I had been in New Zealand for over a month and had not tried to hitchhike yet. I only had a few weeks left in the country, so I thought if this is something I want to try I better get to it. I was heading to Hokitika, and had read all about the Hokitika Gorge in my Lonely Planet book. It was definitely a place I wanted to visit. My only problem was I had no car, and the gorge was about 35km (22 miles) one way from my hostel. It was my chance to shine and hitchhike for the first time. I succeeded. I even hitchhiked again in Wanaka when I wanted to hike Roy’s Peak. My personal experiences are documented in my blog which you are welcome to read. But now as an expert hitchhiker, I would like to share my tips to make your hitchhiking experience a smooth one.
- Have a plan. Whether it’s a backup plan, like if no one picks you up how will you get to your destination? How long are you willing to wait for someone to pick you up? And if you are walking with your thumb out, remember in the event you don’t get picked up you will have to walk back. So don’t walk to far away from home. I never knew of someone who didn’t get a ride in New Zealand. The kiwis and their tourists are some of the friendliest people I know. But I would like this guide to be a universal one you can use all over the world.
- Pick a bad ass place to go. It just makes everything that much more exciting. You are headed to some awesome, one of a kind location, and getting a ride from a total stranger. It’s exhilarating, and makes for a hell of a story. As someone who travelled exclusively by bus, hitchhiking got me to places I would have never been able to see otherwise.
- The thumb or the sign? I would use the sign in the event that from your current location you can get to multiple destinations. This prevents people from pulling over just to find out you aren’t going in the same direction. If you are on the main road, and it only goes to your desired destination then I believe your thumb will work just fine.
- Walk on the same side of the road as the cars going in your desired direction. I think this is common sense. Also, if you happen to be on a narrow road with little to no pull outs, I think you should stay still at a good pull over point. Maybe stand just before the pull over point (in a safe location obviously), so the driver has time to see you and pull over.
- Make eye contact. I think this is important because it creates a relationship with the driver before they pull over. They could have thought, “Don’t really want to pick up that hitchhiker.” But then they see you making eye contact with them, and they see your smile, and it could just change their mind. I would walk facing the direction I was headed, and when I would hear a car, I would turn to make eye contact. Sometimes, my one arm got tired, so I would walk backwards.
- Smile, think positive and have fun. Think about when you are driving down the road and you see someone with their thumb sticking out. Who are you more likely to pick up, someone smiling and happy? Or someone who looks miserable and frowning? You will be surprised how far a simple smile can get you. Also, if you think you are going to fail, you are more likely to fail. So keep sticking your thumb out and know that someone is going to pull over for you. But most importantly have fun. Hopefully no one is in a dire situation, and you are just looking for a new experience to write home about.
So get out there. Be safe. And experience something new!