I am a woman, and I have solo hitchhiked at least 7,000 kilometers in the last few years.
I have crossed France in a day, discussed philosophy with a Dutch man in Croatia, offered free career counseling to a woman in South Africa, and become a sympathetic ear to countless stories of loss, triumph, and heartbreak. Over a dozen countries in three continents have borne witness to my journey and my thumbs.
Hitchwiki and Tom Robbins have guided me, while the rest of the world has told me I’m taking stupid risks.
I do not encourage other women to follow my example. Nor do I discourage them. If you want to be told that hitchhiking is a terrible, dangerous idea for a woman alone, I invite you to speak with your friends and families.
If you have already decided to explore an alternative mode of travel and are seeking information and advice, this is for you.
A note: I am a young, white woman. I make no claims about anyone’s experience but my own, and I recognize the specific privileges conferred me by my race, age, and appearance.
These are a few of the biggest lessons I’ve learned on the road:
1. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
When a bald-headed, skinny young man with bad teeth and worse English pulled over at a gas station outside Milan to leer at me, my hair stood on end. You could not have paid me to get into that car. If you feel even an inkling of doubt about a ride, pass on it. There will be other cars; never get in if your gut is telling you to stay out.
2. Even if it feels right, it might still be wrong.
Intuition is key for solo hitchhikers — especially women — but it’s not everything. Be smart and alert at all times. Keen observation might reveal warning signs your intuition missed. Beer bottle on the floor? Big dent in the side door? Driver overly eager to give you a lift? Sit this one out. You have time.
3. Desperation leads to bad endings — have a backup plan.
The one time I jumped into a van out of desperation (it was rainy and cold, and I’d been waiting on a dead Croatian side road for hours), I regretted the choice almost immediately. I was able to jump out at a red light soon after, but that story could have gone differently. I’ve since learned to always be prepared to get stuck.
Carry a tent. Have enough food and water for 24 hours. Know how to get back to the city you started from. Know exactly what you will do if sunset is approaching and you’re still in the middle of nowhere. If the day is ending, I’ll take the next safe ride to the nearest town, even if it’s not where I want to go, and find lodging for the night.
4. Never be in a rush.
Time constraints lead to desperation, which leads to poor choices. Allow yourself several days to get wherever you’re going. If your itinerary is fixed and you must arrive within a narrow window of time, take the bus. There is a beautiful, slow rhythm to hitchhiking long distances — but if you’re in a hurry you’ll never find it.
5. Couples, women, and families are your new best friends.
I’d estimate at least 50% of the people who stop for me fall into one of those three categories. Most of them avow, “I don’t usually pick up hitchhikers, but when I saw you there I had to stop!” I know female hitchhikers who will only take rides from the above; personally, I evaluate it on a case-by-case basis. Nonetheless, families, women, and couples who don’t usually pick up hitchhikers have proven to be especially interesting rides.
6. Being a woman is an advantage — not just a liability.
Of course, solo female hitchhikers face additional risks that most men or groups don’t worry so much about, but we also enjoy a unique edge when we hop out on that empty road. Have you gotten rides to the metro from friendly police officers? Have you watched a car hold up traffic on a busy freeway just to reverse and pick you up? Have you observed with wonder the extraordinary generosity of strangers who have decided to help you specifically because you are a woman hitchhiking alone? I have.
The same vulnerability that makes your position more dangerous will also predispose more people to help you — people who normally “never pick up hitchhikers.” Don’t forget it.
7. Everyone will tell you it’s stupid (and they’re probably right). You have to decide you don’t care.
The people who give me rides, my friends and family, and anonymous readers on the internet frequently inform me that I’m making terrible choices. If I had listened to these voices of reason, I never would have had some of the most extraordinary, life-affirming human experiences of my journey.
There is no such thing as risk-free travel. Every adventurer, man or woman, chooses their risks. These are mine. If you wish to choose the same, be prepared for the backlash.
8. Get comfortable with waiting.
I have written road songs and poems while sitting on the side of the road. I have watched an entire day pass, along with hundreds of vehicles, without advancing a single kilometer. I have had enough time to process heartbreaks and make huge life decisions as I waited for just one car to stop.
Hitchhiking is hardly the harrowing, adrenaline-packed adventure the media may have led you to expect. But it is an adventure. It is slow, often tedious, and characterized primarily by waiting. Get comfortable with that, or it will drive you mad.
9. People are mostly good.
In my opinion, this is the most important thing. You must believe that people are good, and they will reward your faith. Expect the best, and the world might just prove you right. That is my dusty-footed creed, anyway.
Be smart, be cautious, and be aware, but be optimistic about humanity, too.