In July of 2011 I needed to get from Alice Springs to Adelaide. I didn’t want to waste a bunch of money sitting on the boring Greyhound, and flights to and from Alice are prohibitively expensive. I pondered the dilemma for a bit. There’s always rideshare with another backpacker right? I half-heartedly perused the noticeboards at YHA I’d checked into. Not a whole lot of opportunities to be had that week. Perhaps I could wait. Except, deep down I knew what I really wanted. I wanted to give hitchhiking a try. My faithful French companions of the roadtrip I’d just finished suggested it. And I was starting to think it could be a great adventure indeed. Less than a week later I’d arrived at my destination, 1531km away. Nearly 18 hours of actual driving time.
Turns out it was one of the best things I’ve ever decided to do.
If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, here are some things to consider:
1. Be Prepared to Feel Like an Idiot… at First.
One of the most difficult things about starting is that you just feel really stupid, standing on the side of the road like some sort of vagrant, sticking your thumb out to leech a lift off of someone. Try not to think about it like that. Hitchhiking is less about arriving at your destination, and more about the journey and the people you meet. People will find you ridiculous because they don’t understand it. They have a full time job and a car payment, and they’re probably a bit annoyed that you don’t do the same. Forget them and keep an open mind for your first few rides. After a while you won’t feel stupid anymore. In fact, you’ll feel like you’ve hit a goldmine!
2. Don’t Be Scared
Safety is the number one concern that people express to me, especially women. Exactly how many serial killers and rapists do you think are driving on Australian roads? A lot fewer than your imagination might lead you to believe! You’re much more likely to be killed by someone’s terrible driving than anything else. Trust your instincts and be firm and direct if someone oversteps their boundaries as your lift-giver and you’ll be fine.
3. Be Prepared, But Not Too Prepared
I brought a few tins of tuna, a couple tins of beans, a small loaf of bread, some bottles of water, a tent and a sleeping bag. If I got stuck somewhere for a day (which I did) I had food, water, and shelter until a ride came along. Try to get dropped off near a roadhouse or something similar so you have access to goods if you really need them (as well as drinking water). Don’t, however, bring everything you possibly think you could need. The more stuff you have, the more difficult it is for the driver to fit all of your heavy shit in his or her vehicle.
4. Find a Good Spot
This is an art that’s difficult to teach, but there are good places to get picked up, and there are bad places to get picked up. Generally, anywhere inside the city is a bad place to get picked up. That said, I have had some luck asking at gas stations, so you can give that a go if you can’t get out of town. Bigger cities are especially difficult, so either take a bus to the city limits or walk if you’re feeling limber (I’ve done it). Get to an on-ramp going toward where you want to go, or if there’s no motorway, at least to the start of the highway that goes the direction you want. Oh yeah, and make sure the driver has a little room to pull over. This is extremely important because they’ll change their mind if they have to go to a lot of trouble to pull over.
5. Be Presentable
Australians tend to be fairly laid-back folk, so you don’t have to do anything too formal here. Just make sure you don’t look like a serial killer yourself, and you’re probably okay. Shave if you can, or at least tidy up your scruff. Wear decent clothes, or clothes that at least look clean. Wash up in a roadhouse sink if you have to. Just don’t look like a dirty mess basically. Nobody wants a smelly, grimy backpacker sitting next to them. Oh yeah and…
Look like you’re a fun and friendly person. Sometimes drivers pick people up because they feel bad or they want someone to talk to. Often in Australia it’s because they have to travel long distances alone. Give them a reason to like you before they even stop. Show those pearly whites!
7. Be Patient
Sometimes you’ll wait for hours without a ride. Night falls and nobody is stopping. You’re bored of sticking your thumb out. The Greyhound drives by with sniggering backpackers peering out. You’re fed up. Stop. Relax. Remember that you’re not in a hurry (or you shouldn’t be). You WILL get a ride eventually. Bring a book, read when there’s no traffic. Listen to music. Pitch your tent and go to sleep. Remember, it’s about the journey, not about getting there quickly.
8. Share Your Stories
I know it can get dull telling the same story to each new person that picks you up but this is part of the deal. Try to tell the story a different way every time. It’s a great way to solidify your precious memories and articulate your ability to recount them to people later! It’s a win-win trust me!
9. Take Unique Opportunities
I’ve seen things and places hitchhiking that I never would have known about on my own. My very first ride took me took a dune buggy race just outside of Alice Springs. Talk about interesting! One of my rides along the East Coast took me back to theirs for a delicious meal and a beautiful view from a nearby lookout point. This is all a part of the adventure. So if someone offers to show you something cool, take the opportunity. (As always, trust your instincts)
10. Just Do It
This is the most important advice I can give you. You can think of a million reasons why you shouldn’t do it, but you’ll never know this kind of adventure until you try! So put on your pack and stick out your thumb!
If you have any other questions or concerns, or just a story of your own to share, leave me a comment!