A lot of horror movies start like this. An empty road and someone like you standing alone with their thumb up. After hours of waiting, a stranger pulls up at the side of the road, and you get into their car. But soon, you feel uncomfortable as the stranger starts driving in the opposite direction of where they said they were going.
Did they just make a mistake? Or are you in danger?
Hitchhiking was a popular form of transportation for backpackers in the first half of the 20th century. But currently, it’s considered to be a dangerous activity that law enforcement discourages. In some parts of the world, it’s even been banned.
Police have rigorous campaigns against picking up hitchhikers and looking for a ride. But in the absence of other options, most hitchhikers do it as a last resort.
Hitchbot was a robot developed by students at McMaster University in Hamilton and Ryerson University in Toronto. It made its way hitchhiking across Canada, Germany and the Netherlands until it was beaten beyond repair in Philadelphia.
So, what can you do to avoid Hitchbot’s fate? Which countries are the safest for hitchhiking? How could vomiting save your life? And what kind of pictures should you take when you get picked up?
Step 1. Stay in the Light
Daylight is your friend. It will allow you a better look at the person, their vehicle, and get a sense of whether riding with them would be a good situation or a sketchy one. In December 2016, just after midnight, a college student in Santa Cruz, California, was picked up at a bus stop by a male driver who was smoking marijuana while driving.
When she asked to get out of the car, he refused to stop and let her out. So she waited for the vehicle to slow down at an intersection and jumped out of his vehicle. Fortunately, the student was not injured and she survived to tell her story.
Step 2. Don’t Be a Criminal
Hitchhiking across the U.S can be dangerous and illegal. Seven states prohibit participating in any form of hitchhiking. And even walking on a road is banned in 35 other states, as is walking alongside a highway. Alaska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Michigan and Missouri are the only states without restrictions.
In New Zealand, Cuba, the Netherlands, Germany and Israel, it’s legal to hitch a ride. And they’re also considered the safest countries for hitchhiking.
Step 3. Get sick
Keep your belongings with you at all times, as that will allow you to make a fast exit should things get dicey. If you’re getting uncomfortable or feel unsafe, ask the driver to let you out. If they refuse, and you think you’re in danger, get sick.
Vomit contains your DNA, which can give police a lead if they need to search for you. Also, no one is going to want to be in a smelly, gross vehicle for long. So get sick. And when the car stops, jump out fast and run like your life depends on it, because it just might.
Step 4. Take pictures
When you’re about to enter a vehicle, take a photo of the driver. And take a picture of the car and its license plate. This could serve as a record of your whereabouts. Then share the photos with a family member, a trusted friend or post them on social media. And tell the driver you’re doing it. If they have bad intentions, they won’t let you get in the car since the police could easily track them down.
Step 5. Trust your gut
Hitchhiking is inherently dangerous. You’ll only have seconds to determine whether to trust a complete stranger, and you never know who might trap you. So, come up with your own set of priorities and requirements for hitchhiking that makes you feel safe, and stick to them. Don’t compromise your standards. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s worth waiting and walking a little further.
You survived hitchhiking. Hopefully, you’ll be a lot more careful of who you try to hitch a ride with in the future. You could’ve ended up trapped by a serial killer, one who wants to cut your throat. Could you survive that?
- “Five Rules You Need To Know To Stay Safe While Hitchhiking (And Avoid Hitchbot’s Fate) “. 2015. Los Angeles Times.
- “The Forgotten Art Of Hitchhiking — And Why It Disappeared“. 2015. Vox.
- “How To Hitchhike Across The Globe“. 2021. Thrillist.
- “Santa Cruz College Student Jumps Out Of Moving Car To Escape Driver After Hitchhiking“. 2016. ABC7 San Francisco.