Frequently asked questions about Hitchhiking, safety and experiences

I love hitchhiking, it’s my favourite way of transport while on the road. However, there are many people that have their doubts about it. I often get asked the same set of questions when I tell people I hitchhike (even drivers picking me up ask these questions). These questions are almost everytime about safety. How do you make sure you’re safe? Have you ever felt unsafe? Aren’t you affraid you get picked up by someone with bad intentions? etc. 

My mom also doesn’t really like the idea of me going hitchhiking, and she has often brought up such negative points. Despite, hitchhiking has so many positive sides too, and that's why I keep doing it. For instance, it’s environmentally friendly because the car is heading to it’s destination anyway, with or without you; it’s a great way to meet new people, especially for someone like me that is no star in casual socializing; you can use it to get places where no public transport is going; and best of all, it's FREE. In this post, I will answer some of the most frequently asked questions on hitchhiking with my personal opinions and experiences. Additional questions are always welcome, just add them to the comment section of this post and I will look into them.

While you're at it, check out this great and inspiring TEDx talk by Ruairí McKiernan called 'How hitchhiking gave me hope for humanity'. It's really recognizable.

Are you never afraid that the person stopping for you has bad intentions?

My common answer to this question is: ‘no, because I’m a man, and the murderous rapists will probably only stop for girls’. I know, it’s an easy answer, and there are more ways in which people can have bad intentions. However, there is always a short moment when the car has stopped and you talk to the driver (about destinations etc.) in which you can already get a first impression of the driver (and his passengers in some cases). If you are uncertain, feel uncomfortable or just don’t like the situation, then by all means, don’t get in the car! In most cases, people stopping for you are nice, friendly and mean well. Those that aren’t will probably never take hitchhikers anyway.

Have you ever declined a ride?

Yes, only once. While hitchhiking in Luxembourg, this Polish guy stopped and offered me a ride. He started clearing out his passenger seat for me to get in when I saw that he had quite a few empty beer cans in his car and had an opened bottle of booze (cheap whisky I guessed) on the passenger seat. I wasn’t sure whether it was the strong accent or the booze that made him difficult to understand, but I decided that I did not want to take this ride. Luckily though, he could only have taken me a few kilometres before he had to turn off my planned route, so I could wave him off with a polite ‘no thanks, I have a great spot here and would prefer to wait for someone who can take me a little further’.

What if you don’t like the person taking you?

Never happened to me. As I said before: In most cases, people stopping for you are nice, friendly and mean well. Those that aren’t will probably never take hitchhikers anyway. However, it can always happen that you really don’t like someone. Remember, you can always get out. Whether you let them know you don't like them or make up a less confronting reason to get out is up to you. You can say something like ‘I have to stop to use a toilet, can you drop me off at the next gas station’ or ‘I have to make a personal call and would like to do that in private, can you drop me off somewhere?’. You think it’s awkward to say such a thing? Well, it isn’t more awkward than having to spend 300 kilometres in a car talking to someone you dislike. Whatever you give for a reason to get out, make sure to stay polite and don’t insult the driver.

Have you ever felt unsafe in a car?

No, I have not.


Okay, maybe this one time.

A friend and I were hitchhiking in New Zealand when this 50 or 60 year old woman stopped. She was moving houses with this small car (Fiat panda if I recall correctly) and her car was full of her belongings. Somehow, however, she thought it was a good idea to stuff two hitchhikers and their 80 litre packs somewhere in-between these belongings. I ended up on the passenger seat with my feet on the dashboard and some of her belongings and my own daypack on my lap, while her sound system and a large speaker were in my footwell. I don’t even know how we fitted my friend and our two large packs in the backseat, but it must have been uncomfortable. After trying to get a ride for an entire afternoon and the following morning, it’s needless to say that we were quite desperate for a ride (more on that later).
Somewhere along the way, while speeding over this narrow winding road with large trucks coming from the opposite direction, this woman decided that it was time to have a smoke. She started fidgeting with her pack of cigarettes, which caused the car to swing dangerously. As if that was not quite dangerous enough, she did not seem to pay attention to driving anymore when whe lit the cigarette and only seemed to remember she was driving when we were bobbing with two wheels off the roadside. Needless to say, I was relieved when we finally reached our destination.

Isn’t it awkward when the conversation goes silent?

No, nothing wrong with some silences here and there, especially on longer rides. Most of the time, however, you don't have to be affraid of askward silences. People that offer you a ride are always in for a chat and sometimes even appear to be quite lonely. Most of them are very interested in you. Where did you come from? Where have you been? Do you hitchhike often and why? what does your family think of it? where are you going now? On the other hand, people always love talking about themselves. In some cases I even felt like they were more open to me as a stranger (knowing they would never see me again). I have heard some very personal stories along the way, from foster children that keep going in and out of prison to unfulfilled dreams and relational issues.

How long do you have to wait long for a ride?

Waiting times vary largely and there are many factors influencing them. Just to name a few: the type of road, stopping possibilities, time of day, weather, amount of traffic on the road, number of intersections ahead and even the mood of the driver. So, it's very unpredictable. However, most people that ask this question seem estimate waiting times of about 3 times higher than what I think is average (1 to 2 hours max.). I've once had a car stopping while I was still unloading my bag from the previous ride, but I have also once had to wait hours until nightfall without success and then continue the next morning. Both are extreme circumstances though. The first was pure luck and the second was when I was standing in a criminal neighbourhood (oops, learning moment).
Most unpredictable are (European) highways, as you may have to ask people for a ride at gas stations. I don’t like to do that, so I often avoid highways where I can and I have even stood in less favourable conditions at highway ramps. The positive side of highways is that most of the people using them are travelling longer distances, which may make that you can be taken 200 to 300 kilometres per ride. So, I may have to force myself to get used to adressing people at gas stations one day...

What is your best hitchhiking experience?

That’s a difficult question. Everyone who has ever taken me was amazing, and I have had so many great experiences with these people. I have been offered a place to sleep many times, people insisted that I took their food, one girl even bought me a busticket to Brussels station (paying for my own was non-negotiable), and people have gone out of their way (sometimes many kilometres) to get me to either where I had to or to the best position to continue my trip. Most people you meet are nice, interesting and even care about the wellbeing of a total stranger (you). 
I once asked a woman to drop me off in the middle of nowhere in the Norwegian Jotunheimen mountains so I could just camp out in the forest for a few days, she insisted that I came with her to the next town or further as she was concerned about my safety. After a long discussion in wich I felt like I had to prove that I could fend for myself, she finally agreed to drop me off and I was able to spend some great lonely days in the forest. 
Another woman and her daughter have taken me and a friend in for the night after we had been trying until nightfall to get a ride in front of their house. They didn’t like the idea of us staying out there after dark, as it was a criminal neighbourhood. 
A little earlier that same day, another woman from further up the street came to tell us that we had to come to her house when it was getting dark so she could drive us back to town for the same reason.

I can go on and on (and on and on and on) about great hitchhiking experiences, but I’ll leave it to this. I do, however, like to know your hitchhiking experiences. Great, bad, interesting, scary or downright weird, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. You can also answer any of the questions above or ask an additional question, I may add those to this post later on.

If you liked this post, want to save it for further reading or want to let your mother read it before you head out on a hitchhiking adventure, pin the image below. You can also  this post to your concerned grandmother (or any other concerned relative).

SAFETY FIRST: Though hitchhiking is great, don’t ever forget your own safety. Never get into a car when it doesn’t feel right and get out when you don’t like where it is going. When you put your own safety first in all situations, hitchhiking can be the number one way of transportation for large parts of your travels. Stay safe!