Traveling through America by car, many people dream of it, but few actually realize that dream. It has quite a price tag attached to it… You have the plane ticket that you have to pay for, you have to rent a car, pay for gas and pay for a stay in a motel, campsite or hotel every night.
A way to make the total package a bit cheaper will mainly interest the more adventurous types among us. Imagine that you don’t have to pay for both steps 2 and 3, that quickly saves a few hundred or even thousands of dollars, we call this hitchhiking or ‘hitch-hiking’.
Imagine if you could also skip the last step, the stay, then the whole thing would be even cheaper, but admittedly also more daring. This is called hitch-hiking with ‘stealth camping’ or invisible camping (wild camping), in the bushes next to the road.
1. Hitch Hiking
You stick out your thumb and wait until a friendly driver with too many free seats in his car stops for you. You get in and drive a few kilometers closer to your destination free of charge. The theory is that simple.
Now the practice: In the eastern USA hitchhiking is more difficult than in the west, to the extent that you run the risk of being completely discouraged by the start of your journey (assuming you start in the east of course). That is why several ‘experts’ advise everyone to leave somewhere west of Chicago.
Everything further east is one big nightmare. I myself can confirm this, if possible leave the eastern states untouched, but it is not impossible to get through. There are good-hearted people everywhere who want to pick up a lonely hitchhiker, you just have to wait a little longer there. Some general tips:
- be taken care of! Someone who looks clean is much more likely to be taken.
- choose a good location. (more info see below)
- smile! be friendly, even if they don’t stop, there is a chance that they saw you too late and they drive back to pick you up (has happened to me several times!)
- Keep your belongings close to you as much as possible, in case you have to walk…
- trust your instincts, look people in the eyes, be friendly but not naive, a refused ride is not a disaster
Location is everything for a hitchhiker. No location, no game. That’s just how it is. Make sure you are somewhere clearly visible, preferably along a long straight stretch, wear light clothing (light color), make sure that the road has a safe ‘stopping strip’ along the side, so that cars can stop easily and comfortably and, above all: safely . Also, don’t try to hitchhike along a road where cars are driving too fast. The slower the better in general.
These are a real gold mine for the long-distance lifters among us. I have personally experienced hitchhiking over approximately 100 km during the day from 7am to 6pm, in bends and criss-cross with detours, and even having to walk for a long time.
And then I finally arrived at one of those truck stops around 6 p.m., and within half an hour to 45 minutes I had secured a 1,600 mile lift! And I don’t think that had much to do with luck, truck stops are just incredibly useful if you want to get somewhere.
It takes a completely different tactic to get a ride at a truck stop than just along the road. There are 2 ways: either you just stand at the exit, raise your thumb, and hope someone will stop. This can be quite efficient, but I’ve never tried it myself. Mainly because it was too hot to stand in full sun, and because the second way also worked. This second way is to stop by each truck and start a friendly conversation.
Most truckers are genuinely happy with a little attention in their lonely lives, and in 9 out of 10 cases they will return the favor. Which doesn’t mean that they will take you with them in 9 out of 10 cases… First and foremost, spontaneity is even more important here than appearance. You have to be able to convince the trucker with about 5 to 10 sentences that you are a sympathetic European who will not kill him during one of the many hours on the road. And more than that, the trucker also prefers to have someone nice next to him during such a long journey, instead of an annoying guy. Roughly half can convince you that taking yourself along can be quite fun, but 90% will say that the insurance policy does not allow it: just take someone along (or they use it as an excuse, of course). That still leaves about 5%, or 1 in 20, that you will take with you. Don’t be too picky here, truckers can look tough most of the time, but deep down they’re pretty much all ok. (True murderous psychopaths usually don’t have a job). You can also just sit at the entrance with your backpack, with your nose in your road atlas, and a large sign WEST” next to you. This usually works