Technical guide to hitchhiking through big cities

Clown hitchhiking

At some point I started hitchhiking in Leipzig for fun. Mostly at night on weekends, when I missed the last train and didn't want to walk anymore. Surprisingly this worked very well. Even at a dark corner with black clothes at the main feeder to the city center I got my lifts. Since then I hitchhike regularly also in cities and urban areas. Especially on my long distance tours this is always required when I had to go through the big cities like Quito, Lima, Guatemala City, and Mexico City. It is not always easy, but I would like to explain to you how I cross cities.

Of course you don't have to hitchhike. There is always public transportation (except in the USA). But that would be too easy. The only thing I sometimes allow myself are metros. They go fast and uncomplicated directly through the cities. The last time I used a metro was in Panama-City. Was only one line there. Easy to orientate. Beside this you can also walk of course. I always walk a lot through cities when there is no good place to make progress or find something to eat. But even so, when I start a long trip, I sometimes do 1-2 hours morning walk to get somewhere for the first lift.

Goal: city crossing.

Problem: A lot of traffic, multi-lane roads and people who don't drive far.

In principle, my plan is as follows: I try to get to the core of the city. That usually works somehow. Here it is always the most difficult, the streets the most dense, too much traffic and probably the worst place to get out (depends on the city, but relative to the surrounding countryside you can say so). Once I reach the city center, I look for the main street in my direction and walk out of town. With every meter you travel after the city center, it gets easier. Promised. With every meter and every little lift, your chances of being catapulted out to the countryside increase.. And at some point you will have hitchhiked through the city. That's all I really think about. Actually quite simple, or?

Alternative tactic is to position 50-100km before the city and look for a lift to pass the city. This is how I did it in Lima. And nobody wants to stand and hitchhike in Lima at rush hour. But sometimes you just end up in the city, maybe even unintentionally.

Orientation in the city

I don't have a smartphone so I always have to fight my way through somehow. But this is quite easy. In principle, the key is to find the main road and the closer you get to the city limits, the easier this is as the road network thins out and all major roads usually converge on a main road. I orientate myself roughly by cardinal directions and run to out-of-town. Asking also helps. Most of the time I ask for directions, walk 100m and ask for directions again. I repeat this several times until I find enough consistent answers. Individual people can err. But a lot of people usually know where to go for a long time.

How to get a lift in the city?

Cities have the disadvantage of multi-lane roads, dense traffic and bustling environment. Difficult to attract attention there. In any case, you should have an active body and sign language to the day. Communication here is a bit different than on the green country road. Otherwise, there are a few good ways to get lifts.

Traffic lights

Traffic lights are your friends in the city. You have for example the possibility to position yourself directly in front of the traffic light and approach the waiting cars. This works, but it always gives the impression of a window cleaner and I don't like it that way. I prefer to work with sign language when I choose such a position.

Behind traffic lights is also a good position. I like bus stops or parking areas that start right behind traffic lights. The traffic rolls off slowly and you have a good chance that something will stop. If the street has more than one lane, concentrate on the lane that runs along the stopping area. Mostly only the initial traffic is suitable, since the caravan of cars soon speeds away at high speed, I try not to lift after a certain point. The streets are narrow and I don't want to provoke an accident. Therefore it is also important to have a sufficiently large stopping area, in order not to provoke rear-end collisions or traffic jams.

And I'll say it again: consider stopping area, stopping area, stopping area when hitchhiking in the city! Safety first.

Left-turn lane, sometimes not as orderly as here and a good source of a traffic jam

Ask people

Sometimes, when I'm hiking again, I just ask people on the side of the road who just got into their cars if they can give me a lift. Every meter helps. That's why, unless I have a really good place to hitchhike, I always try to be on the move too. Maybe around the next corner the redeeming lift is already waiting, or at least Something that takes you a bit further along. Large parking lots or shopping malls are also good places to do this. I personally don't do that, because I prefer to stop at the roadside.

Slow-moving traffic

For the car drivers a horror, for me when hitchhiking in the city a welcome opportunity. Traffic jams. Be it traffic lights, roundabouts, left turns, bus terminals, road constrictions….everywhere where tough traffic comes up, you can communicate with the cars in peace and try to find a lift. It works very well.

Keep an eye out for traffic calming events, like this funeral procession

Driveways and side streets with standing traffic

Okay and here comes my absolute favorite and source of eternal movement. Driveways and side streets with standing traffic are the absolute burner to hitchhike in the city. Even if next to you is the big city highway and there are hundreds of cars passing you, hitchhiking there works very badly. Don't waste your time waving a car out of this avalanche of cars. Concentrate on the side streets where less but high quality traffic comes out. I almost always got my lift from such and rarely fished a car off the main road (unless you have a really good position).

Perfect entrance to the city highway with standing traffic. Here I had a lift within 5 minutes

The behavior is quite simple. The car comes to the stop line and will now wait. With the window open you can start a conversation (version cheeky). But you can also just wave your thumb and smile friendly. Often they will ask you where you want to go and what you are doing. I always bend down to the windshield like an English butler to catch the driver's attention in any case. So you should get a lift relatively fast.

Ask opnv

You can do it. Buses, cabs and everything else that takes people for money. It is not my style. Feel uncomfortable with it and leave it therefore. But at night in Leipzig I often hitchhiked cabs and in Bolivia anyway. Our Russian friends from PASL also use cabs during competitions on the highway rings of St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Tip: Sign language for short distance lifts

What also happens, especially in the outskirts, that people tell you they are going only a short distance. But these are still potential lifts that we obviously don't want to miss, and shouldn't either. Build up a repertoire of signs that let drivers know you're only going for a short distance. You must somehow make them understand this. Remember: every meter helps to get out of the juggernaut. In case of emergency you can walk out of the city (for example I walked 2,5 hours through half of La Paz), eventually you will always find a hitchhiking spot. But getting around the city center should be a top priority.

Left turn lane, sometimes not as orderly as here and a good source of a traffic jam

Of course you always have to react according to the situation. What makes sense here? Should I continue walking? Is it worth to wait at this entrance? Should I ask at this shopping center? But here you have some possibilities to move around. I usually need 1-3 hours extra, depending on the size and extent of the Urbanzone, to get through cities. I think that is not too bad.