Once a day i started to hitchhike within my hometown Leipzig, just for fun. Mostly in the night during the weekend, when i missed the last Tram and i was too lazy to walk home. I have to say: It worked suprisingly well. Even in a very dark corner with all black clothes on the main entrance road of Leipzig i found my rides. Since then i started to hitchhike regulary in urban areas. Especially during my long distance routes it was important, when i had to cross big cities like Quito, Lima, Mexico City or Guatemala City. It was not always easy, but i would like to explain you, how i hitchhike through cities.
On note before we begin. Of course you don´t need to hitchhike. You always can find public transport (except in the US). But that would be too easy, wouldn´t it? The only thing i took from occasionally was a Metro line. They often go fast and uncomplicated directly through the cities. Last time i did this in Panama-City. They only had one line. Easy navigation. Beside that you also can walk for sure. Usually i walk alot through cities, especially to find a good spot to hitchhike, or do make progress or to find some nice Street Food on my way. But anyway, if i go on a long distance trip, i sometimes start with a 1-2 hours morning walk, to get somewhere i want to and catch the first ride fresh as fuck.
Objective: Crossing cities.
Problem: Too much traffic, multi-lane roads and people who don´t drive far.
Generally my strategy is as followed: Try to get to the core of the city somehow. This is most of the time possible. Here it is also the most difficult, cause the roads are narrow, too much traffic and the worst place to get out (depends, yes. But compared to the outskirts for sure). As soon as i got to the city centre i try to find the main road out and start walking towards the other end. With every meter i get away from the city centre, it is getting more easy. Promise. With every little lift you get a higher chance, that the next car is the one, that shoots you out to the country side. And at one point you will be out of the city. This is all i think about in this situation. Easy, isn´t it?
An alternative strategy is, to get out of the car 50-100km in front of the city and find a lift that goes through. So i did in Lima. Worked well and you don´t want to end up in Lima during rush-hours hitchhiking., to be honest. But sometimes you just end up in the city even if you tried to avoid t.
Basics: Orientation in the city
I don´t have a smartphone, which means somehow i have to fight my way through. But it is simple. Your most important obejctive is, to find the main road out of the city and the further you go along this towards the end, the easier our whole project gets, because the road system gets smaller and most of the other roads lead connect with our main road. I roughly find orientation through the sun and the cardnal directions and start walking till i find something promising. Asking people is also fine. Most of the time i ask someone, walk 100m further and ask the next one and repeat this several times till i found enough congruent informations. Single people can be wrong, but the crowd intelligence will know the way.
How do i get a ride in the city?
As said, cities have the disadvantage of dense traffic, multi-laned roads and being as lively as a cheese during a hot day. Difficult to find attention here. However you try to find a ride here, an active body- and sign-language i recommended. Communication between you and the car can be a bit more aggressive here, than on the abandoned country side road. Beside that i do some little tricks to find rides.
Traffic lights are your best friends in cities. You can take position directly in front of the traffic light and talk to the waiting cars. It works, but you also give the impression of a window washer, which i dont like too much. I rather work purely with sign language, when i take this position. If the window goes down, the ride is almost safe.
Behind traffic lights is another good position. I like bus stops or parking areas, which begin directly behind the traffic lights. The traffic starts rollingslowly and you have a good chance that something will stop. If it is a multi lane road, focus on the lane which is near your position. Most likely nobody will pull over three lanes, to get you (except he i looking for hitchhikers and picks up everything he sees). Often the best time is, when the traffic starts from the traffic lights, because the cars far behind will be already quite fast, when they pass by and unlikely pull out of this bulk. At a certain point i even stop trying, because i don´t want to provoke an accident. Also it is important to have a good keeping area, to not provoke any traffic jams.
I repeat this: Keeping area, keeping area, keeping area! Safety first.
Sometimes when i am walking i just ask people beside the road, which just went into their car, if they could give me a lift. Every meter counts. Thats also why i move most of the time, if i dont have a really good place to hitchhike. Maybe around the next corner your relieving ride is waiting for you, or at leats something that gets you out a little bit further. If you want to ask, you can also go to big shopping centres and check the parking lot. I personally dont like thisl because i wanna stay on the road.
Stop and go for every driver a nightmare but for me a welcoming chance to get a ride. Traffic jams, caused by roundabouts, traffic lights, left-turn vehicles, Bus-Terminals or bottleneck roads…everywhere you find those slow going car bulks you can start communication and try to get a ride. Works really well. If i see a traffic jam, my hitchhiking instinct starts to jump up and down and claps his hands.
Gateways and by-roads with standing vehicles
And here is my alltime favourite and the source of unllimited movement. Gateways and by-roads with standing vehicles are absolutely amazing. Even if you have the big city highway with hundreds of cars beside you, forget it. Don´t waste time trying to flag down a car out of this sea of cars. Focus on the gateway, where little high quality traffic comes out. Most of the time i get my lift through the gateway and rarely on the main street (except you have a really good position as mentioned above).
Behaviour is simple. The car will have to wait on the gateway. If the window is open, you can just start a conversation here (brazen version). You also can just thumb and smile friendly. Often they are suprised and ask you, where you wanna go and what the hell you are doing there. Sometimes i bend myself like and english buttler towards their windo, to get the attention of the driver. You should find relatively fast a lift like this.
Ask public transport
You can do this. Buses, Taxis and everything else, which carries people for money. Not my style, i go the long way and don´t feel well with this. But in Leipzig at night, as well as in Bolivia i hitchhike successfully with Taxis. Also our PASL friends hitchhike Taxis on Moskau and St. Petersburg city ring.
Something useful: Sign language for a short-distance-rides
Which happens very often near cities is, that you encounter people that indicate to only go a short way and won´t take you. Og course these are potential lifts, that we don´t want and shouldn´t miss. Be prepared with a bunch of signs, that try to make clear, that you just wanna go for a short distance too. However you make them understand this. Remember: Every meter counts to get out of this moloch.
In emergency case you gotta walk out of the city, or through the whole city (like i did 2,5 hours through La Paz), but at a certan point the hitchhiking spot will come for sure. To overcome the city centre has highest priority.
Of course you should always be smart and aware and make decisions about: What makes sense here? Should i walk on? Would it be worth to wait at this gateway? Should i ask at the shopping centre? You have several options to move. I need, depended on the size and extention of the city, 1-3 hours extra to cross through cties with hitchhiking. I think this is not too bad. Warm roads.