Matt Forney
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Hitchhiking on the Highway

highway

This is an excerpt from my book The Hitchhiking Crash Course.

The vast majority of states outlaw hitchhiking on Interstates by virtue of outlawing pedestrian traffic on them period. This is ostensibly for safety reasons: at speeds of 55 miles per hour and up, you’re guaranteed roadkill if you get hit by a car. Most states define the highway as including the grassy median separating the lanes as well as the grass on both sides of the road (up to where the highway is fenced off), so you can’t circumvent this law by staying off the pavement.

However, a few western states, including Iowa, Wyoming and Oregon, allow pedestrians to walk on highways. This is because, again, the road network in these states is less developed. While driving on Interstates is optional in eastern states like New York or Virginia—though you’ll spend more time on the road, you can still get to your destination—they’re a necessity out west because in many cases, the Interstates are the only roads connecting towns and cities together.

If you’re in a state which allows foot traffic on Interstates, you can get a ride by just waltzing onto the shoulder and walking towards your destination. Depending on where you are and what time of year it is, you may not even have to signal anyone: someone will pull over and pick you up of their own volition. The major disadvantage of highway hitching is that you have to remain extra-alert of your surroundings so you don’t get turned into a road rug. Don’t try this unless you’re well-rested and at 100 percent brain capacity. Additionally, since the highways are fenced off, if you can’t get a ride on the Interstate, you have no choice but to walk all the way to the next exit or climb a barbed-wire fence to get out.

I’ve attempted highway hitching in three separate locations: on I-35 north of Elkhart, Iowa; on I-90 west of Gillette, Wyoming; and again on I-90 west of Three Forks, Montana. In Iowa, not only could I not get a ride, my nerves were wracked due to fear that I would get hit by one of the many cars on the road. I eventually disembarked at the next exit because I couldn’t take it anymore. In Wyoming and Montana, where car traffic is far less dense, I had greater success; I had walked five miles west of Gillette when a truck pulled a U-turn through the grassy median specifically to pick me up, and in Montana, it took me all of ten minutes before a guy rolled up to take me all the way to Spokane, Washington.

One place you absolutely do not want to try to get rides is highway rest stops, whether they’re the cheap-o bathroom & vending machine ones on regular Interstates or the glitzy commercial ones on tollways. In the case of the former, you’re likely to get kidnapped, robbed or worse, magnet for criminals as they are. Additionally, since most rest stops are located in the middle of nowhere, anyone you meet there will likely assume that you got kicked out of a car (even if you didn’t) and will not want to help you out. In the case of commercial rest stops such as the ones on the Massachusetts Turnpike or Illinois Tollway, while they’re much safer than regular stops, hitchhiking is explicitly prohibited on their premises (as it is everywhere else on the tollway system), and there are plenty of cameras and troopers on patrol to catch you in the act.

While I haven’t confirmed this, there is exactly one variety of rest stop where it might be possible to hitchhike: the ones on I-80 and I-35 in Iowa. This is not only because pedestrian traffic is legal on highways in Iowa to begin with, but because the rest stops in the Hawkeye State are unusually nice; they have coffee machines, free wireless Internet and other amenities that you can’t get in other states. Again, I haven’t confirmed this, but it’s worth considering.

Read Next: Notes from the Road: Six Days of Hitchhiking Hell

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If you liked this post then you’ll like The Hitchhiking Crash Course, my 94-page book that teaches you how to hitchhike around the world easily and safely. It contains tips on what to bring, where to go and how to get rides easily as well as providing tactics for protecting yourself and dealing with police. Click here to learn more.

  • josh

    You can hitchhike the highway (even beautiful I5) in the lovely state of OREGON. I got picked up by 3 beautiful girls in a convertible my last time out of Portland. When are you going to do a post about how cool truck stops are? Waiting

    Actually there is nothing wrong with hitchhinng rest stops. It is a good way to get a long distance ride. Smart hitchhikers will ask to get out at one instead of getting out at some podunk town up ahead…