There’s something very appealing about hitchhiking.
What’s not to love? It’s free, it’s spontaneous, you will see and experience incredible things and meet people from all walks of life.
It is a little reckless however, and while we love a little recklessness from time to time, its important that anyone who does want to try hitchhiking is prepared and as safe as possible.
I recently got to chat to Jade Braden, a regular solo hitchhiker…here are her thoughts on it all.
1.Tell me about one of your hitchhiking experiences?
My second hitchhiking experience comprised of 21 hitchhikes in a single trip. I wanted to get out of my town to escape monotony and go on an adventure – the thought of traveling alone was initially quite scary to me but also felt necessary so I followed through with my plan to travel towards the West Coast.
The length I traveled varied from a mile to as much as 8 and a half hours of driving with a single person. On average, I would travel about 30-45 minutes before transferring to another rider. Waiting time for a ride was 15 minutes on average with as short as 3 minutes (two cars nearly collided into each other in California trying to pick me up) and as long as 2 hours.
The reasons for why drivers picked me up varied from “It’s not safe for a girl to be hitchhiking alone,” “You remind me of my kid/niece,” to “I once was a hitchhiker too.”
2. Best experience?
I had a great number of experiences – it’s difficult to narrow them down! My overall favourite thing about hitchhiking is trading stories by talking about traveling experiences, personal stories and overall learning about the other person.
For instance, I heard about a man’s hitchhiking experience during the Polish riots in Europe and how he evaded soldiers with machine guns at the border who claimed that his passport picture was not him, causing the driver and other hitchhikers anxiety while he sat confused, not understanding the language. Thankfully, that was cleared up by showing another picture of himself to adjust the claim and shortly afterward, getting kicked out by the driver after crossing the border.
Otherwise, a favourite driving experience was when I got a 6 and a half hour ride from Green River Utah to Nevada with a cool guy who pulled over to call a relative, only to see me running to his car. He was kind enough to offer the ride, provide food along the way, and even offered a place for me to stay after playing a few billiard games with him and his friend.
Another favourite experience was during my last day in Phoenix in which I had met another hitchhiker who traveled alongside me for the past 3 days from California. I was invited to a burning man meet and greet event by a group of people at a firehouse shelter and impulsively said yes to come along. I was driven to Tempe, had great conversations with them, and experienced a new culture. I even got to try out fire breathing, which was exciting.
Lastly, I became a traveling therapist in a way with a young veteran who experienced PTSD following his deployment out in Afghanistan. We were able to resolve some difficulties he had without getting too in depth and he seemed more relaxed once he dropped me off in Green River Utah.
3. Worst experience?
I had my fair share of uncomfortable experiences as well as pleasant experiences, two of which involved boundary issues with people. I had an uncomfortable driving experience with a couch surfer host in Carson City, Nevada. Although in general, I found no fault with the site and their list of hosts, the host who offered a ride along the Northern part of California back to San Francisco gave off an uncomfortable vibe while conversing with me about his broken relationship (and his interest in me) as he understood myself as a therapist. It was a long drive to tolerate before I arrived at my next couchsurfing host. If the situation became any more intolerable, I would have asked to be dropped off, then receive another ride with someone else.
Another uncomfortable experience was when I agreed to stay over with two people (a young woman and her uncle) at a house in Vale, Colorado who saw that I was hitchhiking and offered their place for me to stay. I enjoyed spending time with the woman however the uncle was being too physically touchy before going to bed. I set my boundaries firmly, stated that there was no relationship between us, and he backed off for the rest of the night. Thankfully, he respected my wishes, although he complained a bit beforehand, then let me be. If that situation continued, I would have left the house promptly and went camping instead.
4. What do you think of the taboo that exists, that as a female solo traveler you shouldn’t hitchhike?
There is some truth to the idea in which females may have more dangers to face when hitchhiking. However, I challenge that idea in which you need to be smart and aware of any red flags before you accept a ride from anyone. If you get a bad feeling from someone when offered a ride, say no or state that you are not heading the same direction as they are while making your intentions clear that you do not wish to inconvenience them anyway. If you feel uncomfortable during a car ride, you have a few ways to approach the situation – you can ask to be dropped off if you feel that they will let you or you can pretend to be sick or need to use the restroom, forcing them to pull over. Watch how you are dressed and be clear with your boundaries and expectations. Truly though, in my experience, I met far more amazing people on the road than anything else since most people who stopped by to pick me up wanted to help.
5. Top tip you would give to a female trying hitchhiking for the first time?
Again, there are many tips I can offer but the biggest one is do your research on hitchhiking before taking the journey and trust your instincts. I went through several sites, looking up ways to stay safe, where to stand on the road, how to interact with others, and what supplies to bring.
For more hitchhiking stories from female travellers and for some top tips on how to do it safely, have a read of this story I did recently for Cooler Magazine…