How to Hitchhike

How to hitchhike / A guide to hitchhiking for beginners (anybody) / The rules of hitching. Call it what you will, this post is intended to provide useful advice for anybody who wants it.

Hitchhiking is not an exact science. It is more of an art form. There is no perfect formula to ensure success (or failure), but there are things that you can do to increase your chances of success. The following advice is drawn upon by my own meandering experience involving tens of thousands of kilometres of hitchhiking. The longest single hitchhiking journey I undertook was a 14,000 mile journey through Europe.

The advice is split into multiple sections. They are not ordered in importance, because each section is important in it’s own right. Please feel free to comment if you have any thoughts on the material.

Travel with the Right Person

girls

Who do you want to go with? Think hard about whether you want to travel alone or with company. Consider enjoyment and comfort. I travel alone and find myself easy to get along with most of the time, although not always. When I meet someone on the road who I think that I could get along with, I will travel with them for a period of time.

Travelling alone. If you are thinking of hitchhiking alone, address the following questions. Are you comfortable hitchhiking alone? Can you deal with being alone in new places and meeting new people all of the time? For me, I love the challenge because it pushes me to my limits. It isn’t always an easy ride, but it’s a fun one. For girls it is often more intimidating than for guys, but I know several girls who have successfully travelled alone by hitchhiking.

Travelling with someone. If you are not alone, ask the following questions of you and your fellow hitcher(s). As a group, do you feel safe travelling together? What time of day are you comfortable hitching? Some people prefer not to hitch at night. Where do you want to sleep at night? You must agree on this for obvious reasons. How do you signal to each other if you are not comfortable with a ride? Do you have an exact ‘plan’ or are you flexible to change? Bare in mind that the more of you that there are, the more intimidating you appear to passing cars and the less likely they are to have space for you all. I have found that hitching as a guy and girl together can work well because people assume that you are a friendly couple. Often when travelling with female friends, I have found it valuable to play on this image when needed. If you don’t have a hitchhiking partner, try searching the groups on Couchsurfing or forums on Digihitch.

Be Safe

Tied Up

Get travel insurance. The most likely thing to happen is a common accident, for which you will require medical assistance. Get travel insurance, even if it is only basic. Medical bills are extortionate worldwide. Two fractured vertebrae, six stitches in my head, and occasional other injuries, as well as lost wallets and broken cameras all agree with this. As a result of always having travel insurance, none of these have caused me major lasting problems.

Have a reserve money supply. I recommend a second bank card hidden in a secure place. I generally don’t carry anything and ended up ‘squatting’ in a beach resort in Zanzibar a few years back when my wallet went ‘missing.’

Keep an electronic copy of all your documents. In the event that they go missing, a printed copy is much better than nothing at all. I e-mail my documents to myself so that I can retrieve them from anywhere around the world. This includes my passport, my insurance documents, and.. well that’s about all I need.

USE YOUR INTUITION. I cannot understate the importance of this. I have met people who carry pepper spray or knives but I am 100% of the opinion that using your initiative is a much more powerful weapon. Think about yourself for a minute: in a threatening situation, would you have the equipment (pepper spray / a knife) to hand so that you could get it out? Would you have the conviction to look like you might actually do something with the weapon you wield? I used to carry a knife until I realised I wouldn’t know what to do with it and it would be immediately obvious to anyone who threatened me. I could use my hands far better. Pre-emtive action is the best defence. If you are not comfortable, make any excuse to get out of a ride or don’t get in in the first place. You will never see the person again, so do not be afraid to offend them. ANY excuse will do. Hitchhiking is not dangerous if you make it safe.

Don’t leave your valuable possessions in a car. For me, this is my notebooks and my photographs (saved on my camera). When stopping at a gas station for a break, I leave my main luggage, but normally carry a small, separate pack with all of the things I really care about in. Try not to offend your drivers by making it clear that you don’t trust them. Occasionally I sneak a cheeky photo of the license plate as I pass in case they drive off with my stuff.

Look Good

Look-Good

Make a sign (optional). Often, I hitchhike with nothing but my thumb. It requires no equipment and gets lots of people to stop. However, a sign shows that you are serious about your trip and have a goal in mind. Make the sign clear and easy to read. Don’t be too specific. Often writing the name of a big town in the general direction that you wish to travel (or even the general direction e.g. South) is all you need. People are nicer than you would believe and often go out of their way to help you get where you are going. My most commonly used sign simply says ’20km’ and I negotiate a ride with the driver once they have stopped. Most people are driving 20km (if you’re standing in the right place), thus it greatly increases the number of people who will stop for you.

Smile at people, dress appropriately. This goes a long way. I love wearing my loose fitting ‘hippy’ pants and in certain countries, they work very well; in others, not so much. People only have a couple of seconds to decide whether or not to pick you up and jeans or regular shorts can often be successful in obtaining a ride. Sunglasses are a bad idea because it looks like you’re hiding something. For guys, long beards or long hair can prove difficult because people think you haven’t had the opportunity to keep yourself ‘tidy.’ When it rains, try to stay dry. Sympathy is a less powerful emotion than the lack of desire to have a soggy stranger in your car. Hair that is too short (shaved) can intimidate people. Ultimately though, it’s a smile and eye contact that secure the ride more than how you look.

Put your (reasonable) bags where people can see them. It makes you look like a hitchhiker. Suitcases are bad for hitchhiking and no luggage can suggest that you are on the run (or a prostitute). Pack reasonably because you will be carrying your pack for a long time and sometimes for long distances. More reasonable sized backpacks can also fit into smaller cars. Try to limit yourself to one bag (or one large bag with a small handheld bag for valuables; I have a tiny shoulder bag for my camera, passport, and money).

Signal clearly. Typically, I hold the sign out clearly where people can see it, put my thumb out, and make direct eye contact. The eye contact can quite often prove to be the deal maker. Again, smile.

Know where you are going

treasure-map

Knowledge is power. Maps can be extremely valuable. For reduction of weight, I often take photos of maps on my camera and look at maps in service stations, but sometimes I am caught a little short. Try to learn the map (roughly) so that when you are offered a ride to a certain town, you know whether to say yes or no. Make it clear to your driver where you want to get out. I ask for the motorway exit (as it also has an entrance) or a large service station. Getting taken into a town is an absolute nightmare for hitching. When travelling long distances it is easy to get a relatively lightweight fold out map of a large area to help you out.

Stand in the right place

danger

Get on the right road. It sounds like common sense, but is is easy to get yourself in the wrong place. Check where you are by asking people nearby. When you don’t understand the language, point and say the name of the place that you are going and observe the individual’s response. Do this with multiple people and put your trust in the majority opinion.

Do not stand on the motorway. In many countries, it is illegal and the police will move you. It is also dangerous and terrifying. Almost anywhere that is not past the motorway sign, is legal to hitchhike (do not hold me to this). Sometimes I stand ten metres in front of the motorway sign, but I never cross it. Once you cross that sign, you are officially breaking a law and could face a fine.

Find excess space and lack of speed. Stand where people can stop. My first choice is slip roads because they are close to the motorway and you know all passing cars are going in the right direction and will pass relatively slowly. Find a wide space where they can pull over. My next choice is service stations on the motorway. Again, you know all cars are going in the same direction. Find a place close to where traffic rejoins the motorway so that you can catch all types of vehicle. I also use bus stops, roundabouts, and anywhere where cars move slow enough to read the sign and have space to pull over. If you are in a place without space or where the cars are moving too fast, it becomes too dangerous for everyone.

Be visible. Give drivers time to decide to take you. Jumping out from the bushes will shock them far more than it will incline them to stop. Waving or even a little dance can sometimes make people laugh and they are more inclined to stop for you. I have used these techniques with great success at times and know people who juggle or perform handstands to obtain rides.

Ask. There is no harm in approaching people at gas stations to ask for a ride. Sometimes they are a little surprised by this direct approach and say yes because they feel too embarrassed to say no. For this reason, I normally choose not to do it, but when experiencing difficulty in catching a ride, this is what I resort to.

Walk

walking-together

Find a good place. Be prepared to walk to find it. If I wait in a single place for an hour, I move. Then I find a new place and continue on my way. Sometimes when exiting a city, I walk for several miles until I am happy with the place that I have found. Use hitch wiki to find good starting points from big cities.

Jump

Jump

Just do it. Get over all those fears and preconceptions that you might have and hit the road. You’ll figure most of this stuff out when you simply get out there and do it for yourself. By the way, it feels great.

Don’t give up. Sometimes people pass you by, sometimes they laugh. Occasionally they even flick you off. But when you get that ride and reach your intended destination, all the badness washes away and you are on top of the world. Don’t stop chasing this moment.

You may also be interested in reading How to Hitchhike a Boat, Is Hitchhiking Dangerous, or checking out the Travel Without Money (for free) advice page.

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41 Comments

  • I can maybe see hitchhiking in a much smaller country, where many, if not most people know and trust each other. There’s a huge difference in many European countries and the United States, when it comes to that. The United States is too big, not many people know each other, and that’s what makes hitchhiking so risky. Hitchhiking is risky anywhere, because there’s really no telling who one will either get picked up by, or pick up, but it’s especially risky here in the United States. Also, with a Donald Trump Presidency, I can see the crime rate taking a big jump upwards again.

    People may claim that hitchhiking-related crimes are rare, but that’s because hitchhiking, in itself, has become so rare here in the United States.

  • I hitchhiked this summer in Ireland and it was great. People there were so friendly and everyone reccommended to hitchhike to move from a place to another, as public transport is too bad.

    I was really scared in the beginning (shy, introvert…) but as I did it it get so good!. Normally in 10-15 mins a car stopped. I went all way from Nenagh to Galway in 4 hours. Really good experience (and cheap)

    Every traveller hitchhikes in Ireland I`ve seen.

    • Hi, Alejandro. Glad you had some positive experiences while hitchhiking in Ireland. I see where you’re coming from, in a way, because Ireland is a much smaller country than the United States, which is so big, and so impersonal, at times.

  • Hi Jamie i am Anindya
    Its great to hear your story of hitching and though i am now in class 10 i want to hitch and explore the whole world.Do you think i should be starting hitching right away cuz my parents disagree with me. Plz contact me.

    • Hello, Anindya. Parents are never happy with hitchhiking in my experience (this is still true for me now are 400+ hitchhiking lifts), and I find that there is no perfect answer for everyone. I first hitchhiked from UK to Morocco with a friend on a charity hitchhike when I was 19 because that was right for me… and I have friends who would never want to try hitchhiking even once in their lives. Sorry I can’t give a magic answer, I don’t think there is one.

  • Hey Jamie, awesome blog! I’m a brit and i love hitching. I’m going to the states in september, and i’ve been warned that I can get deported if caught doing this in some states – though I’m very sceptical about that. Did you hitch around the states + did you free camp? If so – would you have any specific advice for these things in the states?

    • I never have, but I met many people who have. From the stories I heard, the rules vary from state to state. I vaguely seem to remember New York State being particularly bad (due to the laws), but there are places that are much better – I just don’t know where. Whatever you do, don’t get caught… And remember that forgiveness is easier to obtain than permission…

  • Hi Jamie , Good blog. What ever happened to that great book the Hitchhikers guide to Europe? It seemed to go out of print. Chris

    • I never came across that book before, but I’m sure there will be a few copies kicking around on eBay or Amazon Marketplace.

    • Go have an amazing time, Brian. Try to enjoy the journey rather than worrying about the book. I pieced mine together from diary notes and blog posts a long time afterwards. Happy hitching!

  • I’m the pensioner (68 this month) who wrote below about my hitch around the world below (29.06.15).

    I’d like to update about my hitch to the European arctic last month. I had just finished converting my Citroen Berlingo into a microcamper with bed, cooking and WC facilities, water tank, solar shower, and rubber dinghy on-board for fishing (12 volt pump too – I can’t blow it up!).
    I wanted to test it so went to my favourite lake in Sweden, Bolmen. I live in North Denmark (Zealand) so it’s very close really, 2-3 hours driving. It works really well. I also made a shade/rain awning which covers a large area besides the van. The whióle conversion cost me 5DKK (less than 1 Euro/Dollar) which was for 2 suction cups to hold the awning on the roof. Everything else I already had lying around – I am a hoarder!
    Then I arranged with a local farmer at Bolmen that I could leave the van in his yard while I hit the road. I wanted to find out if all my old equipment still worked (rucksack, tent, thumb etc). I also wanted to find out if people would stop for a white-bearded pensioner with a huge Union Jack on his pack (I’m British, although mum was Danish).
    The rucksack wasn’t big enough, like last time, so had a chest pack again too. The 2-person tent is not 100% waterproof any more, so next time I’ll use my slightly less roomy reserve and keep the other as a fair-weather spare in my van, in case it’s too hot to sleep in. NB: Not this summer 🙁 .
    The thumb still worked, but interestingly almost all of my rides were with non-Swedes, foreigners and immigrants living or travelling in Sweden. Last time I hitched to Lapland was 45-50 years ago and then it was mostly lorry drivers and travelling salesmen who stopped, and rides were long; they were bored driving alone. This time single occupancy was the exception and people told me that hitch-hikers were almost non-existent. Indeed I saw no others.
    It was my hope to finally reach North Cape, Europe’s closest point to the North Pole. I tried twice as a youth, ran out of time once, money the next. However, I got as far as Gällivare in Lapland then had to turn around. I hadn’t brought enough medicine (various tablets) to go further, so I’ll have to try again.
    Sweden has a wonderful ancient law, Allemannsret (common/s law) which permits camping and foraging anywhere. It certainly makes it easier to hitch as it doesn’t matter where the last ride of the day drops you. (One must remember that there are elks, wolves and bears, so take the necessary precautions – wear a bell, store food high up etc.) I also found it relatively easy to avoid long walks as I chose the inland route (Inlandsvägen) passing smaller towns, sincee people drive more slowly there. It’s the old road built to facilitate the settlers who colonised the Lapp country in the past.
    Saw lots of reindeer, weather was ok and scenery stupendous – love the big skies and wide open spaces there.
    Now I’m planning my fourth adventure to reach North Cape – you can’t keep a good man down!
    I want to do it before I’m 70!
    Any ladies who’d like to join me (own tent)?

  • Hello everybody,

    According to me , Hitchhiking will be the new way of travel in the next few month.

    I believed that we can meet some different people who each one has a fantastic history to tell us.

  • I want to go around the world… and I am wondering which would be a better option – to go biking or to hitch? I am from India, and I want to travel east, towards China and Siberia… and then Alaska, Canada and US.

    • There is no perfect answer and both could be incredible experiences. Maybe try travelling in different ways and see what works for you? I like to change my transport every so often to keep my interest flowing.

    • Hello Pradeep
      I made it around the world at the age of 50, and chose to hitch-hike and camp. I think that if you choose to cycle you would have to use small side roads to avoid the most dangerous traffic, and side roads are often rutted gravel instead of asphalt. They are also often much longer routes – and in some cases don’t exist (eg across eastern Siberia). I found that people often invited me to stay, as they wanted me to speak English with their children. Important opportunities for bathing! Also had a solar shower. I was quite often invited to speak in schools and unis. I avoided most large cities unless they had world-class attractions. I stealth-camped mostly in woods and forests, never saw any wolves! I did see bears – but only from the passenger seat! I kept my food high up in a tree overnight and wore a bell as recommended when walking. Carried weight was c. 70 kg, and up to 20 of that was carried in a day-sack that I wore back-to-front on my chest and kept with me on my lap when I got a lift, as I kept useful stuff like documents, cash, map, snack and drink etc in it. Everything in my rucksack was in waterproof bags and I also had a waterproof cover for it, and lightweight waterproof trousers and jacket for me. I took my lightweight 2-person tent, lightweight inflatable mattress, quick-drying lightweight clothes and breathable boots. When in naturally fuel-less places I used my Trangia mini cooking set burning methylated spirits – equivalents available everywhere, I even used bootleg vodka! All carried food was dried, not commercial trekking packs but standard shop-bought (further details available!) and I bought fresh fruit, veg, eggs and cheese locally for immediate use (I’m vegetarian). I used Micropur tablets to sterilise drinking water. I took 2 road atlasses, Eurasia and North America, and as I travelled I used the maps no longer needed as fire-starters! The atlasses were kept in a plastic bag and used as a seat when needed. I used local transport to get to the outskirts of towns to hitch, if it was too far to walk. I had booked an air taxi to fly from Siberia to Alaska by the shortest route but could not reach the remote airfield due to the rouble crisis (in 1998) so cancelled it and took a same-price flight as sole pax in a mini airliner from Kamchatka to Anchorage. Air India standby was cheapest across the Atlantic. Hope all this is useful. GOOD LUCK!

    • Biking is lots of fun….and safer than hitching hiking. I strongly recommend biking. All the best of luck to you.

  • Very useful article, thanks for sharing!

    I think hitchhiking is the best way of travel, but I have a „what bad thing could happen to me?” attitude, thus I’ll share my story with the girls like me.

    Two weeks ago I was hitchiking in Greece from Sithonia back to Thessaloniki. I promised myself not to hitchhike *alone *as a girl *in a foreign country *with limited knowledge of the area *at sunset etc., but the public transport was so bad I would have had to wait for an a hour to a bus in a „not really a” bus stop. So I was like let’s do it until the bus come, what bad thing could happen?

    2 hours later I found myself in a truck in a dark forest with a not too likeable guy.
    Finally I don’t know how and why, but he let me go, he didn’t even touch me, but I promised myself to be way more careful… well, in my life. 🙂 It was a good learning lesson since I am just about to travel Northeast Asia alone.

    Please learn from my story and use couchsurfing, hitchike, sleep in a park or a forest, talk to strangers, trust in people because most of them are wonderful – just keep in mind that bad things happen sometimes so don’t be unwary.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. As with life, it is good advice to remember that bad things do sometimes happen, but that they are much rarer than good things. Keep exploring, keep loving the world, and enjoy Asia.

  • Thanks so much for this post. You gave me faith that my plan can come true. I’m planning alone hichhiking in Norway this year, it will be my first time, and I’m very excited about that. I want to sleep in a tent and truly go into the wild. The adventure is calling me!

    • Hej Wiola! Good luck with your adventuring! I have been going on expeditions in the far North for many years and would be pleased to offer you any advice from my experience, about camping in the wild (food, hygiene etc), reducing weight to be carried (very important!), meeting the Lapps (Same), and about the best wild hiking routes and so on.
      You can contact me at jackpedersen65(at)gmail.com if it would be useful.

    • Wiola, that is great to hear. Norway is beautiful and I hope that you love it. You are excited with very good reason!

  • Awesome guide to hitchhiking! When choosing your hitchhiking partner, I think it’s also great when you’re the same level of independence. It’s quite annoying when you have to do all the ‘work’ (i.e. try to hitch a ride in the rain while the other person just waits somewhere in the shelter every time, or if you’re always the one looking at maps and figuring out the route etc.) Last year I hicthhiked from Moscow to Thailand with a friend and we had a few arguments because she would always just go to sleep really early, not talk to our Couchsurfing hosts at all because I was ‘already doing that’ and she neeever did anything, which sucked because at the end we had to go quite fast because our Chinese visa was about to expire and we wanted to make it to Songkran in Thailand.

    Oh and I normally don’t use signs, but that’s because I feel like it often confuses people more in countries where hitchhiking isn’t understood really. In China I would write all cities that were on the way in my notebook in Chinese and just let the drivers point to where they were going once they already stopped.

    Yay hitchhiking 🙂

    • Spending extended periods of time with someone really can make or break a friendship. Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experiences with your friend. I quite enjoyed hitching alone and picking up temporary partners along the way – that way you never have to be stuck with someone you don’t enjoy being with!

  • In 1998 I set off to celebrate my 50th birthday by hitching around the world. I haven’t actually gone ‘home’ as my ex-wife died in the meantime, my kids are abroad working and I feel ok here in Denmark, my mother’s origin. I ended up working 5 years in the Russian Federation’s two poorest and remotest ethnic republics, mongol buddhist people – lovely. I taught English – had a basic qualification. I just got diagnosed with diabetes and take pills. 2 years ago I got a pig’s heart valve replacement. This summer as I am broke I plan to hitch to Europe’s northernmost point, North Cape (Norway) via Sweden and Finland, return via Norway. I have checked all my original gear and packed the sack, found an old Union Jack to sew on – it helps here. Anyone want to join me?

    • John, you have one hell of a story. I hope you find someone to join you on your awesome trip. I am in Australia right now, but also had the dream to hitch to the very north of Europe and experience perpetual sunlight during the summer.

    • Hey, John, that’s amazing! It just proves you can be any age and still live like you’re still young. Depending on the timing, I may well be able to do this with you. Give me an email at S.J.Shiro@gmail.com and let’s talk about it. 🙂

  • Hi Jamie! Thank you so much for this post… This is something I’ve always wanted to do and had an interest for, (when I am a bit older as I am only 16,) but when I mention it to family or friends they essentially call me crazy! I trust my own intuition enough to know I can do this safely. I’d love to be a solo female traveler in the future (imagine the gain in self-confidence and awareness!) but I didn’t know really even the basics about it until now. This article helped me SO much, even in deciding to just take that first jump and go for it! Life is too short to sit inside and worry about all the things that could go wrong, rather than trusting yourself enough to take the risk that things can go very, very right!
    Thank you also for your post that led me to this page, the one about how to travel with little to no money. I think I may try out the skipping after all! Keep posting and keep traveling!

    • I’m glad you found the information useful Ellie. Hitchhiking has sadly fallen out of favour due to people become afraid of the world. The more people you ask, the more people will tell you not to do it – even people who pick me up tell me to stop doing it and in around 500 or so rides, I have never had a problem.

      Life is short, and yes, you make it go right. Happy adventuring Ellie.

  • I love your story. I plan on doing jist this with my boyfriend and we have been planning for a long time. my biggest problem is stil that i need to know how much money i need. any help?

    • Fantastic, I hope you guys have a wonderful time. You need as much or as little as you want to spend. Last time I hitched through Europe and kept an account, I spent around £2 a day per person with good food and drinks – of course you could spend way more if you aren’t careful. I also know of people who travel without money, so everything is possible.

  • I hitchhiked Israel for about 3 weeks and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. And yes, I did it as a solo female traveler! It shocks people when I tell them, but like you said, knowledge is power AND intuition is key.

    My heart would just tell me when to signal a car or not, really! Also, I made sure I asked locals which places were safe enough to hitchhike. Like anywhere in the world, there are certain places to avoid, to inform yourself!

    Now of course, go out there and jump 😀

    -Maria Alexandra

  • Every post I’ve read seems to leave out a good kind of outline about what to bring to eat stuff that will fill and fuel you for the journey. I’m wondering because me and my friend are planing to hitchhike from Raleigh nc to Boulder Colorado trying to start a better life we plane to pack on the heavier side and won’t have much money to bring with us so were trying to make sure we don’t starve lol we have a good idea of what to bring and will each have about a 30 pound pack each though that maybe a heavier then the then the pack actually is I’d be happy to list my ideas on what we plane to bring and get your input on weather we should drop or add any items to the list…. Hope to get your input soon

    • Hi Morgan. The reason I don’t list food to take is because when hitchhiking, a heavy pack is an absolute nightmare. Sometimes I travel thousands of miles without having to walk, but at times, I have had to walk 5-10 miles to get my first lift. Definitely take water lots of water however. If you are taking food, take high energy to weight ratio food such as nuts or dried food. Shops are all over the place and you can buy food for the same price everywhere, so no need to over stock on supplies before hand. I generally carry 1-2 days supplies in case I get stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Also have you ever considered skipping? I know a lot of hitchhikers who use it and I have tried it myself in the past with great success. Drop me an e-mail from the contact page if you want to give you my thoughts on your packing list.

        • If you’re nervous, just wait on the side of the road with your thumb out and people will come to you. After that, it becomes easier and easier.

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