about a couple nice gentleman as well!

4 Kevin June 4, 2012 at 11:10 pm

I can’t imagine doing this without a concealed weapon.

That would be the first item I packed.

5 Brad June 4, 2012 at 11:17 pm

“To find yourself, think for yourself.” – Socrates

So true.

I think travelling by oneself is a great way to learn about oneself. It forces you to make your own plans rather than relying on someone else’s. I learned this first-hand when i ventured across Europe to New York on my lonesome.

6 Jesse June 4, 2012 at 11:25 pm

I have hitch hiked across Europe, in Asia, and in the states. I consider my journeys to be an integral part of my becoming a man.

1) One of the best tips I can give is to have a partner of the opposite sex. A male/female combination puts people at ease, can also elicit sympathy, provides company for the lonely waits, and adds a bit of security.

2) Keeping clean and staying “friendly looking” really does go a long way as well. That means show your eyes ie no sunglasses or hats that hide your eyes etc.

3) Don’t be shy when you get in the car. They went out of their way to pick you up, the least you can do is give them some conversation! Countless times I was driven for extra hours because the driver enjoyed my company and didn’t mind extending the drive past where they intended to go. Be nice… even if you are tired.

4) Pick a good spot. this is so important. Every hitch hiker will tell you about the time they sat for 4 hours without getting a ride only to walk down the street a little further and get picked up right away. Make sure from your spot they can see you for a long time, aren’t moving too fast, you are well lit (at night), and they have plenty of room to pull over.

Happy travels and always bring a towel!

7 Jesse June 4, 2012 at 11:30 pm

One more thing..

The world is safe. Much safer than people think. People just fear the unknown. Hitch hiking was a normal and safe activity for thousands of people all the way until the early 70′s. The world no matter what Fox news tells you is no more dangerous now than it was then. We just know about all the bad things that happen now.

Go out, experience the world, trust people and you will be amazed.

8 Johnny June 4, 2012 at 11:35 pm

I’ve only hitched once, and that was to get from a Target store back to my college campus, as I had to carry a very heavy shelf set. I traded the driver a pinch of Grizzly Mint chew for the ride. It usually helps if you have something to trade for the ride, be it money, tobacco, pot (if you’re into that. not judging here). Money especially, because gas is not cheap here in the U.S.

9 Ben June 4, 2012 at 11:46 pm

I’ve only hitched with a gascan suitcase, and I think it plays a role in what kind of people pull over for you. Cut the side off of a 3 gallon gas tank, make a duct-tape hinge and closure and stuff your clothes and toothbrush in there. I learned it from a book about Hunter S. Thompson. People pull over thinking your car ran out of gas and you’re going to or coming from a filling station. When they asked what’s up, I’d show them how my suitcase worked and they’d always be impressed and still offer a ride. The downside might be that you’ll get people who aren’t going very far, but when the sun was up, I never waited more than a few minutes in between lifts. Seems like people might be more inclined to help a guy with a gascan. Got a couple sheriffs, too. Nobody ever seemed upset by the deception.

10 Jerry S June 5, 2012 at 12:49 am

Got out of the service late spring of 1969 in San Diego. Spent the summer hitching back to New England and what a trip it was ! Much easier back then than it is now.Only sore spot was Victorville CA. Took me a whole day to catch a ride on the old route 66 east while the rest of the trip was never more than a couple of hours before you caught a ride.

11 Joe June 5, 2012 at 12:58 am

I’ve never hitchhiked in the States, but out of necessity I did through West Africa and I figure if it is safe enough there, it is fine in the U.S. If I have advice it would be to take any vehicle you can get, be it the back of a motorcycle, a station wagon with a goat strapped to the top, or a donkey cart (assuming you feel like you trust the driver) – you never know who you’ll meet. Also, although an AK-47 doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, you know, play it safe.

Good Luck!

12 Cole June 5, 2012 at 2:16 am

A friend and I hitched all throughout New Zealand. It was an amazing experience. Made friends with some, some led us to new adventures, and some went amazingly out of there way to help us along. One includes an elderly lady (at first mistook us for women because my buddy is a long hair and her view of me was obscured) that ended up driving us out in the woods, as we were camping for a week, then proceeds to not let us go without taking fruits and sandwiches. Mind you, Kiwi’s are some of the friendliest people on earth. There are many places I wouldn’t want to hitch. The Aussies weren’t so keen on pickin up people due to hearing many tales

13 Andreas June 5, 2012 at 3:18 am

Many years ago I hitchhiked in Sweden. It was rather boring at the main tourist routes (I stood in Rodby for 36 hours). But then it was a fantastic experience. A story: An older guy dropped me “near” a town with the words “It’s just a mile to the nest town”. After walking two hours I reached the town. I asked the next driver about this, and he told me that a swedish mile is about 11 km!

14 Mike Neglia June 5, 2012 at 5:22 am

Great post. Just a few days ago I was having a conversation with friends about what a great experience hitchhiking is!
I used to hitch all over San Diego county (where I grew up) and also from London all the way to Cork, Ireland (where I live now).

Generally, the very first thing people say once you get situated in their passenger seat is, “You know, when I was your age I used to hitchhike!” There’s definitely a strong empathy and affinity among former and present hitchhikers!

15 Benjamin June 5, 2012 at 6:34 am

Be very wary of riding in the back of a two door car. Several of the worst hitching stories my friends have told me started that way.

16 Alex Devlin June 5, 2012 at 8:18 am

I used to hitchhike back to school when I was young, around 13 y/o. I only had one weird guy pick me up, but I kept my wits about me and got out of there safely. I love traveling and meeting people and if you have a good instinct for people then I say go for it. Although it’s tempting to carry a weapon with you, make it something like a knife that can be used as a tool for camping too. Don’t take a gun with you. The law in various states can land you in jail for carrying, even if you have a concealed carry permit, you might be passing through a state that doesn’t honor your states ccw.

17 John June 5, 2012 at 8:27 am

It’s grass, cash, or ass.

18 Sean June 5, 2012 at 8:38 am

I found that always having a shareable snack was a good plan. Usually, If I was looking for a ride for longer than an hour, I’d try to have apples or pears to share. Sometimes people won’t take them, but it is a good gesture.

Hitching is also a fantastic way to pick up language skills. If hitching overseas, you can at least pick up the basics beforehand, but with hand gesturing, you can have some really cool conversations.

19 Benjamin June 5, 2012 at 8:59 am

Hitching is definitely a memorable experience. I have always had a lot more success in the Western states, though. An additional precaution I would add: Never get in the back seat of a two door car–It’s a recipe for for an uncomfortable situation.

20 Steve June 5, 2012 at 9:06 am

Interesting article, thanks.
I’m actually travelling to the U.S. in a couple of weeks and going on a road trip from New Mexico to Florida, maybe swing through Kansas. I’ll be driving.

Do any of you know if I can expect to see hitchhikers at all down there (I’ll be driving along Route 66 with swings through rural areas)? And – I know, this is a very general question – are people in NM, TX, etc. are open to traveling with a tourist? And, also very general, is it safe to pick up hitchhikers along that itinerary?

21 top June 5, 2012 at 9:13 am

some of my favorite travel memories are of hitch hiking or picking up hitch hikers. Thanks for the inspirational article.

22 Sam K June 5, 2012 at 9:18 am

44 and never hitchhiked… but a cross-country hitchhike trip has totally just made my bucket list.

23 Coop June 5, 2012 at 9:33 am

I always wondered if this was still something people did. Maybe one of these days I’ll grow the courage needed to get in a car with a stranger. Probably help with getting the courage to do just about everything social: approaching women you don’t know, etc.

Great post.

24 Ray Dawson June 5, 2012 at 9:43 am

I enjoyed hitch hiking quite a bit when I was younger. I spent a lot of time in the Colorado back country and weather I was hiking or kayaking I was always able to find a ride if I needed one, no matter how far out I was. Just be polite and honest and generally people respond in kind.

25 Kevin Liske June 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

I did a long hitch hike around the US in ’76.
My rules were to stay clean, have a nice big sign of the next big city, smile, not have sunglasses on. In some northwestern states and Canada, in spite of that, I spent some long hours on the more desolate stretches and boredom was the big factor. But I also had folks take me home, feed me, get me stoned and set me back on the road.

On the nights I had to camp out, I generally tried to disappear from view by casual passerbys so as not to be harassed. I did turn down a few rides such as the car full of drunks.

The best and slowest area was the leg that went from Bozeman MT, up to Calgary for the Calgary Stampede, over to Vancouver and down to Seattle. Beautiful, but not a lot of traffic.

Only got stopped by a cop one time. He was polite, but didn’t want me in his town so he drove me to the town limits. Even gave back the knife I always carried on my belt.

26 Colin June 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

SIGNS – take cardboard (the corrugated stuff boxes are made from) and a marker pen with you. Plan your route in advance and make signs for major cities along the way. Take some spares too. Write BIG so it can be seen from a distance away and add “please”. Have clear plastic to cover it if rain is likely. Pitch a sign with a destination around 50 miles away. First question to the driver is, “Where are you heading?” – then you may find they are able and willing to take you further.

This may seem like a strange tip, but I once received a lift from a chap who stopped because he assumed by (rather full!) green rucksack was an indication I was in the military. He offered the lift because his son was in the army. I pointed out my untrim physique, but he immediately dismissed it as as a requisite of new recruits and the under 25s, claiming to know many personnel who were “bigger than me”.

Don’t offer anything other than thanks as gratitude – you need to keep your load light. Don’t eat in the vehicle unless specifically invited, and if you must smoke, ask first: and don’t plead/bargain if they refuse!

If you’re dropped off at a place serving refreshments, you might offer coffee. Don’t linger – you want to be on the road again soon: put your next board in clear view of others if you stay to eat.

Note to drivers: for safety pick up only single people of the same sex. If she has your number plate and there were no witnesses, who will defend you against later allegations?

Note to hitchhikers: where possible, accept lifts from lone drivers only (women should accept lifts only from other women, in the interests of safety).

There are now apps that will allow a phone’s location to be tracked by another phone. Very useful and texts can be sent to advise if you are heading intentionally by an alternative route.

27 Shawn Gamez June 5, 2012 at 10:38 am

I’m currently hitchhiking around the U.S. and writing about all the people I meet. I started in Pennsylvania 28 days ago and I’m currently at the southern tip of Florida.

I have had a lot of luck with a sign that simply says Writer and a sign that says Student. I’ll usually pair the sign with a sign that has a direction or city on it.

28 Been there June 5, 2012 at 10:48 am

Been there and did that, mostly in Yellowstone National Park as an employee. It was great fun and a great way to meet cool people.

Do not believe what the horror movies tell you, the world is full of people who are kind and awesome. Thumbs up!

29 TheDesertRat June 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Interesting perspective. I’ve always thought of hitchhiking as the lazy man’s way of traveling, for someone who puts forth very little effort or ambition in life – pretty much reserved for bums and homeless. As it doesn’t take much time and work at all to accumulate bus fair or an inexpensive car & gas, it you’re will to do a little work.

30 Wes Brewer June 5, 2012 at 11:06 am

Another good tip is to look at the condition of the vehicle. A friend and myself were hiking the A.T. through the smokey mountains and we stopped for a day in Gatlinburg, a older guy gave us a ride from New Found Gap to Gatlinburg in his 1972 Winnebago, my friend took the front seat I sat at the dinner table in the back. Half way down the mountain the guy looks at my buddy and I and says “boys, we just lost our brakes!” My friend buckled his seat belt immediately and I realized very fast that there are not any seat belts at the dinner table. The driver was able to use the lower gears and the parking break to slow the RV. I understand there was no way to know that his brakes were about to go, but since then I have been a little more picky with the condition of the vehicles I ride in.

31 tim_lebsack June 5, 2012 at 11:57 am

I once had a pickup driving old man make a U-turn to come back for me. He made me ride in the back while he drove the flats at a hundred mph and went around corners on two wheels. He finally stopped when I was banging on the cab roof. He wanted twenty dollars for the ride. Be careful / be courageous out there.

32 Brett June 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I hitchhiked around New Zealand and when I had a car there I picked up hitchhikers without thinking twice. It is a backpacker culture there and the locals do it as well as a great way to get from one small town to another.
It is a great way to get to know the locals, some of my best stories start with me getting a ride or picking up someone. You find the best spots and the “real” country when it’s not out of the Lonely Planet.
When I was in SE Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos) I hitched around quite a bit. Doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language. Good people exist in every corner of the planet.

33 hansentt June 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm

I have only hitchhiked once. It was after an impromptu rafting trip down a river in Wyoming. My two friends and I had to bail from the river and hike it to the nearest highway. Luckily we found one within a days hike through the wilderness. My buddies were both dressed decent. I on the other hand hand shaggy hair, a large shady beard, and a tie-die shirt. Needless to say my buddies stood in front of me so the cars couldn’t see me very well. ha. After about 30 minutes we got a ride from a nice couple that took us to the local grocery store. The feeling you get when someone finally pulls over for you is pretty great!

34 Zane June 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Title reminds me of my own grandpa, who would travel from NY to visit us and would hitchhike to our house from the train station. Guy was a retired bank VP who was hitching well into his 80s and never had a problem. Drove my mom crazy, which was an added bonus!

35 Marcus June 5, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Along with being clean and tidy, I’ve always carried a sign that says “please.” Probably the best compliment you can get as a hitchhiker is when people who normally never pick up people stop for you.

Signs showing your destination can be a bit debatable. Normally I’m keen on them, but have had a really unpleasant ride and couldn’t use the ‘Oh I’m not going there’ excuse when they stopped for me.

36 Mike June 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I got stuck in southwest Nebraska on my way to Denver for 2 days without a ride. I did the next best thing and jumped a west bound train. I sat on the shade side of a grain cart and had a grand old time.

37 Hartmann June 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm

I’ve hitchhiked in Asia and South America, but never here in the US. The cultural skepticism of hitchhikers that most American’s have actually makes me more suspicious of the types of people who would pick me up.

38 Marc June 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm

I love hitchhiking. The only safety tip I can give other than the “trust your common sense” is: do not use a sign, unless it is EXTREMELY GENERAL (with this I mean, if exiting a city, put the cardinal point you are heading to or the number of the road you want to take). Basically because, this way, you can ask the driver where is he going to (and do it straight away; no sooner has he/she stopped ask “Hello boss, where are you going to?”) and, if you don’t feel good about travelling with him/her, you can just say “oh, I’m not going in this direction, thanks anyway”

39 Arthur June 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm

As I young man I found that a Navy-issue duffel bag (found at most Army-Navy stores), with US Navy stencilled on the bottom and carried on one shoulder, would virtually guarantee me a ride within minutes. Back in the day I hitchhiked 200 miles one way and back every weekend, heading home to visit family. One Christmas Eve I made the trip in 3 hours flat, and each ride got on a CB and arranged my next ride for me. Nowadays I no longer look the part of a sailor on weekend leave, but if you do it’s a great gig. I imagine Marine or Army items would have a similar effect.

40 Jeff June 5, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I hitchhiked quite a few times up and down the West coast of the US.

It is amazing the variety of people who pick you up. Businessmen in rental cars, pregnant women, hippie chicks going to a Grateful dead concert (80s), truckers, poor people and rich people.
First time hitching and right at the California border a movie star picked me up. On another leg of a trip a poor guy picked me up to help him with gas. Right when we get to Hollywood his brake pad falls off, laugh. Another guy was a speeder who was always going 90+. We got pulled over and the cop asked him if he had a permit for the gun on his dashboard. I had not even noticed the gun sitting there. Anyway, lots of variety.
My advice is to look clean.

41 Stewart L June 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm

I agree with the comment about the concealed weapon. Even that is only a marginal help. While statistics show the road is a relatively safe place, you are betting your life on sizing up the driver.

42 Justin June 5, 2012 at 11:41 pm

The world is also full of nut jobs. I hear people all of the time spout about the world is as safe now, you just hear more about it. Is that why 30 years in high school a bully might give you a black eye whereas now some stoned looser will pull a knife on you because they think you think you are better than them. I don’t doubt there are good people, but I wouldn’t risk it and it would be a rare event for me to pick up somebody. I do like the person’s advice of only picking up and going with people of the same sex.

43 Mike June 6, 2012 at 3:52 am

Here’s another good way to get rides: go to a gas station and carefully, politely approach people and ask if they are headed in your direction and if they would be at all willing to consider giving you a lift. This is a great way to get a ride much faster than standing on the side of the road, and it gives people who might think about picking you up a chance to see that you’re a reasonable, nice person. I would recommend being careful to put absolutely no pressure on the people you approach – much better to get a ride with someone who is totally happy to take you than with someone who is not sure but feels pressured.

44 Matthew June 6, 2012 at 10:01 am

I was thinking about a trial run this weekend, hitching from my hometown to the state capital and back again. Any tips for a first timer in the Midwest?

45 Benjamin June 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm

As a hitchhiker and the author of this pieces it is so great to hear from som many other hitchhikers.

If you are new there are a lot of many great tips here in the comments too…

I just saw this posted and I wanted to address a couple things.

1. Matthew: All of the above tips will apply in the Midwest and even more so… because Midwesterners are about as nice as Canadians.

You are golden.

2. Steve asks: “Do any of you know if I can expect to see hitchhikers at all down there (I’ll be driving along Route 66 with swings through rural areas)? And – I know, this is a very general question – are people in NM, TX, etc. are open to traveling with a tourist? And, also very general, is it safe to pick up hitchhikers along that itinerary?”

Here’s the thing Steve… you just never know. There are trends and cliches that can sometimes be true… but you just never know.

Hence the beauty of this form of travel. You gotta go look with your eyes and act on what you think.

Route 66 can be popular (popular means that more than once I see other hitchhikers)… I was through there recently.

Texas is the friendliest state and the meanest.

If you are feeling it, then go for it and just know that you can always turn back. This is your journey. Take care and keep me posted… Serious. :)

46 Leslie June 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I’m a 22 year old female and I’ve picked up a hitchhiker before.
I drive a truck and its not illegal in my state for people to ride in the bed. The guy I picked up looked a lot like one of my friends and after talking a little I had a good feeling about him. He was headed to the same place I was, about 3 hours down the road. He said he had been at the exit for hours- he was a black male trying to hitchhike in the south, so that didn’t surprise me much. After about an hour I had to get on the Interstate so he hopped in the cab with me, and I ended up being so happy I stopped. He was headed home to see his brother while his brother was on leave from Afghanistan. People think I’m crazy when I tell the story, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I like Jesse’s idea of a male/female pair. I’d love to hitchhike around but unfortunately too many people would try to take advantage of a young blonde.

47 Brett June 6, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Chuck Klosterman had a great line about hitchhiking, something along the lines of “every driver assumes hitchhikers are going to murder them, and every hitchhiker thinks that the driver is going to murder them, so it’s fun to think about two people riding in a car together, both waiting for the perfect moment to kill the other”…’s obviously a joke, but the point is true. The general line of thinking is:

Driver: “Nobody hitches anymore, so this hitchhiker must be a weirdo. I’m not picking him up”

Hitcher: “Most people are scared of hitchhikers nowadays, so this person picking me up must be a weirdo. I’m not getting in”

….and there’s the rub. You might not get murdered, but getting picked up must be 100x harder these days. I’d love to do this, I just think it’s one of those things that has gone the way of the buffalo.

48 Opie T. Monkeywrench June 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm

It definitely has not gone the way of the buffalo, at least not in my experience on the west coast. Route 101 straight on down from Olympic National Park, through Portland, down to San Francisco. Probably some of the best and hardest times of my life. It makes things a lot easier and cheaper and HEAVIER with a tent and sleeping bag, but once you realize you can sleep almost anywhere it’s definitely worth it (it’s a huge bummer, but there are even sneaky spots to post up in cities. bewarned: if it’s a good spot it will probably smell like bum piss…which could mean it’s already someone’s home…)

Getting offered free drugs is very common in some parts of the states (California, I’m looking your direction. Sinners.) Don’t do drugs with people in cars unless you either really trust them (which you probably shouldn’t unless you ridden with em a couple days) or are really comfortable with the drug – you should remain alert around strangers!

Wear good shoes and have fun and keep the conversation going and you will get people to tell you some CRAZY stories. Yeehaw!

49 Steve June 7, 2012 at 5:16 am

@Benjamin: Thanks for your reply.
I guess I’ll give it a try when it feels comfortable.

50 Jason June 7, 2012 at 5:45 am

I love AoM but this is one post I can’t get with. I remember being a kid, and whenever my dad and I passed someone hitch-hiking, my dad would yell out the window “Get a job!” Hitch-hiking, in my mind, is associated with irresponsible bounders–the opposite of what this site promotes. Where I come from, no respectable man hitch-hikes.

51 Les June 7, 2012 at 10:06 am

any horses for Silverton? –you can take the white bronco!! Flew to a job interview out of Durango, left my lights on for 3 days. Tried to jump it and fried the battery, hitch hiked into WalMart and bought another one, didn’t work. Gwenn offered to come 56 miles to get me over two passes (Coal Bank 11,000ft ) but I decided to hitchhike, should have been easy, Durango is a small College town. Didn’t get one ride thru Durango. Walking on 550 past Luke’s Livery I yelled down to the wranglers “Any horses for Silverton?” These kids piled in the white bronco and drove me the 40 miles up to Silverton. One was a Marine ROTC pilot, one a Texas A&M veterinary student, the girl was a nursing student. Never laughed continuously for 40 miles before. Great kids

52 dave June 8, 2012 at 7:49 am

Make yourself a sign!
especially for longer distance hauls. And save you moving from your fantastic comfy on-ramp, to some quiet disused no chance of getting a ride off-ramp.
I used to frequently Hitchhike up and down the east coast of Australia to visit friends/family around 10 years ago. People here can be a bit nervous about picking up hitchhikers as they are quite rare these days. As said above, Look friendly, Always have a medium sized backpack and look like a traveler, And be prepared to have to walk, and walk, and walk… and then walk some more. sometimes it might take you a good distance from where you have been dropped off to a new suitable pickup location. Hitchhiking here is almost extinct now as it is not time or cost effective (as airfares are so much cheaper now). Enjoy the experience and be prepared for friends and family to be shocked.

53 dave June 8, 2012 at 7:57 am

i forgot to say as well,
Be cautious, Remain alert, Don’t drink or do drugs if you can avoid it, be aware of your surroundings and roadsigns letting you know where you are. Avoid sleeping if you can while getting a ride so you always know where you are. Ascertain your exit options early in case you need to make a hasty exit.

54 mah-10 June 8, 2012 at 3:09 pm

When I was in the army (at 19) I called my mom to check in. I told her that I had gotten bored over the weekend and hitch hiked downtown and back. She asked why I didn’t just watch a baseball game on tv? I told her my room didn’t have one and didn’t mind hitching. Of course it terrified her and she sent me money the next week to go buy a tv.

55 Joseph June 8, 2012 at 6:36 pm

This post really misses the point. There are a lot of great websites out there for ridesharing and technology enabled hitchhiking. None have completely taken off yet, but maybe if sites like this promoted them more, they would.

I recommend people watch out for

56 Brad June 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm

I only hitchhiked one time in my life. The guy that picked me up did not live very close to me – maybe 4 hours away. He did remodeling and was in his work van. He gave me some advice on business as well as life in general. He dropped me off at my destination and I figured that was the last time we would meet. About 5 years later, he showed up to install some doors at a rental house I owned.

57 gevin shaw June 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm

I still remember hitching to the next service station after running out of gas. Freakonomics take a brief look at why this doesn’t seem to ever happen now:’t-people-run-out-of-gas-anymore/

You meet the most interesting people. Indie band picks up John Waters:

And a Freakonomics podcast on how efficient a use of resources hitchhiking is and how dangerous it really never was:

58 Jason June 10, 2012 at 2:03 am

I am an avid reader of aom and am dissappointed that basic research was not conducted before publishing this article. It is ILLEGAL in certain states to hitchhike, case in points Illinois
It clearly states

Hitchhiking is standing on the roadway to ask for a ride. It is illegal to hitchhike. If convicted, a pedestrian may be fined up to $2,500 and given a jail sentence of up to one year.

PLEASE EDIT THE ARTICLE. before some college kid like myself follows blindly and ends up in jail.

59 Mitch June 11, 2012 at 12:22 am

Jason, seems a good lesson in manliness: Don’t follow blindly. Besides, I thought everything was illegal in Illinois, though perhaps that’s a bit presumptuous.

I like this article, if only for the encouragement. I’ve long thought about hitchhiking and the adventures associated with it. I’ve never had the time, however, to take the casual stroll down the highway and wander aimlessly (somewhat). I suppose this coming summer/fall will be the perfect time to get started.

60 Gary Beilby June 11, 2012 at 1:31 am

While I was at Uni in the late 80s I hitched across Australia several times. Clocked up nearly 30,000km in total and collected many tales. I never turned down a ride even when I was picked by 2 hairy mad Harley riders.

I wouldn’t do it again now (even if young again) simply because people think the world is more dangerous and the wait to get a lift (here in Australia) is likely to just be too much.

But all the advice given above is solid. Especially the looking clean-cut bit.

61 Marc June 11, 2012 at 10:29 am

@Jason. Well, use other methods. Gas stations, train stations in rural areas…

62 Wayne June 12, 2012 at 1:04 am
63 Scott June 12, 2012 at 10:48 am
64 Dopple June 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I have hitch hiked in:
New Zealand

Never had a problem. Always nice to have your own camping gear with you as well. Been left in the middle of no where before and needed to sleep in a field. Jar of peanut butter doesnt hurt ether

65 kk June 15, 2012 at 10:39 am

Hitchhiking is a great way to celebrate holiday: only nice people stop for you!

In yaers of hitchhiking in Europe and Asia, and in picking up hitchhikers, I did have some encounters with very friendly and very drunk people, the occasional touchy feely type, but I have never met aggression or vilolence. In that respect, public transport and self-drive is much more dangerous.
Top tip: let your host arrange the next ride, or accommodation to stay the night. You’ll have some great encounters.
Oh, and please leave the hidden weapons at home: nobody can kill you with your own good wits, but theu can kill you with your own weapon!

66 pushbuttonkitty June 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm

i hitched across the US in the 90s at age 19, spending close to a year on the road. being female i obviously had different obstacles, and frankly i’d be horrified if my daughter tried it, but i am certainly glad i did it because i learned a lot about myself and other people.

one thing you have to be prepared for is the dirtiness. it seemed like after only a day on the road i felt like i hadn’t showered in a year. i could have kicked myself for not bringing anything to clean under my nails with because they got grungy fast. i learned how to bathe in gas station bathrooms. i learned that people who pick you up want to talk. if they wanted to be alone, they wouldn’t be offering a ride. be prepared to be congenial. i also learned that you have to be aware of where you’re going. falling asleep in a stranger’s car is a very bad idea. and it also seemed that the nicer the car, and the better dressed the driver, the more likely they were to be a grabby sleaze. i actually quit taking rides from guys in nice cars and started holding out for the wreckers. they actually tended to be the nicest and have the most interesting stories. you hold your pack on your lap and don’t be afraid to just get out at a red light or a stop sign if things feel weird. and don’t think safety rules apply just to girlies, a man can be overcome by a perv just as easily as a female can, if said perv is determined enough. a personal note- i wish, more than anything, that i’d carried a notebook and pencil with me on my travels so i could take notes in the moment instead of trying to go back and scrape the memories together into something coherent.

67 jp June 17, 2012 at 3:24 am

I hitched for my first time 7 days after I graduated highschool. Went 130 miles with a great guy though the eastern Oregon high desert. Would definitely so it again.

68 bryanpaul June 21, 2012 at 11:27 am

nice lil article

“Definitely don’t smoke, drink, or do any illegal activities.”
hahahaha sorry but i used to love standin on the exit ramp sippin a cold one and maybe burnin a doob(in CA anyway)

69 Mounira April 27, 2013 at 7:58 am

I’m a hitchhiker girl, I live in Rabat, it’s not easy, nor safe, but sometimes I’m obliged to, when I don’t have enough money or no money at all, I always hitch for little distance rides in the city. I do them cuz I know the city very well. I never do it in an other city, I hope I will never be, kidnapped, kiled or raped !!!

70 Jeremy May 11, 2013 at 9:58 am

I have a question before I keep thinking of where I should start. I have been thing about this a very long time and would like to know where and a good time to start my adventure. I am looking to just drop myself at a random place and start. I have no place planned to go and would like to keep it like that. Travel the back roads, not the usual spots people travel. Hey, maybe there would be a place out there in the middle of nowhere I would like to stop and settle down for a while. Not looking to just travel to a spot I plan to get to before I start the trip. Oh, and what is a good amount of money to start with? And what are the most important things to bring with me that will not weigh me down so much? Looking to be out and about for 6-8 months, maybe more. Hope to hear about this from some of you.

71 Chris June 4, 2013 at 11:17 am

I’ve hitchhiked locally and there are two important things I’d tell anyone: Have a friendly, partial smile on your face and carry a sign with your destination on it. Even if you want to go further, know what city is in that direction and negotiate a longer trip once you’re in the car if the situation feels right. People are much more likely to pick up a person they feel has a purpose and that they can trust.

72 jerry June 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I hitched a lot while a teenager and in the “Corps”. The only trouble I ever had was with homosexuals. I just asked them to allow me out and went on to the next ride. Now , I wouldn’t hitch alone or with out a weapon.

73 E. d. K. October 29, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Often I pick up hitchhikers, provided that I have room in the car and I am not in a terrible hurry. I (now 57) hitchhiked myself a lot in my twenties and this is my way of paying back. My job is mostly in the cube farm, and on the weekends out to and from the mountains, the hhikers remind me that a less constrained way of life is still possible. The dangers of hitchhiking (both to the hiker and the driver) are much exaggerated. They are mostly urban myths. It says a lot about our obsessed society that an act of kindness is discouraged by many, even the police. A basic amount of common sense is necessary, so to the hhikers out there, if the driver or car looks sketchy, pass the offer. For me, picking up hhikers is a moment to hear what they have to say about life, their goals, hopes and dreams. Often young, they will be open to my view or advice, and they will tell me their own. I wish them well! God bless them on their journey.

74 Kimmi January 11, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I picked up a (m/f) pair of hitchhikers a few months ago, that I had seen several hours earlier walking in the direction of the highway. They were really nice, and we talked a lot about their travels. I tried hitching once, but it wasn’t on a major road, so it didn’t work as well as I hoped, (but I got a ride to the truck stop) and then I got trespassed from said truck stop. :3

My wanderlust can get intense sometimes, and I am definitely going to try hitching again, either on spring and/or summer break, and/or after i finish schooling. All of my super close friends are scared of hitching but thats okay, because I am comfortable traveling with and by myself. And looking forward to the adventures. XD

The comment earlier, about Texas being the kindest and meanest state is pretty true. My friend and I were on an eighth of a tank and we hitchdrove (politely asking strangers for fuel via red gascan). More people in Texas helped out than any of the other states back to Florida.

I do have a question though.. Other than Craigslist, what, if any, resources are there for jobs/gigs to earn money while traveling away from local areas?

75 Jake January 13, 2014 at 2:44 am

” and don’t think safety rules apply just to girlies, a man can be overcome by a perv just as easily as a female can, if said perv is determined enough.”

Some people want to believe such things but it is far from the truth. Statistically, women are much more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than men are. Biologically speaking men are stronger than women are, so a man fighting a male perv is not the same as a women fighting a male perv.

76 gail taylor April 15, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I have hitchhiked about 40 thousand miles altogether in the 1970′s.It was mostly fun.I met a lot of nice people.But then,there were the not nice people, Men,who thought I was standing on the side of the road for their entertainment or something.

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