Tell us a little about yourself and your experience hitchhiking.

I first tried hitchhiking as a novel experience during university, hitchhiking 1,600 miles from Leeds (UK) to Morocco for charity. At this time, I didn't think of it as a practical means of transport, but when I tried it many years later, I soon realized that it was an efficient and low budget way of getting from place to place. During a six month journey around Europe, I hitchhiked around 23,000km (16,000 miles) through more than twenty countries. Since that extended hitchhiking journey, I have used hitchhiking as a practical, low budget method of transport whenever necessary.

Why did you decide to hitchhike?

I was working as an English teacher in South Korea and I wasn't overly happy with the lifestyle I was leading or the person that I was becoming. I decided to give it all up and hit the road, trusting in the goodness of strangers. Hitchhiking seemed like an affordable way to travel long term, so I bought myself a tent and sleeping bag, then headed on my way.

One of the reasons I chose hitchhiking as a method of transport is because when you visit a place, you don't get to interact with the locals. By hitchhiking, I got to meet and interact with many locals whom I would not normally have come into contact with. This allowed me to get the feel of places from people who actually lived there, as well as insider tips on what to do.

How did you decide where to go hitchhiking? 

I listened to what people said, I looked at maps, and sometimes I just went wherever people were going. My route wasn't planned out and I trusted mostly in others to guide me. My path become fairly organic, changing day on day as I heard of new places to go.

Any advice on how to get drivers to pick you up?

I normally stood on the road with my thumb out, the old fashioned way. A friend advised me to use a sign that said '20km' as many drivers are going 20km and it is a great way to get them to stop. This way you can find out if they are traveling in the same direction, whereas writing a specific town name causes many drivers to pass you by if they do not have the same end destination. Using the 20km sign got me rides of several hundred kilometers on multiple occasions. I have heard of other people who approach drivers at rest areas, but I prefer to let drivers come to me willingly. 

There is a lot of stigma about who gets picked up easiest, but I have hitchhiked successfully alone (with and without a beard), with both females and males, as well as in larger groups of four. In Iceland, I hitchhiked with three other guys without a problem.

What kind of people picked you up?

There is no stereotype, but generally the people are friendly people - all the unfriendly people pass you by. Several people invited me back to their homes and many more offered me food and drink.

During my extended Euro hitch, I received 227 rides, 172 of which were given by males, 22 by females, and 33 by vehicles that contained both males and females. Although this suggests a strong bias towards male lifts, I think the numbers are partially skewed by the fact that most truckers and long distance drivers I encountered were male.

Did you ever feel unsafe? What safety tips do you recommend when hitchhiking?

I have only felt unsafe twice while hitching, and both times were due to language barriers - both situations turned out fine when I finally understood what was happening. Besides the risk of being injured in a car accident, I have found hitching to be fairly safe by using my common sense. When someone stops to offer me a ride, I approach the window, talk to them, and see what I think of the person before getting into the car. If I think there is something off about the situation, I simply say 'no thank you,' and wait for another ride. Never underestimate the value of intuition.

What are the best parts of hitchhiking?

You meet people you wouldn't otherwise meet, you go places you wouldn't otherwise go, and you travel for longer than you would otherwise travel (due to the low cost). All of this leads to experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life. We pass by so many days in life, days without meaning - finally living through days that you will remember is a wonderful change.

What are the biggest challenges in hitchhiking?

Learning to deal with the highs and lows. Sometimes you feel bad when you can't get a ride, or when you're sheltering in an abandoned building to escape the rain, but you learn to hold tight because tomorrow will be a new day. When the good times come, live them and love them.

Any helpful resources or links on this topic?

HitchWiki is a wonderful resource for hitchhikers, offering tips from experienced hitchhikers as well as good spots to get rides from. I have also published extensive hitchhiking advice and wrote a book, The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World, about the fear and thrills of hitchhiking for half a year. This book answers most questions I have ever been asked about hitchhiking with regards to how to start, how to deal with fear, and how to live with small amounts of money.