Guest post: Hitchhiking etiquette. 5 Rules to live by – by Justin Carmack (True Nomads)

Lake Como, Italy - Hitchhiking etiquette by True Nomads

In this week’s guest post we join our new contributor, Justin from True Nomads, who after thumbing across the European continent, reveals five simple rules everyone should follow in order to keep a hitchhiker’s good name…

In 2013 I spent a good 6 months hitchhiking Europe, and it turned out to be one of the best times of my life. I would recommend it to anyone you loves ultimate freedom, adventure and spontaneity. Besides Europe’s amazing capitals, I visited many places on the map I didn’t know existed and are on no train or bus routes.

Even though I wholeheartedly endorse hitchhiking, I believe that there are certain rules or etiquette that hitchers should abide by. Here are my top 5 rules that I wish someone had told me before I started down the road.

Hitchhiking in Bosnia - Hitchhiking etiquette by True Nomads

1. Be presentable.

This will help you get a ride in the first place, but I think it’s nice that, since you’re asking for a free lift, the least you can do is take a shower to not stink, don’t drag a bunch of mud into someone’s car, and overall try to not look like an axe murderer. These people should feel no anxiety or regret about picking up a hitchhiker, so that they will continue to do so.

2. Don’t complain or ask for anything more.

I once hitched with a guy whose policy was, shortly after getting a ride, to start the “poor me” routine until the driver either offered him some money, drove him far out of their way or even offered a place to sleep. I think this is wrong and I always felt extremely embarrassed. Just be grateful for the ride, and let them know it.

Lake Como, Italy - Hitchhiking etiquette by True Nomads

3. Don’t overstep your boundaries.

This is a free ride, nothing more. Don’t take advantage of their kindness and put your feet on the dash, rummage through their stuff, take over the radio. Again, the goal here is to encourage people to keep picking up hitchhikers. If they are UN-annoyed and feel like they did a good thing, they will keep doing it.

4. Stay awake!

This is probably the most important, yet least obvious. I believe that no ride is completely free. Now it’s time to repay the kindness. Many drivers pick up hitchers during long trips to help them stay awake. Some pick them up so they themselves can sleep and you drive. Some just want to hear great stories from a strange hitchhiker. If there’s two or more of you then only one can stay awake, but either way, someone has to do it. I remember getting ride after ride, and getting asked my story over and over again, but I was always happy to retell my story each time, giving back a little. If you somehow entertain or have some use, they will remember that the next time they see a hitcher.

Side note – I once heard of a French hitcher that left something for every ride he got. It was his way of giving back. It was usually some little origami that he would construct himself during the ride, and then leave on the dash board when he got out. Imagine the impression he made. He was killing the axe murdering hitchhiker stereotype one ride at a time.

Amsterdam, Netherlands - Hitchhiking etiquette by True Nomads

5. Be kind and thank profusely.

I don’t care if it’s a 5 minute ride or a 12 hour one, they did you a massive service and probably saved you a lot of money. Make them feel entertained and like they have met a new friend during the ride, then thank them from your heart at the end to make them feel like they really helped someone out. You need them more than they need you, and we would love for word to spread and more drivers to pick up. Do your small part.

I believe that if every hitchhiker follows these five simple rules, the few drivers who DO pick up hitchhikers will continue to do so, and word will slowly spread to new ones. I know it works because a few times I’ve been picked up by people that said I was their first, and by the end they said I had elevated their fears and they looked forward to meeting more hitchers and getting to know their stories too.

Hitchhiking in Croatia - Hitchhiking etiquette by True Nomads

Hitchhiking etiquette by True Nomads

written by: Justin Carmack (True Nomads)

Justin Carmack is a travel blogger, divemaster and over-all lover of freedom and adventure on the road. In 2010 he sold all his things and left home, trading his possessions for dreams. Dreams of traveling the world, getting lost, and living life free and to the fullest. He writes about his adventures on the road at his blog True Nomads.


And what do you do in order to fight the stereotype of a dirty hitchhikers whose only aim is to leech  on other people? Share your ideas in the comments.

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  • Good tips!
    Though I’d say that the no-sleeping rule is discussable. If you’re travelling for more than 24h in a row and you get overnight rides, where are you suppose to sleep if not in a car? I always ask the drivers if it’s OK if I sleep at a certain time and tell them to wake me up with no hesitation if I’m snoring, if they’re falling asleep too or if there’s any other issue. Also, I never do it right after jumping into the car – some introduction talk and establishing a rapport is necessary, to be kind and to stay safe. Once I had a driver who was thinking about taking me further than we’d agreed, but he hesitated because he “doesn’t like talking”. I enthusiastically assured him that I’d more than happy to go to sleep and I got the ride extended by 200km :)
    But the “be presentable” and in particular “don’t smell!!!” is a rule I couldn’t emphasize enough. There are showers at fuel stations, so use them when needed! Another time I travelled with a guy who told me I was his first hitch-hiker after a twenty-year break, because a certain hitch-hiking girl 20 years ago had smelled so badly she’d put him off picking people up for the aforementioned period ;)

    • Very true! We have also met drivers who told us similar stories and a shower can never harm you. Although being completely fresh while hitching is often very difficult as you spend many hours in the blazing sun or walking in between lifts, so sometimes it’s unavoidable. But you should always try!

  • Great tips. I think the most important is understanding your role as storyteller and/or listener. Well, most important after not actually being an ax murderer. Here’s my 10 tips gleaned from my decades on the road: