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I have hitchhiked all over the world. North America. Europe. Africa. Primarily in Africa. Every time I tell people this, they get nervous. “Isn’t that dangerous? Be careful,” they warn. “I am,” I respond.

Hitchhiking is dangerous. But so is driving a car, flying in a plane, crossing a busy street, or wandering a city after dark. Life is a risky business, no matter who you are or what you’re doing (except maybe if you live inside a padded bubble).

Humans inherently want to control and minimize risk. Activities over which we have less control are deemed more dangerous. Hitchhiking is one of those activities, because we have no control over the vehicle or driver. We are putting ourselves at the mercy of someone we have never met before. It’s a scary thing.

Yet I have felt safer when hitchhiking than when taking some forms of public transportation. I hitched a ride to Mombasa in a large truck carrying refrigerators filled with avocados to be exported. The driver drove slowly because he was protecting his cargo. He picked me up because he does this drive three times a week and gets bored with no one to talk to. Our conversation ranged from the transport industry in Kenya to martial arts. I felt safer in this truck than in any matatu I have taken.

So for those out there who are afraid of hitchhiking, here are a few quicks tips for how to reduce the risk:

1. Don’t get in to a stopped car immediately. Open the door and ask the driver where he/she is going. This gives you a chance to assess the situation.

2. If you don’t like the feel of the car/driver, simply say that you are going elsewhere or have changed your mind. Do not get in a car that makes you feel uncomfortable.

3. Cars with women and children inside are usually a good sign that the driver will driver more carefully. Cars with multiple passengers are typically more comforting.

4. Don’t hitchhike at night.

5. Hitchhike with a friend if possible. There’s always comfort in traveling in pairs.

6. If at any point during the ride you want to get out, use any excuse to get the driver to stop and let you leave.

7. Talk to your driver and fellow passengers. The people who pick up hitchhikers are often interesting people themselves.

8. Some drivers will ask for money for the ride. Make sure you know if this is commonly accepted in the area before you hitch, and be aware of prices.

9. Carry yourself with confidence. People are more likely to hassle you if they think that you can be easily taken advantage of.

10. No matter how aware you are, the situation can always change. The risk will be present for the duration of the ride. Use your judgment and trust your instincts. Also remember that if we never did anything dangerous, then we would never do anything at all.

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