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Hitch-Hiking and the Dangers

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 16 Jan 2020 | comments*Discuss
Hitchhiking Travel Safety Travelling

When faced with little money, dodgy bus timetables and a schedule to keep, what's a gap year student to do but hitchhike, right? Wrong! Though hitchhiking has long been romanticised in books and films as the adventure of a lifetime, what these warm and fuzzy presentations forget to mention is what happens when the adventure ends. While missing persons and murder are at the very far end of the danger spectrum, it remains a fact that hitchhiking puts travellers at the mercy of others. Rather than putting yourself in this position, spend your gap year travelling safely on public transportation.

Hitchhiking Nightmares

There are very few statistics gathered on the safety of hitchhikers in any given country, but even without numbers to quote it remains obvious that hitchhiking:
  • Is illegal in many countries and punishable by fines or imprisonment.
  • Increases your risk of injury at the roadside.
  • Possibly exposes you to dangerous drivers.
  • Requires you to stay alert to your surroundings.
  • May leave you stranded in deserted and/or unfamiliar areas.
  • May subject you to verbal or other harassment.
  • May lead to physical danger.

Alternatives to Hitchhiking

There are a variety of affordable and often accessible options to hitchhiking. Though they may not all be available in each of your destinations, with a little patience you will often be able to find at least one acceptable alternative to hitchhiking. There are many modes of transport on which to travel during your gap year such as; public or private busses, subways, trains, trolleys or tramsregistered minivans, registered taxis, bikes, rideshares arranged by a local agency and of course rental cars.

Emergency Alternatives

Often travellers only consider hitchhiking if they encounter an emergency, such as being robbed and stranded with no access to cash. To eliminate this possibility:
  • Keep your cash in several separate locations.
  • Consider wearing a money belt.
  • Carry a mobile phone at all times.
  • Memorise your credit card information.
  • Know the emergency contact numbers for your host country.
  • Remember that you can always reverse the charges on a call for help.

Hitchhiking Safety

No matter how many warnings they hear, many people will still hitchhike if they find themselves short of cash or during an emergency. If you find yourself in a similar situation, take care to:
  • Turn down any ride with which you do not feel comfortable.
  • Observe the make, model and registration of the car before getting in.
  • Do not accept a ride in a car full of strangers.
  • Try to sit up front in the passenger seat.
  • Make sure that there are no child safety locks on before you get in a car.
  • Keep your bags with you at all time.
  • Keep cash and your passport and travel documents on your person.
  • Travel with at least one other person. Safety comes in numbers.
Even in the most dire of circumstances, hitchhiking is never an advisable option for responsible travellers. If you find yourself in a position that causes you to consider hitchhiking, whether it be from boredom, lack of cash or impatience with the public transport system, ask yourself if your safety or indeed your life is really worth the risk.

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Having thought this over, I’ve realised the reason this post is so annoying is because of the stupid “safe vs. dangerous” binary it tries to employ. As if all other forms of transportation are certifiably safe in all places at all times? My friend was violently assaulted on a bus in broad daylight. My other friend’s sister was raped by a guy following her from a bus they had both been on. On the other hand, I have two other friends who have been hitchhiking for 15 years and have never had a bad experience. Sure, hitch-hiking is probably not as safe as holing up in a walled compound whilst wearing a full suit of armour, but then that is a rather boring way of passing the time. Also, this post does not even specify location, as if ‘the dangers of hitch-hiking’ can be discussed abstractly without reference to whether the activity is carried out in Iceland or Somalia. That last point should refute the part about hitch-hiking being “illegal in many countries and punishable by fines or imprisonment.” Yes, and any responsible traveller would obviously look that up beforehand - just like if I were planning some other activity in a foreign country, I would research beforehand if it were allowed.
Hitch-Hiker - 16-Jan-20 @ 10:47 PM
“hitchhiking puts travellers at the mercy of others” Yes. Unlike bus travel where you obviously know the driver and the other passengers “May leave you stranded in deserted and/or unfamiliar areas.” Yes. Because if you go backpacking, the last thing you’d want is to end up somewhere you haven’t seen before. I’ve hitchhiked thousands of kilometers, and these days I can barely bring myself to get on a bus or train. Doing the latter, I’m just a consumer, but if I hitchhike, I go on an adventure and I can end up anywhere. It’s the greatest feeling in the world, and no form of paid transportation can compete - because paid transportation turns the human relation to your driver into simply a question of money, and also paid transportation only ever takes you where it’s supposed to, so you never get outside your comfort zone, or experience anything unpredictable (all my unpredictable experiences having been wonderful, btw) But whatever gets you through the night, if you don’t want to hitchhike, well, don’t do it
Hitch-Hiker - 14-Jan-20 @ 10:53 PM
Haha nice I think I feel so lucky right now as in over two years hh around the world I newer was robbed, killed not even subject to verbal or other harassment. The only ones I meet who had problems like that where always travelling the normal way with their moneybelt. Another nice article I read about Hitchhiking and robberies in Mexico put up this question. Who would you rather rob a car with local people (and surprisingly a hitchhiker) not having much or this giant Piñata Bus full with wealthy rich tourists. But don't worry they probably won't find your moneybelt or emergency phone. To the Rest of unscarred people warm roads
Gone_Hitchhiking - 14-Jan-20 @ 5:25 PM
Agree with Masala. The dangers are being rather exaggerated. I was taught to hitch by a girl. Stay smart but don’t let fear limit you. Read some FB groups or Wikis dedicated to this
Klim - 14-Jan-20 @ 2:42 PM
Been hitchhiking for almost 20 years, over 30 countries - Europe, Mid-east, South and Southeast Asia, Australia. I've had only one dodgy ride out of thousands and even then I came out of the situation safe. Generally hitchhiking is safe. Still, do remember common sense and that you have no obligation to get in a car if it doesn't feel right. Check out hitchhiking groups on FB for people with actual real-life experience and proper advice about hitching.
Masala - 14-Jan-20 @ 11:44 AM
Lady Hitchhiker and speakingasanexpert:If YOU want to take such stupid risks to your health, safety and possibly your lives, that's YOUR prerogative!Just DON'T try to sucker other people, including myself, into taking such stupid risks, that's all!
mplo - 5-May-19 @ 5:02 PM
Brandon Jackson, you're totally missing the point.The whole point is that when one hitchhikes or picks up hitchhikers, there's really no telling what either the person who gives the hitchhiker a ride, or the hitchhiker him/herself may be up to.Being in a small, confined space such as a moving car with an average run of the mill stranger that one doesn't know from a hole in the ground, or what that person may be up to is too risky, especially nowadays.
mplo - 5-May-19 @ 4:44 PM
Listen, AnonAnon:I disagree with you here.As I pointed out earlier on this thread, hitchhiking crimes are rare, because very few people do it any more, and with good reason.Your statement that "One is more likely to get killed crossing the street than being attacked while hitchhiking." is a total bunch of BS.I don't buy it. People get hit by cars sometimes, because they're not always as careful as they should be while crossing the street, but hitchhiking is a totally different matter.When you're in an enclosed moving vehicle such as a car with a run of the mill stranger, you're in a vulnerable position due to being totally at their mercy.The risk of getting into a situation that one has absolutely no control over while either hitchhiking or picking up a hitchhiker is there--and very real, to boot.
mplo - 20-Sep-18 @ 7:01 PM
To jesse and AnonAnon:Just because there are more cellphones and other methods of calling for help if one gets in a nasty, dangerous situation while hitchhiking or picking up hitchhikers, and just because more people do get killed, assaulted or molested by people they know doesn't mean that people don't get assaulted, molested, or even killed by strangers, even if crime by strangers isn't the majority. When a person hitchhikes, s/he puts him or herself totally at the mercy of whoever gives them a ride, thereby putting him/herself in an extremely vulnerable position.The risk of a hitchhiker or even someone who picksup a hitchhikergetting into a situation that s/he has absolutely no control over are there, and they're quite real, to boot. I'll also add that it's no consolation to the hitchhiker's friends and loved ones if s/he is robbed, assaulted, or worse, or seriously injured or killed in a crash.
mplo - 20-Sep-18 @ 6:48 PM
There are People who are oppsessed with hitchhicking just because they want to save money and others don't have a choice but to hitch hike, I know of one place where there are no buses/trains or other means of transportbut 2 taxis operating from there and people get stranded when they have to get to town , my advise will be especially to those who are living in such environment to get cell phone numbers of those taxi drivers, call before you make your departure. Let us try to take care of ourselves by being extra careful because our lives are more worth than money
DJ Reu - 2-Jan-18 @ 7:28 PM
@mplo - whenever a person hitchhikes it can't be a comfortable ride. The person who is giving the lift will always be wondering whether the HH is a axe-wielding homocidal maniac and the HH will be thinking exactly the same. So while they are chatting away, both will be thinking am I safe with this person, is this person going to turn out to be a nutter, will they steal my stuff. It makes either party think, is it worthwhile me doing this. Therefore, my conculsion is it's more stress than it's worth.
Seb78 - 10-Aug-17 @ 4:09 PM
to AnonAnon: To say that more people get hurt or killed while crossing the street is a totally BS non-sequitur and off the subject.It's better to err on the side of caution and sensibility and not hitchhike or pick up strangers, due to being in an extremely vulnerable position when in a closed vehicle with a stranger that one's never seen before, because there's very little that one can do if things get bad.
mplo - 10-Aug-17 @ 3:48 PM
To Lady Hitchhiker:If you get picked up by decent and/or loving people that you don't know when you hitchhike, that's anybody's stroke of luck, including yours.Hitchhiking or picking up hitchhikers is risky because, even though most people are perfectly normal and honest, the risk of being picked up or giving a ride to somebody who's really not so normal and/or honest is still there..and very real, to boot.Even with all the technology, the chances of getting help are slim to none, if the situation should go south.Imho, the 1-2% of people that aren't so normal and honest that are out there in their cars are a perfectly legitimate reason NOT to hitchhike, or to pick up hitchhikers. Theft of smart phones and other new, hi-technology gadgets that're designed to contact other people are on the rise. The person you pick up, or get picked up by could very well steal your smartphone or whatever, and then where would you be if the situation turned nasty?Not in a good situation...that's for sure.
mplo - 10-Aug-17 @ 3:35 PM
@Speaking from experi - you've made some great points. They are a good balance between being careful and responsible and trusting that most people you meet are trying to help out. It's always a risk though - but as you say, we take risks every day. Even talking to people in the street these days presents itself with a risk of being knifed.
RiverMan - 16-Jun-17 @ 2:53 PM
As an experienced hitchhiker I must say, almost all of the reactions below are understandable, from a certain point of view. I could make the comparison with bungeejumping: all of the times it goes well: it's freaking awesome. But that one time the cord breaks, you could die or something really bad happens to you, and it ends up in the news. (Yes, I am aware it is a bit of a farfetched comparison). But there are certain checks that you could take for making sure the jump will be safe. And I would argue this is the same which hitchhiking. Thinking about where/when/how you hitchhike can make a hell of a difference. Where: some countries are used to hitchhikers, some are definitely not. For example: in the Netherlands/Belgium/Germany/Poland it is not unfamiliar concept. But compared with Spain, you could be considered a prostitue. So read up on your destination. Do they speak english? Or do you have a basic knowledge of the language of your destination? When: think about the time you are standing next to the road.. is it night? People might have been drinking.Is it early in the morning? People might be on their way to work, so less likely to take you. How: There are multiple ways to hitchhike. You can stand next to the road and hold a sign or your thumb, and you are at the mercy of people who stop for you. You could feel pressured to accept the ride. However, the way I have been learned is more efficient, and more safe: Make sure you are dropped off at a gasstation, so you yourself can approach people. You can estimate by someones car and their behaviour if you feel safe approaching them or not. And people are more likely to take you if they have had a normal conversation with you. For the people wondering below: why would you do it at all? I can only speak from my own experience, of course. For me it is the best way to get to know a country, a culture, a new language. In a society where people communicate more via phones and computers, having honest conversations with strangers is refreshing. And because there is such a stigma attached to the dangers of hitchhiking, it refreshes my fate in humanity everytime. Actually a lot of the time people are more afraid the hitchhiker will kill them than the other way around. The whole honest experience, it's a rush. Really, just like bungeejumping. The one time it goes wrong, yes it is horrible, but I'm ready to take that risk. Just know what you are getting yourself into. Don't be naive.
Speaking from experi - 2-Jun-17 @ 2:58 PM
I agree completely with what MPLO says. You are vulnerable when you are in a closed moving vehicle with a complete stranger because the only way out is to jump out which is dangerous from a moving vehicle and jumping out is not practical at a high speed. If the driver decides to take you somewhere isolated, you can't do nothing because you can't get of the car. It is advised you should only get in a car with one driver but you could get in a car with one driver but the driver could pick up friends later. You are then in a vulnerable position in a car with several strangers. The driver could refuse to take you to your destination and leave you somewhere isolated you are not familiar with where there is no public transport and little traffic to hitchhike lifts from. Besides the dangers hitchhiking is not a very efficient way of travelling. What happens if no one picks you up? You could find yourself having to walk long periods in bad weather. You may get a lift but the driver can only cover a part of the distance to your destination. It is argued that hitchhiking is cheap but will drivers demand payment? Another risk is drivers playing jokes by pulling over to give the impression they are going to give you a lift and driving off.
Dyncymraeg - 7-Jan-17 @ 1:29 AM
To Anonanon: Just because you believe that more people are killed by cars while crossing the street, or wherever, doesn't mean that hitchhiking or picking up a hitchhiker is safe, or smart. The reason that hitchhiking re-lated crimes are as rare as they are is because people don't hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers very much these days...and with ample reason:It's way too risky.
mplo - 16-Nov-16 @ 2:41 PM
Thanks forunderstand where I'm coming from on this subject, Jude333
mplo - 16-Nov-16 @ 2:37 PM
To Brandon Jackson:The fact remains that despite the fact that most people are perfectly honest, and more people getting killed in accidents on "safe" transit options doesn't mean that the risks of either letting someone into your car, or getting into a car with somebody that you don't know from a hole in the ground (inotherwords, a complete stranger), there's no telling who you might end up getting a ride with, or giving a ride to.First impressions don't generally matter.
mplo - 16-Nov-16 @ 2:35 PM
@mplo - I agree with you - I would never hitch a lift!
jude333 - 7-Nov-16 @ 2:19 PM
To AnonAnon: Just because hitchhiking crimes are rare (because most people aren't stupid enough to hitchhike in the first place.) doesn't mean that they don't happen.I stand by my position that when someone either gets into a car with or picks up someone in their own car that they don't know from a hole in the ground, that they're totally at the mercy of that person.Being in a closed moving vehicle with a complete stranger that one knows absolutely nothing about puts one in an extremely vulnerable position, with little or no way out of it if things should turn bad.The fact that you dismiss my opinions with a stupid non-sequitur like "More people get killed by cars when they're crossing the street." is a real turn-off for me...and rather disgusting.If YOU wish to take stupid risks like hitchhiking and/or picking up hitchhikers, that's YOUR business.Just don't try to sucker me or other people who aren't into taking such asinine risks into doing so.Thanks.
mplo - 5-Nov-16 @ 3:38 AM
@mlpo - there are many dishonest people.......at the same time hitchhiking crimes are rare and someone has more of a chance of being knocked down by a car crossing the road..... than being attacked this way.
AnonAnon - 25-Oct-16 @ 10:53 AM
To jesse88: Just because more people have cell-phones, etc, doesn't mean that they're immune to being in a bad situation when they either hitchhike or pick up a hitchhiker. Just because the technology has improved doesn't mean that people who perpetrate horrible crimes always get caught, either.Many of these perpetrators of crime are smart enough and resourceful enough to avoid getting caught regardless of the existing technology. When you either pick upor get into a car with a total stranger, you're completely at their mercy, no matter what kind of cell phone or beeper you've got.Being in a closed, moving car with a total stranger, in either case, makes one especially vulnerable.just because most people are normal and honest doesn't negate the fact that when one hitchhikes or picks up a hitchhiker, the risk of either being picked up by, or picking up someone who's NOT so normal and honest is there...and very real, to boot.These not-so-normal-or-honest people don't have to be in the majority to present a problem.
mplo - 24-Oct-16 @ 5:29 AM
@Mplo - at least people have mobile phones now which can track the hitchhiker's movements if anything untoward were to happen. CCTVs are everywhere and car registrations are easily logged on those CCTVs. Less people hitchhike now, but those who do hitchhike at least have some protection that should anything terrible happen the person that committed the crime will get caught. I hitchhiked to a festival this summer and some lovely people gave me lifts. I don't know if the Boston hitchhiker's murderer was caught - I hope they were.
Jess88 - 5-Oct-16 @ 2:23 PM
To Lady Hitchhiker:Bill James sounds like he doesn't know anything, and a poor example of someone to put one's trust in on this subject.You may think that hitchhiking is no more dangerous or risky than public transportation or walking to one's destination, but you couldn't be more wrong! Looks can be extremely deceiving, for one thing.Some of the most dangerous people who are out and around look like clean-cut college people or whoever.The fact that most people are perfectly normal andhonest fails to negate the fact that the risk of getting pickedup by somebody who's NOT so normal and/or honest is still there.One also must bear in mind that when one accepts a ride with and gets into a car with a total stranger, his/her options of getting out, calling for help, or defending themselves physically if the situation turns violent and/or nasty are extremely slim tonone. I'll also add that a person with bad intentions doesn't have to be a murder to inflict harm on a hitchhiker. One can be careless, dangerous, crazy and/or just plain irresponsible.Why would any sensible person take that chance?Suppose the person that picked you up refused to let you out where you wanted to go, despite your requests?Suppose the person(s) that picked you up drove you to a lonely, isolated place, and then robbed, assaulted you, or possibly worse?Suppose the person who gave you the ride was drunk, drugged-out, or just a dangerous or careless driver, you ended up in a terrible crash and was either permanently maimed or killed as a result?What then?What if something horrible happened to a friend, co-worker or loved one of yours while they were hitchhiking?Think about that.
mplo - 5-Oct-16 @ 6:26 AM
No matter how responsible one is, and how independent they are, and how caring they are as people, or how well they know their way around and able to take care of themselves they are, there's always the chance that even the toughest, most independent, most responsible person(s) can and do get into situations that they can't cope with, or worse.Those young women here in Boston who disappeared and were never seen or heard from again (they were brutally murdered.) after hitchhiking, were tough, independent, responsible working women who really knew their way around, and they ultimately ended up dead.Think about that.
mplo - 5-Oct-16 @ 5:56 AM
Being flip about it and dismissing the risks of hitchhiking as a bunch of malarkey is the height of foolishness, imho.Not everybody has the ability to jump out of a moving car or defend themselves physically if a hitchhiking situation turns nasty and/or violent.Secondly, the fact that brutal murders are at the far end of the danger spectrum doesn't mean that one won't be subject to verbal or even physical harassment and/or coercion if and one gets in a car with a total stranger.Thirdly, a lot of accidents occur while hitchhiking, because there are a lot of dangerous drivers out there.
mplo - 20-Sep-16 @ 9:36 AM
What's so great about hitchhiking, anyway?First of all, most of the incidents that do occur while hitchhiking fail to make the papers and the evening news. Secondly, when one puts him/herself in a car with a total stranger or strangers, s/he or he is putting him/herself at the mercy of that person or persons, and, all too often, has little or no control over what may happen.At least if one meets somebody at a dance, a party, a nightclub or a bar, there's always the chance of ducking out quickly and calling for help if things start to get dicey.If a threatening situation occurs in the street or wherever, there's always the possibility of running to higher ground, or defending oneself physically, if they're able to and must. In a car, however, the options for doing any of the above-mentioned things are extremely slim to none.It's not worth taking such a stupid risk, imho.
mplo - 20-Sep-16 @ 9:29 AM
The fact that more people get molested or killed by people who know them, and the fact that most people are perfectly normal and honest don't negate the fact that the risks of hitchhiking are still there;one never knows if s/he will be picked up by someone with really bad intensions, or someone who's drugged-out or drunk, or someone who's really not in their right mind, or who's a dangerous or careless driver.As for people who claim that there are few incidents that occur while hitchhiking, they're wrong:Most of the incidents that do occur while hitchhiking don't even make the papers or the evening news. Back in the early 1970's, here in the Boston area, there was a whole slue of young women ranging in age from their late teens to their early 20's, whowhile hitchhiking, were picked up by someone who turned out to be a serial killer, and their bodies were found...weeks or months later, in distant places;in wooded areas, or along the road-sides. Boston was in the national spot-light for weeks because of all those young women who were murdered while hitchhiking. Three years after I graduated from high school (the spring of 1972, to be exact), two teenaged couples who attended the same high school that I did and who were out on a late Saturday night/Sunday morning double-date, decided to hitchhike home.They were picked up by two men, in their 20's, who had clearly been drinking, but did not seem unfriendly or hostile.The girls were let off first, but then things took a nasty turn:The teenaged boys were taken to a secluded spot near the Lincoln-Waltham line and physically attacked.One of the teenaged boys received a concussion due to being hit over the head with a blunt, heavy instrument, and the other one almost got mowed down by their attackers' car while trying to escape to get help. The grisly overall scenario of the young women in the Boston area who were brutally murdered while hitchhiking was rather tragically played out once again back in 2005.Two girls, aged 19 and 16 (The 19 year old had a young son.) from the Alberta, Canada area, who'd been invited to a party, decided to hitchhike home.That was the last time they were seen alive.Afew years later, in 2011, a camper accidentally found a couple of human skulls, that turned out to be the skulls of the two girls who'd been brutally murdered afew years before. Those who dismiss these horrific incidents as old wives' tales might want to think again, and to think twice before putting oneself in a car with a total stranger.One never knows what lies ahead, either.
miki - 20-Sep-16 @ 9:24 AM
@Bobby - I am sorry to hear this Bobby, and it is a good warning to others not to get into cars with strangers.
GreatGapYears - 10-Feb-15 @ 10:10 AM
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