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Hitchhiking waiting times worldwide with uncertainties of estimation (2024) - based on data from Hitchmap
A man and woman hitchhiking near Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1936, photograph by Walker Evans
A man with an outstretched thumb and a sign indicating his destination.

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

Signaling methods[edit]

A typical hitchhiker's gesture

Hitchhikers use a variety of signals to indicate they need a ride. Indicators can be physical gestures or displays including written signs.[1] The physical gestures, e.g., hand signals, hitchhikers use differ around the world:

  • In some African countries, the hitchhiker's hand is held with the palm facing upwards.[2]
  • In most of Europe, North America, South America and Australia, most hitchhikers stand with their back facing the direction of travel. The hitchhiker typically extends their arm towards the road with the thumb of the closed hand pointing upward or in the direction of vehicle travel. [2]

Legal status[edit]

Two of the signs used in the United States, forbidding hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is historically a common 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.[3] In the United States, for example, some local governments have laws outlawing hitchhiking, on the basis of drivers' and hitchhikers' safety. 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, with the exception of, at least, Lithuania) or interstate highways (United States), although hitchhikers often obtain rides at entrances and truck stops where it is legal at least throughout Europe [4][5] with the exception of Italy.[6]


In recent years, hitchhikers have started efforts to strengthen their community. Examples include the annual Hitchgathering, an event organized by hitchhikers, for hitchhikers, and websites such as hitchwiki, which are platforms for hitchhikers to share tips and provide a way of looking up good hitchhiking spots around the world.


In 2011, Freakonomics Radio reviewed sparse data about hitchhiking, and identified a steady decline in hitchhiking in the US since the 1970s, which it attributed to a number of factors, including a greater lack of trust of strangers, lower air travel costs due to deregulation, the presence of more money in the economy to pay for travel and more numerous and more reliable cars.[7] A marked increase in fear of hitchhiking is thought to have been spurred by movies such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Hitcher (1986), and a few real incidents involving imperiled hitchhikers, including the kidnapping of Colleen Stan in California.[7] See § Safety, below.

Some British researchers discuss reasons[further explanation needed] for hitchhiking's decline in the UK, and possible means of reviving it in safer and more-organized forms.[8]

Public policy support[edit]

Mitfahrbank with destination signs in Flensburg

Since the mid-2010s, local authorities in rural areas in Germany have started to support hitchhiking, and this has spread to Austria and the German-speaking region of Belgium. The objectives are both social and environmental: as ride sharing improves mobility for local residents (particularly young and old people without their own cars) in places where public transport is inadequate, thus improving networking among local communities in an environmentally friendly way. This support typically takes the form of providing hitchhiking benches (in German Mitfahrbänke) where people hoping for a ride can wait for cars. These benches are usually brightly coloured and located at the exit from a village, sometimes at an existing bus stop lay-by where vehicles can pull in safely. Some are even provided with large fold-out or slide-out signs with place names allowing hitchers to clearly signal where they want to go. Some Mitfahrbänke have been installed with the help of the EU's LEADER programme for rural local development[9]

In Austria, Mitfahrbänke are especially common in Lower Austria and Tyrol, and are promoted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism under its klimaaktiv climate protection initiative.[10] In 2018 the Tyrolean MobilitäterInnen network published a Manual for the Successful Introduction of Hitch-hiking Benches.[11]


An episode of About Safety, a 1970s educational children's show, about the safety of hitchhiking

Limited data is available regarding the safety of hitchhiking.[12] Compiling good safety data requires counting hitchhikers, counting rides, and counting problems: a difficult task.[13]

Two studies on the topic include a 1974 California Highway Patrol study and a 1989 German federal police (Bundeskriminalamt Wiesbaden) study.[12] The California study found that hitchhikers were not disproportionately likely to be victims of crime.[14] The German study concluded that the actual risk is much lower than the publicly perceived risk; the authors did not advise against hitchhiking in general.[15] They found that in some cases there were verbal disputes or inappropriate comments, but physical attacks were very rare.[16]

Recommended safety practices include:[17]

  • Asking for rides at gas stations instead of signaling at the roadside
  • Refusing rides from alcohol impaired drivers
  • Hitchhiking during daylight hours
  • Trusting one's instincts
  • Traveling with another hitchhiker; this measure decreases the likelihood of harm by a factor of six[18]

Around the world[edit]

Two men tramping in Jerusalem


In Cuba, picking up hitchhikers is mandatory for government vehicles, if passenger space is available. Hitchhiking is encouraged, as Cuba has few cars, and hitchhikers use designated spots. Drivers pick up waiting riders on a first come, first served basis.[19]


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.


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.[20] 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.[21]

United States[edit]

Hitchhiking became a common method of traveling during the Great Depression and during the Counterculture of the 1960s.

A "slug line" of passengers waiting for rides in the US

Warnings of the potential dangers of picking up hitchhikers were publicized to drivers, who were advised that some hitchhikers would rob drivers 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.[22]

Today, hitchhiking is legal in 44[which?] 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).[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kovalchik, Kara (9 January 2015). "Why Do Hitchhikers Say "(Destination)...Or Bust!"?". Mental Floss.
  2. ^ a b "Hitchhiker's guide - what you should know?". myluggage.io. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
  3. ^ Nwanna, p.573
  4. ^ "Hitchhiking Basics".
  5. ^ "Hitchhiking". Archived from the original on 7 December 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  6. ^ "Italy - Hitchwiki: The Hitchhiker's guide to Hitchhiking".
  7. ^ a b Huynh, Diana (10 October 2011). "Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?". Freakonomics Radio Podcast. Archived from the original on 15 September 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  8. ^ Chesters, Graeme; Smith, David (2001). "'The Neglected Art of Hitch-hiking: Risk, Trust and Sustainability". Sociological Research Online. 6 (3): 63–71. doi:10.5153/sro.605. S2CID 143681275.
  9. ^ Bianca Frieß (10 August 2018). "Projekt: Nersingen will Mitfahrbänke aufstellen". Südwest Presse. Archived from the original on 25 April 2019. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  10. ^ "Die Mitfahrbank als unkomplizierte Mitfahrbörse für alle BürgerInnen". Österreichisches Bundesministerium für Nachhaltigkeit und Tourismus. 20 August 2018. Archived from the original on 29 September 2020. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  11. ^ Handbuch für eine erfolgreiche Einführung von Mitfahrbänken (PDF). MobilitäterInnen. 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 April 2019.
  12. ^ a b Wechner, Bernd. "A dearth of research: Does anyone really know anything about hitch-hiking?".
  13. ^ Wechner, Bernd. "The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking". bernd.wechner.info. There are no statistics on hitch-hiking, at least none that are meaningful and reliable. Compiling useful statistics would require counting hitchers and the amount of rides they receive, and comparing them to the problems reported, which would be a difficult task.
  14. ^ McLeod, Jamie (10 January 2007). "The 'better' Better Way". The Eyeopener. Retrieved 3 May 2013. The most recent hard evidence I could find about hitchhiking danger was a 1974 study conducted by the California Highway Patrol examining crimes committed by and on hitchhikers. It found that in 71.7 per cent of hitchhiker related crimes the hitchhiker was the victim. It also found that only 0.63 per cent of the crimes reported during the period of the study were hitchhiker-related, and that hitchhikers were not disproportionately victims of crime. Citing: "California Crimes And Accidents Associated With Hitchhiking". California Highway Patrol. February 1974. No independent information exists about hitchhikers who are not involved in crimes. Without such information, it is not possible to conclude whether or not hitchhikers are exposed to high danger. However, the results of this study do not show that hitchhikers are over-represented in crimes or accidents beyond their numbers. Also available as a PDF.
  15. ^ Joachim Fiedler; et al. (1989). "Anhalterwesen und Anhaltergefahren: unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des "Kurztrampens"" (in German). Wiesbaden, Germany: Bundeskriminalamt Wiesbaden. OCLC 21676123.
  16. ^ "Trampen ohne großes Risiko". Zeit Online. 1990. "In one of 10,000 rides, a woman is raped and in two of 1,000 rides, there is an attempted rape."
  17. ^ "Hitchhiker's safety". Hitchwiki. Retrieved 1 January 2014.This is a link to the referenced article; but, note that it has not been fully peer-reviewed, and that we cannot guarantee its validity.
  18. ^ Based on: Compagni Portis, Julian (2015). Thumbs Down: America and the Decline of Hitchhiking (BA thesis). Wesleyan University. p. 44. Citing: "California Crimes And Accidents Associated With Hitchhiking". California Highway Patrol. Table 18. Also available as a PDF.
  19. ^ Cuba Hitchhiking Guide Archived 27 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "booklets". Archived from the original on 10 July 2010. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  21. ^ Jakub Czupryński (red.), "Autostop polski. PRL i współczesność", Korporacja Ha!art, Kraków 2005. ISBN 83-89911-18-3
  22. ^ Dooling, Michael C. (2010). Clueless in New England: The Unsolved Disappearances of Paula Welden, Connie Smith and Katherine Hull. The Carrollton Press.
  23. ^ Laura Hancock (13 January 2013). "Wyoming Senate committee debates, advances hitchhiking bill". Casper Star-Tribune. Retrieved 30 May 2014.


  • Brunvand, Harold (1981). The Vanishing Hitchhiker. American Urban Legends and Their Meaning. New York NY: Norton & Company.
  • Griffin, John H. (1961). Black Like Me. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Hawks, Tony (1996). Round Ireland with a Fridge. London: Ebury.
  • Laviolette, Patrick (2016). Why did the anthropologist cross the road? Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology. 81(3): 379–401.
  • Nwanna, Gladson I. (2004). Americans Traveling Abroad: What You Should Know Before You Go, Frontier Publishers, ISBN 1890605107.
  • Packer, Jeremy (2008). Hitching the highway to hell: Media hysterics and the politics of youth mobility. Mobility Without Mayhem: Safety, Cars, and Citizenship. Chapel Hill: Duke Univ. Press (77–110).
  • Reid, Jack. (2020) Roadside Americans: The Rise and Fall of Hitchhiking in a Changing Nation. Chapel Hill: Univ, of North Carolina Press.
  • Smith, David H. & Frauke Zeller (2017). The death and lives of hitchBOT: the design and implementation of a hitchhiking robot. Leonardo. 50(1): 77–8.
  • Sykes, Simon & Tom Sykes (2005). No Such Thing as a Free Ride. UK Edition. London: Cassell Illustrated.
  • Tobar, Héctor (2020). The Last Great Road Bum. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • Kabourkova, Michaela (2022). Solo Female Traveller: What I Learnt from Hitchhiking in 70 Countries. Valencia: Amazon.

External links[edit]