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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

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