There I was, standing on the side of the road with my thumb up and my timid hand shaking - I had made the decision to hitchhike for the first time. Hitchhiking is widely popular in New Zealand among travelers, but after years of seeing horror films and gruesome news articles, I had my doubts about its safety. Even though I had been reassured numerous times that hitchhiking is surprisingly safe in this part of the world, I still attempted to book an expensive $60 shuttle to the start of the Roy’s Peak hike in Wanaka. However, there were no shuttles operating in Wanaka at that time of year, so I found myself with only one realistic option: hitchhiking. I gathered up my courage and decided to take the risk. That day in April I was picked up by three young men from Germany and Austria. We decided to share the experience and brave the eight-hour hike together. We all had a great time and the views from Roy’s Peak were awesome. I continued to hitchhike while I was in New Zealand and I never had a bad experience. Every time I stuck out my thumb, I knew I would be swept up into a grand adventure.
Hitchhiking in New Zealand is overwhelmingly popular among backpackers. The government will tell you not to do it, which insures they are not cited for any crimes that are committed towards travelers. However, I strongly encourage everyone to face their fears and seek rides from strangers while they are in New Zealand. Of course, there is some risk involved in hitchhiking. But in my opinion, the rewards far outweigh the risks. If you face your fears, you can open up a whole new world of great adventures. Below is a list of tips that will help minimize some of the risks of hitchhiking.
- Ensure you will be picked up. Pick a spot with traffic, but not too much traffic that it is dangerous for you and the driver. Always wave and have a smile on your face. No one wants to pick up a grumpy person. It is also suggested that you have a sign that shows your destination. Travelers are more likely to pick up people that seem to have a purpose and direction.
- Make it easy for the drivers. Always pick a spot where you are easily visible to drivers. It is also important that you pick a location that is easily accessible to cars. If a driver can’t pull over safely, they won’t stop.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Always research the area and plan out the most likely route that will be taken to your destination. Don’t hesitate to follow your instincts if the driver or situation feels dangerous.
- Travel with a companion if possible. I was traveling solo, but it is always safer if you have a partner with you. However, drivers may be wary about picking up multiple people. As a solo traveler, I often stood on the side of the road with another person who was also hitchhiking - for security, but also to socialize.
- Skip standing on the side of the road. Make acquaintances in hostels or parking lots and ask them for a ride. This gives you the luxury of gauging someone’s character before asking them for a ride. It also eliminates the risk of you being taken advantage of on the side of the road.
- Don’t feel like you have to stick to the plan. Most people that pick you up simply enjoy the company of travelers and want to help people. However, don’t feel like you have to stick to your destination or have to join them somewhere just because they are giving you a ride. If the situation feels uncomfortable or dangerous, change your plans and ask to be dropped somewhere different.
- Keep someone you trust in the loop. Whenever I was traveling somewhere alone, I would send my father and my fiancée a message with my plans. If you are staying in a hotel or hostel, it is also advised that you inform reception of your plans. I did this on a few occasions when I was going hiking alone and hitchhiking solo.
- Just be friendly. Remember that drivers are also taking a risk by picking up strangers on the side of the road. They are showing a great deal of kindness by giving rides to travelers. Please make an effort to socialize and be kind.