Hitch-hiking is a necessary part of the trail.
You will need to go into towns to resupply on food. There are some towns that the trail runs right through; like Hot Springs, NC; Damascus, VA; Harpers Ferry, WV; and Dalton, MA. However, there will come a time when you are out of food and town is 8 miles off the trail. It can be scary at first, but once you get comfortable with it, hitch-hiking can be a lot of fun.
Reasons Why Hitch-Hiking is Awesome:
Meet the Locals. Most of the trail towns are really small, and hikers bring in a lot of extra business. For that reason, locals like hikers and are happy to give us rides. So don’t think that only creeps pick up hitch-hikers; normally it’s a local that has been seeing hikers come in and out of town for years.
Save your Feet. After I’ve hiked 10 miles to get to the road crossing leading to town, the last thing I want to do is put in an extra 5 non-trail miles. No, thanks. I’ll stick out my thumb and wait for a ride.
Get Rides Fast. If you are a woman, you will get a ride quickly. I’ve never waited more than 15 minutes for a ride while hitch-hiking alone. Hiker guys love hitching with girls because they get rides faster. The perfect combination? Two girls hitching together; it’s safe and fast.
I’ve never been freaked out or legitimately concerned for my safety while hitch-hiking. That said, it is still smart to take precautions.
Be Prepared. Before you even try to thumb a ride, you should take a few precautions. Put your money, cards and ID, cell phone, and knife or pepper spray in your pockets. This is so you can either defend yourself if necessary or make a quick escape and still have money and a phone.
Get a Partner. This isn’t always possible, but if there is another hiker around who is also going to town, go ahead and hitch with him. Just know that it might take longer to get a ride when you’re hitching with a guy.
Trust Your Instinct. Women have good instincts, so trust yours. If someone offers you a ride and something doesn’t seem quite right, don’t feel bad about saying no. There will always be another ride that will stop. Good excuses to say no? If someone offers an unsolicited ride say, “Thanks, but I’m waiting for my boyfriend.” If you had your thumb out but the ride that stops seems creepy say, “Oh crap, I think I left my trekking poles/ headlamp/ whatever a mile back. Thanks for stopping though.”
Tips for Hitch-Hiking:
- Know where you’re going. Use your phone GPS or the map in your guide book (the AT Guide by AWOL always has town maps) to figure out what road you need to take.
- Find a good spot where cars can easily pull off.
- For long-distance hitching, remember that it’s illegal to hitch on the interstate. It’s OK to stand on the on-ramps though. You won’t have to do this to get into any trail towns, but you might if you decide to go on a side-adventure or skip part of the trail.
- Take your hat off. People are more likely to trust you if they can see your face.
- Smile and stand up. Giving off positive body language is important.
- Wave at people, even if they’re driving the other way. They might turn around and give you a ride anyway.
- Keep your pack propped up in front of you. You want it to be obvious that you’re a hiker and not some nut job.
- Keep it simple. Just stick your thumb out. You don’t need a sign.