6 tips for hitchhiking the United States
Hitchhiking the United States is fabulous, from the interstates spanning the country (such as the i-80 which runs from San Francisco to New York City) to the highways through small towns. It’s wonderful to see the interesting people who will pick you up. While there are many ways to do it, here are 6 tips that will help you hitchhike around the States.
Interstates span the country and are the quickest way to cover long distances. If you need to get somewhere, stick to the interstates. It’s not unusual to be picked up by someone traveling a couple of days in the direction you’re heading. My longest ride was three days from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Portland, Oregon.
Standing on the interstate itself is illegal, terrifying and a terrible idea. Police will pick you up if you wait long enough, cars travel fast and it’s far more dangerous. Stick to the on-ramp. The vast majority of on-ramps have ample space to stand and for cars to stop, and have proved an effective way to hitchhike quickly across the country.
If you have time on your hands, smaller highways are the way to go. These roads will lead you through towns you’ll miss from interstates and give you a better snapshot of local culture. The downside is (on average) much longer waiting times and a lot more walking.
Many rides on highways will only be for a few miles (e.g.: to the next town) but this can sometimes work in your favour. If you don’t mind waiting longer and want to see smaller towns, stick to highways.
Truck stops vs quiet spots
When a driver asks where to drop you off, try get to a busy area such as a truck stop or a gas station. The United States is full of large truck stops with numerous gas stations and places to eat. Many people stop to break journeys or refuel, so they’re often the best places to hitchhike out of. Truck stops also provide a chance to talk to people in person to see where they’re headed.
If you get dropped in a quiet area, fret not. Often, quiet spots provide drivers with a much longer time to consider giving you a lift, which can work in your favour. Instead of zooming past they can get a look at you, make a decision and pull in without worrying about interrupting traffic around them.
Essentially, an ideal hitchhiking spot has a decent stream of traffic that’s going relatively slow so drivers can get a good look at you.
Where to sleep
When it comes to where to sleep, I pack a tent and sleeping bag. Camping near interstate on-ramps means you can wake up early and hitchhike the morning traffic. Camping behind bushes or trees works best as it stops people seeing you and giving you hassle.
In contrast, I’ve heard of friends camping in plain sight and they don’t get hassled. I’d recommend somewhere close to where you have to be in the morning, with a lot of cover and flat ground.
Many people recommend using signs. I don’t; I’m not bothered finding new cardboard every time I need to make a sign. If you’re on an interstate ramp, there’s only one way cars can go. If a road splits further on, you shouldn’t have problems getting a lift to where you need to go. Sometimes it’s a joy seeing who pulls in, even if they’re not going your way.
If you do wish to use signs, have big, clear letters explaining where you’re heading. You can abbreviate names but make sure it’s understandable.
Dress bright and clean
Always dress as clean as possible. I recommend carrying two bright t-shirts and bright shorts. Jean-shorts are great because they hide dirt well, and colours such as blue and purple will look clean and bright for a long time. Wearing bright colours is key to presenting a clean, positive image to drivers and it means you’re highly visible.
If you’re a guy, I recommend staying clean-shaven. It shows you’re taking care of your hygiene and making an effort to be presentable. However, no matter how dirty you get or how messy you look, someone will always stop. Drivers expect a hitchhiker to be a bit grimy. We can’t shower every day.
When hitchhiking the United States, use your common sense. I keep these tips in mind when I’m hitchhiking and wait times are usually not too long. Some days, however, no one wants to pick you up. Keep smiling anyway.
Like what you read? If you’re thinking about heading out on the road, check out my tips on What to pack when hitchhiking.