Thumbing Through Belize: Tips For Hitchhiking Safely

 

We stood on the side of the long dusty road, a puddle of sweat soaking into the back of our t-shirts. We had successfully hitched 141 kilometers that day, but it seemed our luck had run out.  The final stretch to the coastal town of Hopkins was the six mile dirt road that connected to the highway and we hadn’t even made it a mile in. Few cars passed and the ones that did sped right past our outstretched thumbs and kicked up a cloud of dust that enveloped us in dirt before settling.

 

tips for hitchhiking

{ The long, dusty road }

 

Hitchhiking as a backpacker has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of catching a ride.  We’ve found that while some locals jump at the chance to give a ride to a foreigner, others are more likely to pick up other locals, especially in smaller towns.

 

So as we sat in the sun, praying for a ride, a truck with an older couple approached quickly. I stuck my thumb out, stretching it high into the air and Jules waved his arms, and we both attempted our most desperate, downtrodden faces.

 

We held our breathe as they rolled by and let out a sigh of relief to see that they were slowing down to stop just a few meters ahead. We shimmied on our backpacks and crawled into the hot plastic truck bed. Then we kicked back, let the wind cool us off and didn’t even mind the potholes that sent us bumping up and down. Our luck had returned.

 

tips for hitchhiking

 { No better way to travel than in the back of a pickup truck }

 

When we finally made it to the hostel, we practically collapsed on our springy wooden bunk bed. We had successfully hitched every part of our journey from the border of Guatemala to the south of Belize.

 

Wait.. You did what??

 

Okay, hear me out. Yes, that may sound crazy, hitchhiking across the border of two impoverished developing countries, but, like most travel in Latin America, it’s not as dangerous as you would think. Hitchhiking is a very common and popular method of transportation in Belize.

 

It’s hard to turn a corner in Belize without seeing someone’s thumb sticking out into the street. And what’s more, it’s difficult to spend more than 10 minutes waiting without catching a ride with someone. It’s as ingrained in their daily lives as driving a car is in the western world.

 

tips for hitchhiking

{ Our cozy ride }

 

We managed to travel around Belize only paying for transportation once. I’ll admit Belize is a small country but that’s pretty amazing and definitely helps keep the spending down.

 

Here are some tips for hitchhiking in any country:

 

Don’t just stick your thumb out for anyone: 

Jules and I are very picky about who we get a ride with. We prefer families, couples and other travelers. We skip cars with front tinted windows and groups of men. This will just depend on your comfort level. If you’re two women, maybe you will only catch a ride with other females or families.

 

Know where you’re going:

Do a bit of research. Try to print out a map or use the one in your guidebook to have a sense of where you’re going. We use the Google Maps app on the iPhone. If you load the maps back at the hostel before you leave, you can still use them on the road and the GPS lets you know where you are, even outside of WIFI zones.

 

Don’t travel in the dark:

Everything is more dangerous at night. Estimate how long it should take you to get to your destination and then tack on an hour so you can be sure not to arrive in the dark.

 

 tips for hitchhiking

{ That time we hitchhiked with an El Salvadorian gospel church }

 

Chat with your driver:

Hitchhiking is a great way to save money, but its also the perfect way to connect with locals. Locals that pick up other travelers are usually excited to learn about you and you travels, and sometime even to practice their English. Take this opportunity to learn about local culture, the best spots to visit and practice the local language as well.

 

Trust your gut:

If someone pulls over and offers you a ride, have a quick conversation with them before you get in. Ask them where they’re headed and if they mind giving you a lift. Even with a short interaction you can get at least an idea of who this person is. If it doesn’t feel right, just thank them and wait for someone else. Don’t worry about offending them; better safe than sorry.

 

We want to hear about your experiences hitchhiking! Have you had any crazy encounters? Do you have any tips to add to the list? Let us know! 

6 Comments

  • Adam says:

    Great article, and awesome tips. I don’t think I’ve ever been as self-conscious as I was when I was hitching the west coast! My biggest worry (through Canada and U.S.A. anyways) was finding people who were willing to pick up a stranger. In that regard, try to avoid looking like a murderous psychopath as much as possible. I took every opportunity I could to clean up, shave, deodorize; remember that you’re also trying to promote a positive image for hitchhikers. And smile! Or dance! I had probably three people pick me up and tell me that my big cheesy grin was the only reason I was in the car. I think a guy/girl combo is the ideal situation for hitchhiking. I obviously felt safer being male, but like I said, getting rides could be tough at times! If you’re doing a lot of hitching, it’s a good idea to prepare for the fact that you may not always have a cozy place to sleep. Travel light, but travel prepared!

    Oh, and here’s a little story from the trip, too. Got picked up by a lesbian outside of Salem, Oregon. When I approached the vehicle, I believe her first words were “I hope you’re not offended, but I only stopped because I thought you were a dyke”. We had not only a love for the ladies in common, but job description as well. Both of us home inspectors! Strange things happen when you’re searching for strangers.

    • Don't Forget to Move says:

      Haha. Amazing story Adam! I hope she wasn’t too disappointed to find out you were just a shaggy haired dude! We fell in love with hitchhiking but were definitely not as hard core as you! We mostly hitched in Belize and the Yucatan at the end of our trip but wish we had thought of it sooner! We could have saved a lot of expensive bus fares and met so many interesting people! It’s our favorite mode of transportation (besides kicking it in the back of the PSF truck that is!)

  • Silvia says:

    Love this! My friend and I hitchhiked a bit in Central Asia and again through China and it was probably one of my favorite experiences. It was such a great way to connect with locals and save some money, and we never felt unsafe. Probably could have used some of your tips beforehand though! Ha. We wrote about hitchhiking in China here: http://theroamingcoconuts.com/hitchhiking-in-china/

    • Don't Forget to Move says:

      Hey Silvia! We had only hitchhiked a couple times before getting to Belize but once we started, we got hooked! We ended up hitching almost the entire rest of our trip! Good to see that if we make it to China we’ll be able to hitch there as well. Thanks for getting in touch!

  • Rashaad says:

    I’ve never intentionally stuck out the thumb but on a few occasions when I was living in Japan, people offered me rides and I accepted. I remember once two separate motorists – within a few minutes of each other – pulling over to offer me rides (I had just happened to be waiting for a bus near my house). I did accept a ride from the second motorist.

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