This article is about the method of transportation. For the genetics term, better known as genetic drift, see Genetic hitchhiking.
"Hitchhiker" redirects here. For other uses, see Hitchhiker (disambiguation).
"Hitchhike" redirects here. For other uses, see Hitchhike (disambiguation).
Hitchhiking near Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1936, photograph by Walker Evans
Hitchhiking in New Zealand in 2006

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.[1][2]

Signaling method

A typical hitchhiker's gesture

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.

Two of the signs used in the United States

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5][6]


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.[7]

Graeme Chesters and David Smith discuss reasons for hitchhiking's decline in Britain, and possible means of reviving it in safer and more organised forms, in one of the few academic discussions of hitchhiking, "The Neglected Art of Hitch-hiking: Risk, Trust and Sustainability".[8]

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.


Wikivoyage has some tips for safe hitchhiking.

Very little data is available regarding the safety of hitchhiking.[9] Compiling good safety data requires counting hitchhikers, counting rides, and counting problems: a difficult task.[10]

Fear of hitchhiking is thought to have been spurred by movies such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a few real stories of imperiled passengers, notably in the case of the kidnapping of Colleen Stan in California.[7] Two studies on the topic include a 1974 California Highway Patrol study and a 1989 German federal police study.[9] The California study found that hitchhikers were not disproportionately likely to be victims of crime.[11] 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.[12] They found that in some cases there were verbal disputes and inappropriate comments, but physical attacks were very rare.[13]

Around the world


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.[14]


Main article: Hitchhiking in Israel

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.


Hitchhiking (called liften) is legal in the Netherlands. This sign indicates a good place to get a lift.

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.[15][16]


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.[17] 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.[18]


Hitchhiking in Ireland is an easy way of travelling across the country. Drivers like backpackers and they are very welcoming. They tend to pick them up quite a lot, so a hitchhiker does not have to wait long for a lift. Even if drivers do not pick them up, they are cheerful and they show their enthusiasm by gestures such as thumbs up or friendly waves. It is a convenient way of travelling, as public transport services may not be available, especially in the countryside. 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 lets backpackers get away with a verbal warning.[19]

Unfortunately, Ireland does not see many backpackers due to poor weather conditions.

United States

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

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

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.[20]

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).[21]

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

Picking up a hitchhiker leads to murder in The Hitch-Hiker.





Notable hitchhikers

Two WPA workers hitchhiking in California, circa 1939

Fictional characters

See also



  1. Hitch The World | ...indefinite vagabond travel
  2. Velabas – Travel Narrative and Drawings from Hitchhiking Around the World
  3. Nwanna, p.573
  4. "So You Won't Talk, Huh?". Time. 18 November 1946. Retrieved 27 January 2009. In her cell, Susan learned that it also (technically) forbids hitchhiking, and demands (by a law passed in 1799) that strangers be able to give a good account of themselves.... Attorney James A. Major of the American Civil Liberties Union demanded that she be given a new trial.
  5. Hitchhiking Basics
  6. Hitchhiking
  7. 1 2 Diana Huynh, "Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?", Freakonomics Radio Podcast (10 October 2011), Accessed 21 September 2016
  8. Chesters, Graeme; Smith, David (2001). "'The Neglected Art of Hitch-hiking: Risk, Trust and Sustainability". Sociological Research Online. 6 (3).
  9. 1 2 Wechner, Bernd (1 March 2002). "A dearth of research: Does anyone really know anything about hitch-hiking?". Archived from the original on 3 July 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  10. Wechner, Bernd (1 November 1996). "The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking". Retrieved 2 June 2013. There are no statistics on hitch-hiking, at least none that are meaningful and reliable. Compiling useful statistics would require counting hitchers, the amount of rides they receive, and comparing them to the problems reported. Not an easy task.
  11. 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, Operational Analysis Section. February 1974. Archived from the original on 2 July 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2016. 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.
  12. Joachim Fiedler; et al. (1989). Anhalterwesen und Anhaltergefahren: unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des "Kurztrampens" (in German). Wiesbaden, Germany: Bundeskriminalamt Wiesbaden. OCLC 21676123.
  13. Trampen ohne großes Risiko, Zeit Online, 1990. Stating: In one of 10,000 rides, a woman is raped and in two of 1,000 rides, there is an attempted rape.
  14. Cuba Hitchhiking Guide
  15. Frank Verhart. Lifts (ad-hoc carpooling) in Netherlands. 2007.
  16. The Liftershalte: Hitchhiking in the Netherlands.
  17. booklets
  18. Jakub Czupryński (red.), "Autostop polski. PRL i współczesność", Korporacja Ha!art, Kraków 2005. ISBN 83-89911-18-3
  19. "Ireland - Hitchwiki: the Hitchhiker's guide to Hitchhiking". hitchwiki.org. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
  20. Dooling, Michael C. (2010). Clueless in New England: The Unsolved Disappearances of Paula Welden, Connie Smith and Katherine Hull. The Carrollton Press.
  21. Laura Hancock (13 January 2013). "Wyoming Senate committee debates, advances hitchhiking bill". Casper Star-Tribune. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
  22. Bennett, Joe (2000). "A thumb in the air". Fun Run and other Oxymoron's. Simon & Schuster UK Ltd. ISBN 0-684-86136-4.
  23. Guinness Book of Records, 1980, page 466
  24. Madrigal, Alexis C. (12 June 2014). "Meet the Cute, Wellies-Wearing, Wikipedia-Reading Robot That's Going to Hitchhike Across Canada". The Atlantic.
  25. "Encyclopedia of Road Subculture: Stephan Schlei". Retrieved 14 October 2011.
  26. "Encyclopedia of Road Subculture: Devon Smith". Retrieved 14 October 2011.
  27. Marek Radziwon – Rozmowa z Andrzejem Stasiukiem
  28. Carsick


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