Hitchhiking is one of the cheapest ways of travelling. By tradition, hitchhiking is defined as soliciting a ride by standing at the edge of a road, facing traffic, with one’s thumb extended. You can meet a lot of people and make lots of friends. You can also become very frustrated; today’s drivers are more fearful of picking up hitchhikers than in the past. But it’s also a great feeling to get a ride after you’ve been waiting for a long time. People who do pick up hitchhikers tend to be very friendly. However, hitchhikers also risk being picked up by someone who is an unsafe driver or even personally dangerous.

Hitchhiking in itself is rarely illegal, but there are often rules about where you can do it (eg. not on highways, near intersections, at bus stops), so read up on the rules first to avoid getting booked for “trespassing” or “obstructing traffic”.


  • Buy a map of the area, so you can determine whether a ride will actually bring you closer to your destination.
  • Learn the language, at least a little. Hitchhiking can be a good way to improve your conversation skills. Often drivers pick up hikers to have some conversation on an otherwise long and lonely trip.
  • Make sure to carry enough food and drink if you’re going for a long trip. Gas stations are usually a bit expensive for replenishing these supplies.
  • Arrange sleeping places. For example a Hospitality exchange host, a youth hostel, or a squat are good places to start. If you cannot arrange a place, take a tent with you and/or a warm sleeping bag.
  • Remember, hitchhiking may be illegal in some areas or on certain types of roads. Enforcement of laws against hitchhiking may vary. Ask locals. It is usually a bad idea to hitchhike if an encounter with the police would create additional problems (e.g. you are in possession of contraband or are subject to an outstanding arrest warrant).
  • Dress in layers if the weather is uncertain. Be sure that your heavier layer will shield you from cold winds and random showers, but is light enough that it won’t weigh you down too much when you remove it. Some people (for example the “Moscow school of hitchhikers”) swear that bright colours with high visibility get you away quicker.
  • Some hitchhikers recommend taking a foldable bike (which can be stowed in a car’s back seat) as back-up transportation.


  • The three most important factors for getting a ride are: location, location, and location. You need to find a place where you can be seen early (to give the driver time to decide to pick you up), and where the driver can safely pull over. Ideally, there should be some traffic, but not too much either, as this makes pulling over difficult and makes drivers assume that you can always get a ride with somebody else.
  • For long-distance travel, highway rest areas are ill-advised, particularly in the USA, due to the number of “disturbing incidents” at these locales… and the reputation for them which leads many motorists to avoid them. Motorists may assume that you were thrown out of a vehicle there.
  • An exception to the “rest area” rule is the commercial rest area on toll roads. These may be labeled “oasis” or “service plazas”. These are generally safer due to the fact that there are staffed businesses and generally more people patronizing them. You will want to purchase a small item so as not to be trespassing on the concessionaires’ leased area. A CB radio (to talk to truck drivers, and other people with CB radios passing by on the main line of the highway) is a good tool for service areas. You can purchase a handheld one for around US$40.00 at many truck stops.
  • The absolute best place to catch a good ride is on a public highway on ramp, near a truck stop, but not on the truck stop property itself, as those are good places to get thrown out of for trespassing. In Northern California (US 101) and in the Seattle area, many highway on-ramps are also bus stops and thus do double duty in regards to catching a ride.
  • Land borders where traffic has to stop are great. One caveat to hitching just before a border, however, is that drivers may be wary of transporting you across an international border itself, thus decreasing your chances of catching a ride. You may find better success crossing the border on foot, and hitching from the other side. If you attempt this, be aware of when a border is buffered by a militarized “no-man’s land,” through which it is illegal to cross on foot or camp, making it crucial to find a ride within this few-hundred-meter stretch of road before dark. The border between Turkey and Greece is such an example.
  • Gas stations where many cars stop are good. However, if you are not doing business there, you are better off using the nearby public roadway.
  • Laybys and roadside picnic areas are good, although less so in the USA as roadside picnic areas tend to be in the middle of nowhere.
  • Avoid places where traffic cannot stop legally, like no-stopping zones, taxi stands, etc. The only people likely to give you a ride from these places are the police, and you may not want to go where they want to take you. Although they could also drop you in a much better spot if they’re in a good mood.
  • Don’t try to catch a ride from downtown, instead catch public transport to the edge of town. City drivers are mostly travelling short distances, and it can be difficult for you to stand out or them to stop in heavy traffic. Check your map, or ask around, to find a good spot.
  • Getting a ride at night is very difficult. You might have some luck at a gas station, where people can see you, but again, if you’re not doing business there, go use the on-ramp if it’s well-lit, or find a campsite.

Attracting a ride

  • Asking around doesn’t hurt. If people notice you’re friendly and speak their language you have a much higher chance of getting a ride from them.
  • Walk in the direction you want to go, especially if nobody is stopping to pick you up. However, if you wander too far from town, people may wonder what you did to get stranded there. The wisest strategy usually consists of standing at the last traffic or street light in a town on smaller roads, or the last highway on-ramp in larger ones. Also, walking away from town may put you in an inhospitable environment such as a desert, and be counterproductive.
  • Make sure you know the right gestures used locally to stop a car. The thumb up sign doesn’t work in many parts of the world. Drivers may also use gestures: pointing downwards with the index finger means that they’re not going far, so it’s no use taking you.
  • Wear bright clothing so that drivers can see you.
  • A big cardboard sign with an indication of where you want to go can help. Short general directions like North, or West can be written bigger – and seen from further away – than a longer city or town, but a city is more useful for drivers. o Nonspecific ‘general’ directions are really only useful at on-ramps where traffic goes in two directions, like standing before a toll plaza, otherwise, the next town with a truck stop is recommended. o Avoid writing destinations far away, this gives you a good excuse to get off if you feel uncomfortable with the driver, you can always agree to go further if the driver turns out to be going your way. Also, indicating close destinations will attract short lifts. In Germany 200 km seems to be a good distance. o It can be a good idea to not indicate your final destination. If you can get a ride in a direction that is not exactly the best one, it could still be a good idea to take it, since you might be able to get more rides from that spot. o Some people do not believe in direction signs, and suggest funny ones (“I DON’T STINK”) or nothing at all. Holding your sign upside down may sometimes help to get a ride out of pity. If you speak the local language, saying this on your sign may also be useful.
  • Some drivers will not stop based on their own racial, cultural, or gender prejudice. While this can be upsetting, consider that you may be better off not riding with such a person.
  • If you are travelling with a companion, stand together and make it obvious that you want a ride together. Drivers don’t want to be surprised by an extra person.
  • Always stay happy – even if people react nastily.
  • If you are more of an adventurous type, try hiking around with a large or unusual object. Tony Hawks hiked through Ireland with a fridge (see http://www.tony-hawks.com/riwaf.php and wrote a book about it. It seems to help getting rides and… there’s always something to talk about!
  • If hitchhiking in the USA, you may want to buy an military-style carrying sack at a Military Surplus Store. These items are easily recognizable and can incite interest/sympathy from drivers. They’re also relatively cheap. If the driver asks about your military background, a white lie such as “My cousin gave it to me” will usually do the trick. Be prepared to have a small, believable story ready if you use such an explanation. The downside to a military carrying sack is that they’re harder to carry than a framed backpack.

Choosing a ride

  • If you’re waiting for a long time and all the cars that want to take you go in the wrong direction it can be a good idea to let them take you anyway – just to drop you at a better spot.
  • Sometimes you get an offer that brings you a little way in the right direction. This can be okay, but if you’re at a place where lots of cars stop, it could be a better idea to wait for an offer that brings you a lot further.
  • Ask if you can be dropped at a good spot for getting more rides if your ride isn’t bringing you to your final destination, e.g. a gas station or a toll place.
  • When possible, try to agree about where to be dropped off so you don’t end up in a bad place.

Stay safe

  • Take care who you get a ride with. Some criminals prey on hitchhikers. If in doubt, turn down the ride. If you’re in doubt, ask the driver where they’re going and tell them you’re heading elsewhere.
  • Note the vehicle registration, and its make, model, and color before you take ride. If you have a cellphone, text this information to a friend.
  • If possible, hitchhike with a friend.
  • Choose a car with a single occupant or a couple rather than the last seat in a car full of people.
  • Regardless of gender, choose wisely; some people have loose hands. It’s more dangerous when you’re riding with multiple people.
  • Sit in the front passenger seat, if you can. Rear doors often have child locks on them, meaning they cannot be opened from the inside. If you must sit in the back, check the child lock is off before you close the door.
  • Keep your bag or backpack in easy reach, so you can grab it if you need to bail out. Be prepared to lose it if it is locked in the trunk.
  • Wear at least some of your valuables (i.e. passport, wallet, money, I.D., bank and credit cards, etc.) under or in your clothes, rather than in your pack. Keep them in different places, so that if you lose one item, you don’t lose them all. A thief or robber who gets your wallet and pocket money may overlook a concealed moneybelt or second billfold.
  • In some places, the police take a dim view of hitchhikers and will arrest you based on the slightest excuse (or at least cost you time you could use to catch rides by running field interviews on you).
  • While pedestrians may have the right to walk along most roads, doing so in some places can get you arrested, cited, ticketed, or verbally warned. Find out about which roads you can and cannot walk along.
  • As a general rule, avoid walking along freeways, particularly if it looks unsafe to do so or the jurisdiction you are in prohibits it. In some areas where it is legal to walk on the freeway, it may be wiser and safer to stay on the on-ramp anyway, based on the infrastructure of the road.
  • If you arrange a ride through a ride-matching website, you can request the ID number of the driver who offers the ride; give this number to someone at home. Ask for this ID when you meet the driver; most will understand this precaution.

This is a brief index of hitchhiking conditions around the world, ranking countries on four indices:

  • whether hitchhiking is popular or even understood, on a scale of common → occasional → rare → unknown
  • whether getting rides is generally easy, on a scale of easy → medium → hard → very hard
  • whether hitchhiking is legal (outside highways and tollroads, which are nearly universally off limits to foot traffic)
  • whether it’s possible to hitchhike for free, or whether payment is expected if picked up by a stranger.
Country Popularity Ease Legal Payment expected
Argentina common medium yes no
Australia occasional medium varies no
Austria occasional medium yes no
Belgium occasional easy yes no
Bhutan common easy yes sometimes
Bolivia common medium yes yes
Brazil rare medium yes no
Bulgaria common medium yes no
Canada common easy varies no
Chile common medium yes no
Costa Rica occasional medium yes no
Croatia common easy yes no
Czech Republic common medium yes no
Denmark rare easy to medium yes no
Estonia common easy yes no
Finland rare medium yes no
France occasional medium yes no
Germany occasional easy /medium yes no
Greece rare medium yes no
Hungary common easy yes no
Iceland common medium yes no
India rare medium yes sometimes
Indonesia rare medium to hard yes often
Ireland occasional easy yes no
Israel common medium yes no
Italy occasional hard yes no
Japan rare easy yes no
Latvia common easy yes no
Lithuania common easy yes no
Luxembourg rare easy to hard yes no
Malaysia rare medium yes no
Mexico varies easy yes often
Mongolia rare hard yes often
Myanmar (Burma) rare medium yes no
Netherlands occasional medium-easy yes no
New Zealand varies medium yes no
Nigeria occasional easy yes yes
Norway rare, but common in north medium yes no
Philippines rare hard yes no
Poland occasional medium yes no
Romania common medium yes yes
Russia common easy yes often
Serbia common medium yes no
Singapore rare very hard no no
Slovakia common medium yes no
Slovenia common easy yes no
South Africa common depends yes sometimes
South Korea rare easy yes no
Spain occasional hard yes no
Sweden occasional hard yes no
Switzerland occasional medium yes no
Taiwan rare easy yes no
Thailand occasional easy-medium yes sometimes
Turkey rare hard varies sometimes
Ukraine common medium yes sometimes
United Kingdom rare medium yes no
USA common varies varies no
Country Popularity Ease Legal Payment expected