Hitchhiking is usually very safe. The most encountered feelings of unsafety are probably concerning the driver's driving style.
Here are four quick tips which will make you safer:
- Ask for rides at petrol stations instead of signalling at the roadside.
- Trust your instincts.
- Refuse rides from impaired drivers.
- Know that hitchhiking at night is more dangerous than during the daytime.
Please read on for many more important tips.
You should make sure you are standing along a safe portion of the road, as far back from the travelled portion of the road as possible (on the unimproved portion of the road shoulder). Make sure that you are visible to drivers from a good distance (100 meters or more is ideal) to allow them time to 1) decide if they want to pick you up and 2) safely pull to the side of the road.
Wear bright, visible clothes, especially while walking on the road! Consider wearing a bright reflecting safety vest. At night time use reflectors and carry a small torch. You can purchase these often at petrol stations and supermarkets. Carry these in your backpack at all times: even if you are not planning to hitchhike during the darkness. Make sure you are visible from both sides. Attach reflectors to your backpack for example.
Sometimes, especially but not exclusively at night, drivers will pick up a hitchhiker because they are tired and sleepy, but must get to their destination on time. Make sure you never fall asleep in someone's car if you are suspecting this might be the case. Even if you can't find a conversation topic, stay alert. If you have a driving licence; you might indicate this to your driver; he or she may be happy to let you drive. See Driving for your driver
Hitchhikers should see themselves as agents of road safety. Only one study has ever been made on the subject of hitchhiking's impact on road safety, and it appears that it has no negative impact, if not positive. It implies that the hitchhiker should stay safe; be sure they can be seen, especially at night; remind the driver of the speed limits; and be willing to cooperate with all professionals of the road.
Awareness on the part of a hitchhiker will keep him or her from accepting dangerous rides- for example, a driver travelling under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. Examine the driver and vehicle. If there are signs of intoxication (slurred or erratic speech, no eye contact, open alcohol containers) do NOT get in the vehicle. Refuse the ride.
Talk to the driver before getting in the car! This way you make sure the ride offered is one that you would like to take, and that it will end at a safe spot to stop. Ask the driver before getting in their car: Where are you going? Can you drop me off at a service area or other safe place near your destination? A rhetoric question like "Are you going north" and the driver's reaction can give you some information about him or her. Dropping humour into your brief conversation is a good way of gauging a person's personality as well. Trust your instincts! If you do not feel comfortable accepting the ride, thank the driver and say no. Walk away.
For women, hitchhiking seems to be riskier. But it is not really. Many men are reporting the same degree of violation as women. If most reported cases of murder or rape of hitchhikers involve women hitchhiking alone, it is because men are less likely to report rapes, and murders are not getting the label of "hitch-hiking-murders" as often with male victims.
Hitchhiking as a woman can be easier though. Often, women stop for other women or girls. Even families (or other usual-not-hitch-hiker-friendly car owners) stop to "save" women from a situation in which they think she could be in "danger".
Read more at the Hitchwiki page on Female Hitchhikers.
Top tips for safety
- Hitchhiking at night is more dangerous than at daytime.
(Anti) Social tips
- Think positive and you will attract positive.
- If you doubt about the ride offered, turn it down.
- You can also check if the doors open from the inside by pretending not to have closed the door properly.
- Note the vehicle's registration number, or at least the make, model, and colour, etc. You could then SMS this to a friend. You can pretend calling your mum and saying car type, color and licence number aloud. This makes driver believe he is under surveillance.
- It's probably safest to not go with more than one guy in the car.
- It's better to sit in the front of the vehicle.
- If getting in a truck or car driving long-distance, maybe to where you want to go, including sleeping in the truck with the driver. Never tell yes to go all way from the beginning. Say you are going to visit a friend in a city on the way and then when you get a feeling of safety with the driver tell him that you will visit your friend some other time and go all the way now.
- If there are other houses or people in sight, you can wave to them or pretend to say goodbye to a friend. The driver will think that somebody has seen you getting into their car.
- Always trust your instincts. Don't panic!
- Keep up a good conversation with the driver. See etiquette.
- Hitchhike with someone you know. On hitchhike forums (such as at the CS group, or Jayride for NZ you can find other hitchhikers.
- It might a good idea to get yourself some pepper spray, just in case. But it can be illegal to carry in some parts of the world so be aware. Also, it might not be a good idea to use in a closed space as you'd get a good dose of pepper yourself. There are also canisters of pepper gel which emit a stream of gel instead of a spray mist, which could save you in enclosed spaces.
Don't use pepper spray while the car is in motion. Blinding the driver will probably result in a crash.
- Wear your most valuable small stuff on your body: passport, wallet, money, mobile phone. This way you will keep these items in case you should abandon your bag.
- Remember that your backpack is the last one to enter the car and the first one to leave it. Also avoid putting it into the trunk if you are hiking alone, or if the driver has an opportunity to drive away with your luggage - though sometimes this is simply not an option. It's a good idea to keep the door open while you get your bag from the trunk. It's actually much more likely a hitchhiker forgetting their own bag or other objects than theft. Better take it with you when you go to the rest room as when you come back the car might be gone, even just due to the driver getting told to park somewhere else and now you can't find him anymore, etc.
- Keep your backpack close to you (i.e. on your lap), so you can grab it if you need to get out quickly.
- Wear well visible clothes, stand at a safe spot, be careful while walking on the road.
- Aim to leave the vehicle at a safe spot.
- Do not hitchhike on the highways in western countries. People will not notice you, thus they will not pick you up and there have been accidents. It is very dangerous and often illegal, too.
Choose your drivers
It is preferable to choose your drivers. Ask for rides at petrol stations or truck stops. Briefly profile people by their appearance and talk to folks that seem safe/interesting. Appearances do not guarantee safety.
By seeking rides at petrol stations instead of at the roadside, you have more time to talk with drivers and evaluate their character.
It may be unwise to accept rides from drivers who are stressed, angry, or demanding. Do not accept rides from drivers who are impaired by alcohol or drugs.
One of the safest ones to get a lift from is the truck drivers. You sit far away from the driver. You are always able to open the door if needed (just don't jump while the truck is moving if you like your life moving again). Big trucks in Western Europe anyway also have a sensor on their trucks that let their boss know exactly where they are. Going off the road or stopping for some minutes and the boss will be all over the case, calling on the phone...
This is not always the case, however. In Australia, truck drivers drive long distances on one lane highways and are often overworked. This can lead to dangerous driving conditions and bad experiences.
Leaving the vehicle early
When you are on the road, if the situation gets bad for whatever reason and you don't want to be in the vehicle, then find a way to leave. Get the driver to leave you at the next good hitchhiking spot (choose it yourself, don't rely on the driver to choose it for you), or in another safe area such as a city where you can contact people you know, use hospitality exchange organisations, or take public transport. Remember that if for whatever reason you are not wearing your seatbelt and the car is moving, the driver can distract or injure you by braking so that you hit your head.
If you feel uncomfortable, remember that you don't have to stay in the vehicle, and you don't owe it to the driver to travel the full distance agreed upon. Good get-out tactics include faking travel sickness, or stating that you've changed your mind and want to do something else. Stay calm and be polite but direct, and most drivers will respect your wishes.
First of all, don't panic. Still, a situation might occur that you want to get out of the car and the driver does not want to stop. ... Need more info...
- Never use the handbrake. Using it will almost certainly lead to a car crash.
- Cause a (small) accident
- Call emergency number (112 in EU, 911 in US, 000 in Australia) Note: it is now possible to text/SMS 911 in the US, and doing so may lower your chances of arousing suspicion.
- Prepare to loosen your seatbelt, and wait until the driver has to stop at a red light or stop sign. When the driver stops the car slide your belt off and open the door in one motion and get you and your pack out before they have any idea what you're doing.
- As an emergency safety precaution, carry a roll of toilet paper and a lighter. In the event that you feel uncomfortable and the driver refuses to stop, light the toilet paper and throw it into the back seat. The smoke and fire will encourage the driver to stop and/or alert other cars on the road.
- A helpful trick if you just have a bad feeling about a ride, but not really a reason to scream for help (yet): Pretend to feel sick and tell your ride to stop immediately because otherwise you might ruin his car... when they stop, jump out of the car with your backpack, tell them not to wait and head away from the road until they're gone.
- From personal experience: Causing a small accident may do more damage than good, since the driver will most likely just speed off, anyway, rather than trying to wait around and get caught by the police. Plus, that gives you a much greater chance of being injured. Remember that no matter where you get taken, you will still have the opportunity to hitchhike out of, and thus get rescued by someone else. Plus, vehicles do require fuel, and eventually run out of it. So, you can at some point find yourself in a (very useful!) petrol station, from where you can: have contact with other people, make phone calls, lock yourself in the bathroom to avoid confrontations, and hitchhike a new ride. Your best bet is to stay calm and confident, no matter the situation.
Hitching in Extreme Climates
The climate poses an entirely separate danger to hitchhikers. As a hitchhiker you may find yourself in the situation of being stuck in an extremely hot or cold place, both of which are potentially fatal if not dealt with appropriately.
- See Winter for more information.
Driving in the cold can be particularly risky, let alone hitchhiking. If travelling a long distance, it is advisable to have a backup plan, to avoid being stuck outside at night. If there is a significant chance of being stuck outdoors for a long time, then you must take precautions. Having plenty of warm clothes, hat, gloves and thick boots are a must for the daytime. If there is a risk of being stuck outside at night, try finding a host, either on the internet prior to leaving, or else at a hostel if there is one. You should bring money with you for emergencies. If you absolutely must sleep outside, then you will need to acquire a heavy sleeping bag - a 5 season sleeping bag is not too expensive. Be sure to set up camp in a covered area - such as in a forest or under a shelter, and make sure it is sheltered from the wind. A gas lamp will also assist in heating you up. You might want to learn how to start a fire
The extreme heat poses a great risk of dehydration and sunstroke in the summer months in many countries in the world. You absolutely must bring plenty of drinking water. Try to have no less than 4L of water with you per day. If there is a risk of being stuck in direct sunlight for a long time, bring sunscreen, and perhaps also an umbrella, particularly if there are not many trees around.
Even more info
- Bad hitchhiking - Sharing stories? in CouchSurfing group about hitchhiking.