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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, autostop) is a means of transportation that is gained by asking people, usually strangers, for a ride in their automobile or other road 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 they need a ride, they 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 hitchhiker's arm toward the road and sticking the thumb of their outstretched hand upward with the hand closed.

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. In other parts of the world, it is more common to use a gesture where the index finger is pointed at the road.

Legal status

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]


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. 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.


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


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.[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 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.[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, 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.[18]

Today, hitchhiking is legal in 44 of the 50 states[citation needed], 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

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. November 18, 1946. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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). <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Wechner, Bernd (1 March 2002). "A dearth of research: Does anyone really know anything about hitch-hiking?". Retrieved 2 June 2013. |archive-url= is malformed: timestamp (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Citing: "California Crimes And Accidents Associated With Hitchhiking". California Highway Patrol, Operational Analysis Section. February 1974. 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. |archive-url= is malformed: timestamp (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Laura Hancock (2013-01-13). "Wyoming Senate committee debates, advances hitchhiking bill". Casper Star-Tribune. Retrieved 2014-05-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. [1]
  21. Bennett, Joe (2000). "A thumb in the air". Fun Run and other Oxymoron's. Simon & Schuster UK Ltd. ISBN 0-684-86136-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Guinness Book of Records, 1980 page 466
  23. Madrigal, Alexis C. (June 12, 2014). "Meet the Cute, Wellies-Wearing, Wikipedia-Reading Robot That's Going to Hitchhike Across Canada". The Atlantic.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Encyclopedia of Road Subculture: Stephan Schlei". Retrieved 14 Oct 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "Encyclopedia of Road Subculture: Devon Smith". Retrieved 14 Oct 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Marek Radziwon – Rozmowa z Andrzejem Stasiukiem
  27. Carsick


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

External links