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Hitchhiking: The Pros and Cons

The pros and cons of hitchhiking? Pro: cheap. Con: dangerous. It's convenient, but unpredictable. No car repair hassles, but the hassle of standing in the rain, waiting hours for a ride. I hitchiked 20,000 miles when I was young, sleeping under bridges from Canada to Mexico. I loved it, but I wouldn't consider hitchhiking as a primary mode of travel ever again.

There are still times when I put out my thumb. The most recent was in the mountains of Ecuador. My wife and I were visiting Las Cajas National Park, hiking along ancient Incan rock walls. We missed the bus back to Cuenca. There may have been another one coming, but we didn't want to wait until dark to find out. Out went the thumb.

To hitchhike is "Ir a dedo" in Ecuador; to "go by finger." The third vehicle to pass, stopped for us. It was a meat delivery truck, and we were in Cuenca in an hour. When the driver refused to take any money, we left him with a large avacado.

If you ever consider hitchhiking in other countries, ask the locals about it. In Ecuador, for example, I've been told you can't get a ride in the southern part of the country. Also, in some areas it's customary to at least offer something for the ride.

Hitchiking In The United States

The pros and cons of hitchhiking are obvious, and the balance is on the side of the "cons." It's difficult to get a ride now. However, it's still legal in most places in the U.S., except on freeways. The point on the entrance ramp where you cross the legal line is decided by the police officer that tickets you.

At sixteen, I was stuck for hours on a Montana highway. A nice old lady picked me up and explained why I couldn't get a ride. On that same stretch of highway, a few years before, the police found a hitchhiker cooking a driver's heart over a campfire.

Ten years later I caught an item on the news: They were releasing the canibal hitchhiker, now that he was sane. You can see why drivers may be hesitant to pick up hitchhikers. The lesson? Try not to look like a Psycho killer when you hitchhike.

One circumstance it may be useful to hitchhike, even if you never have, is when you need to return to your car after backpacking. Trails often come out of the wilderness in a different location than where they start. Since there probably won't be taxis there, hitchhiking could be your only way back to your car.

This is relatively safe and easy, in these circumstances. National Parks like Yellowstone are almost the only places we've even seen hitchhikers lately, and drivers are comfortable picking up people that are obviously backpackers.

Hitchhiking Safely

Follow some basic safety guidelines. Be prepared for many possible circumstances. Have rainwear, in case you can't get out of the rain. Have food and water, since you never know how long you'll wait for a ride. Bring warm clothing if cold weather is possible. Also, always have a highway map with you.

Use intuition and common sense when hitchhiking, and don't be afraid to say no to a ride. Maybe I shouldn't have taken a ride with that cocaine-snorting guy in Idaho when I was sixteen. Then again, maybe my intuition wasn't so bad. He turned out to be a decent guy, and brought me hundreds of miles closer to home.

About the Author: Steve Gillman hit the road at sixteen, and traveled the U.S. and Mexico alone at 17. Now 42, he travels with his wife Ana, whom he met in Ecuador. For travel stories, tips and a free Travel Secrets e-book, visit:

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