Picking up hitchhikers

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When considering picking up hitchhikers, keep in mind first and foremost, you are not obligated to let someone into your car just because you pulled over. That being said, try to be welcoming, but at the same time alert and cautious. Just because someone looks bedraggled, unshaven and questionably clean, doesn't mean they are dangerous or shady. You have to consider that this person has very likely been on the road for days on end, probably without a proper place to sleep, and maybe without a proper meal. Of course, it's also not uncommon to find properly showered and shaved hitchhikers wearing a suit and a tie.

Yaniv with luggage and sign for Verona

A good starting point for your judgment is often their luggage. You should take a good look at the person's belongings as you slow down and pull over. Do they have a well worn rucksack and are their hands full with a map and a book while they frantically try to grab everything and rush toward your car? An honest traveler will probably have similar paraphernalia. Still, many hitchhikers hitchhike for short day trips on well-known territory and sometimes don't carry any luggage at all.

Other ways to know are 1. If the hitchhiker/s is/are walking on the highway with a sign or had their thumbs up as it tell that the person is trying to get some place. Keep that in mind if the person is not walking that does not mean he/she is not good enough to be picked up it could also be because tiredness. 2. Keeping a proper eye contact? 3. Smiling in a friendly way?

Communicate

After this initial look, you should exchange a few words with the hitchhiker before throwing the door open. Many drivers pull over and hurriedly gesture for you to pile in, but you can often tell a lot about a person from a quick exchange, which could save you a lot of trouble. During this quick exchange, you have to keep in mind that the hitchhiker may also have apprehensions, and generally, they get the privilege of asking "where are you going?" before the driver does. This is because a the hitchhiker needs a "way out" if they pick up a bad vibe from the driver and decide they (politely) want to decline the ride.

If you decide that you'd rather not have this person in your car, don't feel like you have to just because you've pulled over and had a few words with them. Your instinct is your best defense mechanism and ignoring it because you feel awkward is a bad idea.

Hitchhiker and driver in Finland, 2008

If you've decided that the hitchhiker is indeed legit (and most are), it's probably best to get moving so you don't fall victim to the even more likely danger of being hit by another car. Some more cautious (maybe paranoid) hitchhikers may be unwilling to part with their belongings, in case they need to make a quick escape. You could ask if they mind putting their pack in the trunk if you have limited room, but if at all possible allow them to keep their stuff nearby.

If, before you let them in, you ask them where they are going and they say a place that is very very far away, but you are only going to a place that really is just 20km down the road, don't just drive off as it is quite likely that they would very much appreciate the extra 20km that you can take them. Even one km can be a big help if you happen to know that it is a better spot (e.g. a big petrol station along the motorway) than the one they are in.

A better spot is also more important than how far. Taking someone from a good big petrol station and putting them on the motorway (or off the high way) might make more problems than it solves. As long as you can put the person at a somewhat better or the same quality place, a little bit of a ride is better than no ride, if not much else it gives the hitchhiker a new scenario and some hope.

In any case, it's good to show some sign of recognition, even if you don't plan to stop. A quick smile or a gesture indicating that you're only going locally can give a hitchhiker some hope. And many hitchhikers love human interaction, so it's nice to have a chat at a petrol station.

Most hitchhikers will try to converse with you to get to know you, in case they are not talking its good to try to initiate a conversation as they could be tired from all the waiting and walking. .

Traffic light

Sometimes you encounter hitchhikers at traffic lights. If the traffic light is followed by a convenient place to stop it's best to go there. Otherwise you have to trust on your instinct.

Motorway on-ramp, bus stops

Bus stops are convenient places to stop. Motorway on-ramps can be more tricky, but are similar.

Petrol station

Many hitchhikers prefer to ask drivers for rides at petrol stations. This gives both hitchhikers as well as drivers more time to think, chat, and develop a rapport with which they can trust in one another. Some of the people working at the stations don't like hitchhikers and consider it soliciting so can be rude and may ask them to leave so if you feel like giving them a ride ask them to wait for you out side the gas station until you pick them up.

It might even happen that a hitchhiker cleans your windows

Signs

Amylin hitchhiking to Riga

It's great when it happens, but hitchhikers don't need to go to their final destination with just one ride. Usually a hitchhike trip takes many consecutive rides. To avoid missing out on cars that go shorter distances people often put two or even more destinations on their sign.

Flexibility

Hitchhikers are flexible travelers as when it comes to rides as their main concern is to get to the destination, so they wouldn't mind sitting in the back of a truck, if its allowed for example in Missouri its allowed to sit in the back of a truck. Ask them if they would be willing to ride in the back if you feel uncomfortable or don't have room to sit or simply leave.

Stuff

Ideally, the seat or seats for the hitchhiker(s) will be empty of stuff. Take time to organize your car. When you drop the hitchhiker quickly assure that they took all their own stuff and left all your stuff. Also, if you lost something, remember it might not be malicious. Sometimes, something could have fallen out of the car, or a hitchhiker could've mistakenly took something that was not their property. In these cases, exchanging contact info during the ride could be a useful way to ensure whatever is lost gets returned to its place.

Exchange contact information

If you have a business card, it could be nice to give one to the hitchhiker. You never know what you can get out of it in the future. Also some hitchhikers have blogs and an extra link to your website can be good for your search engine rankings. And then it can also be nice to just know someone in another country. If you don't have a business card, write down your email address, phone number and/or Facebook name.

Some hitchhikers also maintain travel logs on blogs or websites and their stories are typically full of interesting, even enlightening things. If you had a particularly enjoyable conversation with the hitchhiker(s), it could be nice to ask if they write about or otherwise share their traveling experiences. Many hitchhikers who do this are eager to share their contact info with you.

How to prematurely leave your hitchhiker

Not all hitchhikers are awesome. It can happen that you picked someone up and then you feel stuck with them. For example, in Australia rides can be very long and people can turn out to be weirder than you expected. It can also simply be that you need your private space, e.g. for making phone calls. How to get rid of your hitchhiker? Several options?

  1. Tell the outright truth. "I feel that I can not take you any further. I need my private space. I know you will understand."
  2. Or a little white lie: "I need to call my boss and talk about sensitive subjects. You know, professional secret".

Generally, though, hitchhikers prefer the truth and can handle it. The same goes for hitchhikers who chat you up at a service station. Most of them have had so many talks of this kind that they can smell a lie from miles away. Sometimes a lie is more insulting than anything else!

In case you want to leave a hitchhiker, it's generous to leave them at a spot that will allow them to continue their journey easily, such as a gas station on the highway or an highway on-ramp that is getting some traffic. That way, they'll be much less upset than if you leave them at a terrible spot (e.g. side of the highway).

More information

  • 'Why do people pick up hitchhikers?' An article at Digihitch
  • A story written by a driver in the USA and who see hitchhikers every day. He made some rules for himself. For an experienced hitchhiker-traveler they might sound funny, but it gives you a nice look in the mind of someone who picks up hitchhikers on a daily basis. "Every morning and evening, I see people hitchhiking on the 602 to get to Gallup and back." link
  • Stop & Wander, a Girl’s Guide to Picking up Hitchhikers [1]. "When I see someone standing by the side of the road, trying to flag down a ride, I get curious."
  • A journey of two months, two french hitchhikers traveled around eastern europe. Easy to translate with Google© [2].