Lessons in Hitch-hiking
Stanmore Bay Travel Blog› entry 10 of 10 › view all entries
January 5th, 2010 – by: Connie
I've only hitch-hiked a very few times before in my life, all only out of necessity and never alone. Being a petite female lacking in ninja training, I've refrained from partaking in such methods of transport.
When Rod first looked up prices for car hires in the Coromandel, we were beyond shocked at the costs, but we still really wanted to go. He then suggested we hitch-hike. I was hesitant at first, but I knew I would be safe travelling with a partner, especially one as experienced in hitch-hiking New Zealand as him.
He's actually more than experienced. He's some what of an expert on the subject. Several years ago he started Hitch, a ride-sharing website devoted to matching drivers and passengers trying to get around New Zealand. It's sort of like couchsurfing, but for the road. He then partnered with another kiwi, and about a year ago launched Jayride (www.jayride.co.nz), the country's largest ride-sharing website. I'm a personal fan of the website because it aims to encourage ride-sharing while diminishing some of the risks involved in hitch-hiking. Shameless plug perhaps, but I figure I've got enough street cred on Travbuddy to do this now, right? ;)
In any case, Rod shared with me his many years of hitch-hiking advice, some of it obtained when he was taken under the wing of another seasoned hitch-hiker when he was just starting out. He's all about staying safe, and making sure everyone involves walks away with a positive experience.
So here we go:
1) Always hitch-hike during the day. This is common sense since it's just not smart to accept rides from strangers at night, and to be fair to the driver, it's just not safe to pick up passengers at night.
2) Start as early in the day as you can because you never know how long it may take to get to your destination.
3) Your appearance matters. Remember, drivers only have a few brief seconds to make a snap decision about you as a potential passenger. Be clean, have your hair brushed, where neat and clean clothes, and men should be clean-shaven. Smile.
4) Safety, safety, safety! Be careful where you wait on the side of the road because traffic will be moving fast. Make sure you can be very easily seen by passing drivers. Stand clear of the road so drivers can pass by you easily. Position yourself so if a driver wants to stop, there is a convenient shoulder for them to safely pull over.
5) Make a sign. Empty beer cases make excellent cardboard box signs. Just carry a good, thick black marker. Make your sign large, easy to read, and with as few words as possible. One word is ideal. Just right "north" or "east" or "Auckland" and it'll be enough. Rod does like to put a smiley face in the corner though, just to show that we're happy people! And always dispose of it properly - no leaving it on the side of the road, or worse, the car.
6) Be very obvious regarding your intention. Stick that thumb out! Smile, and keep your backpacks in sight on the ground so drivers know right away that you have a plan and aren't just hitching for kicks.
7) Don't be afraid to say no. If your gut says don't get in that car, don't do it. Don't worry about offending the driver who kindly pulled over. If you feel unsafe, just say no. Even if you're already in the car, say you've changed your plans and ask to pull over.
8) Sing for your supper. You're obliging on someone's kindness so give them a story or chat them up. I've heard some great stories from the people I've met on the road, and it's only fair to entertain them with your own fabulous stories.
9) Offer to pay your way. Offer to contribute for petrol. I know someone who carries chocolate in order to give it away as thanks. Leave on a positive note.
People always worry about hitch-hiking safety and with good reason. You never know who you're going to meet, and as a driver, it can be scary to pick up strangers off the road. There have been a few tragic stories in the newspaper, but it's the same with crossing the road, or going out for a beer with some friends. It all comes down to common sense and trusting your gut.
I wouldn't hitch-hike in many, many countries, but I felt safe in New Zealand. The people there are so friendly and genuine. It is one of the few places left where hitch-hiking is still common and violent crime rates are very low. And it always helps to do it with a partner. Some of the drivers we met commented on how they feel more comfortable with a guy and girl pair. Many drivers weren't alone, and the few who were were all men, understandably. My biggest surprise though, was when we were picked up by a family: a mother, father, and baby in the back seat. They were so trusting! It was the first time Rod had hitched in a car with a child - also very understandable. What parent would take that risk? They seemed like honest, decent people, and they told us we looked as though we were too. It just goes to show how safe New Zealand is.
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