Hitchhiking (also known as thumbing, 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.
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. In the United States, for example, some local governments have laws to outlaw hitchhiking, with safety being the primary concern. In Canada, several highways have restrictions on hitchhiking, particularly in British Columbia. In all countries in Europe 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)
On the contrary, there are places where drivers are obliged to pick up hitchhikers. These places include Cuba, where government vehicles and lorry drivers, with an unoccupied seat, must pick up hitchhikers.
The hitchhiker's method of signaling to drivers differs around the world. In the U.S., one would point his or her thumb up, while in some places in South America one displays to an oncoming car the back of her hand with the index finger pointing up. In Poland, the hand is held flat, and waved. In India, the hand is waved with the palm facing downwards (or the U.S way). In Israel the hitchhiking signal is similar, often pointing downwards.
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.
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.
There are many reasons for hitchhiking, including necessity due to lack of transportation, little or no money for public transit
, public transit unavailable, infrequent or unreliable public transit, or he/she can’t drive himself for various reasons. Hitching, for some, may be the only way to get where they need to go.
For many, hitchhiking is recreation. There are also locales which are relatively safe enough for anyone to hitchhike. For some, hitching is a way to meet interesting people, companionship, or to challenge oneself. Some, mostly the very active ones, who thumb for the love of it belong to clubs.
A definition of hitchhiking put forward by Max Neumegen, ex-world overland traveller, 'mentor' of "hitchhiking with a bike", 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".
Hitchhiking with a bike actually enables you to get a lift, as you end up turning a lot of offers down because they just obviously do not have the room, but they think you have broken down. When you explain that you use the bike to get around in the city then hitch with it to the next location, you have the "Ultimate way of Traveling".
In Belgium and the Netherlands, hitchhiking centres have been set up in order to allow hitchhikers to avoid some of the problems and dangers involving hitchhiking. The danger is decreased as both hitchiker and driver are known with the centre (personal ID needs to be given prior to joining). These centres are respectively called International Lift Center
(both are non-free). As of 1999, a international and free lift centre has been set-up called Hitchhikers.org
The lift centres are used by both people volunteering to take along hitchers (against a small fee of around 0,15 cent per kilometer) and hitchikers wanting to limit the dangers of hitchhiking and spend less time waiting for a hitch. The centres work as follows:
- the drivers fill in their (daily) route
- hitchhikers look on a online map whether there are drivers having a similar route, and decide whether or not they like to drive along
With both ILC and Taxistop (not with hitchikers.org), the service itself needs to be payed for and costs around 5 €. Also, the first time, a fee needs to be payed to the driver of 6-10 €.
There is unfortunately not yet a unique site for this.
An other one is Roadsharing
Sport and leisure
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 U.K. students partake in " Jailbreak" where a group of students hold a competition, usually in the summer holidays/vacation, to see who can get furthest from their university without spending any money on travel (whether money can be spent on food/shelter is up to the participants to decide).
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 returns as Race to Amsterdam in January 2008.
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.
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 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
. 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"). 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.
- Jack Kerouac hitchhiked in America and wrote many books about his experience.
- Hunter S. Thompson Claimed to have the world record for miles hitchhiked in Bermuda shorts
- Kinga Freespirit hitchhiked around the world with her friend Chopin for 5 years and authored the travel narrative, Led by Destiny.
- Jacob Holdt, Danish author and filmmaker of American Pictures, has hitchhiked over 200,000 kilometers.
- Neal Cassady, friend of Jack Kerouac known pseudonymously as Dean Moriarty in On the Road. Also driver of the bus, Further, with the Merry Pranksters in the mid 1960s. Lifetime hitchhiker and freight hopper.
- Devon Smith was listed in Guinness Book of World Records for most cumulative miles hitchhiked (1973 to 1985), over 468,300 km. He also held the record for hitchhiking all 48 continuous U.S. states in 33 days during 1957.
- Stephan Schlei, from Ratingen in Germany. Hitchhiked more than 1.000.000km. The Guinness Book of Records, before they removed all hitchhiking records, used to say that he is the World's No.1 Hitchhiker.
- 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.
- Mick Foley hitchhiked to Madison Square Garden in 1986, to see a now infamous cage match between wrestlers Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco.
- Famous Canadian hitchhikers include:
- John Stackhouse hitchhiked Canada for the Globe and Mail in 2000. His stories have since been published as Timbit Nation: A Hitchhiker's View of Canada.
- Matthew Jackson spent four years hitchhiking Canada from April 1997 until October 2000, independently publishing The Canada Chronicles.
- Suzanne MacNevin (feminist writer) spent several years hitchhiking in Canada and the United States during the late 1990s.
- In the summer of 2006, a group of film students created a documentary about their adventures hitchhiking across Canada. The film will be released in the summer of 2007. They are already planning a second cross-country trip, covering more of Canada."
- 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’, Joshuah's in Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. The trip that was supposed to take 2 years ended in 2008 and summarized in Ludovic Hubler's travel blog.
- Joe Bennett, famous New Zealand newspaper columnist and author, hitchhiked around the world for 10 years. As a result, he has taken an oath to never drive past a hitchhiker, however he makes an exception for "people with beards, be they men or woman".
- 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).
- Anton Krotov is the founder of the Russian "Academy of Free Travels". He has hitchhiked more than 400.000 kilometers over the 15 years, and written around 30 books on hitchhiking and independent travel.
- Nwanna, Dr. Gladson I. (2004). Americans Traveling Abroad: What You Should Know Before You Go, Frontier Publishers, Inc., ISBN 1890605107.