The hitchhiker’s guide to hitchhiking (the basics)

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Hitchhiking basics

Hitchhiking is basically the easiest and cheapest way to travel at all. All you need is a road and a sign or simply your thumb that shows where you want to go. In some countries, hitchhiking is not even seen as anything special. If you walk besides a road in remoted areas, cars will just stop for you, without even asking. But in more developed areas, with better public transport, hitchhikers have become a rare species. Either you travel from city to city or through the wild, the information in this hitchhiker basics guide will come in handy.

In general hitchhiking is often easier than expected. Once you left your comfort zone it will become easier and easier to worry about what people might think about you. The hardest is to keep your mood up cause sometimes waiting can be very disappointing and exhausting. But don’t despair and try to stay positive – people don’t like to share their ride with a somebody who looks like complaining for the next 100km.

How to hitchhike in 4 simple steps

Step – Find a street

Finding a street sound easy and it is, supposed you are hitchhiking somwhere in the denser populated areas of Europe or Northern America. But when you ever walked for 5 hours in the heat of the Australian outback, with not a car coming your way, finding a street becomes quite hard.

  • a) The right direction – A good idea of where to go is essential when hitchhiking. Not only will you have to figure out the right highway, you will also have to figure out which spots are best to be dropped of. Some of the people that take you will be very helpful with suggestions, but most of them don’t. Better have a map and a clear idea from where to where you have to go. Make sure to be dropped of very close to a location from where you can find your next ride, not 5 miles away from there.
  • b) The right position – A perfect spot to hitchhike from is: Where drivers can spot you early and where they can stop without blocking the traffic.

Step 2 – Find a ride


Some rides are more comfortable than others, some are faster than others, some are just to be avoided.

  • a) Stay safe – You have a strange feeling or your driver is coming at you in an inappropriate way? Get out there, or better, don’t even get in. Always keep a friend or family member informed when you’re hitchhiking and keep them up-to-date. Pro Tipp: Before getting in the car try to take a snapshot of the number plate of your ride and send it to your contact person.
  • b) Find a good spot – Use an open spot with a good view to all directions and don’t underestimate the speed of the cars that come your way. At 50km/h a driver needs about 50m to stop the car. Make sure there is enough time for the driver to realize what you are doing, decide if they want to pick you up and a safe area behind you to actually stop the car.
  • c) Ask before you enter – As you hitchkike in Europe, nobody will ever ask you for money in exchange for your ride. But in poorer or more remote regions private drivers sometimes only stop cause they expect money in return. Try to clearly communicate right in the beginning, where you want to go and that you are looking for a free ride. If you hitchhike in areas where giving money is expected (in some parts of Asia, for example), always agree on the amount beforehand. 

Step 3 – Ride

Make the ride enjoyable and it will turn out in your favour.

  • a) Be nice – Most people that take lifters are looking for a nice travel partner. They take you, so don’t be a total jerk. Even you might be tired or annoyed, keep the mood up! It doesn’t matter if they don’t speak your language, there is always a way to communicate. By the way, many people like to hear your story, but most of them are even more eager to share their story with you. Be a good listener and everybody will have a good time.
  • b) Share  – You got food, offer. You are on a long ride and you got some spare money to throw in on gas? Do it! Even it’s just 1$, the gesture will be much appreciated and the favour will be returned to your benefits in 90% of the time. Happy drivers will take you to the perfect arrival spot, even a couple of km off their regular path and will offer food better than everything you carry around in your backpack.

Step 4 – Hop off

Try to be prepared for your exit and choose smart.

  • a) Think ahead – At this stage, it is really important to not end up in a dead spot. Always choose the area with more traffic and good chances for long distance lifts. Better get off a couple of km early at a good location, than in some small countryside village, even it might be somehow on your way. Good options are big intersections, busy highway gas stations or behind big parking lots.
  • b) No sightseeing – Don’t enter cities if you want to travel fast, even the additional names would look nice on your bucket list. Once you end up in the city center, it will take lots of time to make it out of the city. Stopping cars while you are not next to a main road, leaving the city limits towards your desired destination, is usually not very promising. People might even stop, but chances somebody will actually go your way, are significantly worse.
  • c) Invitations – From time to time, people will ask you to join them for dinner or even stay overnight. If you have the time and you are sure it’s a safe option, go for it. You will rarely find a better way to experience the real local culture, as closely as with a random family you met on the road. Remember: Keep you contact person informed about your exact location and ideally stay around more densily populated areas. Just in case you decide to leave early, you don’t want to be dependent on your host.

Hitchhiking Essentials Checklist:

  1. Keep a contact person informed about your plans – Ideally this is somebody who is not as overly worried as your parents, but more reliable than your drinking buddy that looses his phone once a week.
  2. Think about GPS tracking – Those little GPS Anti-Theft devices are really cheap nowadays and might help your contact to track you, if contact is lost at some point. Don’t rely on it, this is a last resort, not an invitation to be unmindful.
  3. Pack light – Your mirror reflex camera and macbook better stay home. Even you are planning to ride cars, you will have to walk sooner or later and you don’t want to attract burglars.
  4. Take a map – You might have a fancy app installed on your phone, but sooner or later there will be no service or the battery is gone, expecially if you are using the map every 5 minutes. It can be a print-out on a small piece of paper, but it will help you to communicate you direction and figure out your upcoming connection points.
Differences around the world

In Europe it’s usually very easy to hitchhike. It’s a bit out of fashion, but lots of older people actually travelled like this long before car sharing platforms and discount city flights existed. Also here, be prepared to wait for a longer waiting time in some spots, but mostly you won’t wait longer than 30-45 mnutes to find a ride. In general it’s very safe, the road system is great and people are easy going. When you come to Asia, hitchhiking is also still very common, but especially in Southern Asia it can be hard to travel bigger distances by hitchhiking. Don’t confuse hitchhiking with busses or taxis. Because in Asia that might often times be the same. So be prepared to cover the gas or even better ask in advance! In Latin America, distance is not a concern. Along the coast, people might take you hundreds of km at a time. However, statistically spoke Latin America is still the most “unsafe” place. So inform yourself about sketchy areas and stay out of them and hitchhike only during the day.

Why do I need a hitchhiking guide?

Not every traveler needs a hitchhiking guide, many experienced travellers have been hitchhiking for many years and figured out their own concept of how to hitchhike. This Guide is an introduction to hitchhiking for those who never did it before and for everybody, planning on a bigger journey. Need further inspiration? Read our interview with a solo traveler from South America who has hitchhiked through two continents and has traveled without money. Feel free to share your own experience in our comments.

Safe travels!

Follow Paul:

Paul is a self-proclaimed high-maintenance hobo - He's here to show you how to travel in style without breaking the bank. Paul is an expert at hitchhiking, scoring free meals, and finding the best budget-friendly destinations. So, join him on his next journey, where you'll discover that traveling doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg, or in Paul's case, just a leg, as he's also an expert at hitching rides on trains!

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