Elijah Wald – Hitching Tips and Queries

To start off with, a question I keep getting asked at every interview and reading, phrased in various ways, is "OK, you say hitchhiking is fun and relatively safe, but you're a guy. What about for women? Would you really recommend that a woman hitchhike?"

Frankly, I wouldn't recommend that a woman hitchhike alone, at least until she has some experience--but that may just be my own paranoia clicking in. The fact is that wherever I have gone to talk about Riding with Strangers, more women than men have come up to tell me their hitchhiking stories, and almost all have been positive about the experience. (And yes, I was surprised by this.) Many have tended to travel with a man, or at least with another woman, but many others traveled alone. Like me, they have sometimes had strange and worrisome experiences, but in general they enjoyed themselves and recall their journeys with pleasant nostalgia. Obviously, hitchhiking is more dangerous for a woman than for a man, but so is walking down the street or going to a college party. Which is to say, the dangers may be outweighed by the benefits, and how you approach the situation will have a lot to do with how it works out.

For a bit more insight, here is an email I got while on tour, which is my greatest compliment so far:

I had never heard of your book before yesterday, as someone who started hitchhiking regularly since i was 17 *6 years ago* and spent 3 years or so trapsing back and forth across the country who now lives in upstate ny, I can't say I was too suprised when a middle class woman and her older mother stopped to pick me up yesterday as I was making my way from Albany down to NYC, as I'm sure you know there is no typical person who picks up hitchhikers and being female when I'm hitchhiking alone (something I try not to make a habit of but neither am I overly afraid to) I end up getting picked up alot by middle age women who are afraid for my safety. As we were first getting aquainted and feeling each other out for where the conversation was going to head she told me that the reason she pulled to the side of the road leading out of the rest stop where I had been waiting for less than 5 minutes because she was in the middle of a book called "riding with strangers" and that prompted her to pick me up. I figured if I were you this would provide me with a smile. So here's a
small thank you. Hopefully everyone who reads your book will act in kind.
Kat R.

Hitchhiking tips:

1. Choose a spot where you can be seen from as far off as possible and there is plenty of room for a driver to pull over.

2. Look clean and unthreatening. Have your pack visible, so people can see that you are an experienced traveler. It can help to have a musical instrument, or if you are a foreigner, to have a flag that shows your country.

3. Look alert and cheerful, not tired and miserable--people pick up riders for companionship, so you want to look like you'll be good company . Stand up, smile, and try to catch each driver’s eye.

4. If you’re at the entrance ramp to a highway that will split in different directions further on, hold a sign saying which direction you’re heading.

5. In general, a sign with your destination on it will make you look efficient, and tell people if you just need a ride to a nearby town, and it can help to discourage short rides if you want to move quickly. (On the other hand, it may discourage people who are going somewhere else--and the somewhere else may be pretty interesting...)

6. If you don’t want to stand on the side of the road, you can approach drivers at rest stops, truck stops, or outside roadside restaurants. This is particularly useful at night, since you and the driver can size each other up in a well-lighted area.

7. Let the driver set the mood. Most pick up passengers to have someone to talk with and—especially at night—to keep them alert, but some prefer quiet.

8. It’s your responsibility to be a good companion, so don’t get in arguments, try not to fall asleep, and don’t wear a headset or read a book. (This should be obvious, but several people have asked me if I travel with a mp3 player to relieve the boredom on long rides...)

9. Most rides are fine, but be careful. If someone who pulls over seems weird or drunk, don’t get in the car. If you run into trouble, keep your wits about you and politely ask the driver to pull over at the next exit.

10. Remember: every hitchhiker and every trip is different. So don't expect my tips to match your own experience. They're just what work for me.