BY: TIM O’NEAL
While still very common in many other countries, hitchhiking in the United States has gone out of fashion. The distances can be great. There is a stigma around hitchhiking that can be a barrier to catching a ride, and there is the element of fear. However, t’s not nearly as dangerous as most people believe, and the challenges hold major rewards. This hitchhiking guide will help you on your way.
Isn’t it dangerous?
While xenophobia and straight up bigotry are still prevalent in many parts of the country, there are ways to prevent conflict. It’s very important to avoid topics of conversation such as politics, religion, race, social equity or any other cultural topics that might cause a heated disagreement. This can be difficult for some but it’s very important. If your lift brings up a controversial topic it’s best to just nod and keep quiet, or give one-word answers. If the subject persists you may consider politely asking to be dropped off.
Other than that, use the same discernment you would use anywhere else to decide whether to accept a ride. If something doesn’t feel right, just pass on the ride and wait for the next one. If you’re polite and friendly it is extremely unlikely that you will be hassled.
Does anyone stop to pick up hitchhikers anymore?
Getting a car to stop can be challenging in some places. The US is a very fear-based society. People can be hyper-focused on some news story they heard a decade ago about a hitchhiker who attacked their lift. This single anecdote might be enough to keep them from ever considering picking up someone from the side of the road.
Car ownership is so common that your biggest problem might be explaining why you don’t have one. While there are still many people who don’t own a car, the vast majority of people do. If you’re visiting from another country this may be easier to explain.
Even though you may have to exercise patience at times, there is always someone willing to help, or interested in hearing a unique story.
Isn’t it illegal?
Hitchhiking is perfectly legal in most states, but there are a few where it’s illegal. Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Delaware all have laws prohibiting hitchhiking. As a general rule in other states, don’t stand on the road to solicit a ride. Stand on the shoulder or off the edge of the road to avoid legal trouble. It’s illegal to walk along an interstate so have drivers drop you off at exits to wait for your next ride. This is a good place to catch a ride anyway because traffic is slower.
There can be confusion and uncertainty about the legal situation surrounding hitchhiking from state to state. It’s a good idea to thoroughly research each state you plan to travel to so you’re armed with facts if ever confronted.
Interstates or country roads?
With so many highways crisscrossing the terrain, there are a lot of choices to make along the way. Interstates are the quickest, most direct routes across the country, but not necessarily the best option. While you would still meet people along the way, the infrastructure along the interstate system is designed expressly for cars. The scenery can be grim.
Passing through smaller towns, state and rural highways will show you a much more interesting side of the country. It’s also easier to take in the varied landscapes from rural highways. Interstates typically run through seemingly endless stretches of suburban sprawl, while less traveled roads will get you closer to the forests, mountains, and plains.
The United States may be one of the most interesting places in the world to hitchhike, precisely because it’s relatively rare and novel. It provides such an expanse of varied natural landscape and cultural characteristics. There is a depth to the country that can really only be experienced through a slow, immersive trip. Keeping in mind these simple guidelines will ensure a safe, fulfilling journey.
For more information, including state by state details, visit Hitchwiki.