A hitchhiker with his thumb out on a road lined by trees.

What is hitchhiking, is hitchhiking legal & how can you stay safe doing it?

Want to see the world for free(ish)? Hitchhiking can be a good option, as long as you keep your wits about you. But what is hitchhiking, exactly? Is it even legal? Here are our top thumb-upping tips.

What is hitchhiking?

Hitchhiking simply involves travelling by getting a lift in passing vehicles. There’s a good chance that the younger you are, the less likely you are to be familiar with the concept of hitchhiking, mainly because trying to get a lift from a stranger for free might strike some people as a bit risky in this day and age. 

Is hitchhiking legal in the UK?

Know the law: Hitchhiking rules differ depending what country you are travelling in and may be illegal, involve certain restrictions, or even be encouraged. In the UK, for example, hitchhiking IS legal, but it’s illegal to hitchhike where pedestrians are banned, such as motorways.

How to hitchhike safely

Travel in company: Hitching may seem like a free and easy way to get around, but you are effectively locking yourself into a steel box with a stranger. Ultimately, you can’t be too cautious here, especially if you’re female, so at the very least hitch in pairs. It may mean you’re less likely to get picked up straight away, but at least you’ve put your safety first.

Tell someone where you’re going: Inform them where you’re heading and the route you hope to take. Carry a mobile if you can and leave contact numbers. Also agree to call in at regular intervals, if only for the company. Ultimately, you can’t be too cautious.

Don’t drink and hitch: You need your wits about you at all times, so don’t booze, take drugs or do anything that could compromise your physical and mental state. What’s more, if you lean into a car half cut, you’re only reducing your chances of a pick up.

If in doubt, decline a lift: You have to trust your instincts here, so if a car pulls up and you don’t like the look of the driver, or the way they behave, then politely turn down the offer of a ride. You have everything to lose, for the sake of a ride, and chances are the next car to stop will be driven by a couple of nuns.

Establish where you’re going: It’s one thing to be picked up, but another to find someone who’s going to the very same destination as you. You need to be crystal clear about where you want to be dropped off, and this should be established before you even set foot in the car. If possible, make a note of the number plate, and text it to someone you know – just to cover your tracks. Also pack a map, in case you’re dropped off in the middle of nowhere.

See our tips for how to travel alone for more advice on staying safe.

Maximise your pick-up potential:

Your appearance: It’s a universal truth that you’re more likely to get a lift if you look clean and presentable. There’s no law that prevents you from standing at the roadside in your ‘masturbation is not a crime’ T-shirt, but then you do risk standing in the same place – all day. 

Your luggage: If you’re surrounded by suitcases and boxes, you can rule out being picked up by vehicles with scant space for luggage. Travel seriously light, and drivers are more likely to make room for a little one like you.

Sustenance: Expect to be standing on the roadside for a long time, so pack enough food and drink to keep you on your feet. If you strike lucky, and get a lift straight away, at least you have something to offer your chauffeur for the day.

The weather: If you’re planning on some serious hitching, be prepared for all elements. You don’t want to be forced to find shelter from a downpour, at a time when you really need a lift, so pack a mac, even if the sky is clear and blue.

The size of your pen: You want the fattest marker pen money can buy, and a clean square of cardboard to advertise your destination (you’ll find most petrol stations can provide you with this. Failing that, root around beside the rubbish bins). Paper is OK, but can go a bit limp in a breeze, and try to write neatly. If your handwriting scrawl reminds people of ransom notes, go for simple block writing.

Hitching abroad<

Every country has different regulations about hitching lifts from public highways, some punishable by fines or imprisonment, so always check it out before you reach the roadside. Check out our article on weird laws abroad here. For a comprehensive list of where it’s cool to catch a lift, check out Hitcher’s Home.

Next Steps



By The Mix Staff

Updated on 07-Mar-2023