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Hitchhiking in low-populated areas
Winter hitchhiking in Russia

Hitchhiking (also known as thumbing, tramping, hitching, autostop or thumbing up a ride) is a means of transportation that is gained by asking people, usually strangers, for a ride in their automobile or other road vehicle to travel a distance that may either be short or long. The latter may require many rides from different people; a ride is usually but not always free. If one wishes to indicate that they need a ride, they must simply make a hand gesture. In North America, the gesture is to stick one of their thumbs upward. In other parts of the world, it's more common to use a gesture where the index finger is pointed at the road. This cultural difference stems partly from an alternate offensive meaning for the thumbs up gesture in parts of Europe and Asia.


Legal status

These two signs are used in the United States to prohibit hitchhiking.
Hitchhiking (called liften) is legal in the Netherlands. This sign indicates a good place to get a lift, close to Amstel railway station in Amsterdam

Hitchhiking is a historically common 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.[1] In the United States, for example, some local governments have laws to outlaw hitchhiking, with safety being the primary concern. In 1946 New Jersey arrested and imprisoned a hitchhiker leading to intervention by ACLU.[2] In Canada, several highways have restrictions on hitchhiking, particularly in British Columbia and the 400-series highways in Ontario. In all countries in Europe with the exception of Slovakia[3] it is legal to hitchhike, and in some places even encouraged, however it is illegal to hitchhike where pedestrians are banned, such as Motorways (United Kingdom) or the Autobahn (Germany)

Signaling method

A typical hitchhiker's gesture.

The hitchhiker's method of signaling to drivers differs around the world. In the U.S. and UK, one would point one's thumb up, while in some places in South America one displays to an oncoming car the back of one's hand with the index finger pointing up.[citation needed] In India, the hand is waved with the palm facing downwards (or the U.S./UK way).[citation needed] In Israel the hitchhiking signal is to hold one's fist out with the index finger pointing towards the road.

A hitchhiker may also hold a sign displaying their destination and/or the languages spoken. A more recent method is to go to websites and arrange lifts beforehand, without soliciting directly from the road. This way of transport is a modern way of ridesharing/carpooling. To increase the success rate, hitchikers sometimes smile to show that they are friendly. Also waving some money can be used in desperate situations to demonstrate that you are willing to pay for the ride. Made popular by the 1932 film It Happened One Night female hitchhikers have found success in signaling cars with the exposure of a leg like Claudette Colbert had in the movie.

Often nothing more than communication and entertainment of the driver is given or performed in exchange for the lift, but in some places, such as parts of central Asia, hitchhikers in cargo trucks, especially foreigners, are expected to pay for the ride, usually some portion of the usual bus fare for the trip.[citation needed].


There are many reasons for hitchhiking, including a lack of personal transportation, a lack of money for public transit, or because public transit is unavailable or too infrequent. These may generally be regarded as reasons of immediacy, as opposed to hitchhikers who pursue the activity with something more akin to a major passion for it, such as the love of adventure, or for reasons having to do with self-discovery or self-realization.

Irv Thomas, a lifelong American hitchhiker, has illuminated the aspect of an unmediated exposure to reality in his memoir, Derelict Days... Sixty Years on the Roadside Path to Enlightenment, noting that in today's security-focused world, hitchhiking may be the only remnant of a world in which developments were largely left to chance. In venturing such journeys, the discovery and realization that 'good things consistently happen' can be a life-changing outcome.

Though for many, hitchhiking is simply recreation. The ability to travel for free to a far-off location, whilst meeting interesting people along the way, is sufficient reason for many to hitchhike.

A definition of hitchhiking put forward by Max Neumegen, ex-world overland traveler, 'mentor' of "hitchhiking with a bike, the ultimate way in travelling", and member of the Trans Africa Walk for Peace Expedition 1979; "the hitchhiker is there so you can do your good deed for the day".

Sport and leisure

Hitchhiking in New Zealand, 2006

For many, hitchhiking is a great adventure and challenge. Each year hundreds of students from the U.K. take part in a sponsored hitch to Morocco or Prague in aid of Link Community Development; in 2007, 782 people hitched the 1,600 miles to Morocco and raised almost £340,000 to improve the quality of education in Africa. Other UK students partake in "Jailbreak" where a group of students hold a competition, usually in the summer holidays/vacation, to see who can get farthest from their university without spending any money on travel (whether money can be spent on food/shelter is up to the participants to decide). Warwick University in particular operates jailbreak to great success - in 2009 the winning team travelled to Tenerife in just 36 hours.[4]

There were fifty hitchhikers supported by several MEPs called Eurizons that did the Tour for Global Responsibility. They traveled over 2500 km. In Eastern Europe, especially Lithuania and Russia hitchhiking is an adventure sport. There are clubs, hitchhiking schools, and competitions. From 1992 to 1993, Russian hitchhiker Alexey Vorov made a first trip around the world, hitchhiking by cars, planes and boats. In January 2007 197 students hitchhiked from Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland to Paris, France in Race to Paris, an event co-ordinated by the University of St Andrews Charities Campaign. The winners made the journey in just 19 hours and 16 minutes. The event returned as Race to Amsterdam in January 2008, in which 214 racers participated, and Race to Berlin in January 2009 - the largest charity hitchhike in the University's history, which involved nearly 270 racers, and raised over £20,000 for the Campaign's nominated Charities. In October 2007, Pete Stephens and Tim Keevil (two students from Bristol) completed a hitch hike to Singapore from London, taking seven weeks and crossing over 6600 miles. Raising over £3000 for Students Partnership Worldwide and Epilepsy Action.

The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) international student group from the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam went on two hitch-hiking trips during the 2007-2008 school year, one being to Paris and the other to Berlin. About 25 groups of usually two students each successfully made both trips. Only one group managed not to arrive in Berlin, being stranded in Amersfoort.

Despite this continued interest in hitch-hiking, it is widely accepted that the practice has declined in developed countries since the 1970s, perhaps because of a small number of high-profile cases in which hitch-hikers have been killed, and negative media images of hitch-hikers as themselves a source of threat. Reasons for hitch-hiking's decline, and possible means of reviving it in safer and more organised forms, are discussed by Graeme Chesters and David Smith in one of the very few academic discussions of hitch-hiking, The Neglected Art of Hitch- hiking.

A hitchhiker is also a type of letterbox, which is part of an outdoor hobby known as letterboxing. In this hobby, the hitchhiker (a stamp and a logbook) are discovered in a letterbox by a letterboxer, and are removed, to be placed in another letterbox elsewhere.

Hitchhiking in popular culture

The characters portrayed by Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable attempt to hitchhike in It Happened One Night.


The writer Jack Kerouac immortalized hitchhiking in his book On the Road. The road has a fascination to Americans; countless writers have written of the road and/or hitchhiking, such as John Steinbeck, whose book The Grapes of Wrath opens with a hitched ride. Kurt Vonnegut's perpetual protagonist, Kilgore Trout hitchhikes halfway across the country in Breakfast of Champions. Roald Dahl wrote a short story called The Hitchhiker, in which he uses the idea that you can hear fascinating stories when giving people a lift to introduce one of his trade-mark eccentric characters. Another lesser known author, a lifetime hitchhiker named Irv Thomas, incorporates hitchhiking into his writing perspective and lifestyle in Innocence Abroad: Adventuring Through Europe at 64 on $100 Per Week, as well as recounting his hitchhiking travels in a memoir, Derelict Days...Sixty Years on the Roadside Path to Enlightenment. (In June, 2009, Thomas extended that lifetime record to 66 years, with a long-distance road trip at age 82). Douglas Adams postulated on interstellar hitchhiking in his cult classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, while fellow science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein described interdimensional hitchhiking in his book Job: A Comedy of Justice. The protagonist of Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Sissy Hankshaw, becomes legendary as a hitchhiker in part because of her unusually large thumbs. British comedian Tony Hawks writes about hitchhiking around Ireland with a refrigerator as the result of a drunken bet in Round Ireland With a Fridge. An in-depth analysis on the practice of hitchhiking in Poland was published, aptly called Autostop Polski ("Polish hitchhiking").[5] In 2005, No Such Thing As A Free Ride?, a comprehensive anthology of hitchhiking stories and viewpoints was published by Cassell Illustrated. The book was serialized in The Times and named The Observer's Travel Book of the Week. Edited by Tom Sykes and Simon Sykes, it featured contributions from Mike Leigh, Sir Alan Parker, Sir Max Hastings, Tony Hawks and Eric Burdon, amongst others. In 2008, No Such Thing As A Free Ride? North American Edition was published by Goose Lane of Canada and featured JP Donleavy, Margaret Avison, Doug Stanhope, Jeff Lewis and Will Durst, amongst others.





Famous hitchhikers

Two boys hitchhiking in California, circa 1939
  • Jack Kerouac hitchhiked in America and wrote many books about his experience.
  • Devon Smith was listed in Guinness Book of World Records for most cumulative miles hitchhiked (1973 to 1985), over 290,988 mi. He also held the record for hitchhiking all 48 contiguous U.S. states in 33 days during 1957.[citation needed]
  • Stephan Schlei, from Ratingen in Germany. Hitchhiked more than 621,371 mi. The Guinness Book of Records, before they removed all hitchhiking records, used to say that he is the World's No.1 Hitchhiker.[citation needed]
  • W. H. Davies, a Welsh poet and tramp, who hitchiked America during the early 20th century
  • Juan Villarino, founder of Autostop Argentina, began his round the world hitch-hiking trip in 2005, with the challenge of portraying world hospitality. His journey included countries such as Iraq, Iran, afghanistan and Tibet. He has written several books, and relates his chronicles in his website*
  • Billy Cook a true hitchhiking murderer.
  • The Hitcher, a green cockney man who was featured in The Mighty Boosh.
  • Chris McCandless, subject of the book, Into the Wild, hitchhiked throughout the western region of North America in the early 1990s.
  • Suzanne MacNevin (feminist writer) spent several years hitchhiking in Canada and the United States during the late 1990s.[6]
  • Ludovic Hubler, 29, is a French hitchhiker who spends $10 a day while on the move. He began his life as a nomad at the Val-d'Isère ski station in the Alps on January 1, 2003, equipped with just a backpack. He hitchhiked to the ‘end of the world’, Ushuaia in Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.[7] The trip that was supposed to take 2 years ended in 2008.
  • Joe Bennett, New Zealand newspaper columnist and author, hitchhiked around the world for 10 years.[8]
  • Ford Prefect, a fictional space-hitchhiking travel writer in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
  • Hitchhiker (character), a hitchhiking lunatic killer played by actor Edwin Neal in the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).

See also


  1. ^ Nwanna, p.573
  2. ^ "So You Won't Talk, Huh?". Time magazine. November 18, 1946.,9171,777285,00.html. 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." 
  3. ^ [1], Retrieved 2009-11-17.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Autostop Polski details from Korporacja Ha!art, in Polish, retrieved December 4, 2006.
  6. ^ Tales of a Female Hitchhiker, retrieved on May 31, 2007.
  7. ^ The Hindu : Metro Plus Coimbatore : Hitchhiking around the world
  8. ^ Bennett, Joe (2000). "A thumb in the air". Fun Run and other Oxymoron's. Simon and Schuster UK Ltd. 


  • Nwanna, Dr. Gladson I. (2004). Americans Traveling Abroad: What You Should Know Before You Go, Frontier Publishers, Inc., ISBN 1890605107.

External links


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