A few minutes after the meeting, I was browsing the bookshelves and came across an anarchist cookbook (not THE anarchist cookbook, apparently there are several). It had a section on hitchhiking. The author said almost word for word what we said. So... go us! Hitchhikers agree: hitchhiking is awesome and very possible.
We spoke on how to prepare for a hitching trip, evaluate the rides you'll get, and get dropped off in a good space. We addressed safety, because everyone's always concerned (though not this group as much as most individuals are... or perhaps we made our case before they could get concerned).
We spoke briefly about scavenging and couchsurfing, but those weren't the focus of our talk, as our audience was already more familiar with those issues than hitchhiking.
The group left the meeting very enthusiastic, and, I think more well prepared than if they hadn't attended the talk, for what that's worth.
Hitchhiking, for us, is about getting from point A to B, adventure, and building a global community.
- Know your route. Use a map (or online mapping service like Google maps) and know the names of cities between you and your destination.
- Make a schedule. Leisurely travel can take you 300 miles and offers time enough for unforeseen adventures, and 12 hour days can get you 600+ miles if you get long semi-truck rides and don't accept off-route adventures.
- Pack as lightly as possible, but be ready for inclement weather. If you go on any major trips, you'll probably spend nights on the road and get stuck in rain or snow. Don't forget food and water! Bonus: A big backpack makes you appear more trustworthy to some rides.
- For long distances using a thumb or sign, find an interstate onramp close to a gas station.
- Try approaching people at the gas station. Even if everyone says no and you move on to the onramp, sometimes the impression that you gave them there will take a little time to marinate and they'll pick you up at the onramp.
- People are friendly and helpful. Use your own judgment, but you can ask for advice from the truck stop employees or patrons.
- Find a spot with high visibility of cars approaching you for a long distance (500+ meters/yards) and room for them to pull over.
- Stay on the legal side of no hitchhiking signs.
- Rides will leave you in bad places. Do your best to avoid it, but if it happens, you may need to trudge to a better spot. Smile anyways. Always thank your ride. You are a hitchhiking ambassador.
- Who knows?
- No, seriously, sometimes signs are good, sometimes they seem like hindrances. Rides read them and think "I'm not going THERE" and don't stop. Sometimes they don't stop anyways. Who knows what the rides who don't stop are thinking. It's all a guessing game.
- We heard making a sign with many place names helps. Drivers see one name and block out the rest and stop because they are going to that one place. Or so we heard from another Hhiker.
- Look like someone you think people you want to get a ride from would stop for. For us, that means (relatively) frequent showers, clean (ish) jeans, and plain t-shirts or sweatshirts. For others that might mean a suit and tie, military garb, or Anarchy patchwork. I think our garb is relatively innocuous and gets us a wide range of rides.
- It's POSSIBLE that traveling in pairs leads to more consistent rides, but who has done a study on this? Not many research dollars funneled towards hitchhiking studies.
- If you have a weapon (or weapon-like utensil like a knife) displayed, people may not feel comfortable stopping for you.
- Smile. Or not. Who knows if it really works? But it makes you feel good. Make eye contact with drivers passing you, too.
- Keep your cool. If you get frustrated, pray to the hitchhiking gods. Getting angry at passing cars will only hurt your chances of getting a ride, and might draw the attention of the cops.
- Look for signs of drugs or alcohol, and don't get in the car if you see or smell them. Just say "no thanks". Walk away if you have to (grab your bag as you go).
- Check for seatbelts. There HAVE been studies done on the importance of seatbelts. Wear one.
- Ask where they're going. If you don't know it, take a sec to check a map, or ask if there's another onramp near a truck stop along your route (usually the interstate) before they turn off it.
- Trust your instincts. They might be wrong, but if you're nervous about hitchhiking anyways, always remind yourself that you have the power to turn down a ride. If your partner feels uncomfortable, listen to them. You're there for each other, so let your partner's feelings sway you.
- Tolerance. You'll have a lot more fun if you give up your responsibility while in the car to promote your point of view. You don't have to agree, just observe. This is one of the best places to get to know a whole 'nother world that you might otherwise never encounter.
- Listen. It's conversation 101, but it bears repeating - to be a good conversationalist, ask a person questions about themselves and then just let them go.
- If you get uncomfortable, ask them to stop and let you out. Keep your eyes open, and your wits about you. I have no advice for people in a bank during a robbery, but whatever that is, do that. Stay calm, probably. If you don't avoid going into banks because there might be a robbery, don't avoid hitchhiking because you might meet a crazy, but be as prepared.
- If someone offers you something, it's up to you. We often accept a can of soda or a candy bar (sometimes a meal or a place to sleep, too) if they're offering, but turn down money or inedible gifts, because we don't want to seem like we're panhandling. Food and accommodations seem like hospitality, other stuff seems like charity, which we don't need and should go to someone more deserving. Maybe you! =)
- Be POLITE! Always thank your ride. Even if it was the worst ride ever, thank them profusely. A stranger is trying to do you a kindness; thank them. Be nice.
- Be flexible. It's an adventure! Balance your journey between getting to your destination in your predetermined fashion, and finding a new route because person A IS going West, but first they're going to a hot springs. That's where the awesome is.