The first time I stood on the side of the road I was scared shitless.
I was a relatively shy kid and the idea of throwing my backpack into some unknown person’s car and then asking them for something for free, a lift, made me feel uncomfortable.
Still, I was far more scared of remaining in England, of getting a job I hated to pay off a mortgage for a house I didn’t want and so I stuck out my thumb.
My first ever lift was an older Polish lady who drove me nearly fifty miles out of her way to drop me near the coast where I caught a ride on a boat headed to France. Sensing, perhaps, that I was a little uneasy, she talked none-stop.
She told me about how she used to hitchhike a lot as a girl in Poland but had not seen anybody trying to hitchhike before in England. She asked me where I was going and I remember answering ‘further than France’ but thinking ‘I have no idea’.
Hitchhiking is a fantastic experience, but the reality is that most people don’t know where to start.
So thus brings us here to this hitchhiking guide, crafted from years of experience thumbing it up all over the planet.
It’s well past time for you to learn how to hitchhike – let’s get to it!
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What IS Hitchhiking?
Hitchhiking is to budget backpacking what a tent is to camping … almost an essential. While getting in cars with strangers may sound dangerous, it can lead to downright euphoric travel moments and epic connections that are really the essence of backpacking itself.
Practically, hitchhiking is as simple as standing on the road with a good sign out and your thumb up, but in reality, it’s a whole lot more than that. It’s a way to connect with people you’d never meet otherwise, and more often than not led to some unplanned cheeky adventures.
It’s a thrill, and can even become somewhat of an addiction. I’ve tried every form of transit under the sun – but it’s the memories of slowly hitching that stick with me all these years later.
From grandmas to truck drivers–and anyone in between–you simply never know who you’ll meet on the great open road.
Why Travel by Hitchhiking?
My first hitchhiking journeys in Europe are still some of my fondest travel memories… I didn’t take a phone, just half a dozen books to read, and I camped most nights. It was simple. I enjoyed the daily routine of waking up, cooking some beans on my stove and making my way to the road to try and catch another ride going further East.
Fast forward nine years and I’ve hitched on four continents whilst travelling on a budget of $10 a day. I’ve racked up tens of thousands of miles and caught hundreds of rides. Hitchhiking has been a highlight of my travels and I’ve had some incredible experiences that have only been possible because I was hitchhiking.
I hitched from England to Africa, from France to Romania, from Albania to Azerbaijan; multi-month hitchhiking expeditions that forced me to step out of my comfort zone, meet amazing people and helped me come to grips with the local culture.
Hitchhiking is, simply, one of the best ways to get around the globe and to actually connect with amazing people whilst travelling. Some of the most interesting, unbelievable, shocking and inspiring conversations I have experienced have been with random folks who have picked me up. And it sure beats endless hours stuck on packed public transport…
Hitchhiking has been around for decades and was first made popular in the times of the hippies. As a kid, I read On The Road by Jack Kerouac (a hero of mine) and was inspired to try living the hitchhiker-bum life myself. Hitchhiking is perfect for broke backpackers as it’s a free way to get from A to B…
So, how exactly do you hitch a ride? Are there any good hitchhiking websites you can check out? Is hitchhiking legal? Read on amigo to find out everything you need to know about hitchhiking…
Best Places to Hitchhike
Like budget travel, hitchhiking is a hell of a lot better in some places than others. Yes, you can find a ride virtually anywhere with some discipline, but here are some ideas to make it easy…
- Eastern Europe: Romania, Bosnia, and Albania are some of the most hitchhiker-friendly countries in Europe – you shouldn’t wait long for a ride in this region.
- South Asia: For men and couples? Perhaps one of the best hitchhiking regions on the entire planet. Women can and do thumb around these splendid regions, but I’d seriously recommend avoiding cars of men like the plague.
- New Zealand: Backpacking New Zealand is already a dream, and I highly recommend adding hitchhiking to your plan. It’s safe, easy, and will save you a ton of cash in an undeniably expensive country.
How to Hitchhike – Top Tips for Hitchhiking
Getting a ride will be relatively easy if you follow these tips…
- Take the right equipment: If you are hitchhiking any real distance you must be prepared to spend the night under the stars. Many drivers will offer you a place to stay in their house but you cannot rely on this, take a tent or a camping hammock and make sure you have lots of warm gear as well as a good map.
- Be flexible, be happy: Hitchhiking is a great way to save money but you have to realise that hitchhiking often makes it impossible to plan when and where you will turn up. You need to be flexible, enjoy the ride and accept that sometimes you will have to wait a while to get picked up. If you look approachable and happy you are far more likely to get a ride, make sure you are not wearing sunglasses or a cap covering your face, eye contact is key!
- Take lots of pens: I am a fan of big, simple signs (usually with just one word such as ‘South’ or a road code like M6) when hitchhiking and although you can often find cardboard or other junk to use as a sign, you need to have a pen handy.
- If camping, invest in your gear: If you are going to be camping out regularly, I strongly recommend investing in a sleeping pad – you can often make do without a properly warm sleeping bag but a decent mat will keep you warm and save you from aches and pains. You should also definitely have a headlamp.
- Use your imagination: You can hitch literally anywhere in the world, obviously some areas are more dangerous than others but it can be done. There are no limits to the number of awesome adventures you could have hitchhiking.
- Pick your hitching spot carefully: I tend to go for commercial rest areas or gas stations. If you are not getting picked up do not be afraid to walk down the road a bit and find a better hitchhiking spot. Basically, you need to find a spot where drivers are naturally forced to slow down.
- Be polite and friendly: Once your driver has pulled over, run up to them – do not make them wait. Thank them for stopping and find out if they are going in the right direction, even if they aren’t, make sure to say thanks properly before they leave. Once in the car shake their hand and tell them your name and ask theirs. As most drivers pick up hitchers because they are bored and want a distraction, they will probably expect you to make small talk with them.
- Do not do anything in the car, e.g. eating, smoking, rolling down the windows, without first asking the driver’s opinion. Try to negotiate where you will be dropped off before you arrive, you do not want to end up in a dodgy area or the middle of a big town when you could have found yourself on a nice straight road instead. For more information on hitchhiking etiquette check out Hitch The World.
- Listen to your intuition: If someone gives you a bad vibe do not get in the car with them. At the risk of annoying feminists everywhere, I am going to voice my opinion that women should avoid hitchhiking alone. A boy and girl combo will get the most lifts.
- Utilise online resources: My favourite hitchhiking resource is Hitchwiki as it has a fantastic database of quality hitching spots all over the world. It really is a fantastic website and I highly recommend using it to help plan your route or to get advice if you are stuck somewhere. Another great place to get decent info is in Hitchhiker Facebook Groups.
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Is Hitchhiking Safe?
While you may have heard some hitchhiking horror stories, the reality is that thumbing your way around the world can be safe with some common sense. That doesn’t mean hitchhiking is safe everywhere, but that’s what pre-trip research is for.
Generally, hitching is safest in places where locals already do it themselves. Drivers won’t be alarmed, and you won’t have to try to explain what you’re trying to do. You also do NOT want to hitch in countries where it’s illegal – the USA immediately comes to mind here.
With the state of our world, it’s a fact that hitchhiking is safer for men or couples than it is for women. I’ve met many badass ladies who’ve explored the world alone by way of thumb, but you’re going to need to drill those travel safety tips, trust your intuition, and try to stick to rides with female drivers or passengers. Solitary male drivers should definitely be avoided, as should sitting in the passenger seat.
If you’re feeling uneasy, start off learning how to hitchhike in countries or regions that have low crime rates involving tourists. As a hitchhiker, you should have some kind of weapon on you for those “just in case” moments. Pepper spray is a solid choice.
Getting Insured BEFORE You Start Hitching
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
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Hitchhiking Guide FAQ
A few commonly asked questions about how to hitchhike…
Final Thoughts on How to Hitchhike
Hopefully, you now feel a bit more confident about the fantastical method of travel that is hitchhiking. It turns the dullest roads into vibrant adventures and will ensure you cross paths with some truly eccentric characters.
Learning how to hitchhike is best done by doing – no one is a better teacher than the wide open road in a far-away land. Remember that it’s okay to be nervous at first, I was scared out of my mind the first time I held a sign on the side of a highway.
It DOES get easier, and as you go along you’ll become wiser as your intuition becomes aquainted with the greatest way to see the world.
Now all that’s left to do is make your sign, pick a spot, and stick your thumb straight up.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!