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Hitchhiking near Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1936, photograph by Walker Evans
Hitchhiking in New Zealand in 2006

Hitchhiking (also known as thumbing or hitching) is a means of transportation that is gained by asking people, usually strangers, for a ride in their automobile or other road vehicle. The latter may require many rides from different people. A ride is usually, but not always, free. If the hitchhiker wishes to indicate that they need a ride, they may simply make a physical gesture or display a written sign. In North America, United Kingdom and most Western and Central Europe, the gesture involves extending the hitchhiker's arm toward the road and sticking the thumb of their outstretched hand upward with the hand closed. In other parts of the world, it is more common to use a gesture where the index finger is pointed at the road.

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. For example, in the U.S. and UK, they point their thumb up. In some African countries, the hand is held still with the palm facing upwards.

Legal status

Two of the signs used in the United States.

Hitchhiking is a historically common (self-policed) 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]


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".[7]

In the recent years, hitchhikers themselves have started seeing effort to strengthen the hitchhiking community. One example is the annual Hitchgathering – an event organized by the hitchhikers, for the hitchhikers.


Very little data is available regarding the safety of hitchhiking.[8] Compiling good safety data requires counting hitchhikers, counting rides, and counting problems: a difficult task.[9]

Two studies on the topic include a 1974 California Highway Patrol study and a 1989 German federal police study.[8] The California study found that hitchhikers were not disproportionately likely to be victims of crime.[10] The German study concluded that the actual risk is much lower than the publicly perceived risk, and the authors did not advise against hitch-hiking in general.[11] They found that in some cases there were verbal disputes and inappropriate comments, but physical attacks were very rare.[12]

Around the world

Orthodox Jews tremping in Jerusalem


In Cuba, picking up hitchhikers is mandatory by 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.[13]


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 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 (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.[14][15]


Hitchhiking was legalised and formalised in Poland in 1957. Hitchhikers could buy booklets including coupons from travel agencies.[16] 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.[17]

United States

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

But 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 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.[18]

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 cited eight of them (hitchhiking was subsequently legalized in Wyoming in 2013).[19]

In popular culture

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




Notable hitchhikers

Two WPA workers hitchhiking in California, circa 1939
  • Joe BennettNew Zealand newspaper columnist and author, hitchhiked around the world for 10 years.[20]
  • Patrick Falterman American itinirant, canoeist, adventurer
  • Ilmar Island (Saar) – last and only hitchhiker recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for hitching between Key West, Florida to Fairbanks, Alaska. (5 days, 20 hours and 52 minutes). Category only appeared once.[21]
  • André BrugirouxFrance. Hitchhiked all around the world for 18 years, 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)
  • 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)
  • David Choe – painter, muralist, graffiti artist and graphic novelist
  • W. H. Davies – a Welsh poet and tramp, who hitchhiked America during the early 20th century.
  • Kenny Flannery – hitchhiked hundreds or thousands of miles across the US and other parts of the world from 2007–2013. Has promoted the means of travel through stories and videos on his "Hobo Lifestyle" site and YouTube.[22]
  • hitchBOT – a Canadian hitchhiking robot[23]
  • Ludovic Hubler – a French hitchhiker who toured the world entirely by hitchhiking from January 1, 2003 to January 1, 2008. He wrote a book called Le Monde en stop, which was awarded the best travel book of the year 2009 in France.
  • Jack KerouacBeat Generation author, hitchhiked in America and wrote many books about his experience.
  • Suzanne MacNevin – a feminist writer, spent several years hitchhiking in Canada and the United States during the late 1990s.[24]
  • Chris McCandless – the subject of the book, Into the Wild; hitchhiked throughout the western region of North America in the early 1990s.
  • Jack Moran & Jack Avery – hitchhiked over 20,000 miles in North America between 1970-1977, authors of the upcoming, "When You Needed Something To Happen, It Happened".
  • Jim Morrison – of The Doors; is also 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, used to say that he was the World's No.1 Hitchhiker.[25]
  • Tim Shey – hitchhiked the United States from 1996 to 2014. He also did some hitchhiking in the western United States in 1986–1987 and in Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales in 1980-1981. Shey wrote two books: High Plains Drifter: A Hitchhiking Journey Across America (2008) and The First Time I Rode a Freight Train & Other Hitchhiking Stories (2012).[26]
  • Devon Smith – was listed in Guinness Book of World Records for most cumulative miles hitchhiked (1973 to 1985), over 290,988 mi (468,300 km). He also held the record for hitchhiking all 48 contiguous U.S. states in 33 days during 1957.[27]
  • Andrzej Stasiuk – writer, journalist and literary critic[28]
  • Juan Pablo Villarino – Argentinean hitchhiker who travels the world documenting hospitality. His book Vagabundeando en el eje del Mal (Vagabonding in the Axis of Evil – By thumb in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan), was published in Spain, Argentina and Ecuador. He is the founder of Autostop Argentina, and regularly writes for National Geographic VIAJES. His Educational Nomadic Project was shortlisted among the 50 most influential educational related travel enterprise by Matador Network.
  • Nedd Willard – writer, artist and journalist.

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?".  
  5. ^ Hitchhiking Basics
  6. ^ Hitchhiking
  7. ^ Chesters, Graeme & Smith, David (2001). The Neglected Art of Hitch-hiking: Risk, Trust and Sustainability"'". Sociological Research Online 6 (3). 
  8. ^ a b Wechner, Bernd (1 March 2002). "A dearth of research: Does anyone really know anything about hitch-hiking?". Archived from the original on 3 December 2008. Retrieved 2 June 2013. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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 17 June 2012. Retrieved 3 May 2013. 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. 
  11. ^ Joachim Fiedler et al (1989). Anhalterwesen und Anhaltergefahren: unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des "Kurztrampens" (in German). Wiesbaden, Germany: Bundeskriminalamt Wiesbaden.  
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Cuba Hitchhiking Guide
  14. ^ Frank Verhart. Lifts (ad-hoc carpooling) in Netherlands. 2007.
  15. ^ The Liftershalte: Hitchhiking in the Netherlands.
  16. ^ booklets
  17. ^ Jakub Czupryński (red.), "Autostop polski. PRL i współczesność", Korporacja Ha!art, Kraków 2005. ISBN 83-89911-18-3
  18. ^ Dooling, Michael C. (2010). Clueless in New England: The Unsolved Disappearances of Paula Welden, Connie Smith and Katherine Hull. The Carrollton Press. 
  19. ^ Laura Hancock (2013-01-13). "Wyoming Senate committee debates, advances hitchhiking bill". Casper Star-Tribune. Retrieved 2014-05-30. 
  20. ^  
  21. ^ Guinness Book of Records, 1980 page 466
  22. ^ "Hobo Lifestyle" stories of hitchhiking and life on the go.
  23. ^ Madrigal, Alexis C. (June 12, 2014). "Meet the Cute, Wellies-Wearing, WorldHeritage-Reading Robot That's Going to Hitchhike Across Canada". The Atlantic. 
  24. ^ "Tales of a Female Hitchhiker", retrieved on May 31, 2007.
  25. ^ "Encyclopedia of Road Subculture: Stephan Schlei". Retrieved 14 Oct 2011. 
  26. ^ "About" on the Hitchhike America website
  27. ^ "Encyclopedia of Road Subculture: Devon Smith". Retrieved 14 Oct 2011. 
  28. ^ Marek Radziwon – Rozmowa z Andrzejem Stasiukiem


  • Nwanna, Dr. Gladson I. (2004). Americans Traveling Abroad: What You Should Know Before You Go, Frontier Publishers, Inc., ISBN 1-890605-10-7.

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