Hitchhiking in Australia
Hitchhiking across the Australian Outback...
Can you? Should You?
Hitchhiking in Australia is obviously the ultimate form of shoestring budget travel.
No expenses at all.
But is it a good idea?
The question comes up every now and again in Australia travel forums and the answer is usually, "Oh no, don't do it. Too dangerous, not enough traffic, and the backpacker killings, yada, yada..."
I have hitchhiked up and down and around Australia many times, and I thought I'd tell you a bit about my experiences. But before I do let me say two things:
Legal matters: To the best of my knowledge it's not actually illegal to hitchhike in Australia, although some states make you believe it is. However, it is a traffic offense in those states. (They reckon you are obstructing traffic if you stand at the road trying to flag down a ride.) Hitchhiking is particularly discouraged in Queensland and Victoria.
Disclaimer: Below are my experiences. It's what happened to me. I'm not saying you will have exactly the same experiences. Actually, I'm saying anything can happen when you are hitchhiking in Australia. Bad things can happen when you hitchhike. I'm not supporting or encouraging it in any way, I'm just telling you about my travels. So if you run into a loony on your trip and get yourself killed don't sue me!
Ok, glad we got that sorted out. Let's move on to what it is like to hitchhike in Australia.
Every now and then the newspapers will be full of some horror story about someone who disappeared hitchhiking in Australia or elsewhere. Newspapers love horror stories. They sell more newspapers. So people only read horror stories about hitchhiking.
All the people who have been hitchhiking in Australia for years and years and many thousand kilometres, and who met lots of great people and had a wonderful time, you never read their story in a newspaper...
My story is such a story.
Hitchhiking In Australia and the Australian Outback
My Experiences And Tips
When I first came to Australia I didn't consider hitchhiking as a way of travelling around. I'd never done it before so it just didn't cross my mind. But then I met another girl, an Australian, on a farm where we both worked as fruit pickers. We became good friends and she introduced me to what has been my favourite form of travel ever since.
Initially we just hitched rides into town after work to go to the pub or to catch a band that was playing. But we soon got fed up with our jobs and decided to move on to greener pastures. Hitchhiking, of course. To another town and another job, then another state, and finally across the Nullarbor to the other side of Australia.
When we finally parted I was more than confident enough to continue hitchhiking across Australia by myself. Hitchhiking remained my main form of travel in Australia for many years, until I became a permanent resident, settled down and bought a car. But even today I sometimes leave the car at home, just to make sure that my thumbs still work the way they used to...
I haven't had one single bad experience when hitchhiking in Australia. Not once did I get stuck somewhere because I didn't get a ride. And I met so many fantastic people and heard so many great stories that at one stage I thought I really should write a book.
But I think there are reasons why for me it was all good, and there are things that you should and shouldn't do when hitchhiking in Australia.
Hitchhiking In Australia - Your Location
I haven't done much hitchhiking along Australia's populated coasts. When I did I didn't like it much. Not only because, as I mentioned above, you might get into trouble with the law.
The more traffic the harder it is to get a ride. The more people live in an area the less likely they are to help someone, and everybody seems to be in too much of a rush to stop. (Personally, I also believe that there are many more shady characters living in the cities than in the Australian Outback...)
If I did need a lift out of an area like that I would always make a sign saying clearly where I wanted to go, since there are always so many options. Nobody will stop for you if they aren't sure that you are even going in their direction.
And nobody will stop for you unless you are standing somewhere where they have room to safely pull over. I've seen people stand in some stupid places... I've also carried my bags for kilometres just to find a really good spot to stand. It's worth it.
Once you are in the rural areas it gets a lot easier, and in the Outback it's super easy. People are really open and helpful out here. Just as well, because often you have to wait for quite some time before you see a car...
Hitchhiking In Australia - Your Gender
I never got stuck when hitchhiking anywhere in Australia because I'm a girl. It's as simple as that. Most people are very wary of offering rides to male hitchhikers, but nobody is afraid of girls. I remember standing outside Katherine one early morning and four vehicles, including three big trucks, passed me. Unheard of!
Then I realised I had my long hair all tied up under my hat. At their speed the drivers wouldn't have been able to see I'm a girl until too late. I opened my hair and the next car stopped.
If you are male you will spend a lot more time waiting at the side of the road. What can I say, try to look as harmless and respectable as possible I guess. Smile. It would probably be helpful to find a female companion. Couples do a bit better, although of course they need to find someone who has two seats available. Or just live with the fact that it will take you a bit longer to get from A to B.
If you are female use that advantage very carefully. I've seen girls at truck stops, in skimpy clothes, putting on some fake flirtiness, thinking it will get them rides easier. Now how stupid is that?
My uniform consists of long pants and a baggy shirt, and I watch my body language, too. Your personality and attitude really matters. While it is easy to hitch a ride as a girl you are very vulnerable, and it certainly isn't for everyone. If you have the slightest doubt or feel insecure in any way, don't do it! Find a male companion, or at least another girl.
Hitchhiking In Australia - Road trains
When it comes to hitchhiking in Australia the big road trains are my favourite vehicles for many reasons. To start with it's easy to get a ride. Those drivers travel thousands of kilometres of endless roads day in day out. Most of them genuinely appreciate some company, male or female. Just someone to talk to.
They also appreciate to get away from the wheel a bit. "Ever had a go driving one of these?" is often the first question I get after climbing in. No license? Who cares out here in the middle of nowhere... So I tried it, and I love driving those monsters. But it's not recommended unless you feel comfortable doing it.
Road trains are always on a very tight schedule, which is good. You can cover great distances fast. And they are comfortable. Some cabs are so huge you can walk around, you can even lie down in the back if it's a night drive.
There is this persistent rumour about the "a root for a ride" policy. It's nonsense. I myself have never met a road train driver who was anything but a perfect gentleman. They also told me that it's mostly the truckies themselves who spread that story to make their job and themselves look better in the eyes of other blokes...
But they also told me that there are some sleazy ones out there who can become a bit of a pain if they feel they might be able to intimidate a girl and get somewhere with it... It again comes down to your personality and comfort level. Not sure? Don't do it!
Hitchhiking - How To Get A Ride
What a lot of hitchhikers in Australia do is wait at the roadhouses or truck stops, and walk up to people and ask for a lift. I would never do that myself. I can imagine people who aren't good at saying no will be pressured into saying yes. I'd hate to do that.
Many trucking companies don't allow their drivers to take passengers. Some drivers do anyway, some don't. Again, you might pressure someone into breaking rules that he otherwise wouldn't have broken, or he might say no and then feel bad for not helping you (it's definitely un-Australian not to help). You're putting people on the spot and I don't like doing that.
I might just hang around at a roadhouse with my bags and a sign with my travel destination well visible somewhere, but usually when hitchhiking I just stand at the side of the road. The important thing is to stand in a place where roadtrains will be driving very slowly. Just after a roadhouse or turn-off. Or just out of town, where they have room to stop but not yet gathered speed. Once they pick up some speed they can't stop that easily.
Unless it's obvious where you want to go it's good to have a sign, one that can actually be read from some distance...
The other thing that I really believe makes a difference is attitude. If you're happy and positive and looking forward to the trip and to meeting yet another nice person, well... I can't quite explain how it works but trust me, people can sense that. Even when they are flying towards you in a car or truck they will pick up the vibes and they are much more likely to stop. It never hurts to smile at the driver either...
Those guys on the travel forums who asked about hitchhiking in Australia, they obviously have been hitchhiking before. Hitchhiking either is for you or it isn't. The people who answered the questions were people who'd never done it and would never do it. I'm not sure they're the best people to give advice. It's your decision. If you like hitchhiking then Australia, and especially the Australian Outback, is a great country to do it in.
If you think hitchhiking isn't for you don't despair. There are other ways of cheap travel around Australia