Is Hitchhiking Dangerous?

Tied Up - Is Hitchhiking Dangerous?

As with everything in life, there is an element of risk. It is inherent to our nature that we want to keep ourselves out of harms way. To put ourselves in positions in which we could become hurt would work against evolution. It would means that the individuals who were most successful, would in fact die first. Thus we would be de-evolving instead.

Hitchhiking has a lot of stigma attached to it. For many people, hitchhiking is for vagrants, people without money, and occasionally, students on charity events. Around the world however, hitchhiking has began to grow in popularity once more. People are no longer limiting themselves to trains and buses in an attempt to cross land, but they are putting their trust in fellow human beings.

There is one very important fact to remember when looking at the great big scary world as a whole; it is in fact, a collection of individuals not dissimilar from you or I. People’s individual capability to do terrible things is much lower than one might expect. If you look throughout history, the worst atrocities have been committed by organisations or groups of people, not individuals. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but they are the minority.

I spent 5 months hitchhiking through Europe and got into vehicles with over 200 people. Not once did I have a problem. On my journey I met hundreds (this is not an exaggeration) of other hitchhikers from around the world. Many of them at Hitch Gathering 2012. There were people who travelled in groups and there were people who travelled alone, both male and female. All of them loved hitchhiking. If you ask any of these people if hitchhiking is dangerous, you would be met with a resounding no. The people who claim that it is, have probably never tried it.

The most dangerous part of hitchhiking is the capability of drivers. Car crashes cause a lot of deaths all over the world and this is the most likely thing that can go wrong. Bare in mind that this can happen when you are not hitchhiking.

Here are four pieces of hitchhiking advice to help keep you safe.

  • Trust your instincts. If you are not comfortable getting into a vehicle, don’t do it. Say anything, make up any excuse, just walk away. You will never see the people again and your comfort and safety is more important than offending them.
  • Know your boundaries. Set your rules and stick to them. If you are a lone female and you refuse to get into a car of 3 guys, just don’t do it. If you are hitchhiking with a partner, define the rules before you start so that you are on the same level.
  • Stand in a clear position, away from busy roads. Don’t distract drivers and risk causing an accident. Stand where they can see you from a long way off and signal clearly. Make sure that you are in a place where they have space to slow down and pull over.
  • Don’t leave your valuables unattended. Common sense, but easy to forget. Keep everything important on you at all times. Hopefully drivers don’t desire the rest of your smelly belongings.

That’s it. Some people choose to carry weapons but I think instincts and reactions work much better.

You can also read my how to hitchhike page for more hitchhiking advice. Happy hitching.


  • Here’s a suggestion to all you hitchhiking advocates:

    If YOU wish to keep taking stupid, asinine risks to your freedom, safety, and your limbs and live, that’s YOUR business! Just don’t try to suck other people (myself included), who are NOT willing to be that stupid! Thanks!!

  • I’m a 22y/o, 5’6″ girl and I’ve hitchhiked only 7 times in total while travelling – in Belgium, Myanmar and Malaysia. Each time I met interesting, nice people and had some great conversations. Nice memories and a free ride within 5 minutes! I had fun and I’d like to do it again — within certain boundaries.

    However, there is definitely an element of risk involved, especially solo as I’m very aware I’m easily overpowered as a small woman. Every other hitcher I’ve ever met (well ok all 6) has been a man. 99.9% of people are good, but if something goes wrong you’re completely powerless, and backing off a lift if someone gives you a bad vibe isn’t totally guaranteed. I’d be pretty selective about when and where if I did it again – I feel fairly safe in western Europe (home turf effect maybe), but I’d never hitch in the States – too many guns floating around. I’d like to try it here in Australia (because this country is bloody expensive!), but only with a male friend as the large distances make it hard to escape. There was also this case recently which gave me the heebie-jeebies.

    I guess my point (if there is one amidst the rambling) is that in hitching, as in life, openness can bring a good experience but you’re also vulnerable to a bad one. When you make hitching your only option is when things could get dicey, I’d always want the security of a backup plan and cash.

    • Elana: A number of the points that you’ve made in your post are precisely the points that I’ve been trying to drive home to everybody here on this board. Maybe some places are safer for hitchhiking than others, but, as far as I can see, the United States has never been a particularly safe place to hitchhike because of some of the reasons that you’ve mentioned. The United States is too gun-happy, and it’s come home to roost…in many more ways than one, but that’s another issue for another day, if one gets the drift. I also believe that the element of risk that you’ve mentioned and that I’ve also been trying to point out on this board is one of the biggest, if not the biggest reason that there’s not nearly as much hitchhiking here in the United States as there once was (i. e. back in the 1960’s and the 1970’s, for example): While most people are perfectly normal and honest, the risk of getting picked up by, or picking up somebody who’s NOT so normal and honest is still there.

      Here in the Boston, MA area, back in the early 1970’s, a number of young women ranging in ages from their late teens to early 20’s disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again, after they’d been hitchhiking to school or work, or whoever. Their bodies turned up in very distant places, in wooded areas or by the roadside. The body of one of these young women was found nailed to a wall in a Roxbury (a section of Boston) apartment. This grisly overall scenario was rather tragically played out once again, in the Alberta, Canada area, back in 2005. Two girls, aged 16 and 19 (The 19 year old had a young son), who’d decided to hitchhike home from a party they’d been invited to went missing, and were never seen alive again. Their skulls were found by a camper in that general vicinity.

      I’ll also add, however, that there’s more to it than meets the eye when it comes to hitchhiking. Most of the bad incidents (i. e. the car crashes, robberies, assaults, etc., ) fail to make the papers or the evening news. I admittedly did some occasional hitchhiking myself (I’m a 5′ 6″ woman, of medium build.), but after having a couple of weird experiences in which the guys who picked me began with benevolent enough conversation, and their talk sliding into sexual innuendoes and overtones, I decided to get out right then and there. Those two weird experiences (which I thought had the potential for developing into something more sinister.), plus the reading/hearing about all the young women here in the Boston area who were brutally murdered while hitchhiking to school or classes, and about two teenaged boys from the same suburban high school that I’d attended back in the mid to late 1960’s being taken to a very secluded area by two men in their 20’s who’d been drinking but didn’t seem hostile, and physically attacked (One of the guys received a concussion due to being hit over the head with a blunt, heavy instrument, and the other one almost got mowed down by their attackers’ car while running to get help.), that finished hitchhiking for me, completely.

    • That’s great that you had positive experiences, Elana. And important, as you say, to retain your vigilance for both your safety and your peace of mind. I have never (and never will be able to) tried hitchhiking as a 5’6″ female, which I am sure must offer a different experience from my own. Even as a guy, I have turned down lifts when the driver has made me feel uncomfortable.

      The first time I ever hitchhiked, it was part of a sponsored charity hitchhike from UK to Morocco and pretty much the only rules were that we had to hitch in groups of 2-3 with at least one male in each group. A couple of hundred of us made the journey and had a great time when we all arrived in Morocco.

  • I frankly don’t see anything romantic about hitchhiking, despite the fact that it seems that so many posters here on this board romanticize it, and that it’s romanticized in movies, books and popular culture, generally. Sure, you’ve all met some lovely, nice people while hitchhiking, but who’s to say that they’d be so lovely the next time you met them? There’s nothing romantic about getting into a car with, or picking up a complete stranger, either. Just because most people get assaulted by others that’re known to them (i. e. family members, friends, acquaintances), doesn’t mean that there aren’t dangerous strangers out there in their cars. There are enough crazy, dangerous mofos out there in their cars so that it presents a problem.

    • Each individual has their own experiences of different events in life. For me, hitchhiking was special because it restored my faith in humanity. What started as a short hitchhiking holiday into Europe turned into a journey that made me believe in the inherent good of humans in this world and changed the way I live my life. Others may not have the same experiences, but for some of us, hitchhiking experiences have been important to us as people. I wouldn’t advocate for everyone to try it, because some people would not enjoy the experience, but hitchhiking has been (and no doubt will again be) an important part of my life. There are bad people out there, but trusting blindly in strangers and finding kindness washed away all the horrible news stories and scaremongering that I have encountered in the media.

      • Different people have different experiences, that’s true. I see absolutely nothing heroic or romantic or sensible, however, about supposedly increasing one’s faith in humanity by getting into a car with and accepting a ride from, or giving a ride to a complete stranger, either, no matter where in the world one is.

        To dismiss stories that one reads about in the paper or hears about on the news, thereby minimizing the risks involved with hitchhiking, imho, is folly. If the media didn’t expose grisly incidents like the ones mentioned to the public and thereby making people aware of the risks of hitchhiking, it wouldn’t be doing its job. Just because the bad and/or dangerous people out there aren’t in the majority doesn’t mean that they don’t present a problem and a risk.

        Imho, there are other, safer ways to restore faith in humanity. You’ve done a great deal of hitchhiking with no bad luck. Who’s to say that your luck won’t run out on you one day, you get picked up by some really careless, drunk or drugged-out, dangerous, or crazy person, get into a crash and either get permanently maimed or killed, or be driven to a lonely, isolated place, and be robbed, assaulted, or possibly worse? The point I’m making is that when one gets into a car with a complete stranger, or picks up a complete stranger, one is totally at the mercy of that person, with little or no control over what may happen.

        The fact that so few people do hitchhike these days says something right there: It’s too risky, which is why most people don’t do it any more.

    • Frankly, I think that the attitude towards hitchhiking on this and other boards that advocate hitchhiking is way too flippant…and dismissals of the risks of hitchhiking. Look at Highway 16 in Canada’s British Columbia (aptly named the “Highway of Tears”), due to a whole slue of girls and young women that have gone missing and turned up dead while hitchhiking. Because the small towns are so far apart from each other, and because there’s no kind of public transportation (no trans, buses or anything), and the lack of car ownersbip or money.) has put these girls and women in a position where they have no choice but tu hitchhike to get from one place to another. B. C.’s Route 16 or “Highway of Tears” has beautiful Canadian wilderness, but is dangerous at night, for obvious reasons, and despite a big sign warning woman and girls not to hitchhike, they still do it. Hopefully, Highway 16 will be having bus service by the end of this year, however.

  • It’s one thing to meet somebody at a dance, a party, or even a bar or nightclub. There’s always the option of ducking out, leaving quickly and/or calling for help if a situation turns nasty. Getting into a car with or picking up a total stranger, however, is a completely different matter: Options for fleeing or even calling for help are seriously curtailed when in a car with a total stranger.

    Back in the spring of 1972, three years after I graduated from high school (Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School), two teenaged couples who attended that same high school, and were out on a late Saturday night/Sunday morning date decided to hitchhike home. The two men who picked the teenagers up were clearly intoxicated, but did not seem hostile. The two girls were let off first, but then things took a nasty turn: The teenaged boys were taken to a secluded area near the Lincoln-Waltham line, and were physically attacked by the men who’d picked them up. One of the boys received a concussion due to being hit over the head with a blunt, heavy instrument. The other almost got mowed down by their attackers’ car while they were escaping and running away to get help. Not a good scene, at all.

    • That is a sad story and bad things can happen. As with all situations in life, it is very difficult to know whether or not to trust people, but over my four or five hundred hitchhiking lifts, I have only met lovely people thus far, and I hope that many others experience the same level of pleasantness that I have found.

      • Hi, Jamie. Thanks again for your understanding where I’m coming from. I’m glad you’ve met some great, good people while hitchhiking, but the fact that most people are perfectly normal, honest and okay doesn’t negate the fact that the risks involved in hitchhiking are still there. I still believe that hitchhiking is too risky, because one never knows if they’ll get picked up by somebody with bad intentions (like the guy who picked up all those female hitchhikers and deliberately killed then.), is either drugged-out or drunk, is really not in their right mind, or is just plain careless behind the wheel of a car. Also, looks and behavior can be quite deceiving, because people with bad intentions often put on a facade that’s quite different than their personality in order to lure somebody into being harmed. The grisly scenario played out in the Boston area back in the early 1970’s was rather tragically played out once again in the Alberta, Canada area roughly ten years ago, when two young gals, one nineteen-year-old with a young son, and a girl who’d just turned 16, who’d been invited to a party, decided to hitchhike home. That was the last time either of them were seen alive. Afew years later, sometime in 2011, their skulls were found by a camper at a nearby campsite and identified by local authorities.

        Even though I’ve never had super-awful things happen when I’ve hitchhiked, I had a couple of somewhat creepy experiences that I felt had the potential for turning into something more serious, and built my resolve not to hitchhike any more. In both instances, the guys who picked me up started out with benevolent conversation, but when their talk slid into sexual innuendos (I’m a woman, btw), and/or their talk took on sexual overtones, I decided to get out.

        • The most important thing is to do what you feel comfortable with. I would never advocate someone to try hitchhiking if they were not comfortable with it. Also, as a male, I immediately have a different mindset when hitchhiking, but my main reason for continuing to do it is a calculated risk – for me, the fun and experiences that I have, outweigh the danger. Nearly 17 million people died from heart disease during 2002 (most recent data I could find), which could, in part, be attributed to sugar consumption and lack of exercise.. This is something many of us are guilty of, but we continue with our bad habits, because the outcome is far less scary than the thought of being murdered and dumped in a ditch. Please know that this is not a disagreement with your comment, simply an explanation of why I hitchhike. I am drinking a hot chocolate as I type!

  • As somebody who occasionally hitchhiked back in the early to mid-1970’s, I stopped hitchhiking, because I decided that it was too risky, after reading/hearing about a whole slew of young women ranging in age from their late teens to their mid-twenties hitch-hiking, being picked up, and their bodies found along the roadside(s) in different, distant places.

    Three years after I graduated from high school, two teenaged couples, out on a late Saturday-night/Sunday morning date were hitch-hiking, and were picked up by two men in a pick-up truck who were obviously intoxicated, but didn’t seem unfriendly. Things took a nasty turn, however, after the girls were dropped off first. The men in the pick-up truck took the two boys to a secluded place near the Lincoln-Waltham line (In MA), and attacked them. One of the boys received a concussion due to being hit over the head with a blunt, heavy instrument. The other one almost got mowed down by their attackers’ car while running away to get help.

    Back in the mid-1970’s, two young college guys who’d spent some time in the now-non-existent Boston’s Combat Zone, hitch-hiked, and were picked up by two rough-and- tough guys from South Boston, who brutally murdered them.

    Having said all of the above, I don’t advocate hitch-hiking anymore, because, while most people are perfectly normal and honest, there’s really no telling who one might get picked up by, because there are people with bad intentions who are out and around. Most of the incidents (i. e. the accidents, sexual assaults, and the serious injuries/homicides, etc.) fail to make the newspapers or the evening news.

    Also, hitch-hiking is way different than going to a bar, a night-club, a dance or even a party. At least in these particular situations, one can always duck out and leave quickly, if things begin to get dicey. Getting into a car with a complete stranger, on the other hand, is more risky, because one is totally at the mercy of that person(s), and therefore has little or no control over what may happen.

    At the risk of sounding like an old prude, I just had to have my say. Thanks for letting me.

    • I think it’s important to have an opinion and to do what you are comfortable with. And I know many of my friends would not be happy with hitchhiking. I hitchhike because it is a way for me to travel without needing vast sums of money and over the past few years, I have probably had 500 or so lifts, and never had a problem. However, I have turned lifts down if the driver gives me a bad vibe. There definitely is a risk of bad things happening, but my most dangerous experience thus far was probably when I was driving to the local shops, five miles away, and a car was overtaking badly, forcing me to come off the road. I narrowly missed a tree and ended up in a field. I suppose I hitchhike as it is a fast track to positive experiences that I want to have, meaning that I don’t have to work as much to get those experiences.

      • Hi, Jamie. Thank you for your poignant reply, and for understanding where I’m coming from, on this subject. Even though you still advocate hitch-hiking, you seem to have a sensible approach. Turning down a lift if a driver gives you a bad vibe makes a lot of sense, and you keep yourself safe that way.

        Sorry to hear about that car overtaking you and forcing you off the road. You’re lucky you only ended up in a field, rather than going off a steep embankment or whatever. Glad you’re okay, however.

        That bunch of young women who were brutally murdered and then dumped along the roadside(s) in distant places occurred here in the Boston area, which received national attention for a really long time due, at least in part, to all those young women who were killed while hitch-hiking. Being a woman myself, I’m a little more reluctant to go hitch-hiking, but that’s just me.

        Thanks again for your reply.

        • I imagine it must be a different experience altogether for a woman and something I will never know. As a 6 foot tall guy who likes playing sport, although I could be overpowered, I feel comfortable enough physically to not worry about hitchhiking – I certainly do appreciate concerns that others have though.

          What happened in Boston with those women is a terrible atrocity and very upsetting to hear.

          • Hi again, Jamie. Thanks again for understanding my reservations about hitch-hiking, and where I’m coming from on this one. These particular women that were murdered while hitch-hiking were very tough working women who knew their way around, and had it together…and where did they finally end up? Dead! It’s unfortunate. The fact that there were so many casualties in hitch-hiking is one big reason, I think, that not too many people hitch-hike any more.

            Even though taking chances with getting into a car with a total stranger isn’t my cup of tea, I see where you’re coming from on this one, too, Jamie. Since you’re 6 feet tall, and very athletic, you seem like the kind of guy who could/would take care of yourself and know what to do if things really got dicey.

  • This is strange for me: ‘I met hundreds of other hitchhikers’. I hitched more than 20.000km this year through Europe and only saw 8 other hitchhikers ‘on the road’ in Western Europe. You have far more hitchhikers in Eastern Europe, but I didn’t meat ‘hundreds’ of them.

    I’m a Belgian guy, and I saw one other guy hitchhiking the past year.

    • That’s not so many. I saw quite a few on the roads in the east, but the hundreds I met were at Hitch Gathering. It’s an annual festival for hitchhikers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Solve this if you are not a robot *