Get ready for the most iconic way travelers have transported themselves across the world for centuries.
Today hitchhiking is one of the most exciting, authentic, and rewarding ways to travel from A to B (if not the most).
Unlike other traditional options, the adventure starts as soon as you stick out your thumb.
But like many other things we do for the first time, it’s rarely without nervousness, fear, and maybe even some uncertainty.
While it’s unrealistic to avoid this 100%, obtaining the right knowledge and watching other people’s success stories can decrease it immensely.
On this page, I’ll share everything I know about hitchhiking from my own experiences and others over the years.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- The Ultimate 10-Step Checklist for Getting a Ride
- 1. Step: You Don’t Necessarily Need a Hitchhiking Sign
- 2. Step: Be a Time Pessimist
- 3. Step: Prepare for the Environment (Weather and Wildlife)
- 4. Step: Look Clean and Stay Hygenic
- 5. Step: Make Sure To Have Some Small Cash on You
- 6. Step: Eat, Get Hydrated and Visit the Toilet Before Staring
- 7. Step: How To Find a Good Spot Hitchhiking Spot
- How To Find Popular Hitchhiking Spots
- 8. Step: Stand Confident, Smile and Make Eye Contact
- 9. Step: The Essential Safety Checklist Once a Driver Stops
- A. Look Out for Common Red Flags
- B. Take Your Time To Get a Proper Impression of the Driver
- C. Make It Clear That You’re Hitchhiking and Aren’t Looking To Pay for a Ride
- D. Consider Skipping Rides With More Than Two Guys
- E. Keep Your Backpack With You at All Times
- F. Ask if It’s Okay To Take a Photo of the Car and License Plate Before Entering
- G. Check if Your Door Can Open From the Inside
- H. Wave to Your Imaginary Friends
- 10. Step: Make Sure To Get Dropped off at a Proper Spot
- Essential Things To Keep In Mind
- Is It Illegal to Hitchhike?
- Is It Easy to Hitchhike With Others?
- Important: Is Hitchhiking Dangerous? (Part 2)
The Ultimate 10-Step Checklist for Getting a Ride
1. Step: You Don’t Necessarily Need a Hitchhiking Sign
This is probably the biggest misconception when it comes to hitchhiking.
At least when it comes to how to actually use a hitchhiking sign.
There are several reasons to skip using a sign:
- There’s simply the risk that drivers don’t have the time to read your sign
- It can decrease the chance of a ride by people writing you off if they’re not going to the exact destination on your sign
- With the short amount of time drivers often have to decide whether to pick you up or not, it can be difficult for them to realize whether they’re going in your direction or not
- The drivers can underestimate how helpful a shorter ride can be for you
- By not having a sign to focus on, there’s more room for them to read your face and body language to better decide if they feel comfortable picking you up.
And of course, you’ll skip the hassle of finding, creating, and carrying a sign. Including getting disposed of it later.
When and How to Actually Use a Hitchhiking Sign
If you find it hard to get rides, consider trying with a sign.
Though without your destination or direction written on it.
Instead, use it as an opportunity to create a good impression with your drivers.
This can be done by:
- Using humor. Some good examples of this are adding a line saying “Rabies free since July” or “Free cookies” (credit goes to Matt from Expertvagabond)
- Write down an interesting fact such as your goal or where you’re from. An example could be “Hitchhiking across Europe” or “Traveling from [YOUR COUNTRY]”.
- Or a message that’s open to everyone by simply writing “Anywhere :-)”
It’s all about being creative.
And if succeed in catching the driver’s attention making them curious or cracking a smile. Then you’ve won.
But if you decide to do so, make sure your sign is easy to read.
This is done by using as few capital letters as possible with contrasting colors between the text and background.
And consider making an effort of making a nice sign. Some drivers might notice the effort.
How To Find and Create a Hitchhiking Sign
There’s no reason to overcomplicate this.
Most things that are large enough for people to read from a distance will do.
Such as the famous cardboard.
An easy way to find one is just asking in a shop or supermarket for a box or two.
And if you’re planning on reusing it, consider using transparent tape or cling film to make it more durable and resistant to rain.
But in that case, make sure it’s foldable so it fits in your backpack.
TIP: When you're done using your sign please make sure to dispose of it properly. If it's laying around on the street or somewhere else, this might cause other people to get a bad impression of hitchhikers.
2. Step: Be a Time Pessimist
I know this is gonna be hard to believe.
But Google (Maps) estimates aren’t always right.
Their estimates can be quite optimistic resulting in journeys taking more time than anticipated.
Therefore it’s better to add a time buffer.
I even like to add 100% extra time to Google Maps estimates.
This way you’re increasing the chances of reaching your destination/accommodation in time. Especially if you’re not camping.
By doing so you also give more space for the unpredictable nature of hitchhiking.
TIP: Asking a few locals how long time a trip takes from A to B usually gives very correct estimates.
3. Step: Prepare for the Environment (Weather and Wildlife)
Standing in hot, wet, or cold weather for a prolonged time can be daunting without the right preparation.
And it can be dangerous.
Also, wildlife can require preparation such as if you have the chance of meeting bears or big cats.
In that case, do some research on the risks of encountering a specific animal and what to do in the situation.
Therefore you should always prepare for the worst. Especially if you rely on camping.
We’ll go more in-depth with this topic and general safety when hitchhiking later in the guide.
4. Step: Look Clean and Stay Hygenic
This will increase your chances of a ride.
Examples of doing this could be wearing white or bright colors and trimming your beard if you have one.
Wearing bright clothes also increases the chance of people seeing you. Which is also better when it comes to road safety.
And making sure to shower frequently. Especially when the weather is hot.
Simply using a deodorant is also a good way to prevent the smell of sweat.
If a driver stops and gets the impression you’ll make the vehicle dirty or smell, they might change their mind about offering a ride.
5. Step: Make Sure To Have Some Small Cash on You
Though hitchhiking is free it’s still a good gesture to offer to pay a fair share of gas in case you stop for a refill, or pass toll roads. Especially on longer trips.
I believe that many drivers will insist you don’t have to, and simply showing your good intentions is enough.
And chances are that you’re doing a great favor for the ones that accept your offer.
Remember there are also other vehicle expenses such as wear and tear, maintenance, and insurance you’re not paying for.
6. Step: Eat, Get Hydrated and Visit the Toilet Before Staring
It can be hard to predict when you’ll have access to food, water, or a toilet while on the road hitchhiking.
For the same reason, I recommend stacking up enough water and snacks to cover long distances. Especially in more rural areas or while camping.
Choosing salty snacks will also support your body’s electrolyte balance helping you stay hydrated. Especially in warm weather where you’re likely to drink more water.
And this is also to spare your driver the hassle of having to stop or ask about eating in their car which not all people fancy.
7. Step: How To Find a Good Spot Hitchhiking Spot
Now that you’re ready to begin it’s time to find a spot with the biggest chances of a ride.
This is usually on the main road out of a city leading to your destination.
To locate this use Google Maps to find the popular routes between you and your destination.
And before holding your thumbs out. It’s also crucial you find a spot where it’s easy and safe for cars to both spot you and pick you up.
Examples of Good Hitchhiking Spots:
Right After Traffic Lights
Here drivers also have a bit of time to consider picking you up or not.
Gas Stations, Rest Areas, and Truck Stops
Stand near the entrance to give drivers a chance to spot you there.
The people you’ll meet here are often on longer journeys. Meaning a potentially longer ride.
Here you also have the option of engaging directly with people instead of sticking your thumb out.
This is a good chance for getting to know someone before joining them.
This gives a chance to better sense the chemistry between you and therefore increases the chance of an enjoyable ride for both parties.
As long as there’s enough space for the driver to see you in time and space to stop, this is an effective way to increase the chances of catching a ride going your way.
But to do it safely make sure the shoulder of the road is big enough for a truck to park there too.
You never know what kind of vehicle decides to stop, so make sure there’s space for it.
In some countries, you have to pay to enter certain highways.
Sometimes this means that traffic will stop or go very slowly here. This allows you to engage with the drivers and get a ride.
But make sure there’s space to pull over and you’re not blocking the traffic by any means.
Though be aware that this requires a noticeable sign indicating that you’re hitchhiking. Otherwise, the drivers will just think you’re waiting for the bus.
In many countries, it’s not allowed to stop at a bus stop either. In that case, be ready to stop if you see a bus approaching so no one will stop right in front of it.
And have all your things packed so it will take less time to enter the vehicle and avoid getting your driver into trouble.
Though never skip on the safety-check(list) I’ll share it with you in a bit.
⚠️ TIP: Be aware that the laws surrounding hitchhiking are different from country and state. Including the location and how you're trying to hitch a ride. And the following might go without saying. Never hitchhike directly on a motorway. It's illegal in most countries but most of all it can cause danger to you and the drivers passing by. I'll show you how to look up information regarding a specific location later in the guide.
How To Find Popular Hitchhiking Spots
Download an Offline Map
Having an offline map is essential when hitchhiking.
By doing so you won’t have to rely on data or have a signal.
And you’ll use significantly less battery by switching your phone to flight mode when you don’t need it.
This is how you do it:
- Download the free Maps.me app which allows you to download an offline map of your area
- Use the free website Hitchspots.me to generate a .KML file of known hitchhiking spots on your route
- Import the .KML file to the Maps.me app.
TIP: You can use Google Earth to check the different hitchhiking spots in the .KML file before importing it to the Maps.me app. This is how you do it: 1. Open Google Earth on your computer 2. Choose "Projects" in the main menu 3. Click "Open" 4. Choose "Import KML file from Computer"
Use the Hitchwiki Map (Desktop Only)
Let me introduce to you the ultimate hitchhiking map.
Though do notice that the functionality of the map is pretty limited on mobiles.
Here you can see known hitchhiking spots from over the world along with actual user experiences in terms of “hitchability” and average waiting times.
Use Google Maps To Validate Your Spot Visually
This is a great hack that would be considered sci-fi not many years ago.
Using the Street View feature in Google Maps can give you a look at the spot you’re considering without having to go there in person.
And in case you see road work or other construction look at the bottom of the screen to see which year the photo was taken. Chances are it’s completed by the time you’re looking.
TIP: To decrease the risk of getting into trouble with the police. Always do some research on the law surrounding hitchhiking in the country or state you're in. If you do so chances are you'll also pick up on valuable advice dedicated to where you are. I'll show you how to find information about each country later.
8. Step: Stand Confident, Smile and Make Eye Contact
You want your body language to express confidence. This will make you look less like a victim in the rare event of meeting a driver with bad intentions.
9. Step: The Essential Safety Checklist Once a Driver Stops
Let me start by saying that hitchhiking is way safer than it’s made out to be.
But it still comes with risks. Like most other activities.
A good comparison is the mandatory safety instructions we all go through during flights. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean flying is dangerous.
And just to make it clear. Flying is safer than hitchhiking. But probably not for the reasons you think.
Later I’ll share real statistics and data on the safety of hitchhiking backing up my claims for you to decide on yourself.
And since the safety of it highly depend on our actions. I take educating about it very seriously in this guide.
Therefore we’ll also go way more in-depth on this topic later.
But for now, let’s just focus on the basic things to keep in mind when a new ride stop for you.
Let’s go through what to do step-by-step.
A. Look Out for Common Red Flags
Such as if the driver seems under the influence or tired. Which is probably the overall main concern when it comes to hitchhiking.
Besides open alcohol containers or a distinct smell, eye contact can often reveal this along with drowsiness or slurred speech.
Or if the driver avoids eye contact it could also be a red flag.
And consider asking the driver where he or she comes from and where they’re heading in a normal conversation.
If their story seems made up or unreliable, this could be another red flag.
B. Take Your Time To Get a Proper Impression of the Driver
Look the driver and passengers in the eyes and talk for a bit.
If the person(s) seem nervous, stressed, or irritated, politely decline.
C. Make It Clear That You’re Hitchhiking and Aren’t Looking To Pay for a Ride
This is to give the driver a chance to accept the terms beforehand.
And avoid any misunderstandings resulting in a shitty situation for everyone.
D. Consider Skipping Rides With More Than Two Guys
Just to emphasize I’m not suggesting skipping all rides, but consider it according to the situation
And I could decide to be politically correct and replace “guys” with “persons”.
But the importance of your safety is my highest priority in providing you with this guide.
And I wouldn’t give you any advice I wouldn’t share with my family and friends.
In the end, it all comes down to your intuition in the situation, and I’d never be able to give you a definitive answer to this.
A big part of hitchhiking safely is trusting your gut (more about that later).
E. Keep Your Backpack With You at All Times
Though this won’t always be possible due to the lack of space.
It’s still the best thing to do.
If your driver asks you about putting it in the trunk or backseat, you can always say thanks and insist that he or she doesn’t need to bother.
And remember that your backpack is always the last thing to enter the vehicle, and the first thing to leave it.
While this is ideal, it’s not always an option to due lack of space.
In case you decide to put your backpack in the trunk or backseat, keep your passenger door open to make it harder for a driver with bad intentions to take off without you in the meanwhile.
Otherwise, you always have the option of politely declining (like with everything else when it comes to hitchhiking – more on that later as well).
Keeping your backpack with you at all times also applies to stops.
F. Ask if It’s Okay To Take a Photo of the Car and License Plate Before Entering
To prevent making this situation awkward smile and tell the driver that you promised your family to do this, so you put the responsibility elsewhere.
If you want to add an extra layer of security send the photo to someone using text or e-mail.
While this method might seem a little extreme it’s also very preventive against drivers with bad intentions.
In case of an emergency, show them your phone so they can see you’ve already sent it to someone.
And most drivers would understand and agree to do this. If not, consider it a red flag and politely decline the ride.
G. Check if Your Door Can Open From the Inside
This is simply done by pretending you’re checking whether the door is properly shut or not.
Be aware that if you can’t it might simply be due to the child lock being activated if you’re sitting in the back.
H. Wave to Your Imaginary Friends
Now it’s time to get a bit weird.
If you want to add a layer of safety consider faking a wave pretending to say hi or goodbye to someone if you’re in an area with people and houses.
This will give the driver the impression that someone has seen you get into their vehicle.
⚠️ TIP: If you by any chance feel doubt about a driver - then you're not really in doubt. Politely decline the ride and wait for the next one. You can simply do this by saying " I'm actually looking for a longer ride. But thank you so much for stopping. I appreciate it. Have a great day". Or "Actually, now that I think about it, I decided to go somewhere else. But thank you so much for stopping. I appreciate it. Have a great day".
10. Step: Make Sure To Get Dropped off at a Proper Spot
Aim for one of the previously mentioned optimal hitchhiking spots.
And if you can’t find anything obvious using your phone or laptop, getting dropped off near civilization is always better than in the middle of nowhere.
Essential Things To Keep In Mind
Knowing what to do is one thing, but having the right mindset and focus while hitchhiking is as important.
Saving Money Shouldn’t Be The First Priority
Traveling cheaply is a big priority for many travelers.
But if this is your primary motivation for hitchhiking I suggest looking elsewhere.
If there’s a lack of genuine joy in being present with your driver and their companions it’s no longer a win-win situation for all.
In that case, chances are you’ll lose motivation sooner or later due to how demanding hitchhiking can be.
And the bus or a train will become a more attractive option after a while.
For many other reasons than convenience and safety when it comes to hitchhiking, packing light is the best option.
You should aim to have a backpack that you easily have space for between your legs when sitting in a car.
I’ve previously written another post on the art of packing light which I recommend reading in addition to this guide.
You can always bookmark it for easy access later:
Sometimes you’ll need to wait a few minutes for a ride.
Other times it never comes and you have to find a new spot or try the following day.
But remember that without the harder days we likely would appreciate the easy days less.
And in times when we’re forced to wait on something can be good for us.
It gives us time to reflect, including our subconciense, to digest all the experiences we get on the road.
Conversations and Behaviour
While I believe many people that pick up hitchhikers have good intentions of helping you on your journey.
Having present conversations with your driver and their companions is the primary way to return the favor.
People don’t pick up hitchhikers to only sit in silence for hours. They also do so because they’re excited about meeting you, hearing your story, or sometimes just sharing their own.
TIP: This might go without saying, but be polite. Ask your driver before drinking other things than water and eating in the car. There's a reason you're not allowed to do so in many public buses. Also, if you feel like rolling down the window, it's a good idea to ask first.
How to Break a Language Barrier
While many people around the world know a bit of English there’s never a guarantee of a fluent conversation without a bit of help.
And that’s okay. It’s a part of the adventure.
For this, you can simply use the free Google Translate app to translate speech in real-time.
What’s even better is that you can download any language for offline translation too.
By doing so you don’t have to rely on data, or signal, or take your phone out of flight mode and drain your phone’s battery.
TIP: You can also translate texts such as menu cards in real-time using your camera. I found this feature especially helpful for menu cards in restaurants and various signs and documents.
If you’re even here in the first place chances are you already are.
But no one is perfect, and sometimes we meet people who believe in things that are so opposite to ourselves, that we need to make an effort to not get emotional.
The key is to remember that everyone you meet thinks they’re right about whatever they believe in.
And they do so because of many reasons they didn’t choose such as their genetics, upbringing, and other life events.
We can’t choose what we feel. But we can choose how to act.
Life is full of situations where external things and forces will affect our emotions in different ways.
This will never change.
Whether it’s friends and family we don’t agree with on certain things, bosses, or the politicians largely in control of the countries we live in.
And every time someone triggers your emotions you can choose to take it as an opportunity to remind yourself about the above and practice self-control.
Consider Bringing Small Gifts for Your Drivers
A good way to show your appreciation is by offering your driver a small gift.
The key takeaway here is small due to the limits of a backpack.
Here are a few ideas:
- Magnets (my favorite)
- Simple bracelets
- A postcard from your home country
- A piece of candy or chocolate (preferably wrapped)
- And the list goes on…
But if you prefer traveling as lightly as possible, consider offering a meal, snack, or drink if you get the opportunity during a stop on the way.
Is It Illegal to Hitchhike?
Like many other things, this depends on the country or state you’re in.
And to decrease the risk of getting into trouble with the authorities.
Always do some research on the law specific to the country or state you’re in.
If you do so chances are you’ll also pick up on valuable advice specific to where you are.
Lucky for us Hitchwiki also offers legal information concerning hitchhiking in most countries.
Though I suggest making sure that the information there is still up to date.
Is It Easy to Hitchhike With Others?
I’ve primarily hitchhiked on my own.
But the two times I did it with others were with my friend(s).
The first time was with a mate in Sweden where we needed to reach a starting point of a hike.
It was very easy to get a ride despite being two guys, which supposedly is one of the hardest combinations for getting a ride.
We only waited around 10-15 minutes and not that many cars passed us before we got picked up.
The other time was with two other guy friends in Denmark, where a taxi burned us off in the middle of a bachelor party.
It was surprisingly easy too, even though three guys should be even more difficult than two.
I think we waited for around 10 min. on a fairly busy country road.
But I’m aware that these are just my experiences resulting in very limited data.
The good thing is we have more data to back it up.
The data from Hitchlog are showing the following:
- 58% – Hitchhiked alone
- 36% – Hitchhiked with one other person
- 5% – Hitchhiked in a group of three persons
- 1% Hitchhiked in a group of four persons
This is based on 9.564 rides from 729 hitchhikers at the time of writing.
Judging by this data as well, it’s very doable to hitchhike with others.
Though it doesn’t take into account how difficult it is for each group, you should be prepared that the more people you are the harder it will be.
This is due to practical reasons, but also because it can be more intimidating for the drivers. Especially if you’re more males traveling together.
Important: Is Hitchhiking Dangerous? (Part 2)
Let’s finally address the elephant in the room.
I’m convinced that hitchhiking is made out to be much more dangerous than it is.
But it’s not for everybody.
As mentioned earlier there are some risks involved, but chances are it’s not the ones you think.
I think it’s essential for everyone that considers hitchhiking should educate themself and get to know how to do it as safely as possible.
Therefore I’ve dedicated a lot of time to this in the last chapter of the guide: