United States of America

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Flag of United States of America United States of America
Information
Language: English (de facto), Spanish widely spoken in southwest and Florida
Capital: Washington DC
Population: 303,893,000
Currency: American Dollar ($)
Hitchability: <rating country='us' />
Meet fellow hitchhikers on Trustroots or BeWelcome

For specific information on each state please have a look at the bottom of this page.

guakasite, wikitalk hitching in New England, taken by amylin, September 2007

The United States of America as a country is divided up into 50 states; for the convenience of the common hitchhiker these states are discussed in detail along with their capitals at the following pages (see below). The US is bordered by Canada to the North and Mexico to the South.

Hitching, like everything else in America, varies greatly depending on what type of area and what part of the country you are passing through. In general you can get rides fairly easily if you hitchhike the right way; in fact, often you can find more than just rides, such as offers for free meals, invitations to homes and parties, etc.

In most states you can't hitch from the interstates (motorways) themselves, but you can always stand at on-ramps (highway entries) like in Europe; if there is a "No hitchhiking/pedestrians" sign, don't stand or hitch from beyond the sign. In some areas (such as certain towns or municipal areas) hitching is illegal everywhere, however, it is still allowed de facto. The police in a region may interpret laws related to hitchhiking differently, at times forcing a hitchhiker to choose an alternate route by walking or using other means of transportation. In most cases, though, hitchhiking is legal or tolerated as long as you are not on the interstate itself, where it is rightly considered a safety issue. There are also many limited-access highways (i.e. with on-ramps and off-ramps) that are not part of the interstate system; these typically prohibit hitchhiking as well (other than at the on-ramp).

It's generally easier to hitchhike on the West Coast. In Oregon and Montana, it's not even prohibited by law to hitchhike right on interstates.

Relatively quite a few people in the United States are profoundly religious. People who pick you up might inquire about your religion. If you're not religious, try to deal with it in a positive way and accept the difference. More often you will be picked up by really cool people, and often dropped off exactly at the point of your destination, as hitchhiker Guaka's experience shows, for example.

Long vs. short distance

If you're going for speed over a long distance (3+ hours), then the best bet is to stay on the interstates (designated by "I-##) instead of local highways. Try to stick to on-ramps that have truck stops, rest stops or any other reason for drivers to stop there (restaurants, gas stations, etc.) You can also look for rides at the truck stops themselves, but be discreet about it as some a staff or customers are rather unfriendly to hitchers and will rudely ask you to leave their territory or call the police on you. Getting dropped off on a low-traffic exit is the gravest danger when hitching on interstates where the police are unfriendly to standing where you're visible to the through traffic on the freeway. It can easily lead to long, long delays. Identify the last truck stop, major intersection (with a non-freeway), or rest area before your driver's destination, and get off there rather than risking getting stuck.

If you are only going a few hundred miles, you can often make better time on state or local roads. There are many more places to wait at, and there is much more potential traffic. Most of the traffic on the Interstate system won't be able to notice you while on the on-ramp. Even if you are going long distances, if you aren't concerned about making good time then getting off the interstates can be a very rewarding experience. Local highways and smaller roads will grant you a better picture of what local life is like in that area, and typically offer a greater variety of drivers.

Police

Often, particularly close to major cities, the police will ask you for photo ID, but as long as you have one with you (such as a passport) there shouldn't be a problem. Most of the time they will be friendly when you come up clean, sometimes even driving you to a better spot.

In most states, such as New Jersey, Virginia and New York State, on the East Coast and Nevada and Arizona in the West, there are laws against hitchhiking that are possible to be circumvented. Most often, the laws state that the hitchhiker may not "solicit a ride" in any way, i.e. showing a sign or a thumb to traffic. The police could ticket you for loitering or vagrancy. If the police passes and sees a hitchhiker walking or sitting by the side of the road without soliciting in any way, they may still stop to check IDs but technically they have no reason to pull you over. As a result, the best result is to not use a sign or your thumb whenever an oncoming car looks like a police cruiser. The laws are enforced because of "traffic safety" reasons mostly but in reality police rarely gives tickets to hitchhikers - they just check IDs for warrants whenever possible.

Car License Plate

Every state issues its own specific car plates. For example, a car from Alabama will have a specific Car license tagged as such. In some States, the license plate will also show the county of residence. This can be added information if you spot such car that might be going the same direction as you are going. It might also be helpful to write down the license plate number in case of foul play.

Food

Eat: Look, if you are friendly, at least in my experience in the US (I have never been elsewhere) people who pick you up will offer to buy you food at restaurants ALL THE TIME. Additionally, they will just throw you some bucks to eat. From change to $100. $100 dollars has happened to us twice. $60 dollars has happened to us several times and we have been given so many twenties... The key is the right type of answer when they ask, concernedly, what do you do to eat- "Naw, we're pretty much all right, we got *some* money." (Sad and scrappy slight but pointed emphasis on the "some")- if they've asked this question and you answer this way you'll basically always get a friendly handout- *for which you should thank them profusely*, of course. :)

If you are a vegan traveling between cities, prepare to starve. Or carry your own food somehow, I dunno. Yeah, if you can't eat eggs OR milk, you can't eat eggs OR icecream, really the only non meat dishes in McDonalds type situations besides frenchfries and onionrings- pure carbohydrates. If you want any protein your gonna have to bring it yourself.

Once you open your mind to it, there are actually many opportunities for dumpster diving in urban areas. Port cities are especially good. Note, however that dumpster diving is in a similar sort of gray area as hitchhiking, with local legality depending on the particular state's laws, and the prevalent attitudes of local law enforcement officers.

Grocery stores are prime targets for food (Trader Joe's or Starbucks are especially likely to have an unlocked dumpster, and has lots of organics). Grocery stores cannot sell packaged foods past their expiration date, and so throw them away still wrapped in dumpsters behind the store.

Another great place to dive is food distribution centers. As they supply restaurants, their food comes in bulk and they throw out their food sometimes days before the expiration date. Google Maps can help you turn up locations. Check Trashwiki for detailed information on dumpster diving in the United States.

Drink: It is often possible to retrieve used cups from the trash at fast food restaurants with "free refill" policies and refill them. Otherwise, American water is just as free and healthy as some other countries of the world.

Hitchhiking Books

Rather than a genre of its own, hitchhiking books probably fit better in a genre of alternative travel books, with Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

To that list of fun and funny and moving and important books, we should add Colin Flaherty’s Redwood to Deadwood, a 53-year old dude hitchhikes across America. Again.

Redwood to Deadwood describes Flaherty’s hitchhiking trip across America.

"Before I tucked my thumb in for the final time, I'd run with wild horses. Visit a pot farm. Hunt big game. Poach big game. Get by a police helicopter. Get info family feuds. Ride in cop cars. Reconnect with old friends. Make new ones. Get tired and exhilarated. Lost and found. Kicked out and invited in."

"I know how to cook muskrat, squiirrel and rockchuck. And oh yea, I almost got killed.”

Book reviewer Janet Jay said the book is [“the best hitchhiking I have ever read or even heard about.  My friend heard about it when she was sitting next to a guy on an airplane who was reading it. He was laughing out loud. So she asked about it. He said that was how he heard about it too. So books hitchhike as well as people.”]

Personal Experiences

Haven't hitched extensively there, but where I have, the experiences have been unique. I've hitched Oregon to Mexico along the famous highway 101. I also hitched from Oregon to Chicago on i90 in the dead of winter. Lots of clothes for that one, and a warm place to retreat to at every stop. The most remarkable thing about hitching in the States is that you get picked up by REALLY interesting people. Not all the time. But our beloved weirdos are more common in the US than anywhere else I've hitched. Regardless of what you think about the States, it's easily one of the most interesting places to hitchhike, especially if you LIKE adventure. - Chael

Links



trash:United States of America