Supriya Ghosh (Editor)


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Hitchhiking (also known as thumbing, hitching, or autostop) is a means of transportation that is gained by asking people, usually strangers, for a ride in their automobile or other vehicle. A ride is usually, but not always, free.


Itinerants have also used hitchhiking as a primary mode of travel for the better part of the last century, and continue to do so today.

Signaling method

The hitchhikers' methods of signaling to drivers differ around the world. Many hitchhikers use various hand signals.

If the hitchhiker wishes to indicate that he needs a ride, he may simply make a physical gesture or display a written sign. In North America, United Kingdom and most of Europe, the gesture involves extending the arm toward the road and sticking the thumb of the outstretched hand upward with the hand closed.

For example, in the US and UK, they point their thumb up. In some African countries, the hand is held still with the palm facing upwards. In other parts of the world, it is more common to use a gesture where the index finger is pointed at the road.

Hitchhiking is a historically common (autonomous) practice worldwide and hence there are very few places in the world where laws exist to restrict it. However, a minority of countries have laws that restrict hitchhiking at certain locations. In the United States, for example, some local governments have laws outlawing hitchhiking, on the basis of drivers' and hitchhikers' safety. In 1946, New Jersey arrested and imprisoned a hitchhiker, leading to intervention by the American Civil Liberties Union. In Canada, several highways have restrictions on hitchhiking, particularly in British Columbia and the 400-series highways in Ontario. In all countries in Europe, it is legal to hitchhike, and in some places even encouraged. However, worldwide, even where hitchhiking is permitted, laws forbid hitchhiking where pedestrians are banned, such as the Autobahn (Germany), Autostrade (Italy), motorways (United Kingdom and continental Europe), or interstate highways (United States), although hitchhikers often obtain rides at entrances and truck stops where it is legal at least throughout Europe.


In 2011, Freakonomics Radio reviewed sparse data about hitchhiking and attributed the decline since the 1970s, at least in North America, to a number of factors including lower air travel costs due to deregulation, the presence of more money in the economy to pay for travel, more numerous and more reliable cars, and a lack of trust/fear of strangers. Fear of hitchhiking is thought to have been spurred by movies such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and a few real stories of imperiled passengers, notably the kidnapping of Colleen Stan in California. See § Safety, below.

Julian Portis points out that the rise of faster highways, such as freeways, motorways, and expressways, has made hitchhiking more difficult. He adds:

The real danger of hitchhiking has most likely remained relatively constant, but the general perception of this danger has increased. ... [O]ur national tolerance for danger has gone down: things that we previously saw as reasonably safe suddenly appeared imminently threatening. This trend is not just isolated to the world of hitchhiking; it has become a pernicious artifact throughout the American cultural conscience.

Some British researchers discuss reasons for hitchhiking's decline in the UK, and possible means of reviving it in safer and more-organized forms.

In recent years, hitchhikers themselves have started seeing efforts to strengthen the hitchhiking community. One example is the annual Hitchgathering, an event organized by the hitchhikers, for the hitchhikers. There now are websites like hitchwiki and hitchbase, which are platforms for hitchhikers to share tips and provide a way of looking up good hitchhiking spots around the world.


Not much data is available regarding the safety of hitchhiking. Compiling good safety data requires counting hitchhikers, counting rides, and counting problems: a difficult task.

Two studies on the topic include a 1974 California Highway Patrol study and a 1989 German federal police study. The California study found that hitchhikers were not disproportionately likely to be victims of crime. The German study concluded that the actual risk is much lower than the publicly perceived risk, and the authors did not advise against hitchhiking in general. They found that in some cases there were verbal disputes and inappropriate comments, but physical attacks were very rare.

Recommended safety practices include:

  • Asking for rides at gas stations instead of signalling at the roadside.
  • Refusing rides from impaired drivers.
  • Hitchhiking during daylight hours.
  • Trusting one's instincts. (See also The Gift of Fear.)
  • Traveling with another hitchhiker. This measure increases safety by a factor of six.
  • Cuba

    In Cuba, picking up hitchhikers is mandatory for government vehicles, if passenger space is available. Hitchhiking is encouraged, as there are few cars, and designated hitchhiking spots are used. Waiting riders are picked up on a first come, first go basis.


    In Israel, hitchhiking is commonplace at designated locations called trempiyadas (טרמפיאדה in Hebrew, derived from the “German” trampen). Travelers soliciting rides, called trempists, wait at trempiyadas, typically junctions of highways or main roads outside of a city.


    In Nepal, hitchhiking is very common in rural areas. Many do not own cars so hitchhiking is a common practice especially in and around villages.


    In the Netherlands, hitchhiking is legal and there are official signs where one may wait for a ride. These designated hitchhiking locations are called liftershalte or liftplaats in Dutch, and they are particularly common in university towns.


    Hitchhiking in Poland has a long history and is still popular. It was legalised and formalised in 1957 so hitchhikers could buy booklets including coupons from travel agencies. These coupons were given to drivers who took hitchhikers. By the end of each season drivers who collected the highest number of coupons could exchange them for prizes, and others took part in a lottery. This so-called "Akcja Autostop" was popular till the end of the 1970s, but the sale of the booklet was discontinued in 1995.


    Hitchhiking in Ireland is legal, unless it takes place on motorways. However, a backpacker will most likely still get a lift if there is enough space for the car to park. Local police (Gardai) usually let backpackers get away with a verbal warning.

    United States

    Hitchhiking became a common method of traveling during the Great Depression.

    However, warnings of the potential dangers of picking up hitchhikers were publicized to drivers, who were advised that some hitchhikers would rob the driver who picked them up and, in some cases, sexually assault or murder them. Other warnings were publicized to the hitchhikers themselves, alerting them to the same types of crimes being carried out by drivers. Still, hitchhiking was part of the American psyche and many people continued to stick out their thumbs, even in states where the practice had been outlawed.

    Today, hitchhiking is legal in 44 of the 50 states, provided that the hitchhiker is not standing in the roadway or otherwise hindering the normal flow of traffic. Even in states where hitchhiking is illegal, hitchhikers are rarely ticketed. For example, the Wyoming Highway Patrol approached 524 hitchhikers in 2010, but only eight of them were cited (hitchhiking was subsequently legalized in Wyoming in 2013).

    In several urban areas, a variation of hitchhiking called slugging occurs, motivated by HOV lanes.



  • 1939 – The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, opens with a hitched ride.
  • 1957 – Jack Kerouac immortalized hitchhiking in his book, On the Road.
  • 1971 – Ken Welsh's "how to" book on hitchhiking around Europe, titled Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe, is rumored to have inspired the title of Douglas Adams' 1978 classic book.
  • 1973 – Kurt Vonnegut's perpetual protagonist, Kilgore Trout, hitchhikes halfway across the country in Breakfast of Champions (also known as Goodbye Blue Monday).
  • 1976 – Sissy Hankshaw, the protagonist of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins, becomes legendary as a hitchhiker in part because of her unusually large thumbs.
  • 1977 – "The Hitch-Hiker", by Roald Dahl
  • 1978 – In his cult classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (first broadcast on radio in 1978), Douglas Adams postulated on interstellar hitchhiking.
  • 1984 – Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein described interdimensional hitchhiking in his book Job: A Comedy of Justice.
  • 1996 – Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • 2001 – Round Ireland with a Fridge by British comedian Tony Hawks: hitchhiking around Ireland with a refrigerator, as a result of a drunken bet.
  • 2003 – Evasion by CrimethInc.
  • 2005 – No Such Thing As A Free Ride? is a comprehensive anthology of hitchhiking stories and viewpoints, serialized in The Times and named The Observer's Travel Book of the Week. Edited by Tom Sykes and Simon Sykes, it featured contributions from Mike Leigh, Sir Alan Parker, Sir Max Hastings, Tony Hawks and Eric Burdon, amongst others. In 2008, No Such Thing As A Free Ride? North American Edition was published by Goose Lane of Canada and featured JP Donleavy, Margaret Avison, Doug Stanhope, and Will Durst, amongst others.
  • 2006 – Riding With Strangers: A Hitchhiker's Journey by Elijah Wald
  • 2009 – Le Monde en stop by Ludovic Hubler
  • Music


  • 1960 – "Hitch-Hike", an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents based on a short story by Ed Lacy
  • 1960 – "The Hitch-Hiker", an episode of The Twilight Zone
  • 1981 – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy TV series
  • 1984 – Diff'rent Strokes, a two-part very special episode, "The Hitchhikers"
  • 1999 – SpongeBob SquarePants – "Pizza Delivery"
  • 2000 – "The Hitch-hiker", an episode of Tales of the Unexpected
  • 2003 – Cold Case episode 1.10, "Hitchhiker", addresses similar murders of hitchhikers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey
  • 2004 – The L Word episode "Losing It"
  • 2006 – The Masters of Horror episode "Pick Me Up"
  • 2007 – Peking Express, a Dutch/Flemish reality game show that follows a series of couples as they hitchhike to or from Beijing (in seasons 1–3) and South America (in seasons 4 and 5)
  • Notable hitchhikers

  • Joe Bennett – New Zealand newspaper columnist and author; hitchhiked around the world for 10 years
  • Ilmar Island (Saar) – the last and only hitchhiker recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for hitching between Key West, Florida and Fairbanks, Alaska (5 days, 20 hours and 52 minutes); the category only appeared once.
  • André Brugiroux – from France; hitchhiked all around the world for 18 years, from 1955 to 1973
  • Alan Carter – last hitchhiker recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for the Land's End to John O'Groats to Land's End round-trip (39 hours 28 minutes)
  • David Choe – painter, muralist, graffiti artist and graphic novelist
  • Martin Clark and Graham Beynon – last hitchhikers recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for the Land's End to John O'Groats trip (17 hours 8 minutes)
  • W. H. Davies – Welsh poet and tramp, who hitchhiked America during the early 20th century
  • hitchBOT – Canadian hitchhiking robot
  • Ludovic Hubler – French hitchhiker who toured the world entirely by hitchhiking from 1 January 2003 to 1 January 2008; wrote a book called Le Monde en stop, which was awarded the best travel book of the year in 2009 in France
  • Steve Jobs – American technology entrepreneur, the co-founder of Apple Inc.; mentioned hitchhiking in his Stanford commencement speech in 2005
  • Jack Kerouac – Beat Generation author, hitchhiked in America and wrote many books about his experience
  • Chris McCandless – subject of the book Into the Wild; hitchhiked throughout the western region of North America in the early 1990s
  • Jim Morrison – musician of The Doors; depicted hitchhiking in his movie HWY: An American Pastoral
  • Robert Prins – last hitchhiker recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for the 24-hour hitchhiking record (2,318.4 km)
  • Stephan Schlei – from Ratingen, Germany; hitchhiked more than 621,371 mi (1,000,000 km); the Guinness Book of Records, before all hitchhiking records were removed, once said that he was the World's No. 1 Hitchhiker
  • Devon Smith – listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for most cumulative miles hitchhiked (1973 to 1985), over 290,988 mi (468,300 km); held the record for hitchhiking all 48 contiguous US states in 33 days during 1957
  • Andrzej Stasiuk – writer, journalist and literary critic
  • John Waters – filmmaker, writer, actor and artist; author of Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America
  • Nedd Willard – writer, artist and journalist
  • Fictional characters

  • Ford Prefect – a space-hitchhiking travel writer in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
  • Hitchhiker – a hitchhiking lunatic killer played by actor Edwin Neal in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre film (1974)
  • The Hitcher – a green cockney man who was featured in The Mighty Boosh
  • Neil Josten - character created by Nora Sakavic, hitchhiked from Columbia back to South Carolina in the first book of All For The Game trilogy
  • References

    Hitchhiking Wikipedia