I had just spent two weeks riding around the North and South Islands of New Zealand with close friends. We rented a car, bought a teepee, and spent our days checking out the gorgeous scenery and nights spent under the stars. We had a blast, but now my friends were gone. I was all alone. The time had come to finally start hitchhiking.
New Zealand is notorious for hitchhiking. The country is filled with friendly people who are used to picking strangers up along the side of the road especially since it’s legal. I had done my research and heard from friends that as long as I abide by the “hitchhiking rules” I would be okay. “They hadn’t run into any issues so neither would I?” I told myself.
Those hitchhiking rules my friends spoke about were self-explanatory, yet very important. They helped me score rides all over the South Island; about 15 rides total! Not once did I take a bus, taxi, or train, and during my travels, I met locals who told me very interesting stories and showed me gorgeous places I could have never found on my own. It is also a great way to save money!
Here are some general rules to follow while you hitchhike:
We’ll start off with the most important: Trusting your gut. You have about 5 seconds to decide if you want to get into the stranger’s car. If someone seems off, they probably are. Don’t get in.
Next, take the most used route. Find out before you leave a place which road the most people will be traveling on. This will up the likelihood of you finding a ride. If someone offers to pick you up and take you to a more convenient pick up place, accept the ride.
Look approachable. While you are waiting for a ride, make sure you look friendly and cool. Smile. Wave. As the car drives towards you, make eye contact with the driver and take a few steps towards the car; it will make you look more approachable. Try to wear normal looking clothes. Even if you are a smelly hitchhiker, try not to look like one. If the car does stop, introduce yourself and make a good impression so the driver will let you in. Be sure to take off your hat or sunglasses and make conversation.
Use a sign. A sign, whether it’s thumbs up or an actual sign, will increase your chances of being picked up. Drivers will stop if they know they are going in the same direction as you. I’ve found that signs stating the direction of where I’m going like “East” or “North” work well and will eventually get me where I need to go. Don’t be afraid to be creative or funny with your sign, this will draw attention and show the drivers that you are interesting and light hearted. It’s also smart to use the local language of whatever country you are in.
Be safe and be prepared. Since you are waiting on the side of the road, be sure take proper safety precautions. Avoid standing too close to the road lanes, find a safe spot where cars can easily slow down and pull aside, and wear bright color clothes. Don’t tell the person where you are going specifically. Be sure to be the one who asks, “Where are you going?” This buys you time to judge the situation and decide whether you want to get into the car. If the driver seems off, then you can simply state that you aren’t heading in that direction. Avoid hitchhiking at night and just in case something does go wrong, have an escape plan. Hitchers can tell the driver that they aren’t feeling well, they need to use the bathroom, or they got a call from a friend and need to get out. It is smart to carry a small weapon or hitchhike with a friend.
Try not to plan. You must remember that the driver’s schedule is most important. Not yours. If you’re going to hitchhike, you must realize that a plan does not exist. It’s smart to let the wind guide to your next destination. Don’t get upset if the driver needs to make a pit stop or suddenly drop you off in the middle of nowhere. To hitchhike was your choice; make it an adventure, not an inconvenience.
Take note of the weather. While you wait, pay attention to what’s happening in the sky and take proper action. You might have to wait for a long time in extreme temperatures so plan accordingly. If it’s hot, try to find shade. If it’s raining, try to take cover. Often if the weather is extreme, drivers will feel bad for you and pick you up. Don’t be scared of a storm, take advantage of it.
Be patient. Hitchhiking is a great way to travel but remember that it isn’t the quickest way to get around or the most reliable. Don’t get frustrated while you wait for your ride and remember to have fun. Look around you and enjoy the scenery, walk through the town, and talk to strangers. You never know what you might find.
If you follow these rules and trust your instincts, I’m sure you’ll discover that hitchhiking is a great way to travel and see a new place. I spent about two weeks traveling alone through New Zealand and through hitchhiking, Couchsurfing, cooking my own food, and using the rewards of my travel credit cards, I ended up spending only $280. If you are going to be traveling for any extended periods of time, I always recommend using a travel credit card. The perks are undeniable and it would honestly be a waste not to use one. Despite all the money I was able to save through hitchhiking, what I found most important is the priceless experience and people I met along the way.