International Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking can take you anywhere in this world, even across the oceans. It’s simply a matter of adapting your technique depending on where you are and how the local culture influences your actions.

In some parts of the world Hitchhiking is more accepted than others, such as Romania, where it is common to compete with grandmas for a ride. Though in other parts of the globe certain cultures are unfamiliar with the practice of hitchhiking, much of East Asia falls into this category. Sometimes this can work in your favour as the locals will be curious as to what you are up to. Other times, especially in touristic parts, you can be viewed simply as a walking wallet for the locals to tap into. Japan is a prime example of the former, where hitchhiking is rarely, if ever, done by locals, though most people understand what hitchhiking is and are eager to pick you up, the same with Taiwan and Malaysia. Cambodia and Thailand are examples of the latter.

Enlist the aid of the locals
Enlist the aid of the locals

The hand signals for hitchhiking by the road can differ from place to place. Most of Europe is the thumbs up signal, as you move further East it turns hand out flat, palm to the ground. In Asia it is this but with a up and down motion. Except in Japan, I always used the traditional thumbs up gesture as that is what most Japanese people have seen from movies. In other places, such as Israel, it is the finger pointing down to the ground. I suggest you refer to my ‘Useful Links’ for more thorough information on country specific hitchhiking conditions.

In some cultures it is normal to pay a small amount for the ride, so it’s important to make it clear if you intend on not paying. If you don’t speak any of the language and don’t know the country and culture so well, it is best to try and find yourself a local to teach you, or even better, travel with you. This will ensure you’re not unnecessarily ripped off. You can’t blame the locals for trying to take advantage of an ignorant foreigner, they probably earn in a year what you get in a week. So as much as I love hitchhiking I believe that in some parts of the world we should pay a little for the privilege.

For inspiration, tales and great tips check out Ludovic Hubler, an incredible Frenchman who spent five years hitchhiking around the world. Also Kinga and Chopin two incredible Poles who have been hitchhiking pretty much everywhere and their website has some great information on the status of hitchhiking in obscure countries.

Sadly in many parts of the world a solo female traveller is a confusing site and can often be misinterpreted. When hitchhiking in male dominant cultures it’s best to do it with a partner if you are female, it will avoid a great deal of danger. It also wouldn’t hurt to say you and your friend are married, or at the very least engaged.

Be careful in truly destitute countries, you do not want your hitchhiking to take away from someone’s much needed income. Make sure you hitch with private vehicles that are picking you up for the novelty and company rather than the financial benefit you may provide.

International Hitchhiking Summary:

  • Adapt your hitchhiking technique to suit where you are in the world
  • Be aware of the culture and beliefs involving solo travellers, especially female travellers
  • Don’t take away from someone’s lively hood, pay if that’s their job, or don’t get in the ride