Alright, so since I did a Train Hopping 101 page, I figured I would post a page with useful hitchhiking information. I know this can be found elsewhere, but again I am combining multiple sources of links which I have found helpful for my travels on the road and compiling it into one page for your viewing pleasure. Seriously though, the main points I will cover in this thread deal more with gear for the road and brief reviews on WHAT GEAR TO BUY and WHAT GEAR TO AVOID…of course if you are dumpster diving at an REI or ground score some free gear and you need it, then take it. However, if you found some side jobs, day labor, temporary work and you have some extra bills lying around that you can spend then I will point you in the right direction of what I use for my hitchhiking lifestyle when I am traveling on the road most of the year. After four years of on/off travel hitchhiking, tramping, and recently train hopping, I will guide you through what gear to avoid so you do not waste your hard earned cash.
I will gradually be updating this over the next few months/weeks as I have the spare time to do so. For all intensive purposes I will direct you to Hitchhikin’ the USA for the Beginner as much of the information in regards to hitchhiking has already been covered here and I am not going to rewrite it, when there already exists a great guide on the web. However, to briefly sum up where to hitchhike I normally hitch from Truck Stops like the Travel Pilot or Flying J’s, on-ramps by the highways I want, off on the shoulder as long as there are not jersey barriers, or I just strap a sign to my pack and start walking down the road and hope for the best. It really depends on my mood, if it’s a country setting, etc. For cities, I walk to the outskirts of the city to hitchhike…there is no point in wasting your effort trying to hitch outta a big city when that’s where all the bums have flocked, to every on-ramp and corner…people just lump you all together and won’t give you a ride.
The Mind of a Hitchhiker
So let’s get into the mind of a hitchhiker. Everyone on the road hitchhikes differently and has a similar, but different mindset in the ways they try to score a ride. It all depends on your principals, what you are seeking and what you are out there for, but the way my mind works is I want to keep traveling, moving around, and traveling for travel’s sake, so to speak. I hitchhike for adventure, to see new places, meet new people, and experience life around me, which is my mindset. A lot of times I combine different methods of hitchhiking to get a ride, but often times I leave it up to the randomness of the world around me and fate, meaning I like to walk, so if someone wants to pick me up then they will, if not, I will keep walking. This is not always the case, but that is my mindset, and I will go into more detail about the different methods of hitchhiking later on in the post. The most important aspect of hitchhiking is to remain determined, strong and smart. Not everyone will help you out with kick downs, rides, and the weather will not always shine down rays of warm sunshine. Stay focused. If a spot is not working out, keep trying, but do not sacrifice your well being to get a ride in the pouring rain, and if you can walk to find a better pull-off or busier gas station, then put in the miles, hiking is as much a part of hitching as anything else. If you do not want to walk, then stick to the bus. Hitchhiking is for the broke, free, and budget traveler and with it requires strength, determination and a certain mental capacity for being alone.
Often times, you will safe hitchhiking, despite much negative stigma towards hitchhiking in America nowadays; it is safer than one might think. Why is this you ask? My conclusion is because generally the people who are picking you up were ex-hitchhikers in the 60’s and 70’s when it was more popular, and most people do not have an alternative vendetta like stealing from people who all ready have little to nothing on them, but dirty clothes, and stinky camping gear. But, please note, this is coming from my personal hitchhiking experience as a young, lower middle class, white, male in his late twenties. As much as I hate to say this, gender, sexual identity and race all come into play, but that is just the cruel world we live in, so take that information as you choose to and just use your gut feeling. If something feels off about the person who is giving you a lift, there is nothing to say you cannot decline a ride. Never get in a vehicle that feels like it may endanger your life and well-being, there will always be another ride down the road.
When I am hitchhiking my main concern with safety is not whether I stepped into the vehicle of a serial killer, or thief, but what type of driver I am dealing with and whether the car was stolen or not. Why does this concern me? Well, if the person is driving erratically, not only does this put my life in danger, but it makes me wonder why they picked me up in the first place? More often than not you will be fine, but car accidents should be your main concern as you stack on the miles. I personally have been in one accident on a motorcycle in Malaysia. I was fine, but the driver was too busy waving and showboating to other people around him that he rear ended another van. I was lucky. But this is the harsh truth.
You also need to make sure the person who is driving is not under the influence of intoxicating drugs or alcohol, as this also increases the danger of you getting injured or hurt. So talk a bit to the person before you get in the vehicle. Are they slurring their speech? Are there eyes red? Are they gritting their teeth and speed talking? Do they give you the crazy vibe? All of these are probable signs to decline a ride. It is not worth your life in a car accident. Your gear can always get replaced.
How to Hitchhike?
You will always feel safest getting a ride at a gas station like a Love’s or Flying J because you will be able to talk to a person before getting into their vehicle.
The next safest option for hitching a ride is using a sign, thumb or walking with or without a sign. The majority of people have a split few seconds of reaction time to decide whether or not they are going to pick you up. They are not scanning the streets and roads for lone hitchhikers whom they are looking to mutilate and steal their gear. It is just not practical, nor is there enough planning behind it. Most of my rides have been from ex-hitchhikers just passing on the favor.
What to know when thumbing, flying a sign, or walking down the road, trying to hitch a ride?
Always talk to the driver before getting in the vehicle.
Always tell them exactly where you are going and make sure you know exactly where they are going and if they need to make any stops.
Try to avoid putting any gear in the trunk or out of reach from your body so the person does not drive off with your stuff and leave you stranded.
Try to take a picture of the license plate, or remember the license plate number before getting in the car in case something happens to you or your gear.
Keep your wallet, ID, Phone, knife, and any valuable items in your pockets, jacket and on your body in case the person steals your bag.
Interstates are easier and quicker to hitch rides on and they also send you further distances. However, highways and back roads are more scenic and enjoyable.
If you choose to hitchhike at night, just be careful, you might not be able to get a clear view of the license plate or the person’s face before getting in the vehicle. People will pick you up, it is just less frequent than the daytime.
Try to avoid hitching into cities after sundown. It will be harder to find a place to set up camp and it is not nearly as safe as camping on the outskirts of town in the woods.
Do not hitch rides under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is a sure way to get your gear stolen or end up stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Hitchhiking and the Weather?
Hitchhiking is very dependent on the weather, your gear and what you want to put up with. Use common sense and increase your odds of hitchhiking along with your comfort. If it’s snowing, raining, sleeting, and freezing outside, ask yourself, “Do I really want to stand here relying on someone to pick me up while I can’t feel my toes, I’m soaking wet, or getting impaled by ice falling from the sky? I know it sounds stupid, but seriously, if you are wet or it is snowing, sleeting, etc. People do not want to get their cars dirt; they will not pick you up most of the time. However, you might get that kind soul once in a blue moon, but it’s more practical, safer and comfortable to just house up under a bridge for the day, under your tarp in the woods, in your tent or find other shelter, even if that means home bumming it in the McDonalds for the day refilling a 99 cent soda.
Normally, I avoid the cold altogether when it comes to hitchhiking. It’s too unpredictable. It’s why most traveler’s follow the weather pattern of staying in the south during the winter and going to the north in the summer. It’s more practical and better on your body.
If for whatever reason you are stuck somewhere where it is freezing and you have no other way to get out, then by all means, make sure you try to stay indoors as much as you can during the really cold parts of the day, even if you get kicked out. Hit up a mission to bum an emergency blanket or too or extra camping gear, blankets, etc. For the long cold nights. Make sure you drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.
On the other hand, hitchhiking in the desert or extremely hot places also depends on a properly packed backpack. Make sure you have a thing shirt, and a hat, drink water constantly and always make sure you have at least 2 liters of water on you at all times when leaving a populated area for one that is more rural. Most places like Arizona it is illegal for a business to deny you water, but if they do, just use a water key and take it from their spigot outside.
Gear to Avoid for Hitchhiking
Avoid anything from REI…yes, I said it, avoid anything from REI. Though their gear may look fancy and is expensive, it’s only designed for the yuppie day hiker or someone who plans to go out for the weekend in ideal camping conditions and dip into a 3-day hike, etc. How do I know this? Well, I used to swear by them. I used to only buy gear from REI. Hell, I was a fan of ASOLO for the longest time until this past season my $270 pair of ASOLO boots only lasted me 9 months. Now, you would think 9 months is a lot, however, considering 3.5 months I never wore shoes and another two months I worked in Hawaii on the beach, that really is not a great time length for boots. Let’s dig deeper into why REI sucks? They try to sell you camping gear you do not need. Their rain covers, are water resistant, not even waterproof lol…I mean seriously. If I get stuck in the rain you’re telling me after 5 minutes I have to scamper off to a bridge so my gear stays dry. Nope, I think I’ll stick with a 50 cent trashbag inside my 5.11 tactical pack.
I also used a REI Minimalist bivy sack for a year…yep it only lasted a year until it no longer became waterproof and the mosquito net could not be completely covered so in a storm I got soaked regardless of the waterproofing. Needless to say, that was my fault. I relied on reviews on Amazon and did not fully do my research, but now I know. What else sucks from REI…oh yeah, camping pads. The ones that you blow up with air, pop after a few uses of rugged camping. The ones that are foam pads offer better support than the self-inflated or blow-up pads, however, once waterlogged they smell and add a ridiculous amount of weight to your load. So it’s like a double-edged sword, instead stick to cardboard.
But, if I don’t buy camping gear from REI because you claim all their gear sucks, then where the hell do I score camping gear? Who competes with REI, you’re telling me one of the only companies out there sucks? Any store that sells tactical gear or an Army Navy Surplus store, they are money. They will sell you gear that is not only way cheaper than REI, it’s more durable, versatile, and more color-specific to the type of travel you are doing anyway. Now in doing so you will sacrifice weight, but that is why the gear is more durable and will last longer. Equinox tarps made from Cuben Fiber are super-light, but any amount of constant UV light deteriorates this product rather quickly, the same goes for other light-weight products. I have yet to find any light weight backpack or gear that is just as durable as gear that’s half the price at the Army Navy Surplus store. If weight concerns you then stick to the high-end shit they sell you at REI and waste your money. Not only will you spend more money, but it will be more frequently had you shopped somewhere else.
Now, camping stoves, paracord, and smaller items you can buy at REI if you want…that does not really change much across the board, but steer clear of backpacks, jackets, pants, sleeping bags, bivy sacks, etc. It’s just not worth your money.
Other gear you can steer clear of and not waste your money on is many of the solar panels sold on the market. Do not buy anything from BROWN DOG GADGETS…the quality of their solar panels and battery packs is shit…you get what you pay for and despite this company being a huge hit on Kickstarter, they suck. I purchased both a 5W solar panel for my dumb phone and a 10,000 mAH battery bank and both of them broke within a few months of use. They cannot handle any kind of rugged camping and they are poorly made.
Recommended Hitchhiking Gear
5.11 TACTICAL BACKPACK (55 LITERS/ BLACK)
- Full-featured 72 hour backpack
- Ideal for recreational use or as an operational bug out bag
- Dual-zippered front and main compartments with molded grip pulls
- Multiple integrated organization pockets
- Admin organization pocket to store maps, pens, and documents
- Fleece-lined sun glass pocket
- Internal hydration compartment with hangers and toggles
- Cinching waist strap and dual compression straps
- Adjustable dual density closed-cell foam shoulder straps
- Built from high strength, water-repellent 1050D nylon (MultiCam®: 1000D nylon)
- 23” H x 13.5” L x 8.5” D main compartment
- 15.5” x 11.5” x 2” front pocket
- 16.5” x 6” x 1.75” left and right side pockets
- 21” x 13.5” hydration pocket
- 3342 cubic inch / 55 liter total capacity
- Contour yoke system with grab and go handle
- Rugged, self-healing YKK® zipper hardware
- Integrated drainage grommet
0 DEGREE KELTY COSMIC DRI-DOWN SLEEPING BAG & ACU DIGITAL BIVY
- 100 percent water/wind proof outer layer. Designed to enclose patrol and intermediate cold weather sleeping bag for the complete modular sleep system.
- Nonflammable, machine washable.
- 2 way nylon zipper that allows for top or bottom ventilation (the zippers are non locking
- sliders which self repairs if jammed or snagged). Can be used alone for warmer temperatures.
- 1.5 lbs.
- 80″ x 30″
SOLAR PANELS & BATTERY BANKS
I highly recommend anything that ANKER makes. I bought a battery bank from them when I did my bicycle tour from DE to CO back in 2013 and I have had this 13,000 mAH charger for 4 years. It works perfectly still. It has been through rain storms, snow storms, banged on trains, fallen off shit and still works perfectly. I just bought a 21W Solar Panel from Anker, which I just received in the mail.
I’ve bought a few other solar panels in the past and I will tell you to steer clear of them and do not waste your money. Also, if you plan on buying a solar panel to charge your smartphone, do not buy anything with less than 10W, or it will never charge past the first few percent without trying to turn on the device and reset itself because of insufficient power (iPhones).
Today I tested out the Anker 21W Solar Panel. In 1.5 hours in direct and indirect sunlight it charged my phone a total of 61% while my phone was running. I will run more tests tomorrow, but so far I think this is the best candidate out there for best solar panel. I saw that after owning many others in the past without having any luck.
DAY TWO: I tested it in direct sunlight while my phone was off and after 1 hour and 50 minutes the battery was completely charged. This thing is a beast.
A FEW MONTHS OF TRAVEL: I would stick to Walmart outlets. Nothing thus far when it comes to solar energy has been able to withstand the hardships of the road. This may or may not be broken. It may be my USB cables, I am not sure, but until I am able to test it out I would hold off on purchasing one.
The only CON so far is why in the fuck did they choose to use velcro? Velcro sucks and will not hold up after constant use, and the pouch is too small and not worth putting anything in it.
- Fast Charging Technology: PowerIQ delivers the fastest possible charging speed up to 2.4 amps per port or 3 amps overall under direct sunlight. 21 watt SunPower solar array is 21.5-23.5% efficient, providing enough power to charge two devices simultaneously.
- Incredibly Durable: Industrial-strength PET polymer faced solar panels sewn into a rugged polyester canvas offer weather-resistant outdoor durability.
- Highly Portable: Compact size (11.1 × 6.3in folded or 26.4 × 11.1in opened) and stainless-steel eye-holes on each corner allow easy attachment to backpacks, trees, or tents. Lightweight (14.7 oz) and ultra-thin design (1.1in folded or 0.2in opened) make it ideal for long treks.
- What You Get: Anker PowerPort Solar (21W 2-Port USB Solar Charger), 3ft Micro USB cable, welcome guide, our fan-favorite 18-month warranty and friendly customer service.
Hitchhiking by Region
North American Road Atlas
This is a diary of short stories from my hitchhiking adventures in Southeast Asia and the United States of America dating back to 2013.
2017 – Back on the Road Again
2017 – Dirty Face in Pecos
2017 – Skeevy Kevin and Umpqua Hot Springs
2017 – Oh My God Hot Springs
2017 – Santa and Old Blue
2017 – Runners in Snakeskin Botas
2017 – Bippin’ it in Texas with the Misfit 4
2017 – 8 Thumbs and a Dog Goin’ East
2017 – Kicked in a Face by a Moose
2017 – Head Wounds and Buffoons
2017 – Drivin’ a Hitch with Mr. Serial Butt Secks
2016 – Snorkeling on Acid
2016 – Swoopin’ on Oahu
2016 – Houseless in Hawaii
2016 – Thumbs and the Sand
2015 – Chaah, Chaah, Chaah…Charmin’
2015 – A Bittersweet Taste…Kratom
2015 – The Punks of Baguio
2015 – Hat Yai and the Hottie
2015 – Just a Thumb in Kuala Lumpur
2014 – Hitchhiking to California
2013 – Hitchin’ to A-Bay Partayyy!
2013 – Climbing Hells Hole
2013 – Farmington