Hitchhiking across America is one of the most authentic and immersive travel experiences a person can have. You meet people – lots of people. You meet people you never would have come across, and get to know them in a unique way while seeing the country.
But getting those people to stop can be hard: they have to make a split second decision to let an unknown person spend several hours inside their car.
I recently took an extended hitchhiking trip from Denver, Colorado to Portland, Oregon, and then down the California coast via Highway 1. It was an incredible experience.
The idea for a cross-country trip stuck in my brain like a burr, and when an open week arose, I jumped. It was the best, cheapest vacation I’ve ever had. For the price of a bivy sack and a loaf of bread, I cruised through some of the most incredible American landscapes and lived more memorable times in a week than in most of the other trips I’ve taken.
At this point I think I’ve almost perfected my hitchhiking skill set. I get picked up quickly, seldom waiting a full 10 minutes.
So if you already have the burr in your brain and know your ‘Why,’ here’s the ‘How.’ Here are 14 tips I’ve learned from my experiences, other people, and the Internet too.
Tips for Hitchhiking in America
- Look fun, not homeless
This is key. Your driver has about to 15 seconds to see you, decide if they want to pick you up, and then pull over; presentation is paramount. Your clothing, face, destination sign, and perceived body odor are all calculated in the flash of an eye.
Try to look more like REI, and less like a druggie. Wear bright colors that don’t show dirt too badly (because you are dirty), and have a nice backpack with you, not a black plastic garbage bag or a suitcase. Try to maintain an upbeat demeanor that promises a fun time and a good story about how they picked up a hitchhiker.
I personally think avoiding sunburn is a good thing. If you’ve slacked off on the sunscreen application, you’re going to look like you’ve been outside forever – and look like you smell like you’ve been outside forever. Also, make yourself a nice, neat sign…
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