In short, no.
I have been hitchhiking for quite some time now. How else can a poor student without a driver’s license explore Europe? I’m the only English person I know who is ‘brave enough’ to hitchhike, and I only know a small handful of people from other countries who hitchhike. It’s a rare thing now, which is a real shame because 99% of the time you are picked up by lovely, inspiring, fascinating people. I haven’t yet experienced the other 1%, and anyone who my guts tells me could possibly be in that small minority, I refuse to get into the car with.
Image from Something About Iceland
Hitchhiking comes down to common sense and listening to gut instinct. If I don’t feel right about someone, I’ll refuse to get into their car, even if it causes offence (especially if it causes offence!) As a lone female hitchhiker, I also have one personal rule which I always follow: never get in a car with a man or group of men, only women, couples or families. Even if it means having to wait all day for a ride, that’s my rule. When I’m travelling with a friend, then we’ll travel with anyone who passes our ‘danger sensors’.
Pepper spray is also a good precaution, and Bear spray even more so (which is basically super powerful pepper spray), though always read up on the laws and regulations on pepper/bear spray before you travel, as in some countries its classified as a prohibited weapon, whereas in others its an openly available self-defense weapon. You’d have thought that if you can show that you’ve just saved your own life by pepper spraying a dodgy character in self defense, no one would care that you were carrying a prohibited weapon in the first place… but you never know these days.
I constantly have people lecturing me on the ‘insanity’ of a woman hitchhiking alone, and my answer is always the same: people only have this idea that hitchhiking is a guaranteed way to end up raped and murdered because of the media. You never flick through the paper or turn on the evening news and see ‘News just in, lone female hitchhiker made it safely to her destination’ or ‘New study has shown that 99% of hitchhikers have no problems whatsoever on the road.’ Instead we only hear about the horror stories, the rapes, the murders, the missing people.
I don’t think we can live our lives around what the media says. We can’t not hitchhike simply because there’s a small risk it could end badly. The way I think about it, there is statistically a much greater chance of you going for a drive now and dying in a horrific car accident, or walking outside and being hit by a car than there is of coming to a horrible and gruesome end when hitchhiking. I personally would rather hitch and be considered ‘insane’ for doing so than sit in my house in my ‘safe’ city or town and wrap my life in cotton wool. That to me is insanity.
Photo from Pretty Little Treasures
HitchingHobo rules of Hitching:
- If a woman travelling alone, only hitch with women, families or couples.
- If possible, carry pepper/bear spray or similar.
- If people are confused as to whether you’re a hitchhiker or a prostitute, re-think your wardrobe.
- Have a look into the meaning of the thumbs up in certain countries. E.g. in certain countries such as Greece and Iraq, giving the thumbs up is equivalent to giving the finger.
- Don’t be afraid to offend. A common issue with us Brits, we can be overly polite and considerate to other people’s thoughts and feelings. If I don’t like the look of someone, that British part of me thinks ‘oh but this nice man didn’t have to stop with me, he’ll be offended if I say no’, and I have to slap that side of me away. Its still important to be polite, but as long as you’re polite without going against what you want to do.
- Try to keep your bag with you rather than in the boot. I’ve personally witnessed an Aussie hitcher lose his bag with all of his possessions when the car sped off before he had time to retrieve it from the boot. Even if it makes travel slightly more uncomfortable, its worth it.
- You can check that doors open from the inside by pretending not to have shut the door properly. If not, bring it up!
- Its safer to sit in the front of the vehicle. If anything happens, you can always grab the handbrake!
- Make a note of the registration number and at least pretend to text it to a friend. Make sure that the driver sees you do this and explain as you do it.
- Wear visible clothing and hi vis for when its dark.
- Be sensible when choosing where to stick out your thumb. The amount of times I’ve seen people trying to catch a ride on a blind corner!
- Also don’t be afraid to ask a driver to drop you off somewhere else if you don’t feel they have selected the safest spot.
- Sensible conversation. I never mention that I am a photographer, and my camera is always safely stored in my bag when I’m waiting for a ride, and remains there until they drop me off.
- Emergency exit tip: If you find yourself wanting to get out of the car, but the driver won’t pull over, ready yourself to unlock your seat belt, wait until they come to traffic lights or a stop sign, and then in one swift motion open and door, grab your pack and get out!
- Another one is to complain that you’re travel sick and need to get out now before you ruin his/her car!
- Just have some common sense and listen to your gut!
There are certain countries where I would perhaps think twice before hitchhiking, particularly countries with certain views about women, but generally I think its no where near as dangerous as people think as long as you are sensible.
Don’t allow the media’s horror stories to scare you into wrapping your life in cotton wool!