Having never hitchhiked before, my friend Fabienne and I admittedly assumed the process would be a bit quicker and easier than it turned out to be: the hundred-mile journey from Amsterdam to Brussels took us eight hours and seven cars. We met a lot of interesting and kind individuals, including a Polish couple who allowed me to practice the few polish phrases I know, a Turkish man who tried to convince us at least a dozen times to stop hitchhiking and let him take us to the train station (“A train ticket only costs 50€!”), and an extremely chill and hilarious Spanish guy who bought us a drink before dropping us off at our final destination. While I’m not sure if I have the energy to go hitchhiking again any time soon, it was a great experience and I recommend others to try it at least once. Below are some of the tips I wish I had known or considered before departing on our adventure.
Plan ahead: The extreme unpredictability of hitchhiking makes it difficult to have a concrete backup plan (what will happen if a ride is unavailable? Is it possible to walk to the nearest city? If necessary, can you afford to stay in a hotel?), so before starting we decided that we wouldn’t stop traveling until we reached Brussels. Since hitchhiking at night can be dangerous, we always got dropped off and found new rides at 24-hour gas stations, giving us a warm, dry place to stay, with access to food and the safety of company.
Strategize: Starting at highway entrances guarantee cars are going in the direction you need. Get situated some place that you can be seen easily and early on, and where the driver can safely pull over. If you’ve waited for a long time without any success, perhaps go with the next available car, even if it is in the wrong direction, in order to change location. Similarly, if a car can only bring you a small distance or partially in the right direction, decide if your current location is worth leaving before accepting the ride. We found the most success with approaching people at gas stations. We had waited half an hour or so on the road without any luck, but everyone we asked who headed in the same direction allowed us to travel with them.
- Trust your instincts, and never feel bad about turning down a ride. I turned down three rides: one because the man was visibly drunk, another because the guy wanted monetary compensation, and a third because he originally said he was going in the wrong direction, drove away, and within five minutes showed back up at the gas station to tell us he could take us (weird, right?)
- If you’ve already accepted a ride and later begin to feel uncomfortable, tell the driver you’d like to be dropped off, even if it’s at a location sooner than the one you requested.
- In the extreme case of needing to evacuate the vehicle, keeping items (your passport, money) in your pockets in case you need to leave your backpack behind. Sit in the passenger seat, since the doors in the back may have child locks enabled.
- Gas stations are safer than highway service and rest stations in that they are well lit, always have staff on duty and have plenty camera surveillance.
For more information: http://www.hitchhikers.org/