Author’s Note This PowerPoint shows a history of how hitchhiking has evolved for me. It begins with a kid who has an idea that hitchhiking can work and shows that, in fact, it does - with cars, motorcycles, limos, truckers, sailboats and more! This history of my hitchhiking spans over seven years and covers over twenty countries. Overall, this condensed version of my adventures is an attempt to explain how hitchhiking works and how it works best. I also work to explain that there are no typical situations on the road. While this is not everything you need to know, or that I do know, but I consider it a good introduction to hitchhiking and believe that you will find inspiration in knowing that hitchhiking is a plausible mode of transportation worldwide. Consider this presentation an illustrated guide to hitchhiking. Aaron Bell 4/2/2009
My First Ride This couple dropped me off near Yosemite National Park after I jumped off a greyhound to destined for Portland. It took me three hours to catch this ride because I had no idea how to hitchhike and little self-confidence on top of that. I was standing around before the “on-ramp,” under a bridge, expecting people to just stop and pick me up. It goes to show that you'll have to wait a few hours if you don't know what you’re doing, especially if you are shy. My strategy was so wrong here, I am embarrassed.
First Strategy I began my long distance hitchhiking later in the summer of 2003. Pictured here is a few hours of original hitchhiking strategy planned the night before a three month trip around the US. In this picture, my mom is dropping me off at a rest area on the interstate near my hometown of Van, Texas. I picked a rest area because I thought, “people who stop at rest areas are going straight back onto the interstate, and are probably traveling at least two more hours. You don't stop to rest when you are almost there, so catching a ride from here guarantees a long ride." Then, I put my hitchhiking sign on the bottom of my skateboard with the intention of skating around until I got funny looks, then I would smile big and flip the board on its side revealing my sign. This worked in no time and I had a ride two hours down the road with a girl and her mom whom I am still in touch with five years later.
A Bad Example In the beginning, I thought that hitchhiking in a general direction would work, but now I would never use this sign-saving strategy. I hypothesize that if you don’t know where you are going, people don’t help because vagueness is sketchy. It’s better to put a destination (i.e. Memphis) because you attach yourself to people going to that city. Also, the most important lesson to learn from this picture is that you should never sit down. It reduces visibility and makes you look like a bum. Stand up and be ready to run up to their door when they pull over. You should expect to get a ride, not expect to sit around all day like I’m doing here.
Brandon is a friend from Abilene, TX that was interested in hitchhiking. We then decided to hitchhike to Mexico for the weekend without spending any money at all.
I fell asleep hitchhiking here. No wonder the police came. At this point, I knew laying down would never get me a ride, but I was in nowhere, Texas on some back roads to Mexico just having fun teaching a classmate how to hitchhike. This shows the transition from marker-on-cardboard to a typed sign, though it’s a rough start.
Adapted from my other long board strategy, here I could skate and hitchhike at the same time.
On Sunday night we were still 150 miles from school on our return trip from Mexico, when it started getting dark. Look close and you will see that Brandon is using a flashlight to shine light on our sign. The result? An Abilene High School twirler and her mom picked us up and dropped us off at my apartment. She found me on Facebook a year later. Notice the size and style of the backpack. This is way too big and I wouldn’t recommend hitchhiking with an external frame. They are too bulky. While hitchhiking, a lot of times you get picked up by small cars and you’ll find yourself with your pack in your lap, or stuffing it into other small places like the floorboard or back window - pack light!!
This is a picture of the first hitchhiking race to North Carolina. This race has now become an annual event. Two friends started 4 hours ahead in Van, Texas while I started from Abilene, TX. I caught up to them in Louisiana and since we hadn't seen each other in 6 months (and because he had a ride with a trucker going all the way to North Carolina) we consolidated rides and I jumped into the cab with a Vietnam truck driver. Mick's strategy was to hitch to "Atlanta" with plain cardboard and skinny font, while I chose foam board and a bold print. The advantage of foam board is that it does not bend in the wind, so you can hold it with one and your thumb out with the other.
Classic improv on the road. Three of us were stuck here for an hour or so. Mick found this “Jesus loves you” sign and pretty much blocked the road with it. Later, this set up was moved to the middle of the lane and finally worked! The sign, along with the praying hands gesture, and saying "please" got us a ride with a Church Pastor. The guy was a slob though and had nachos all over the seat and trash up to my knees on the passenger side. Kind of made me think, “What are you doing man?"
I wish you could read the rest of this pole. A ton of other hitchhikers have carved their names and dates all the way back to the 60's. My favorite quote was “James and Kirk 1987... 1 hour... 2 hours... 3 hours... F--- it! We’re walking!" Other people just put their name and how long it took them to get a ride. My time? 20 minutes!
TIP: Stay on interstates; don’t try to take the “shortcut” down a back road (especially cutting across Wyoming on your way up to Yellowstone). There more cars on the interstates, and they are driving faster and further than anyone on the back roads. When you are on cross-county hitchhiking trips- or out wandering around for a few months, you will be sleeping in weird places. This picture represents a big step for me. It is the first picture of my transition from sleeping on the ground, to sleeping on rooftops. When you are sleeping anywhere and everywhere, I think it’s best to hide... and no better place than on the roof. If you look close, you can see my bag, air mattress and unicycle on the roof of this rest area shelter in the middle of Wyoming.
Pictured here is my "props" strategy. If you travel with anything cool, lets say a unicycle, skateboard, or guitar you should prop it up. People will pull over and say, "I only stopped because I saw your unicycle/skateboard/guitar." Think of it as a way to make a quick connection with the people driving past. For instance, a lady pulled over because she thought I had been in a serious bike wreck (and lost the other wheel). When I got into her car, she explained that she never picks up hitchhikers. Luckily, she didn’t know that it was a unicycle until we were a few miles down the road.
While hitching around Yellowstone in 2005, I got a ride in the back of a truck with an 80 year old couple. They were going to give me a ride to a campground because it was getting dark, but as we passed this waterfall I decided to take my chances of getting to the campsite later and seize the opportunity. My hesitation allowed the truck to get a mile further down the road but I knew I had to go back. So I beat on the window and asked them to let me out of the truck. When I arrived, a family was underneath the falls taking a shower. Without hesitation, I jumped in and jokingly asked them to "pass the shampoo.” It was the first real shower I had had in days, and it was perfect. Then, I asked the family for a ride to a campsite, and they had a spare! They had too many cars and RVs that they needed two campsites worth of parking, but only used one actual campsite. I was the adopted hitchhiker for the rest of the week. I camped on my own, but they shared all of their food so I hung out around their fire at meal times.
This was my first ride hitching on the back of a motorcycle. It was funny carrying my unicycle to the side while we drove 60 MPH.
Another storybook ending. Keep your options open, and you'll have a lot more fun. While I started out hitchhiking to destinations in Yellowstone, I quickly found that families plan their Yellowstone trip years in advance and know everything about the place. So, when this family pulled over and asked, “Where are you going?" I said, "I don’t know. I just figured you probably know more about this place than I do... why don’t you recommend a spot?" They replied, “Well, we are going to have a picnic." I said, “Sounds great" --- A lot of food later, they dropped me off and I used the same strategy. A school teacher from Pennsylvania picked me up and decided that since he had nothing to do that day, he would repay all of his debt to hitchhiking from the 60's and drive me anywhere I wanted to go-- ALL DAY--- and wait for me in the car while I saw the sights!
This picture is included to show you that it’s not always (or ever) serial killers that pick you up. This particular family trusted me to sit between their two daughters for several hours. I ended up being best friends with the girl on the right and before the ride was over the family wanted to hire me as their nanny.
After leaving Yellowstone, I hitchhiked to Mt. Rushmore which is about 20 miles off of the main interstate in South Dakota. I was dropped off with 20 miles of “city- hitchhiking” to go, so I walked to the nearest Papa John’s pizza. There, I perfected the pizza delivery-man strategy to hitchhiking. Use it when you need a ride through a city that has a lot of twist and turns and it would be impossible to actually catch a ride. To use it, just go to a pizza parlor and get to know the delivery guys when they walk in and out of the store. Start up some small talk and then get to the point: “If I order a pizza for delivery, will you deliver the pizza AND ME to Mt. Rushmore? I'll give you a nice tip." Getting a pizza and a 20 mile ride for 15 dollars is way better than getting a cab which would cost more than that (without food included). This pizza delivery guy took me to Mt. Rushmore and picked me up later after work so that I could go to a party and crash at his house! He let his mom assume I was a high school classmate!
This photo is from my hitchhike back from Toronto and Niagara Falls in 2005. I was a few miles away from the interstate where I wanted to hitchhike, so I decided to unicycle the difference instead of waiting for a ride. I was listening to music and cycling, hardly aware of my surroundings when this lady and her kids pulled over in a mini-van. She explained that she was in a photo contest and offered to give me a ride to Pittsburg, PA if she could do a photo shoot of me. After the photo shoot, she took me back to her studio and printed out all of the pictures for me.
Same story: What’s cool about long distance hitchhiking is that you live where you are at that moment. At the end of every trip, I look at pictures like this and think, “That’s kind of crazy. There I was in Erie, Pennsylvania with nothing but my unicycle and a backpack, no friends within a thousand miles, very little money and no plans."
Perhaps one of the biggest jumps in all of my hitchhiking... I found out that you can not only hitchhike with cars, but also with sailboats! I started out by asking people who were taking their dinghy to their sailboat to take me to a remote island off of Key West so that I could camp for the weekend. I gave these guys $5 dollars for gas money to pick me up the next day at an arranged time. Once I figured out people were willing to do this, it was no time before I was sailing through Central America. To bad this guy dropped me off on the island and forgot to pick me up the next afternoon like we had arranged.
After realizing that the guy who dropped me off on the island was not going to return, I was forced to wait on this wrecked ship and wave down passing boats to get a ride back to Key West. Six months later, on a return trip to the Keys, I passed a performer on Duval Street. I stopped and watched because he had a big crowd, and as I walked off, the guy stopped his performance and said “Wait… Aaron, I owe you $5 dollars for not picking up you on that island last summer. I totally forgot!” It felt really cool to be remembered by name after such a long time, and it was nice that a street entertainer gave me money out of his bucket for a change.
This is the 50 ft. sailboat I crewed on through Central America. I met the family in the Florida Keys as they were sailing to New Zealand, and joined them later in Mexico and Central America. After 5 years sailing, they now live in New Zealand and have opened a youth hostel. At the time of this writing, I have free accommodation in their hostel, which is across the street from the beach on the South Island in New Zealand.
A big break in my hitchhiking strategy was when I started to add the names of nearby Universities to my hitchhiking signs. I could hitchhike to Abilene and get a ride, but when I started hitchhiking to Abilene-- and more specifically Abilene Christian University– I would get a rides in less than 5 minutes (assuming I was within a few hundred miles of Abilene). People are ok with picking up Christian college students when they otherwise would never pick up a random hitchhiker. You can apply this idea to any destination, for example “Lubbock = Texas Tech.” And remember to use the school colors! Anyone associated with the university is more likely to pick you up this way.
If you can get your hands on a Christian University student ID, treat it like Gold. While you are hitchhiking there will be times that cops harass you. However, what they want to know is that you are not homeless, that you are indeed harmless, and that you do not have any warrants. What better way to convince them of all three than to say "no, I do not have a State ID but I do have my college ID, would you like to see that instead?" It works wonders--- and it doesn’t even matter if you look high in your picture. Just remember to hide your real state ID, and never ever show your state drivers license first. If possible, show Christian ID first, then passport. When handing my passport to the officer, I try to flash a few stamps to establish my credibility as a traveler. It’s like saying “Come on dude, I’ve got 30 stamps, I know what I’m doing, just leave me alone and let me do my thing.” It’s not that you have something to hide, its just an easy way to get out of being harassed.
If you are in a bad spot such as a bridge, or a turn in the road, don’t be afraid to walk ahead a few hundred yards. In this photo, I am riding my unicycle in Arizona while hitchhiking to Los Angeles so that I can save 500 dollars on my plane ticket to Australia. Once you learn to hitchhike, your world travels become a lot cheaper because you can search for flights to Australia for example, from LA, Phoenix, or Las Vegas and save a ton of money as compared to flying out of Kansas City or Dallas.
It’s obvious by now that hitchhiking provides awesome stories and its amazing how many defy the odds. While I was hitchhiking around Australia, some people I knew from a few years before in Texas happened to find me on the side of the road. It was nearly dark when they picked me up and I had already been considering which ditch I was going to sleep in that night. In the end, I got to sleep in their hotel and spend Christmas with their family eating prawns and surfing.
Hitchhiking back from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (and again in nowhere Texas) Kyle and I got bored and the hitchhiking strategies that came out of that one hour will be used for lifetimes. Pictured here, Kyle demonstrates the "will give you flowers for a ride." Recommendation: lose the roots next time.
Don't zoom in here. This is just a testament to "if your thumb is not out, you aren’t going to get a ride." So don’t screw around- if you have to pee- work it from behind a wall!
A desperate attempt to catch a ride with an RV– every hitchhikers dream.
The second ever hitchhiking race ended up with only one team of three. Not much of a "race" but it was a lot of fun. This is a good strategy though - carrying blank foam board and markers so that you can make signs when you need them. Again, foam board is a hundred times better than cardboard as I’ll point out later.
When possible, make a good sign. But if you can’t, don’t worry anything will work eventually. This picture shows that some of the best rides are still possible to flag down using a sign made out of cardboard found on the side of the road. TIP: Always carry a big permanent marker and you can make signs out of trash on the side of the road. This is the epic story of a 6 hour limo ride that took us from North Carolina to the doorstep of our friend’s house in Nashville. It was one huge party all the way, and I ended up driving the Limo for a few hours because the driver was drunk.
A Quality Sign Should Be: 1. Typed – This makes it easy to read, but also lets the driver know that you aren't homeless. 2. Foam Board - allows me to hold it like this even as 18-wheelers pass by and create mini tornados. 3. Laminated – makes it waterproof and keeps it clean. The sign will last for years, and its easy to tape a new sign over the top of it and rip it off later. 4. Double sided - This one has "Mazatlan" on one side and "Mexico City" on the other. Once I got to Mazatlan I could hang out there for awhile, and flip the sign over to go to Mexico City. 5. Name of University – If possible, use the name of a nearby university in conjunction with the city name. People are more willing to help “poor college students” even if your not one. Every time I go out, I have someone say "I couldn’t pass up a guy with a sign like that." However, from this spot I failed to get a ride with a group of 30 cyclists and the helicopter that was circling overhead. A hitchhiker can only dream…
Another example of a quality sign This sign is hanging on the wall in my room. If I carry it and 2 others, I have a round trip ticket to my house in Texas and back to Kansas. By laminating your signs, you can re-use them for years so that you do not have to make new signs for familiar routes.
When you are hitchhiking internationally, make sure you use their language. "Mexico City" is not exactly Spanish, but luckily I got my point across. It would have helped if I would have know it was called Mexico, D.F. before I went, but I guess we are all the stupid American at some point. Only 782 km to go!
I tried not to listen to everyone who said "What? Are you crazy?” When I made spur of the moment plans to hitchhike to Mexico City, but I’ll admit I was a little hesitant. However, on this trip we met the nicest people and it has given me the faith to hitchhike anywhere in the world alone. Don't be scared, it’s not worth it.
The view from the back of the truck is often better so don’t limit yourself to the comforts of the front seat. Be open to any one that offers you a ride and you’ll get there a lot faster.
One of the unique things about hitchhiking is that you are riding with perfect strangers. Because of this, more often than not… you’ll participate in what I call “the only true conversations you’ll ever have.” For example, when this man asked if I could send him a few other pictures from our 8 hour ride together, he politely asked that I not send this one because “my wife doesn’t know I have a girlfriend in Mexico” Other people tell me their darkest secrets or just use me as a counselor in general and it makes for fascinating conversation and good stories.
In this picture, my friend Brandon shows off his extravagant sign. Sometimes signs can take up to an hour to make and cost $5 - $10 dollars, but just think how much a flight from Dallas to Phoenix would cost. This sign got him a ride with “2 hot girls” from Abilene, TX to San Diego, California after only 5 minutes of waiting. I say: “if you’re a straight dude and you want a rainbow colored sign… that’s fine, just know what you’re doing.”
Without a doubt, the best days of my year are the annual hitchhiking race. In 2006 the race had 6 contestants. My friend Travis hitchhikes everywhere now, but ask him where he learned and he might admit that he got his start right here on the winning team of the 2006 hitchhiking race.
Waiting for our first ride of the race, Scott shows me his hitchhiking strategies including this one entitled "tribal thumb."
Even if you are using flowers and a clear sign, it’s always a good idea to stick your thumb out to make sure the message is clear.
How to Hitchhike in Big Groups: 3 People - have someone sit down somewhere out of sight. You will have a hard time getting a car to pull over for three guys, but if you get them to pull over for two they will stick around when the 3rd guy pops out of the woods. Either that, or have the 3rd person walk ahead a few hundred yards. Then, once you get a ride, convince your driver to stop and pick up your friend. They will understand. 5 or more people - try the strategy pictured above: have two people up the road hitchhiking while three people hide out down the road. In this picture, Kyle and I are watching the car ahead stop for the two people hitchhiking, while our fifth person takes pictures from behind a telephone pole.
Hitchhiking can get frustrating so it’s important to keep it fun. Sometimes I try to make it look like I only have one leg and I need a ride because I “can’t walk.” This strategy works about as good as flashing a little leg, or using a “Vietnam Vet” sign.
Double stacked hitchhiking does not work so well in the ghetto’s of Atlanta but its fun. I’m convinced that people prefer a serious hitchhiker to something that uses the “c'mon-we-must-be-cool-if-we-are-hitchhiking-like-this" strategy, but it’s a good way to pass the time.
Just go with it! There are many different personality types that pick up hitchhikers. Occasionally the crazies pick you up. I’ve had people wanting to convince me of their beliefs or religion, others making sure I “never vote liberal” and a lot of people who just want to tell someone why they don’t trust the government. I try to keep it simple and agree. In this photo from the 2006 hitchhiking race, we were picked up in Atlanta by a guy who was just released from the insane asylum (and is still wearing all white). The guy was only driving to Mississippi, but he enjoyed our company and ended up driving us all the way to my house in Texas, which was more than eight hours out of his way. Most of the time, I drove his rental car while he told bizarre stories from the passenger seat. The last we heard, he was on his way to Dallas to a bath house.
Making Signs on the Road: If you are in a pinch for a sign, find a public restroom with paper towels and roll out the length of paper you need. The only problem with this is that it will be flimsy, so try to tape it to something. Hitchhiking during an election year is cake … rip off a yard sign and write on the back!
Exceptions to the “always-use-a-sign” Rule: Sometimes you can use your dress as hitchhiking sign. Anyone in Spain knows that I am trying to hitchhike to the Festival of San Fermin (the running of the bulls) because of the traditional garb that I am wearing. The only people who don't know that I am hitchhiking to the running of the bulls, is the PETA camp less than a mile away. I had spent the last few days protesting with them in their "running of the nudes" and was now sneaking away so that I could hitchhike to the opening ceremonies of the running of the bulls.
Perfect Spot and Posture This is a two photo series showing you the difference between hitchhiking with cars (pictured here) and truckers. Also, this picture is a great example of “the triangle” which I consider to be the best spot to hitchhike from. “The triangle” is where the on-ramp meets the interstate. From here, I can hitchhike both roads at once. When cars are going down the interstate, I show them my sign but if a car comes up the on-ramp I focus on them because they are going slower and therefore have an easier time pulling over. The main advantage of hitchhiking in this spot is that there is a whole extra lane ahead so that cars have plenty of space to pull over.
Hitchhiking Posture When Truckers are Approaching: While its important to make sure your sign can be read, resist the temptation to use your sign to keep the sun out of your eyes. This is because making EYE CONTACT is the #1 rule of hitchhiking. Eye contact builds trust between you in the driver in an instant. Smiling helps too.
Hitchhiking in Cuba … know the local hitchhiking culture If you squint your eyes just right and look at the very center of the picture, just ahead of the car, you can see 15 people hitchhiking on the right side of the road. In Cuba, everyone hitchhikes because of a serious lack of public transportation. If you find yourself hitchhiking around other hitchhikers be sure to give them their space or wait in line. In this case there were 15 people ahead of me but I got a ride faster because Cubans expect hitchhikers to tip (and foreigners to tip more). The drivers will generally quote you, and were more than happy to accept a $1 dollar tip for a 12 hour ride. Also, the hitchhiking sign language in Cuba is more complex than in most other countries. Because there are so many people hitchhiking, drivers pay attention to the hitchhikers thumb. The angle of your thumb lets the drivers know that you are looking to go in that direction ahead when there is a “Y” in the road. In a country like this, just ask the experts for advice.
Truck drivers in Cuba often supplement their $5 a month income by picking up hitchhikers. I road with this same guy for 6 hours from Havana to the West Coast of Cuba and then again from the west coast back to Havana a few days later! I set tons of personal hitchhiking records in Cuba, two of which are pictured here. This was my first repeat ride, and it was also the only time I’ve ever caught a ride that fit 27other people inside. The driver picked up every hitchhiker possible while the guy in the passenger seat collected the tips.
Unlikely Friends Here I am hitchhiking with a socialist police officer. We were hitchhiking in the same general area and both heading towards Havana which was eight hours away. We got a ride in the same truck, and were cramped beside each other for most of the ride. Though we couldn’t have an in-depth conversation because of the language barrier, we had a good connection and he showed me pictures of his family.
Famous People This Cuban boxer won an Olympic gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Later, I did a fact check and noticed that Cubans dominated boxing that year. Other notables include getting picked up by “Uncle Daryl” who lives in Woody Harrelson’s three story backyard tree house. We got the full tour and event spent the night.
Hitchhiking Workshop The 2007 hitchhiking race started with a "hitchhiking workshop" that quickly got out of control. All sorts of signs come out of it including “Just Married, WWJD, G'Day Mate, and “Will sing for a ride“.
Participants in the 2008 Hitchhiking Race In May 2008, we had 13 hitchhikers spread out within 5 miles of a section of interstate 20 in Texas. At first I was worried that a group of that size would not get rides but it turns out people were more enthusiastic about groups of hitchhikers. That’s because some people thought we were on TV and others thought that our "just married" sign was real. One thing is certain though, "you can have 1 serial killer, but you can’t have 13.” Once people realized it was for fun, everyone wanted in on the race. The truckers even spread the word on their CB radio’s and most of us got rides because of it.
“Hey mom, I want to go Hitchhiking!” It’s nice to have a mom that will drop you off anytime you want to hitchhike, however the parents of the girls I date rarely approve. Your parents will worry at first I’m sure, but they will get used to it over time. It’s your life, live it… just call and let your parents know your safe every once in awhile.
Desperate Strategy – “Hookering out your girlfriend” While on the hitchhiking race, April and I were dropped off in this horrible spot. It’s bad because there are more than two lanes (making it harder for the people in the far lane to see you, much less pull over.) But, its even worse because we are standing in front of a long bridge with little room for cars to pull over. Also, we are on a corner and at the bottom of a hill. Cars and especially 18 wheelers usually have trouble stopping at the bottom of a hill because of their momentum. I told April to continue to hitchhike that spot while I went over to hitchhike a small on-ramp 100 yards down the road. What I really meant of course was that we should use the “Hooker out your girlfriend” strategy. I wanted people – guys – to see a single woman and pull over. Then, I would be hiding out up the road so that by the time they pulled over, I would be right there and walk out from my hiding spot before she even got to their car. It worked in less than ten minutes and got us a ride with trucker in an otherwise nearly impossible place to catch a ride. I still don’t know how he managed to stop!
It’s so easy to hitchhike on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii... especially if you look local. In this photo, I decided to use a banana as an extension to my thumb. This created the new "banana thumb" strategy. More importantly though, a huge night hitchhiking strategy can be seen in this picture. If I were stuck at this same spot at night, I would walk down to the red light and crosswalk that you can see in the back of the picture. Anytime you have a crosswalk, there is a button you can push to change the traffic lights in your favor. Even if you do not plan to cross the road, go ahead and manipulate this button so that traffic going down the road has to stop at the red light – conveniently right beside you and your hitchhiking sign (and usually under a street light). To wear a shirt or not is also a big question. If I’m inland I always wear a shirt, but around the beach or in more laid back places it doesn’t hurt to go without.
Hospitality for Travelers With hitchhiking, hospitality goes up as the number of people hitchhikes goes down. If you hitchhike in a group of three, the drivers will sometimes buy you a drink at the gas station, but when you hitchhike alone, you’ll be surprised how many people invite you to dinner and let you stay at their house. When this picture was taken, I was down to 2 dollars with 15 days left in Hawaii. All I could pull together was some scrap construction paper, a piece of duct-tape, a dying marker and a make it happen attitude. This sign ended up getting me dinner, a place to stay for 2 nights, a job building a volcano rock wall, a golf hat, and a free round of golf. That does not even include enough cash to make the rest of my trip and a job offer to "stay in Hawaii, help grow pot, and play golf everyday" I also have a picture in the guys 30 plant marijuana field. Of course, he had a medical license to grow... or did he?
I had to include my most recent hitchhiking accomplishment. A free round of golf in Hawaii! I was hitchhiking to Volcanoes National Park and these guys were on their way to play golf. When I mentioned I played, they invited me to play and one of their wives gave me a golf hat.
After a free round of golf and a new hat that morning, I started hitchhiking with a “Volcano” sign and this New Jersey couple picked me up and adopted me for the day. They too wanted to tour Volcanoes National Park, only they had a rental car and a parks pass! I ended up spending most of the day with them just driving around to all the different sites. And, of course … just like my experiences hitchhiking around Yellowstone, they had researched everything and new exactly where to go and what to see.
Another way to hitchhike on sailboats is to post flyers around harbors and yacht clubs. I sent this flyer to a few Yacht clubs around Hawaii by emailing them and asked them to post it around their bulletin board. I also posted a lot of them around the Honolulu boat harbor. From this sign I got offers to - sail to China, the Big Island, to San Francisco, Los Angeles, to join a crew for dinner (and subsequent food poison from a jealous boyfriend), and numerous other invitations. The key to this technique is to have plenty of time so that you could take the boat to China, Australia or anywhere else for that matter. In my case, I had to be back for grad school so I couldn’t. Also, explore www.findacrew.net for other ways to jump onboard a sailboat.
Astronomical Odds Tickets to Hawaii from Kansas are expensive, so I bought my round trip ticket out of Portland, Oregon. On my hitchhike from Kansas to Portland, Rob was my final ride. He picked me up in Idaho where he had just finished installing a heating and air conditioning system in a new hotel. He was a cool guy and we became good friends on the six hour drive. When he dropped me off, he suggested that I look him up when I got back to the mainland so I wrote his address in my journal. A few weeks later I sent him a post card from Maui. Three months passed and I flew back into Portland. Then, as I was walking up the on ramp so that I could begin to hitchhike east Rob pulled over! He just happened to be passing through Portland and had stopped at a Burger King near where I was about to hitchhike. He was on the way back to Idaho to check on the hotel and recognized me right way. He was the last person to drop me off and the first person to pick me up three months later. We rode together for another six hours and caught up on the last three months. This was another ride that ended up in a job offer. “The next hotel I’m doing is in Las Vegas, call me if you want to come work for a few weeks and I’ll pay you good.”
Astronomical Odds This is the picture I took with the same guy on my way into Oregon a few months before. What made him so much cooler is that he turned into a tour guide and wouldn’t let me pass up side of the road sites like this.
While hitchhiking to Christchurch in New Zealand, I thought we might get picked up faster if people thought we were trying to go to Church. If nothing else, sending the picture home to my mom made her happy.
Sleeping on the Road Hitchhiking after dark is nearly impossible. Unless I am in a serious rush I rarely mess with it. Instead, I just find a place to put my tent or hang my hammock. Left: I always sleep in construction sites when possible. The open framing is ideal for hanging a hammock and the construction workers are great alarm clocks. Right: When you get cross country rides with truckers, sometimes they ask you to leave for a bit while they sleep at a truck stop. In this photo, I set my tent up within yelling distance and told the driver to call me 15 minutes before he wanted to leave.
Sharing Knowledge This photo was taken in Portland, Oregon minutes after I finished my three day hitchhike from Kansas. Along the way, I used several different signs including “Nebraska” “Salt Lake” and “Portland” Most hitchhikers have no idea what they are doing and it takes them forever. In this picture, I am having dinner with some hippies in Oregon who are trying to hitchhike to Wyoming for the Rainbow gathering. They are really dirty (first problem) and have no idea how to hitchhike. Although you can't tell, it’s about to be dark here and they have been in this spot for two days! After sharing my best strategies, I gave them my old signs and told them where to stand. Although they weren’t really going to “Salt Lake" they could use my sign to get a ride east.
The Great Hitchhiking Race 2009 Lately, I’m printing out outlines of fonts on bright colored construction paper and gluing the words to black foam board (per suggestion of my brilliant girlfriend Emily). Just the other day, a guy pulled over super early compared to most people and said, “I could read your sign from 150 yards away.” His car was completely stopped long before he even got close to me. Usually cars zip by you and pull over down the road a ways.
The Great Hitchhiking Race 2009 This year’s hitchhiking race was… different. I lost for the first time. It was sad, but the winning team got across the country (from Texas to North Carolina) hitchhiking in just 30 minutes past the quoted driving time on MapQuest. My team was 1.5 hours behind that. What is important though, is that all 20 hitchhikers made it to the campsite on the 2nd day of the race. Another awesome year!
My best strategy for hitchhike racing I call this my “hitchhiking storyboard sign.” On one side, its says “Atlanta” but on this side it has 6 pictures of previous hitchhiking races and shows all of the great waterfalls at the final destination. I made the sign for 3 reasons: to convince drivers to come to the waterfalls with us, to show police that we were legit, and it would have helped if we had to beg for rides at gas stations late at night. Too bad the lamination created a glare.
Don’t Do’s: For most of this slideshow, I showed you “what to do.” But recently, I’ve realized that I should also tell a little of “what not to do.” So, here is a short list. Never just get into a car without first asking where they are going. Sometimes they only plan to take you a mile down the road and most of the time its not worth it. Always stick to your route. If the person offers to take you farther in your general direction, but off the interstate, politely explain that a million other people are going your way and you can catch a ride on the interstate easier than a back road or highway. Never let someone drop you off in the middle of a city. If the driver is going into downtown Dallas and you want to pass the city entirely, its better to get out 20 miles before the congestion starts and not to accept any rides that are not planning on passing through the city. You will get stuck in cities so avoid it at all cost. (Once, I turned down three different rides that wanted to take me into a city, but accepted the next car full of pretty girls. It was fun for 20 minutes, but then I was stuck in Arlington for 2 hours. Not worth it!) Everyone will convince you that they know of a “great spot to hitchhike from” but really you know better than them. Don’t let them take you where they want to, or you’ll end up downtown. Also, everyone will recommend a good truck stop to hitchhike from. That’s stupid (unless its after dark). The trucks take forever, and every truck that eventually leaves will also pass you on the on ramp. Don’t waste your time. But, if you do… hide your backpack somewhere because a lot of the travel centers have security that’s strict on people with packs and you’ll get kicked out.
For more information on hitchhiking or the hitchhiking race, feel free to contact me by email. I would also appreciate any feedback you have to offer on this slideshow or any other comments you might have regarding “The Evolution of Hitchhiking.” Safe Travels, Aaron Bell firstname.lastname@example.org