The Art and Craft of Hitchhiking
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The Art and Craft of Hitchhiking

Six basic guidelines to maximize the potential for hitchhikers who want rides. Also a useful article for drivers considering picking up hitchhikers.

There you are in your car driving down some desolate highway, let's say in the Southwest, and you see a bedraggled, severely psychotic looking person with their thumb out. Are you going to pick this person up? Will you give a stranger that hasn't taken a bath in who knows how long a ride in your freshly washed and vacuumed automobile? Will you offer a seat to a person with an unknown mental and/or criminal record, and a duffel bag containing only what your imagination shows you.

You don't have to think too hard about this. 99.9% of people would not even consider giving this person, and this is most likely a wise decision. You have some well evolved self-preservation mechanisms in place in you and it is usually in your best interest to follow these warning signals. You never can know about strangers, especially not when you're alone in the claustrophobic confines of your car.

This scene on a frighteningly lonesome desert highway is what most people imagine when they hear the word hitchhiking.  It's not too far-fetched and it makes for a good start to many horror movies, but this hitchhiker will most likely not get a ride, unless its from someone equally sketchy. The reason for this is because, like any other skill, the hitcher must learn the art and craft of hitchhiking if he or she wants to be successful.

Some may think that hitchhiking is a no-brainer. Stick your thumb out, wait, try not to look too psychopathic, but these people have never hitched. If you are placed in a situation, either by choice or by circumstance, you will want to know a few simple guidelines to follow if you expect to not be standing on the side of the road for days. So, for the would-be hitchhiker, and for the uneasy driver debating on picking a stranger up, here are a few rules of the road.

Guideline 1: Make a sign.

A thumb is a useful tool, and it gets a message across, but a sign is much more effective. First, it tells any potential rides that you have a destination, that you are not just a vagabond with no aim. This shows that you have purpose and a purposeful person is more likely to get a ride. Second, it lets the driver know whether they are going your way or not and helps them decide how far to take you. It is empowering and calming to the driver to know that it is their call how far and where to they will take this moth-eaten hitchhiker.

Guideline 2: Think from a car's perspective. Put yourself in a place where cars can easily and safely pull over.

If you're standing on a two lane, three lane or four lane (God forbid) highway, it's not a very good idea to be looking for a ride from the shoulder.  This isn't safe for you and it's not safe for anyone picking you up. Your chances for getting a ride will rise drastically if you are in the right position. Places like gas stations, rest stops, and diners, where people are already stopping are great for finding rides. On-ramps to highways are decent in  a pinch. Just think from a car's perspective. At 60 to 70 M.P.H. how likely is it that someone will have time to see you, read your sign (assuming you followed guideline 1), and pull over in time to pick you up. Location, location, location.

Guideline 3: First impressions are important.

If you're on the road beautification and grooming most likely haven't been your top priority, but for potential rides this could make or break their decision. Let's be honest, this world is largely based on appearances. Whether this is fair or justified is a question for the philosophers. All the hitchhiker needs to consider is the perspective of car-drivers. It's an individual choice to comply with the standards of society when it comes to outward appearances. I'm not telling anyone how to look or dress, I'm simply offering ways to increase the likelihood of hitchhikers getting rides.

Guideline 4: Travel with a partner.

Hitchhiking can, and often is, a lonely act, but when possible having a traveling partner can be beneficial for many reasons. First and foremost, the safety of both travelers is elevated. This is a high priority for the already risky hitchhiking venture. While most non-hitchers feel that the danger resides in the stranger on the side of the road, most hitchhikers find a need for wariness of ride-givers. Two is the magic number for hitchhikers. Three or more can cause problems with finding rides with enough seats available. And one, well, the hitchhiker is generally a strong solitary unit, but hitchhiking also confronts one with a different kind of loneliness. A good friend to share the fears and the adventure with is always a good thing.

Guideline 5: Be aware of Environment.

One thing the hitchhiker is always in communication with, in or out of the car, is the environment. Out of the car the hitcher needs to be prepared for all factors of weather, elevation, and natural elements. This means food, shelter, water all have to be on the hitcher's person or within walking distance. The hitchhiker must think and act like a person who's survival is at stake and so preparation is required. Inside the car the hitcher must have a good feeling for the situation, as well. As mentioned earlier, most hitchhiking horror stories are centered around the psychopathic hitchhiker. For the non-murdering hitchhiker the most present danger is the person with whom they are acquiring a ride from. It is not my intention to deepen anyone's fear more than it already is, but an awareness is definitely necessary of the risks involved with hitchhiking. Setting and the environment can be the hitcher's saving grace or worst adversary, therefore the hitchhiker must come prepared for any and all situations.

Guideline 6: Trust

This is last and most abstract of the hitchhiking principles, but I consider it the most important. We've all heard that attitude is everything, and for the pilgrim of the highways this is especially true. Simply consider the difference of an attitude of fear, distrust and paranoia versus an attitude of trust. Place yourself on the side of the road right now in your imagination. You have your sign, you are positioned in a good place, you're waiting for a ride. Now picture two scenarios. In one scenario you are looking at every car and every driver warily, you have an appearance of paranoia, you have an aura of fear.  Not even considering the effects this is having on you internally,  how do you think you look to any would-be rides? Now the second scenario you are in the exact same position, the same sign, but you have a confidence and a fearlessness, you have a courageous sense of trust. You feel good about yourself, your situation, and about the potential rides awaiting you. Now how do you think you appear to drivers? This may seem absurdly simple and self evident, and if you feel that way then great, you are well on your way to getting a ride, but not everyone realizes the effect their attitude has on their world. Hitchhiking is more wearing on the body, mind and spirit than people think. It's easy to lose faith when you've been stranded for hours and the sun is setting. Trust is the hitchhiker's best friend on the road.

So, for the novice or yet to be hitchhikers, I hope I have offered some helpful suggestions or at least some nice thoughts for contemplation. When it comes your time to hit the road the guidelenes are yours to create and follow and I wish you happy travels and safe passage. For those who may read this and have no desire to hitchhike, but may be the hitchhikers potential savior I hope that some fears and myths have been dispelled. Now you know what to look for in a hitchhiker if you do decide to give a ride to a stranger. And if you do I thank you in advance for your generosity and your trust. The road can be a harsh and lonely place, but with an attitude of trust and a basic knowledge of the art and craft of hitchhiking, the road can be managed, it can even be a place of beauty and adventure. My best wishes to all you travelers out there.

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