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!
Do You Want to Travel FOREVER??
Pop your email in below to get a FREE copy of ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day!’.
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.
We’ve tested countless backpacks over the years, but there’s one that still stands the test of time: the backpacker-approved Osprey Aether.
Want more deetz on why it’s so damn perfect? Then read our comprehensive review for the inside scoop!View on Osprey View on REI
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
World Nomads’ mission is to support and encourage travellers to explore their boundaries. They offer simple & flexible travel insurance, and safety advice to help you travel confidently.
They’ve been doing it since 2002 – protecting, connecting, and inspiring independent travellers just like you.
Get a quote below or read our in-depth review!
World Nomads provides travel insurance for travelers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
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!
Will and his twin/bro should stand on both sides of the road dressed in the same Saturday Night Fever outfit dancing and sticking your thumbs out synchronised, the drivers will think they are trippin :0
I have hitched all over the world and it has been fantastic, few scary encounters but less than 1%. Travelling would be nowhere near as enjoyable, sustainable or authentic without it!!!
Happy hitchin trails 🙂
Brilliant idea, Troy. This should 100% go on Wills goal list.
I hitched Europe for five years solid, it’s a wonderful life to live, peace, freedom, simple.
I’ve only hitchhiked short distances throughout Colorado and from London to Whales…. all when I was younger in the ’90s.
It’s still on my bucket list to go across country.
I pick up hitchers whenever I can, but these are good tips to be in the right spot.
I’ve met so many great people over the years…. (a few nut bags, but those are rare).
I’ll never stop picking them up.
thanks Brad – your hitch hiking karma must be strong haha! Thanks for picking up us vagabonds of the world.
Solo female hitchhiker here. Much easier hitching alone than when I hitched with my boyfriend…people often have space for one person but now two.
A tip I would add–start early, especially when doing a long route, a new route, or one that involves lots of highway changes.
I strongly disagree with the “woman shouldn’t hitchhike on their own” argument. Over the course of the last 10 years I have solo hitchhiked more than 35000 kms in Latin America, Europe, Australia and Asia and only once I felt in danger due to sexual harassment. Travelling as a single woman or even as a pair of two women is often much faster than going with a male companion, especially in countries like Argentina or Colombia where people are reluctant about picking up male hitchhikers because of fears of getting robbed. However, it is true that in countries where women are normally mainly caring for the family instead of leading an independent life I had more of these “do you have a boy-friend?” “Why wouldn’t you consider having a boy-friend in … (insert country you’re travelling)” conversations then in Northern or Central Europe. But if you don’t freak out, this is a nuisance (or something to laugh about afterwards;) rather than a real danger.
Especially in Latin American countries with a high crime rate I even felt to be safer as a hitchhiker than a “normal” tourist, because people normally assumed that I had no money and therefore thought it wouldn’t be worth the hassle to try and steal from me;)
PS from Quentin on Nevis. Hitch hiking wearing a kilt always helps. With my kilt I once hitched from Aylmer, Quebec to Grimshaw, Alberta (crossing 3 other Canadian provinces in between) over 4 nights & 5 days.
My thumbing days are over for sure with a terribly arthritic hip. I can’t imagine trying to run up a hiway ramp with 70 pounds of gear on my back to catch up with a ride these days, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted.
Plenty of people like hearing the stories I have to tell of my past, but I worry about some of them. A few romanticize about the freedom of the whole thing and want to put on the blinders thinking none of the bad things could ever happen to them and most are people who have never had to deal with any real hardships in their lives.
Hitchhiking can be a lot of fun, but you can run into some very difficult situations with next to nothing in resources and have to be willing to imorovise and eat things you wouldn’t ordinarily even think of putting in your mouth. Hey, I ate fried sea gull which if you’ve never tried it tastes a lot like chicken, but only after it was left out in the garbage in the hot sun for a week…It’ll keep you from starving, but not something you want on a regular basis. It’s really gamey..
I’ve eaten from dumpsters out of desperation so it’s not all fun and games all the time..
Basically what I’m saying is to be ready to improvise at a moments notice if things go south really quick and be prepared to defend your own life.
You’re out there alone and there are people more than happy to exploit that. I guess my idea of fun isn’t quite the same as most people’s idea of a great time and not much scares me anymore. I can’t really say the same thing about the rest of the people in my life.
Just to clarify, there are a few places I would gladly avoid and go 1000 miles out of my way to stay out of. Experience can be a great teacher, but you have to be willing to learn from it. If you’re forced to defend your life it might just mean that the local law might want to have a nice long chat with you about that incident.. I’m not leaving any details, but I will say I got lucky and got out of town never to return for love or money. LOL
In the early 80’s i hitched hiked with a friend from N.J. to California in 7 days. I cam back in 11 days because i was in no hurry. It was a trip i will never forget.
I really enjoyed reading these posts; now aged 65 I’ve been reguarly hitchhiking since I was 16; Last summer (2017) from Caithness to Kent, UK, a mere 700 miles. I was inspired to start my hitchhiking ‘career’, by a cousin who hitched from Scotland to Jersusalem in the late 1950’s !
You sound like an epic adventurer Quentin! 🙂
Never wear sunglasses when you’re getting picked up. You will seem more trustworthy if people can see your eyes!
Too true amigo!
A few other things that I always thought important whilst hitch hiking..Don’t get in the dumb habit of collecting pretty rocks along the way. Before you know it your backpack will be filled with rocks and rocks get heavy.
Keep plenty of thick, dry socks and comfortable heavy shoes..
Something to keep your arms warm in cold weather is to cut holes in the ends of sleeves in a sweater or hoody to hook around your thumbs. It keeps the cold from drifting up your arms..I still do that to this day. You can do the same thing with old socks and it’ll keep your arms warm.
While you may or may not do any cooking along the way it’s still not a bad idea to have a can or two of Sterno handy for creating heat and a can of lighter fluid can be really handy for starting fires when it’s been raining..It goes without saying to have a few new disposable lighters on hand as well.
A canteen full of fresh water is always a must have item, but don’t try to carry too much water. It’s worse than carrying rocks after a certain point.
It’s up to you, but I learned to avoid hopping freight trains because I was on one when it detailed. Luckily I was hanging on the right side of the train when it tipped over. Yikes!
If you can avoid it try to be rested before standing too close to the roadway if you can. More than once I found myself nearly beyond reason being tired and sleepy and almost stepped in front of moving vehicles. It might seem like you wouldn’t do it, but there were times when I was on the road for 5 days straight with no sleep and didn’t think straight. Make sure you get the necessary sleep and be alert. I’ve ended up cars with some real shady characters just because I was too tired to really care. You don’t want to be waking up after it’s too late.
While you can’t anticipate every possible scenario of everything that can go wrong you can plan ahead.
Be alert of your surroundings at all times and don’t be too willing to trust everyone. There are rotten people who will take advantage of your situation of being alone. Even though you might have very little money on you there’s still a certain amount of people who will want to separate you from whatever meager resources you might have. It’s ok and even noble at times to help out a stranger down on their luck, but don’t even hint that you have money in your pocket. I always kept the lions share of my money well hidden on my person and kept a small amount easily accessible. If you’re going to give someone a dollar for something to eat that’s fine, but never ever let them know that you have more money anywhere on you. Always make it appear that you too are broke even if you’re not. In other words, don’t walk around wearing a sign that says ROB ME!
If you’re going to drink try to plan ahead. Don’t be sloppy drunk on the wrong side of the tracks. There’s not many worse feelings than waking up hung over only to learn all of your worldly possessions have been stolen by your last drinking buddy..They probably won’t have the moment of conscious and give it all back when they sober up. I woke up in a small town the mountains of Montana with nothing but the clothes on my back and every penny to my name gone..heck of a hangover that day.
No matter how alluring hitch hiking might seem the romance of the whole idea can go south really fast if you let your guard down for even a moment. Being absolutely broke with just the clothes on your back in the middle of nowhere with no friends to help isn’t exactly my idea of a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve been down that road more times than I want to remember so play it safe, plan ahead and stay as alert as you can.
Hitch hiking can be a lot of fun and you can meet some wonderful people along the way, but it can also very easily become a nightmare you don’t want to remember.
I always kept some kind of weapon on myself such as a pocket knife. No guns of course.
Sometimes just the mere presence of a pocket knife clipped to your belt is a deterrent to would-be thieves and general trouble makers not to mention the ability to fend off wild dogs along the way. I was attacked twice by packs of wild dogs and they are out there. They’re looking for dinner and you don’t want to be on the menu.
A good sharp knife of course is also a darn handy tool to have for any number of reasons if for no other reason than opening a can of spagettios when you’re hungry..
Get a good quality, sharp knife with a good quality sheath and hang on to it.
If you’re ever stopped by police make sure it’s in plain sight at all times so there’s no confusion about a concealed weapon. I’ve had to explain the wild dogs story with police more than once.
I hitch hiked all over the US back in the mid 70s through 80s during every season, winter, spring, summer and fall and the absolute dumbest thing any human being can do it to hitch hike in the northern US in the winter. I can’t begin to say what exactly kept me from becoming a solid frozen block of flesh on numerous occasions, but I did survive it. If you ever do catch yourself in sub freezing cold especially at night don’t be afraid to call the police and ask for a jail cell for the night. The truth is most cops would rather put you up in small town jails overnight than have to investigate a dead body report that they could prevent especially since all the calls are monitored.In bigger cities you can always fake being obnoxiously drunk for the trip to the drunk tank which still beats freezing to death 100 out of 100 times.
*not hitchiking as a single….
Hey Will! I’m a single female, age 21. Would you say hitchhiking as a single woman is a general rule anywhere you go, or would it be safer in some countries than others? For example, I’ll be backpacking across Spain and Iceland this summer and am weighing my options for traveling on a budget as a solo traveler in those countries. This is my first long-term venture, although not my first backpacking trip. I’ve backpacked a number of times in the wild hinterlands of Oregon, USA.
P.S. I’m becoming quite a fan of yours, the more I read your articles.
I know a lot of ladies who have hitched solo and had no problem – I think it depends which country you pick but if you use your initiative and trust your gut, you should be all good 🙂
Great article! Really enjoyed reading it!
Thanks for the tips! Never tried hitch hiking before but will try soon
Stick your thumb our and give it a go… it’s an amazing way to get around and to meet awesome local people!