Truck Bed Diaries: 6 Tips for Successful Hitching
When I first started doing research, reading about the trail and talking to experienced hikers about the trail, the subject of hitchhiking seemed to come up a lot. And I remember always thinking, “Naw, we’re not going to do that! Surely you can get by without getting rides from strangers! I’ve watched WAY too many episodes of Law and Order to allow myself to do something so foolish!!” Looking back now, I can’t help but laugh at myself.
Some of our favorite and most memorable trail experiences came from hitching rides. Like when a college student on a road trip gave us a ride off of a sudden blizzard on Roan Mountain. Or the first time we met Honey and Bear, our favorite hostel owners and trail angels. Or when we crammed about a dozen smelly hikers in the back of a truck bed headed to a trail magic church cookout. Or that time a police officer gave us a ride to Glasgow, VA in his squad SUV.
But that doesn’t mean that the first time we hitched wasn’t a little nerve-racking. We were very much newcomers to this alternate way of getting around, so it took us a while to get the hang of it. But by the end of our hike we, like all other hikers, would jump in the truck bed or small 2-door sedan of just about anybody if it meant getting to a McDonalds or a hotel shower. And we got pretty darn good at getting rides within minutes of sticking our thumbs out.
6 Tips for Successful Hitchhiking
Here’s what got us from the trail to town and back during our thru hike:
1. Keep Numbers Low
Being in a large “bubble” of hikers can be a good thing, but not when it comes to trying to catch a ride. If a person driving down the road sees 12 hikers with their thumbs out, they’re automatically going to think “Aw, I wish I could stop, but I don’t have room for all of them!” There are times when a large group will be picked up by someone with a large truck, and it’s amazing when that happens. But it’s wise to spread yourselves out into groups of 2 or 3 along the road if possible.
2. Girl Power
Now this one is going to sound little strange, but just trust me. If you’re a guy, you always want to have a girl hitching with you. You may not ever see each other again, but she is your ticket to town. Girls give off the vibe of “This dirty, bearded creature must not be a cold-blooded killer if this nice lady is with him!” My husband is completely convinced that if I wasn’t hiking with him, he never would’ve received rides, which is quite possibly true. “Couples” always seem more approachable and trustworthy.
3. Cardboard Signs are Your Friend:
At the beginning of your hike, go ahead and do yourself a huge favor and grab the first piece of cardboard you find. Borrow a pen or marker from wherever you are staying and make a “TO TOWN/TO TRAIL” sign (one on each side of the cardboard). This will help you out so much in your hitching ventures, plus it weighs virtually nothing. Fold it up and keep it in your pack. Remarkably, a lot of people driving by trailheads or through trail towns have no idea why you would be needing a ride or that you’re on a 2,000 mile journey. If people know where you’re headed, they’re much more likely to give you a ride.
4. Don’t Stray Too Far From the Trail:
The farther from the trail you travel, the harder it will be to hitch a ride back. If you try to stay within a reasonable distance of the trail, it’s very likely it will be easy for you to get back on. This is not always possible, but it’s far more likely someone will drop you off 5 miles down the road rather than 30.
5. Parking Lots are Prime Real Estate:
We had our best hitching successes outside of gas stations and fast food restaurants. If you can stand the funny looks people passing by will give you, you are pretty much guaranteed a ride. Our very first hitch came from standing outside a McDonalds and basically asking people which direction they were headed. Again, your cardboard sign will help you tremendously, but you also want to be friendly and not afraid of approaching people and asking where they might be headed. It’s so much easer than standing on the side of the road with your thumb out while cars blow by. Plus, you can pick and choose who you decide to ask.
6. Use Your Best Judgement:
If a person seems shady, they are. If you feel uncomfortable (this goes for girls and guys), you don’t have to accept the ride. Don’t feel like you have to accept the first ride you’re offered, there will be others. I was worried about a hitchhiker-loving serial killer picking us up, but I realized quickly that there was nothing to be afraid of. We met so many kind souls who were so interested in our story and what we were doing and who were willing to take us anywhere we wanted to go. Seeing tiny glimpses of people’s every day lives was so fascinating to me. I plan on picking up as many hikers as I can this thru-hiking season!
When you inevitably find yourself standing on the side of the road with your thumb sticking out, and it seems like you’ve been there for hours and every car just passes right by without a second glance, remember that the trail always provides. This includes hitches. We were so worried about getting a ride from Baxter State Park to Bangor, Maine in order to board our flight home after we summited Katahdin. It was one of the most stressful things we encountered logistically, but a few hours after summiting, we were in the car on the way to Bangor with our friend Croc and her dad in their SUV.
One more thing- always be grateful to the people who are nice enough to give you a hitch. We considered every one of those people trail angels and made sure to tell them so. Be gracious and be polite and make sure to apologize for stinking up their car!
Much love and happy trails,
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