There are some essential things you should remember whenever you are going hitchhiking. The Hitchhikers' Guide to Hitchhiking suggests you keep these in mind when starting your career as an enthusiastic thumber:
Take the most used route Edit
The shortest is not the best in all the cases. If there is no traffic, there are no rides to share. (Think where the trucks are going: industrial areas, etc.)
However, in many countries, trucks are no longer allowed to pick up hitch-hikers as they are not covered by their insurance and their employers have told them not to. There may be individual truckers who ignore this, but bear it in mind.
Carry a good map Edit
You want to know where you are going. It also helps if gas stations are marked, and you don't need city maps.
For example, the Shell Euroatlas is good for Europe, however, it's not so easy to find.
In Scandinavia (especially Finland) - the Esso country maps are great, and free from any Esso petrol station in Finland.
It's recommended you have a map that's at least to 1 to 1,000,000 ratio, however, 1 to 750,000 is perfect.
Where to hitchhike - Be in a good, safe spot Edit
Be in a place where the cars can see you from distance and stop safely. You don't want to be driven over. This is actually the biggest danger in hitchhiking.
This is the case that the drivers consider as well. Few drivers stop unless it is safe for them. Some do, but you shouldn't count on them, as they are the minority.
Stay positive, smile and laugh Edit
It is easy to become bored or frustrated when waiting for a ride, but remember that a good attitude will help you get rides. Keep your spirits up by singing, laughing and simply smiling. A grumpy hitchhiker may get rides out of sympathy, but a happy hitchhiker will get better rides and go further distances in less time.
Make eye contact with drivers Edit
Hitchhiking means making a connection with a person driving by, convincing him or her to stop. To best do this, make sure drivers can see the 'whites of your eyes'. Remove sunglasses and keep your hat higher on your head. Smile while you look at the oncoming cars. If you are looking a different direction or your head is down it is easy for drivers to pass by without relating to you. If you cannot see the person in the car, just look at the windshield where a face should be. Focus on each car until it passes. If traffic is light, let your gaze follow each car expectantly. If there is too much traffic, pay attention to each nearby car for a moment. The more you do this, the less time you will wait for rides.
'Mark Snyder and his co-workers (1974) found that hitchhikers doubled the number of ride offers by looking drivers stright in the eye. A personal approach, as my panhandler knew, makes one feel less anonymous, more responsible.' (Source: Social Psychology, Myers. p. 503 Social Relations)
About the use of a sign Edit
A thumb or hand gesture will work fine for hitchhiking (depending on the region). But in some cases, the use of a sign displaying your destination or general direction will increase your odds. What are those cases?
When you're hitchhiking on a road that goes to plenty of destinations: The driver will be more likely to stop if he/she knows that you're going the same way he/she does.
When the traffic is too heavy: The driver will be less likely to say "Somebody else is going to stop" if he/she sees that you want to go exactly his/her way.
On another hand, the use of a sign on a road where everyone goes the same way (for example: a highway service station) can decrease your odds, since someone that would be going halfway to your destination is less likely to stop if he/she sees how far you're going. And halfway is still good on more than a 200 km trip.
In the same spirit. If you're going from Barcelona to Amsterdam, consider writing "Paris", or just Perpignan, on your sign, when you start in Barcelona. Few people will be going to Amsterdam or even Paris, directly.
To make the sign, it's better to use cardboard or similar with a thick black marker. Write neatly in big, block letters the name of a city or the name of a road, or both. You're in charge.
Say no, if you don't feel safe Edit
Trust your instinct, when it says no. This doesn't happen often, though. Minimizing risk is not being pussy, it's being smart. If you don't feel comfortable with someone, just don't ask him/her, there will be enough other cars.
Finding accommodation Edit
On longer hitchhiking trips you may need to camp along the way, if you did not receive a ride to your intended destination. Sometimes you can find a hostel or local host for the night, but just in case: bring a sleeping bag and tarp or tent with you. Make sure to bring clothes that will suit you for night weather.
It is also a good idea to check out CouchSurfing.com (more active) and Hospitality Club (good for finding phone numbers in smaller places) for free accommodation. There are many hitchhikers and it is easy to find a couple of places to stay while on the road or even at your destination. A fresh shave and shower will also greatly increase the chances of getting picked up.
Use buses and trains Edit
It's not worth trying to hitchhike at all costs. Sometimes it's just more convenient to take a bus to get to a highway or to your final destinations. This is the case especially when leaving or arriving at big cities.
Utilizing online ridesharing services Edit
A plethora of online sites dedicated to ridesharing have been developed over the past few years. These range from suburban carpools to sites dedicated to one off cross country roadtrips. Popular services to check include LiftSurfer, Shareyourride,Zimride and erideshare. Beta released services include CarShareRides.