Encyclopedia > Hitchhiking

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Hitchhiking (also called 'lifting') is a form of transport, in which the traveller tries to get a lift (ride) from another traveller, usually a car or truck driver.

The distance covered may vary from a short distance that could also be walked, to a long journey involving many rides.

Hitchhiking is forbidden in some areas, such as near prisons. In some cases, a local government may ban it altogether.

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To obtain a lift in many parts of the world, including North America, hitchhikers traditionally stretch out one arm and stick out their thumb. By car drivers this is understood to be a sign that indicates the person giving the sign requests a lift. A hitchhiker can also be holding a sign with the name of a town that is in the direction they want to travel.

In some areas, other signals may be used. (This may be because the traditional gesture[?] with the thumb has an offensive meaning in that region.) For example, in South Africa, a hitchhiker may show an oncoming car the back of his hand with the index finger raised, rather than the thumb. (Please add signals from other regions.)

Often nothing is given or performed in exchange for the lift, but some hitchhikers will contribute money for fuel. (This would not normally be the case when getting a ride in a commercial vehicle, such as a cargo truck.)


A hitchhiker may have several reasons to travel in this way, amongst them:

  • not being able to afford alternative means of transportation;
  • where no public transport is available and one has no own vehicle available; one can distinguish:
    • there is no public transport at all;
    • there is no public transport at the time one wants or needs to travel:
      • public transport is very infrequent;
      • the last bus or train of the day goes very early;
      • one misses the last bus or train;
  • because of social equality reasons (semi-force vehicle owners who would not normally use public transport to share the ride with the public by "brining the bus to muhammad);
  • because of ecological and political reasons (reducing dependency on fossil fuels);
  • for the challenge of using limited resources to reach a destination; or
  • for the sense of adventure that not knowing where you will be at the end of the day presents.

A mixture of the first two reasons is when the only alternative is an expensive taxi.

Car drivers may also have several reasons to give lifts, for instance because:

  • they favour the companionship;
  • they have hitchhiked themselves and know how hard it can be;
  • simple good will

Hitchhiking is often resorted to by stranded motorists or people without money or transportation such as the homeless.


Although most hitchhiking occurs without incident, it has a bad reputation with some people. Some criminals who prey on the good will of others to rob or molest have masqueraded as hitchhikers to procure victims, or picked up unsuspecting hitchhikers themselves. There is some dispute as to whether it is actually less safe to hitchhike now than in the past, or if simply more reporting increases the visibility of negative examples.

Any number of urban legends are told about hitchhiking, in which either the hitchhiker or the car driver may take on the role of a bogeyman[?]. For example, some stories have the driver as a ghost, or the hitchhiker as an escaped convict.


Hitchhiking is often combined with other often cheap forms of transportation, such as walking or travelling by bus or train.

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