The first rule to hitchhiking is getting out of town. Hitchhiking is a far better way to get into a place than getting out of one. In my experience, knowing where to set up shop and stick out your thumb is the biggest determinant in how long you will need to wait for a ride (the general attitude towards hitchhiking in whatever country you’re in aside, of course), and to get picked up fast you need to be in the right place.
For whatever reason, drivers in every corner of the world are hesitant to pick up hitchhikers who are standing within the bosom of a population center. There is some kind of complex social/ psycological reason for it that I have yet to figure out, but I do have some guesses:
1) Cities are full of mostly local traffic. They are not going far so they have no business picking up a hitchhiker in the first place.
2) There is a supreme array of potential destinations that someone could have within a city or town, and nobody wants to get hamstrung into driving out of their way.
3) There are generally large amounts of people in towns and cities, so the responsibility that someone can feel for a hitchhiker is likewise watered down, distributed among everyone else, and is often not enough to slam on the brakes.
4) Everybody knows that you can just take a bus or flag down a taxi, so you must be pretty odd to be hitchhiking.
5) There is just a natural suspicion of the Other that people seem to inherently turn on when in urban areas. When a hitchhiker is trying to get a ride from within a city their intentions aren’t evident, and this punks people out.
Ultimately, this is all mere conjecture, I really have no sure shot answer as to why this is, all I know is that if you want a ride you need to get out of town.
Though I do know that when standing on the side of a highway at the edge of town it’s clear that you are a traveler, what direction you are traveling in, that other transportation options are not as available, and each driver is able to have an isolated moment to size you up and debate if they want to give you a lift. Hitchhiking outside of a town simplifies the non-spoken communication aspect of the operation, which is often the deal breaker as to whether someone will stop or not.
I did a good amount of hitchhiking on the Kinmen Islands of Taiwan. It was going exceptionally easy: I’d stick out my thumb and within a couple of minutes I’d see brake lights and a passenger side door fling open. Then I hit a rough patch. I was on the edge of Shamei, right at the intersection that marked the boundary between the town and the expanse beyond, right below a traffic light that hovered above a beautiful, wide open slice of tarmac that cars could easily stop on.
But nobody did.
I considered changing positions, but I didn’t want to go too far out. Hitchhiking is a game of splitting extremes: you want to be out of town, but not too far out of town. Someone standing on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere just doesn’t seem right, and few people are going to pick up someone so “not right.”
Though I had some leeway here, so I walked down the road to the next intersection. I stuck out my thumb. The first car slowed and looked, the second one stopped.
When hitchhiking, be sure to get out of town.
Read our hitchhiking archives for more tips on this mode of travel.