How to Hitchhike Safely Preventing Common
In these hitchhiking safety tips I am explaining
how to hitchhike safely preventing the most
common hitchhiking dangers.
Many people who never hitchhiked in their life often think that a concrete hitchhiking danger consists in getting in the car with a deranged person. This is unlikely to happen. To obtain the driving license people are required to successfully pass also a medical exam which certifies that they are mentally sane. During the years I was picked by thousands of drivers and none of them to me seemed having mental problems of any sort. The few unpleasant hitchhiking experiences I had were caused by people who were mentally sane and aware of their own actions.
I am an adventurer and hitchhiker who spent a lot of time outdoors on the roads of many countries of different cultures finding rides by day and at night in any season. Based on my experience the most relevant hitchhiking dangers are:
Now I will go into detail explaining how to hitchhike safely preventing each of these hitchhiking dangers.
- being robbed
- become subject to sexual harassment, abuse or assault
- have a car accident
Being robbed happens rarely and between the
three hitchhiking dangers mentioned above
is the most common. As hitchhiking danger
can be easily avoided given that when it
happens is usually because the hitchhiker
didn't take enough measures to prevent
Hitchhiking safety tips concerning the danger of being robbed
The most common way to be robbed as hitchhiker
is to leave your luggage in the trunk of
the vehicle You are riding instead of keeping
it with You in the car. Just as You read
in my other hitchhiking tips, carrying luggage as small and light as
possible is important as, besides other benefits,
will also allow You to hitchhike more safely
as You will be able to keep it on your lap.
When You get into someone's vehicle, I strongly recommend to always keep your luggage with You and not put it in the trunk of the vehicle. If your driver insists that You put it in the truck, my experience recommends that You refuse that ride as likely You will get into some sort of trouble or dangerous situation.
In May 2013 I was hitchhiking in Poland on the national road 45 that connects Opole with Wielun.
Inside my backpack the only thing more valuable was my laptop computer and the previous night after I found a place where to sleep in my tent I changed my clothes putting the dirty ones in a plastic bag inside my backpack on top of everything with the purpose to wash them once arrived in the area of Wielun.
It was a sunny afternoon. At a petrol station near Opole a man of about 30 years old offered to give me a ride in his city car as was headed in my same direction. At first sight he seemed okay so I accepted. Before getting into his car he opened the trunk and suggested that I placed my backpack in it. I insisted to keep it with me and after he agreed I got into his car and sat on the front seat keeping my backpack on my lap. After few kilometers our interaction evolved like this:
Driver: What do you have in your backpack?
Me: Nothing special, only food, water and clothes.
Driver: I am black belt in karate, as job I am cop and now I have my gun with me. No smartphone, no computer? I want to see what do you have in your backpack. Open your backpack!
Me: [I didn't say anything and while my instinct told me that he intended to steal my computer I opened the top of my backpack and the plastic bag with dirty clothes to show him while trying to keep hidden my computer that was at the bottom. Immediately, the bad smell of my dirty socks and clothes that were in the plastic bag flooded the ambient.]
Driver [while sensing the bad smell]: Oh! Close it immediately!
Me [with half smile on my face]: [I closed my backpack, waited about 5 minutes until he reached the first village on our way and then got out of the car]
What I learned about hitchhiking safety from this unpleasant experience is that if You have dirty clothes with You, it can be a good idea to put them on top of your other things inside your backpack until You wash them as when You will open your backpack their bad smell might discourage some thieves, just as it happened to me in the experience You read above.
To hitchhike safely,
a general rule
that is wise to follow
is this: never wear
objects or clothes which
can attract unwanted
attention upon yourself.
On September 17th,
2009 I was hitchhiking
between Sofia and
Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria.
I was aware of
this rule but I did not
respect it. On my
right hand I was wearing
two silver rings
- their value was less
than 10 EUR put together,
That day after three hours waiting for a ride I wasn't so full of enthusiasm anymore and I ignored what my instincts were telling me. I got into the car and sat on the back seat.
Around eight o'clock in the morning I was on the side of the road in Sofia trying to get a ride towards Veliko Tarnovo. I was smiling and full of enthusiasm. The spot was not ideal but okay, yet in almost three hours I was there nobody stopped.
After three hours, somebody finally stopped. Two men, around thirty years old, looking pretty badly and not speaking a word of English. When I saw them, the first thing that crossed my mind was "Adriano, don't get into this car or You might get into a dangerous situation".
After about twenty minutes driving, one of the two men asked: "Passport?"
For hitchhiking safety reasons or simply curiosity, is absolutely normal that a driver wants to see your passport before accepting or refusing to take You in the vehicle that he/she is driving, especially when is You to approach him/her to start the conversation, as hitchhiking is also about mutual trust - the driver trusts the hitchhiker and the hitchhiker trusts the driver.
This time it was not like this - the driver wanted to see my passport after twenty minutes I was in his car and this seemed really weird to me. When I heard his question I immediately understood something was wrong.
I took out my passport and handed it to him. He browsed it and noticed that I was living in a country of the European Union. Then he handed it back to me. After about five minutes he said: "EVRO?", while making the gesture with his fingers indicating money. He wanted me to give him some money. I replied "Nimam evro", which means "I do not have euros". Then he said: "Phone?" - since I had no money, he wanted to have my phone. I said: "No phone", while gesturing with my hands that I did not have any.
Then he kept driving and after about ten minutes, as I was keeping my hands on the upper side of the front seats, he had a quick look at my two silver rings and said: "Rings, beautiful" and indicated with his hands he wanted to have a closer look at my rings. I removed one of my rings and handed it to him. He looked at it and handed it back to me. He kept driving and after another ten minutes he pointed again at my rings making me understand he wanted to have another look at them. I removed my rings and handed them to him. He stopped the car, the other guy got off and opened my door, took my backpack that was next to me and threw it out on the ground and gestured that I should step out of the car. I got out and then they left.
They took my rings. I wasn't upset - I was aware that it was my fault because I did not follow one of the main backpacking and hitchhiking safety rules and I also did not listen to my instincts which clearly told me not to get into this car.
What You just read is a true story about one of the common hitchhiking dangers: the possibility of being robbed. This negative hitchhiking experience that happened to me in 2009 teaches two important hitchhiking rules about how to hitchhike safely:
Between these two hitchhiking safety tips,
trusting your instincts
is the absolute most
important. Don't misunderstand
objects or clothes which
can attract unwanted
attention upon yourself
has the potential
to get You killed in some
areas of our planet.
There are people who died
because of this.
But trusting your instincts,
not only about
people but about everything
You will deal
with in your journey, and
using your common
sense in everything You
do will allow You
to hitchhike safely most
of the times and
have mostly great positive
- always trust your instincts
- never wear objects or clothes which can attract unwanted attention upon yourself
Sexual harassment, abuse
or assault happens
more rarely and as hitchhiking
less common than being
Hitchhiking safety tips regarding the danger of becoming subject to sexual harassment, abuse or assault
Both male and female hitchhikers are sometimes subjects to sexual harassment, abuse or assault and hitchhiking is equally safe or dangerous for both men and women.
To hitchhike safely, if You carry a smartphone with You, taking a photo of the vehicle registration plate and letting your driver know just after getting into his/her vehicle that You are now sending it to your family to keep them informed about where You are and what You are doing will contribute in discouraging your driver from doing anything bad to You.
To hitchhike safely as a woman, saying that You are married and telling a story which conveys how your husband (real or fictional) is waiting for You in a specific city can help You evade unwanted proposals. Some men think that when women dress sexy is because in that moment they are looking for sex and dressing sexy is their way of conveying this message; to hitchhike safely as a woman, not dressing sexy and keeping yourself more covered while hitchhiking will help You avoid attracting unwanted attention. In some Muslim countries women who hitchhike alone are seen as women who are looking for sex; if You backpack through Muslim countries, to hitchhike safely as a woman some women recommend to always wear a period pad whether You are menstruating or not because once sexually assaulted the period pad might save You as many Muslims hold back from intercourse during women's period.
Using your common sense and trusting what
your instinct tells You, You will be able
to avoid most of the dangerous situations.
However, there might be times when it will
actually happen to meet someone that will
make You feel uncomfortable through words
or behavior - in that situation You will
have to decide if is the case to leave the
vehicle or not. Trusting your instinct, also
in this case, You will know what to do.
Hitchhiking is equally safe or dangerous as is walking on the street. While hitchhiking, a car accident can obviously happen mostly in two circumstances: when You are walking or standing on a road and when You are in someone's vehicle.
Hitchhiking safety tips concerning the danger of having a car accident
About having a car accident when You are in someone's vehicle, there is pretty much nothing You can do and the only way to avoid this is not to hitchhike at all, as this is a risk that this sport implies. I have seen many car accidents on the roads on which I hitchhiked, and some of these happened to the vehicles that were just in front of the vehicle in which I was. As hitchhiker one should accept the possibility of having a car accident. However, it is proved that wearing the seat belt decreases the chance of dying in a car accident; so wearing the seat belt of the vehicle You are riding no matter if You are staying on the front seat or on the back seat might make a big difference.
Being visible from enough distance is important
for your safety as hitchhiker and in the
same time gives drivers the few seconds they
need to decide if they want to take You or
not. When walking or standing on a road by
daytime is a good idea to wear a high visibility
vest, while when hitchhiking at night I strongly
recommend to have also lights and make sure
that drivers see You from enough distance
to be able to avoid You.
vehicles that drive too close to the side of the road. Never walk or stand on the side of the road when hitchhiking at night without having lights on You because to most of the drivers You will be invisible and the space and time needed to avoid You in relation to their speed and weight of their vehicle will be insufficient. There were hitchhikers who died like this. Having a headlamp with You among the things to bring while hitchhiking and backpacking will allow You to hitchhike more safely and more effectively at night. If You use a mobile device please notice that its built in led light is not powerful enough to replace a headlamp and is also not practical as You should always have your hands free ready to use them - I strongly recommend to buy a quality headlamp before starting to hitchhike.
Preparing your hitchhiking backpack before the trip by attaching high visibility reflective stickers to it will increase the chances to be seen by other drivers when hitchhiking at night and improve your safety as well. Top quality high visibility stickers can be bought from stores which sell truck parts and accessories.
When walking on the side of the road is strongly recommended to walk facing oncoming traffic in order to be able to prevent accidents by avoiding those
Walking on the side of the road at night is extremely dangerous and You should not do it unless You have no other option.
To prevent car accidents when hitchhiking at night, instead of standing on the side of the road is more effective and more safe to hitchhike using the jumping hitchhiking technique that I described in "How to Hitchhike Effectively No Matter Where You Are", going from a place where there are people always working and there are lights (such as a petrol station that has a built in restaurant as well) to another similar place where there are lights and people working.
Your personal safety is your number one priority when You travel. No matter what happens, through your body language You should never convey vulnerability and in the same time You should always prevent and avoid conflicts and dangerous situations.
Is unlikely to meet bad intentioned people as long as You use your common sense and try to keep yourself out of troubles. You should not carry any weapon with You when You hitchhike or travel as backpacker, simply using your common sense and trusting your instincts is enough to avoid troubles and prevent dangerous situations in the majority of the areas of our planet.
Another aspect is this: avoiding arguing over a topic because of different opinions is a good way to avoid conflicts - if your driver says something that You disagree with is not necessary to contradict him/her, is enough to answer with a simple "I understand" and nothing more.
To hitchhike safely always use your common sense and trust your instincts.
When You hitchhike or travel as backpacker your family and the people who care about You will be worried about your safety. Is not possible to stop them from worrying. If who loves You would not be worried about You, then his/her/their would not be love. If You love yourself then is likely that You naturally take good care of yourself. Convey to who loves You that You are able to take care of yourself and their mind will be more at ease with You being far away from them.
As I already mentioned in my other hitchhiking tips, I bring to your attention again that hitchhiking is not a joke and You should be careful every time You intend to hitchhike and You should always treat it as seriously as possible, because it can kill You. My hitchhiking safety tips are based on my personal experience and are designed to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed. As author, I disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information I provided. You are the only one responsible for yourself, for your decisions and for your actions. Every time You intend to hitchhike, hitchhike responsibly.
Written by Claudio Adriano Dobre, © 2017