But for others, like Aaron Bell, who has been hitchhiking around the world for seven years, hitchhiking is more than an option, it’s the main way to get around.
To prove that hitchhiking doesn’t deserve the reputation for danger that it’s acquired over the years, Bell has written a complete guide to hitchhiking, chock full of all the advice (and perhaps more importantly, mistakes) he’s gleaned from years of thumbing it around the world.
In addition to sharing what he knows and teaching others how to be successful hitchhikers, Bell has also created a hitchhiking race that takes place each May. Contestants (this year there were 21 people) hitchhike from Bell’s hometown of Van, Texas to Gorges State Park in North Carolina. According to Google Maps the trip should take about 14 hours. This year’s winning team did it in a very impressive 14.5 hours.
But of course the point isn’t necessarily to win, the point is to get other people involved in Bell’s passion — relying on total strangers to move you around the world.
To that end Bell breaks race participants into groups of 3 with each group comprised of 2 men and 1 woman. Each group also has at least one experienced hitchhiker per team. That way, people who would never normally hitchhike feel more comfortable (you can check out some photos from one of this years participants over at Flickr).
What’s really interesting about Bell’s tales of the race is not so much the contest, but how much drivers — the people that stop for the hitchhikers — get into the race. Several have even ended up going way out of their way to help contestants. Some drivers have even scrapped their own plans and joined the hitchhikers for a week of camping out atop the falls in Gorges State Park.
So what about the standard Hollywood plotline of serial killers picking up hitchhikers? Well, as Bell dryly notes regarding the contest, “you can have 1 serial killer but not 21.” Not taking comfort in the safety of numbers? Consider that, statistically speaking, you’re far more likely to die in a car or plane crash than you are to end up being picked up by a serial killer.
Take it from Bell, who has more first-hand experience thumbing it on the road than the rest of us combined — hitchhiking a viable, and cheap, way to travel. Bell has already hitched his way through some 20 countries accepting rides in everything from cars to sailboats to ox-drawn carts.
And lest you think Bell is crazy, consider the growth of hitchhiking on the web — sites like Hitchhikers.org, RideShare Online or even Couchsurfing are all networks of like-minded hitchhiking, couch surfing fans. The only difference is that with the internet you can avoid spending days at the side of the road.
But for Bell that’s half the fun — the chance encounters with strangers that you won’t find if you don’t put yourself out there at the side of the road (and according to Bell, if you follow his advice you’ll never wait days for a ride).
If you’ve ever thought about hitchhiking, but don’t know how to get started, check out Bell’s advice in this handy guide to hitchhiking:
If you have questions, want some additional tips on hitchhiking or if you’re interested in participating in next year’s hitchhiking race, you can reach Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org.