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It looks to me that the ability of signs to speed you up/slow down while hitchhiking is significant. I think they are useful in places where you want to specify your direction explicitly, like for example the ramps. When already on the motorways it gets more difficult. I tend to write the next big city on the sign and/or the motorway number, however it has happened to me that people going directly to my destination did not realize the city I wrote was on the way or they were thinking that I am stopping there. So a thumb might have worked better.

It looks like that knowing what to write and how to write it is a whole craft one has to master. What are your experiences and best practices with using signs while hitchhiking ?

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This is a great question for a site that doesn't continuously rail against subjective questions, but what about here? – hippietrail May 15 '12 at 10:51
@hippietrail I really hope you are going to put your 2 cents. – crenate Jun 13 '12 at 8:36
As you know I love travel.SE and I love hitchhiking but as worded I find this question invites discussion by seeking a subjective "best" as directly askin for our experiences. Thus I feel quite uneasy about participating in it because I don't want to have double standards when telling other contributors their questions break any of those Stack Exchange rules. What to do? \-: – hippietrail Jun 13 '12 at 8:43
Sometimes an answer from the point of experience is best, but yet I see what you mean. It is difficult to weight those cases... – crenate Jun 13 '12 at 8:48
I think Mark should start the travel.SE blog like he said he was going to and I would be delighted to give him an interview on my hitchhiking techniques (-: /nude @MarkMayo ! (-; – hippietrail Jun 13 '12 at 8:53

To counter @jpatokal a little - although I get what he's saying, I have hitchhiked with and without a sign.

In the UK, I tried to hitch from Guildford (hah) to Southampton. The driver who finally pulled over said that he only slowed to see what my sign said, so in that case, it got his attention. I merely had the road on it (A3 if I recall), as it gives you the opportunity for an excuse once you've had a chat to them if you get a bad feeling.

He was brilliant tho - taking a truckload of tyres down south, chucked my backpack on the top of the tyres and I hopped up in the cab with him. Ghanian guy who had been in the British Navy - some great tales.

But you will also get those who take pity on you for the weather, or who remember when they used to hitchhike, or who fancy you (can be good or bad), or just want someone to talk to on a long drive. So yes, sometimes the sign helps, but do think about what drivers see and whether it may discourage them.

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I've hitchhiked plenty during the 1990s, all over continental Europe and never found a sign useful. I would make sure I would travel from gas station to gas station, where I then could talk to drivers in person. You get to know the driver a bit, and the driver gets to know you a bit, while you can figure out whether the driver is going in the right direction or not.

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I agree, that asking at gas stations was the best way to hitch a ride, but fist you need to get there, and getting out of city (ie. getting the first ride) was always hardest part for me. – Tschareck Jul 15 '12 at 15:30
Agreed. Though the best bet for me often was a gas station on the edge of town, which could be a tough one if you don't know the city. Then again, with portable digital maps being ubiquitous, finding these should be much easier now. Also, there used to be a book on this, "the best hitch hiking spots in Europe", or something like that. – MastaBaba Jul 16 '12 at 5:49
There's HitchWiki today. It mentions good spots and how to get there. In many cities in Europe there is at least one gas station on a motorway that is reachable by public transportation, plus perhaps some walking. Google Maps with satellite view is also helpful. – feklee Oct 28 '12 at 22:56

IMO it depends on the road layout. In most places the ramp simply leads to a road in one direction. However in some places, Gordano Services (Bristol UK) for instance, the ramp leads onto the road system where the driver then changes to Wales or London.

In such places a sign is a useful thing. I would suggest carrying a fat marker pen...if you find you need a sign, you can always find a bit of cardboard to make one.

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In Japan, I used a sign that said simply "I SPEAK JAPANESE" (日本語できる), and was repeatedly told that they would not have picked me up without it. Of course, you have to actually know the language to be able to use this!

But other than that, I think signs are generally pretty useless. It's better to have more cars stop and have to wave on a few because they're going in the wrong direction, than it is to have cars that could have picked you up not stop because your sign made them think they are going in the wrong direction. Even a short lift to get from a bad hitching spot to a better one can be very useful.

Also, why would you need a sign at an on-ramp? Usually there are separate ramps for separate directions and you just need to pick the one going your way.

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It depends on the construction of the ramp :) – crenate May 16 '12 at 15:56

I carry around a DIY portable whiteboard and dry erase marker. It's just a bunch of flashcards taped together with cellotape, so it can fold down small. I keep the signs simple: usually just "EAST", "WEST", "NORTH", "SOUTH", or something like "I-5 EAST" in large, bold, easy-to-read letters. If you've ever driven past a hitchhiker with a long sign, you know that there's no way to read it all at high speed.

That said, in practice I don't usually need it. I sit there with a book and stick out my thumb when there are cars.

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If you are on an easy hitch-hiking route, and you don't want to go halfway, a sign is critical. For example, if you just spent a weekend on Martha's Vinyard and need to get back Boston, it is very simple to get a ride at the ferry parking lot exit at a busy time. It is easy to get a ride straight to Boston, and hard to get a ride from an intermediate point. For example, a ride to Plymouth, MA would a disaster as it is very hard to hitch a ride from Plymouth to Boston.

Otherwise, I think the other comments (@MastaBaba) are good; to many conversations with drivers isn't a bad thing if you have the luxury of time to hitchhike.

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For what it's worth, in my little experience of hitch-hiking, I used signs to speed up because of the number of people. We were 3 and after a while we decided to write on the sign that picking 1 person was fine. Very quickly we got people picking us up.

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