Hitchhiking (also known as thumbing, autostop or hitching) is a means of transportation that is gained by asking individuals, usually strangers, for a ride in their car or other vehicle. The ride is usually, but not always, free.
Hitchhikers use a variety of signals to indicate they need a ride. Indicators can be physical gestures or displays including written signs. The physical gestures, e.g., hand signals, hitchhikers use differ around the world:
- In some African countries, the hitchhiker's hand is held with the palm facing upwards.
- In most of Europe , North America and Australia, most hitchhikers stand with their back facing the direction of travel. The hitchhiker typically extends their arm towards the road with the thumb of the closed hand pointing upward or in the direction of vehicle travel. 
In 1971, during the Vietnam War, drivers invented methods to communicate various messages to hitchhikers (frequently soldiers in those areas of the U.S. near military bases). To indicate to a hitchhiking soldier that their vehicles have no additional space to accommodate them, drivers could tap on the vehicle roof. Another common message that drivers could signal to hitchhikers—who usually sought to travel long distances, distances too far to walk in a reasonable amount of time—was that the driver's destinations were located nearby—and of little use to the hitchhiker—by pointing at the ground for a few seconds.
Hitchhiking is a historically common (autonomous) 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 outlawing hitchhiking, on the basis of drivers' and hitchhikers' safety. In 1946, New Jersey arrested and imprisoned a hitchhiker, leading to intervention by the American Civil Liberties Union. In Canada, several highways have restrictions on hitchhiking, particularly in British Columbia and the 400-series highways in Ontario. In all countries in Europe, it is legal to hitchhike and in some places even encouraged. However, worldwide, even where hitchhiking is permitted, laws forbid hitchhiking where pedestrians are banned, such as the Autobahn (Germany), Autostrade (Italy), motorways (United Kingdom and continental Europe, with the exception of, at least, Lithuania) or interstate highways (United States), although hitchhikers often obtain rides at entrances and truck stops where it is legal at least throughout Europe  with the exception of Italy.
In 2011, Freakonomics Radio reviewed sparse data about hitchhiking, and identified a decline in hitchhiking in the US since the 1970s, which it attributed to a number of factors, including lower air travel costs due to deregulation, the presence of more money in the economy to pay for travel, more numerous and more reliable cars, and a lack of trust of strangers. Fear of hitchhiking is thought to have been spurred by movies such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and a few real stories of imperiled passengers, notably the kidnapping of Colleen Stan in California. See § Safety, below.
Julian Portis points out that the rise of faster highways, such as freeways, motorways, and expressways, has made hitchhiking more difficult. He adds:
The real danger of hitchhiking has most likely remained relatively constant, but the general perception of this danger has increased. ... [O]ur national tolerance for danger has gone down: things that we previously saw as reasonably safe suddenly appeared imminently threatening. This trend is not just isolated to the world of hitchhiking; it has become a pernicious artifact throughout the American cultural conscience.
Some British researchers discuss reasons for hitchhiking's decline in the UK, and possible means of reviving it in safer and more-organized forms.
In recent years, hitchhikers have started efforts to strengthen their community. Examples include the annual Hitchgathering, an event organized by hitchhikers, for hitchhikers, and websites such as hitchwiki and hitchbase, which are platforms for hitchhikers to share tips and provide a way of looking up good hitchhiking spots around the world. While hitchhiking is on the decline, it is still in regular use around the globe.
Public policy support
Since the mid-2010s, local authorities in rural areas in Germany have started to support hitch-hiking, and this has spread to Austria and the German-speaking region of Belgium. The objectives are both social and environmental: as ridesharing improves mobility for local residents (particularly young and old people without their own cars) in places where public transport is inadequate, thus improving networking among local communities in an environmentally friendly way. This support typically takes the form of providing hitch-hiking benches (in German Mitfahrbänke) where people hoping for a ride can wait for cars. These benches are usually brightly coloured and located at the exit from a village, sometimes at an existing bus stop lay-by where vehicles can pull in safely. Some are even provided with large fold-out or slide-out signs with place names allowing hitchers to clearly signal where they want to go. Some Mitfahrbänke have been installed with the help of the EU's LEADER programme for rural local development
In Austria, Mitfahrbänke are especially common in Lower Austria and Tyrol, and are promoted by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism under its klimaaktiv climate protection initiative. In 2018 the Tyrolean MobilitäterInnen network published a Manual for the Successful Introduction of Hitch-hiking Benches.
Two studies on the topic include a 1974 California Highway Patrol study and a 1989 German federal police (Bundeskriminalamt Wiesbaden) study . The California study found that hitchhikers were not disproportionately likely to be victims of crime. The German study concluded that the actual risk is much lower than the publicly perceived risk; the authors did not advise against hitchhiking in general. They found that in some cases there were verbal disputes or inappropriate comments, but physical attacks were very rare.
Recommended safety practices include:
- Asking for rides at gas stations instead of signaling at the roadside
- Refusing rides from alcohol impaired drivers
- Hitchhiking during daylight hours
- Trusting one's instincts
- Traveling with another hitchhiker; this measure decreases the likelihood of harm by a factor of six
Around the world
In Cuba, picking up hitchhikers is mandatory for government vehicles, if passenger space is available. Hitchhiking is encouraged, as Cuba has few cars, and hitchhikers use designated spots. Drivers pick up waiting riders on a first come, first served basis.
In Israel, hitchhiking is commonplace at designated locations called trempiyadas (טרמפיאדה in Hebrew, derived from the German trampen). Travelers soliciting rides, called trempists, wait at trempiyadas, typically junctions of highways or main roads outside of a city.
Hitchhiking in Lithuania is no longer as common as it used to be, but there are still people soliciting rides, more so in the summer.
It is legal to hitchhike in Lithuania, and the country is unique in Europe in that it is actually legal to hitchhike on the emergency lane of motorways.
In Nepal, hitchhiking is very common in rural areas. Many do not own cars so hitchhiking is a common practice especially in and around villages.
In the Netherlands, hitchhiking is legal and un-official signs indicate where one may wait for a ride. These designated hitchhiking locations are called liftershalte or liftplaats in Dutch, and they are particularly common in university towns.
Hitchhiking in Poland has a long history and is still popular. It was legalised and formalised in 1957 so hitchhikers could buy booklets including coupons from travel agencies. These coupons were given to drivers who took hitchhikers. By the end of each season drivers who collected the highest number of coupons could exchange them for prizes, and others took part in a lottery. This so-called "Akcja Autostop" was popular till the end of the 1970s, but the sale of the booklet was discontinued in 1995.
Hitchhiking in Ireland is legal, unless it takes place on motorways. A backpacker will most likely still get a lift if the car has enough space to park. Local police (Gardaí) usually let backpackers get away with a verbal warning.
Hitchhiking became a common method of traveling during the Great Depression.
Warnings of the potential dangers of picking up hitchhikers were publicized to drivers, who were advised that some hitchhikers would rob drivers and, in some cases, sexually assault or murder them. Other warnings were publicized to the hitchhikers themselves, alerting them to the same types of crimes being carried out by drivers. Still, hitchhiking was part of the American psyche and many people continued to stick out their thumbs, even in states where the practice had been outlawed.
Today, hitchhiking is legal in 44 of the 50 states, provided that the hitchhiker is not standing in the roadway or otherwise hindering the normal flow of traffic. Even in states where hitchhiking is illegal, hitchhikers are rarely ticketed. For example, the Wyoming Highway Patrol approached 524 hitchhikers in 2010, but only eight of them were cited (hitchhiking was subsequently legalized in Wyoming in 2013). Hitchhiking is still in regular practice, but hitchhikers must accept the risks.
Notable individual hitchhikers include:
- Douglas Adams; author whose fictional space-travel book, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was inspired whilst hitching in Innsbruck, Austria.
- Joe Bennett – New Zealand newspaper columnist and author; hitchhiked around the world for 10 years.
- André Brugiroux – from France; hitchhiked all around the world for 18 years, from 1955 to 1973.
- Simon Calder – author, broadcaster, journalist and travel correspondent. Has a regular column with The Independent which often features pieces about hitchhiking. Has published some 'classic' guidebook material on thumbing rides in the UK and Europe such as Hitch-Hiker's Manual: Europe (1984, London: Vacation Publishers).
- David Choe – painter, muralist, graffiti artist and graphic novelist, spent two years hitchhiking.
- Martin Clark and Graham Beynon – last hitchhikers recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for the Land's End to John O'Groats trip (17 hours 8 minutes).
- W. H. Davies – Welsh poet and tramp, who hitchhiked America during the early 20th century.
- Sascha Grabow – from Germany; hitchhiked in all but three of the world's 193 countries.
- Tony Hawks—British journalist, comedian and author.
- hitchBOT – Canadian hitchhiking robot.
- John Howard Griffin – author, journalist, researcher. Hitched in the Southern States of the US to gauge the levels of racism and discrimination he would face. This resulted in the book (also made into a film) Black Like Me (1961).
- Ludovic Hubler – French hitchhiker who toured the world entirely by hitchhiking from 1 January 2003 to 1 January 2008, and wrote Le Monde en stop about his experiences.
- Miran Ipavec – author, former Mayor of Kanal (Slovenia) and curator of what is probably the world's only Hitchhiker's Museum (a travelling exhibition that has had installations in several Slovenian cities, as well as once in Italy). He has published two books about his travels and hitching 'records' which have been translated into several languages: (2013) Tales of Hitchhiking on European Roads. My First Light Second, Kanal: SP. (2020) Hitchhiking Marathon: 42 Countries in 500 Hours. Kanal: SP.
- Ilmar Island (Saar) – the last and only hitchhiker recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for hitching between Key West, Florida and Fairbanks, Alaska (5 days, 20 hours and 52 minutes); the category only appeared once.
- Jack Kerouac – Beat Generation author who hitchhiked in America and wrote many books about his experience.
- Mark Knopfler hitched much to get around Britain, as well as in Europe such UK to Greece when he was about 17. His song Matchstick Man recounts a Christmas Day hitch from Penzance, after a gig, home to Newcastle, in heavy snow.
- Chris McCandless – subject of the book Into the Wild and related films; hitchhiked throughout the western region of North America in the early 1990s.
- Robert Prins – first (and only) hitchhiker recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for the 24-hour hitchhiking record (2,318.4 km).
- Stephan Schlei – from Ratingen, Germany; hitchhiked more than 621,371 mi (1,000,000 km); the Guinness Book of Records, before all hitchhiking records were removed, once said that he was the World's No. 1 Hitchhiker.
- Devon Smith – listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for most cumulative miles hitchhiked (1973 to 1985), over 290,988 mi (468,300 km); held the record for hitchhiking all 48 contiguous US states in 33 days during 1957
- Colleen Stan, who was kidnapped by Cameron and Janice Hooker, and tortured and abused for seven years before Janice helped her escape.
- Andrzej Stasiuk – writer, journalist and literary critic.
- John Waters – filmmaker, writer, actor and artist; author of Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America.
- Nedd Willard – writer, artist and journalist.
- Trevor Daneliuk – Self-proclaimed professional hitchhiker documenting and livestreaming hitchhiking on Twitch.
In popular culture
- 1931 – Parlor, Bedroom and Bath
- 1934 – It Happened One Night
- 1934 – Bright Eyes
- 1935 – Bordertown
- 1935 – Diamond Jim
- 1936 – The Petrified Forest
- 1936 – Love on the Run
- 1937 – She Was an Acrobat's Daughter
- 1937 – Way Out West
- 1938 – Man-Proof
- 1938 – Port of Shadows
- 1939 – Le Dernier Tournant
- 1940 – The Grapes of Wrath
- 1940 – Cross-Country Romance
- 1941 – The Bride Came C.O.D.
- 1941 – Sullivan's Travels
- 1943 – Ossessione
- 1944 – The Seventh Cross
- 1945 – Eve Knew Her Apples
- 1945 – Detour
- 1946 – The Postman Always Rings Twice
- 1947 – Dark Passage
- 1949 – Champion
- 1950 – Gun Crazy
- 1953 – The Hitch-Hiker
- 1956 – You Can't Run Away from It
- 1957 – A Face in the Crowd
- 1959 – Some Like it Hot
- 1963 – It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
- 1967 – In the Heat of the Night
- 1967 – Bonnie and Clyde
- 1967 – Two for the Road
- 1967 – In Cold Blood
- 1969 – The Big Bounce
- 1969 – Chastity
- 1969 – Easy Rider
- 1970 – Five Easy Pieces
- 1973 – Breezy/
- 1973 – Scarecrow
- 1973 – Save the Tiger
- 1974 – Harry and Tonto
- 1974 – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
- 1975 – Aloha, Bobby and Rose
- 1976 – Gus
- 1977 – Hitch-Hike
- 1978 – Up in Smoke
- 1979 – The Jerk
- 1980 – Melvin and Howard
- 1981 – The Postman Always Rings Twice
- 1981 – Gregory's Girl
- 1981 – Roadgames
- 1981 – An American Werewolf in London
- 1982 – First Blood
- 1983 – Going Back
- 1985 – Pee-wee's Big Adventure
- 1985 – The Journey of Natty Gann
- 1985 – The Sure Thing
- 1986 – The Hitcher
- 1987 – The Hitchhiker
- 1989 – Kiki's Delivery Service
- 1990 – Nouvelle Vague
- 1993 – The Fugitive
- 1994 – Forrest Gump
- 1994 – The Shawshank Redemption
- 1994 – Dumb and Dumber
- 1994 – Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
- 1995 – Showgirls
- 1998 – There's Something About Mary
- 1999 – Dogma
- 2000 – Duets
- 2000 – O Brother, Where Art Thou?
- 2001 – 3000 Miles to Graceland
- 2001 – Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
- 2001 – Off to the Revolution by a 2CV
- 2003 – The Hitcher II: I've Been Waiting
- 2003 – Suburban Virgin
- 2003 – The Haunted Mansion
- 2004 – EuroTrip
- 2004 – Crash
- 2004 – Riding the Bullet
- 2005 – Are We There Yet?
- 2005 – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- 2006 – Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
- 2007 – No Country for Old Men
- 2007 – The Hitcher
- 2007 – Mr. Bean's Holiday
- 2007 – Into the Wild
- 2007 – Have Dreams, Will Travel
- 2008 – The Yellow Handkerchief
- 2011 – Hick
- 2012 – The Angels' Share
- 2013 – Man of Steel
- 2013 – Inside Llewyn Davis
- 2014 – Wild
- 2015 – Minions
- 2016 – Pee-wee's Big Holiday
- 2016 – The Fundamentals of Caring
- 2017 – My Friend Dahmer
- 2018 – The Miseducation of Cameron Post
- 2019 – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- 2021 – Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
- 2022 – Dog
- 1939 – The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, opens with a hitched ride.
- 1957 – Jack Kerouac immortalized hitchhiking in his book, On the Road.
- 1971 – Ken Welsh's "how to" book on hitchhiking around Europe, titled Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe, is rumored to have inspired the title of Douglas Adams' 1978 classic book.
- 1973 – Kurt Vonnegut's perpetual protagonist, Kilgore Trout, hitchhikes halfway across the country in Breakfast of Champions (also known as Goodbye Blue Monday).
- 1976 – Sissy Hankshaw, the protagonist of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins, becomes legendary as a hitchhiker in part because of her unusually large thumbs.
- 1977 – "The Hitch-Hiker", by Roald Dahl
- 1978 – In his cult classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (first broadcast on radio in 1978), Douglas Adams postulated on interstellar hitchhiking.
- 1984 – Science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein described interdimensional hitchhiking in his book Job: A Comedy of Justice.
- 1996 – Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
- 1998 – Round Ireland with a Fridge by British comedian Tony Hawks: hitchhiking around Ireland with a refrigerator, as a result of a drunken bet.
- 2003 – Evasion by CrimethInc.
- 2012 – "Mute" short story by Stephen King about a hitchhiker.
- 2019 – Jens Kropp Per Anhalter durchs Leben (Twenty Six) ISBN 9783740749705
- 2021 – Escape from The Front by Erwin (Erv) Krause ISBN 978-1-6655-1478-7. Will Kraft encounters a colorful host of characters while hitchhiking to Montana.
- 1960 – "Hitch-Hike", an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents based on a short story by Ed Lacy
- 1960 – "The Hitch-Hiker", an episode of The Twilight Zone
- 1976 – "The Secrets of Isis" episode 2.17 The Hitchhiker
- 1981 – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy TV series
- 1983 – Andrea's Story: A Hitchhiking Tragedy, an ABC Afterschool Special presentation
- 1983 – Quincy, M.E. episode "Beyond the Open Door"
- 1983 - The Day After, Made for TV movie aired on ABC.
- 1984 – Diff'rent Strokes, a two-part very special episode, "The Hitchhikers"
- 1999 – SpongeBob SquarePants – "Pizza Delivery"
- 2000 – "The Hitch-hiker", an episode of Tales of the Unexpected
- 2003 – Cold Case episode 1.10, "Hitchhiker", addresses similar murders of hitchhikers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey
- 2004 – The L Word episode "Losing It"
- 2006 - Lost episode "Further Instructions"
- 2006 – The Masters of Horror episode "Pick Me Up"
- 2007 – Peking Express, a Dutch/Flemish reality game show that follows a series of couples as they hitchhike to or from Beijing (in seasons 1–3) and South America (in seasons 4 and 5)
- Augustin l'auto-stoppeur (by Belgian sculptor Gigi Warny)
- Hitchhiker – a hitchhiking lunatic killer played by actor Edwin Neal in the original film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
- Phineas, Ezra and Gus the Hitchhiking Ghosts – considered the mascots of the Haunted Mansion attraction, who also appear in other media, such as Disney's House of Mouse, The Haunted Mansion movie, and official merchandise
- Ford Prefect – a space-hitchhiking travel writer in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
- The Hitcher – a green cockney man who was featured in The Mighty Boosh
- Jack Reacher - a character of the Lee Child novels
- Murders of Jacqueline Ansell-Lamb and Barbara Mayo – two unsolved murders of hitchhikers in England in 1970
- Flexible carpooling – hitchhiking formalized via designated meeting points
- Ridesharing company
- Slugging – hitchhiking motivated by HOV lanes in several urban areas
- "Hitch The World | ...indefinite vagabond travel".
- "Velabas – Travel Narrative and Drawings from Hitchhiking Around the World".
- Kovalchik, Kara (9 January 2015). "Why Do Hitchhikers Say "(Destination)...Or Bust!"?". Mental Floss.
- "Hitchhiker's guide - what you should know?". myluggage.io. Retrieved 30 July 2022.
- Nwanna, p.573
- "So You Won't Talk, Huh?". Time. 18 November 1946. Archived from the original on 19 July 2009. Retrieved 27 January 2009.
In her cell, Susan learned that it also (technically) forbids hitchhiking, and demands (by a law passed in 1799) that strangers be able to give a good account of themselves.... Attorney James A. Major of the American Civil Liberties Union demanded that she be given a new trial.
- "Hitchhiking Basics".
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- Compagni Portis, Julian (2015). Thumbs Down: America and the Decline of Hitchhiking (BA thesis). Wesleyan University.
- Chesters, Graeme; Smith, David (2001). "'The Neglected Art of Hitch-hiking: Risk, Trust and Sustainability". Sociological Research Online. 6 (3): 63–71. doi:10.5153/sro.605. S2CID 143681275.
- Bianca Frieß (10 August 2018). "Projekt: Nersingen will Mitfahrbänke aufstellen". Südwest Presse. Archived from the original on 25 April 2019. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
- "Die Mitfahrbank als unkomplizierte Mitfahrbörse für alle BürgerInnen". Österreichisches Bundesministerium für Nachhaltigkeit und Tourismus. 20 August 2018. Archived from the original on 29 September 2020. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
- Handbuch für eine erfolgreiche Einführung von Mitfahrbänken (PDF). MobilitäterInnen. 2018.
- Wechner, Bernd. "A dearth of research: Does anyone really know anything about hitch-hiking?".
- Wechner, Bernd. "The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking". bernd.wechner.info.
There are no statistics on hitch-hiking, at least none that are meaningful and reliable. Compiling useful statistics would require counting hitchers and the amount of rides they receive, and the comparing them to the problems reported, which would be a difficult task.
- McLeod, Jamie (10 January 2007). "The 'better' Better Way". The Eyeopener. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
The most recent hard evidence I could find about hitchhiking danger was a 1974 study conducted by the California Highway Patrol examining crimes committed by and on hitchhikers. It found that in 71.7 per cent of hitchhiker related crimes the hitchhiker was the victim. It also found that only 0.63 per cent of the crimes reported during the period of the study were hitchhiker-related, and that hitchhikers were not disproportionately victims of crime.Citing: "California Crimes And Accidents Associated With Hitchhiking". California Highway Patrol. February 1974.
No independent information exists about hitchhikers who are not involved in crimes. Without such information, it is not possible to conclude whether or not hitchhikers are exposed to high danger. However, the results of this study do not show that hitchhikers are over-represented in crimes or accidents beyond their numbers.Also available as a PDF.
- Joachim Fiedler; et al. (1989). "Anhalterwesen und Anhaltergefahren: unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des "Kurztrampens"" (in German). Wiesbaden, Germany: Bundeskriminalamt Wiesbaden. OCLC 21676123.
- "Trampen ohne großes Risiko". Zeit Online. 1990. "In one of 10,000 rides, a woman is raped and in two of 1,000 rides, there is an attempted rape."
- "Hitchhiker's safety". Hitchwiki. Retrieved 1 January 2014.This is a link to the referenced article; but, note that it has not been fully peer-reviewed, and that we cannot guarantee its validity.
- Based on: Compagni Portis, Julian (2015). Thumbs Down: America and the Decline of Hitchhiking (BA thesis). Wesleyan University. p. 44. Citing: "California Crimes And Accidents Associated With Hitchhiking". California Highway Patrol. Table 18. Also available as a PDF.
- Cuba Hitchhiking Guide Archived 27 November 2012 at the Wayback Machine
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- Guinness Book of Records, 1980, page 466
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- Mark Knopfler comments between songs at Madison Square Garden concert, 2019
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