The Backpackers' Guide to Hitchhiking

These last few days have been incredible. I've been taking it relatively easy through CT and MA, listening to my body and just enjoying the days. The added benefit of taking shorter days has been the abundance of Trail Magic that I've enjoyed. Strangers and friends both have taken care of me and made sure I've been eating well.

Yesterday, I climbed Mount Greylock (the highest mountain in MA), witnessed stunning views, and even watched paragliders jump off the cliffs! As I made it down to the road, there were two towns--North Adams to the East and Williamstown to the West. I hitched to North Adams after about 20 minutes only to realize that I had listed the Williamstown post office on my blog. So, I set out to find a hitch in the other direction. Luckily, I have learned a little about hitching on this trip; here are some tips.

First off, be safe. This goes without saying but when you are hitchhiking you are literally putting yourself at the mercy of a stranger. It's important to trust your instincts and walk away if something feels off. Hitchhiking isn't a requirement to do the Trail, but it makes things a lot easier.

Look the part. People are willing to go out of their way to help hikers, not strange people on the side of the road. So, keep your pack on (even though you're tired) and make it visible. Stick out your thumb (yes, you'll need to make it clear that you want the ride) and smile! You're more likely to get picked up if you seem friendly. Be ready to go; keep your boots on (your feet will smell) and your belongings in your pack.

Make it easy for the driver. Stand near a place that is easy to pull over--near a parking lot or a wide shoulder. Know where you are trying to go and how far you are from there. They're likely going a little out of their way, so don't make them work any harder than they need to. Stick to smaller groups--one or two people max. And while I hate gender stereotypes, if there's a girl in the group you're more likely to get a ride.

Make conversation. When someone pulls over, before you hop in, chat with them for a minute. It's a great way to help you both feel more safe and you can decide whether this is the right ride for you. Then, in the car, try to get to know them while you can. They were brave enough to trust you (as my new friend Ryan reminded me, we are mutually wary of each other's intentions and both want to be sure the other isn't a murderer) so they probably have some good stories. I've met pastors, photographers, mothers with children, and even a couple on their first date!

Hitchhiking isn't something I will endorse or say is for everyone, but it's been a cool way to connect with strangers I wouldn't have met otherwise. It requires two people who are willing to trust each other; it happens at the junction of one's need and another's willingness to help. The fact that it helps me get where I need to go is in some ways just an added benefit.