The complete guide to hitchhiking

For most travelers, even vagabonds, hitchhiking is not something that normally enters into the list of travel options.

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, 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

Posted by | Comments (18)  | June 11, 2009
Category: General

18 Responses to “The complete guide to hitchhiking”

  1. US State Parks Says:

    When I was a young man I hitched hiked a lot and when I drove I always stopped for hitch hikers if I could. I wouldn’t hitch hike today and I won’t pick up hitch hikers. There’s too many crazies out there to either hitch or pick up some one you don’t know. As to legalities, It is illegal to hitch hike or stop for hitch hikers on any and all Interstate Highways.

  2. Daniel W Says:

    Dude, what a buzz-kill. I think the first comment should’ve been more like “wow, that’s pretty awesome! Doing your part to limit consumption of petroleum, traveling on a dime, meeting interesting people, seeing amazing places, and having good stories to tell…can it get much better?”

    Can my comment be the first one please?

  3. ELF Says:

    Why do suppose there are more crazies nowadays than when you were a young man? Because the media makes you think we’re all terrorists, serial killers and rapists? What made you change your mind between when you were young and now? Granted, I have only hitchhiked myself a few times, but never did I ever feel uncomfortable – even as a female.

  4. How to Hitchhike America (and maybe not get arrested) « Elliott Garlock Says:

    […] Travel by elliottgarlock I recently finished reading Rolf Pott’s classic travel book Vagabonding. This book will teach you how […]

  5. Larry Says:

    I love seeing Hitch Hiking become a way to travel again. It lost some of it’s flare for a while but for sure it is on the rise. I have hitch hiked all over and never had any real issues, maybe a few people were odd but that just made for a better story later.

    It was always a great adventure and there is nothing like being young and not knowing where you will be sleeping or who you will meet next.

    Great story, I added it to our website

  6. Larry Says:

    Sorry for the double post, for some reason I thought the first one was rejected, maybe because I added a website. Anyways sorry for the double post and keep the good comments coming.

  7. No one still hitchhikes in the U.S., do they? | Says:

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  8. NEWS: Short Cuts—Hitchhiking Hints, a Contest to Win an Inn, Free Wine, and More « Rand McNally on the Road Says:

    […] advocating hitchhiking as a safe way to travel, but if you can’t be deterred, here’s a really handy guide to what you need to know, courtesy of Rolf Potts’ […]

  9. Bryan Says:

    Wow remember the 60’s / 70’s I hitched to work for a year, faster than driving, lot of gay guys picked me up, I just acted like I didn’t notice.
    Used to give a ride to anyone (pay back to the world)girls especially.
    It was safe then, and would probably safe now, but now we live in fear of that one in a million incident
    It was a great way to get around for kids

  10. RB Says:

    As a father, I was not real sure of letting my son travel this way at first. We have discussed it and now keep in touch when he is on the road. He has seen more of the world than I have, and I was in the Marine Corps for 21 years. If you get a chance go for it.

  11. terri Says:

    I was just wondering if anyone hitchhiked anymore, I used to all the time but haven’t in a while and never see anyone thumbing a ride, glad to see it’s still a travel option!

  12. other vagabonds « .: café rick Says:

    […] 2, 2009 · Leave a Comment I found a blog which is called vagabonding and tells the evolution of hitchhkiking in a slideshow and compiles the idea in one sentence: But […]

  13. mojo Says:

    I helped organize somehting simular. We did a race with 12 people hitchhiking accross Canada a few years ago. We had a hostel international sponsor and and waited for people at each major city before moving on. took 10 days to get everyne from halifax to vancouver (including a few days of drinking,naked body searches, and dead birds, and underage pornostars.) Im in Japan at the moment… was thinking of trying to get people on board for a race from shanghai to paris next year ish…

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  15. Lindsey Says:

    My Uncle Jake was your ride to Denver on July 15, 2009. Me, my Grandma and Jake just finshed reading and watching your slideshow, and we loved it!! My Grandma loved the book Walk Across America and your travels remind her of it. Jake wants to know how your girlfriend is doing. We also want you to know that you are welcome to stay with any of us here in Joplin, MO if you are ever out this way.

    Be safe!!

  16. frank Says:

    I liked reading this,
    will keep fallowing this website in the future,

    Im also did a lot of hitchhiking, traveled doing it for years.
    Here is my hitchhiking site :

    Anyway, I am going to go explore the rest of this site.
    You should make a twitter.

  17. » Finding local guides and experts through Guidehop :: Vagablogging :: Rolf Potts Vagabonding Blog Says:

    […] guides include folks like Aaron Bell, who we featured in a June 2009 post on hitchhiking. He’s one of the guys behind the site, and he exemplifies the type of people you’ll […]

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