How to Hitch-hike

Terrified by the prospect of standing on the side of the road with your thumb out? Well, here are some tips on hitching.

If you’ve never hitched before, don’t panic. How hard can it be? You just stick your thumb out and smile!

The hitchwiki website has a treasure trove of tips for new-comers and old-timers alike:

For what it’s worth, here are my own All Star tips and tricks:

  • Take a large (A4 minimum) sketch pad for writing signs.
  • Take several thick black marker pens (other colours optional). And I mean several – don’t rely on only one. It will run out and you’ll be stuffed.
  • Take a small road map of the UK. Like this one. Don’t lose it, like I did.
  • Pack a mac. Preferably a bright red one with reflective tabs. Be seen!
  • By all means stand by the side of a road with your thumb out, but for real pro-hitching, try to get lifts between service stations. It might not be glamorous, but it does mean you can approach people personally, they can hear about your quest and see that you’re not a psycho. Service stations also have toilets, food and water.
  • Don’t be afraid of going in the wrong direction. If you find yourself in the doldrums, then just pick up a lift going anywhere and try from there. 
  • Don’t, under any circumstances, take your ipod or other anti-social entertainment device. For god’s sake, talk to your kind hosts!
  • Take snacks for the road. Nuts are good, so is chocolate. I wouldn’t take a hip-flask, though. Try, at least, to look respectable.
  • If you’re not confident, travel with a buddy you trust. Three really is a crowd for hitching. Lone drivers might be reluctant to pick up a crowd and three people are difficult to accommodate in lorries. 
  • Hitch in daylight. Night hitching is probably safe, but it’s much harder. No one can see you, there are less drivers on the road – and the ones that do and are, are knackered and just want to get home.

But if there’s one golden rule I’ve learnt over and over again, it is this:

Don’t, under any circumstances, ever give up.

Last weekend I hitched to the Lake District and back in 36 hours. One particularly dark moment served to illuminate this rule better than most. I was stuck in Skipton. No one was stopping for me, several young ruffians had shouted at me, sworn and given me the finger. I trudged miserably up the road, in the misting rain, for about three hours.

I’d given up. I wasn’t even sticking out my thumb.

Then a van pulled over to the side of the road ahead of me. He must be checking a map, I thought, and I trudged slowly onward. I was just walking past him, when I noticed his window was wound down. Then I saw him looking at me, but I’d still given up. He moved to speak to me. He’s probably lost, he probably wants to ask me directions, I think.

Then this happens:

“Were you the lad with a sign to Kendal earlier?”
“Er… Yeah?”
“What? Have you given up on that?”
“Er… No?”
And he jerked his thumb to the back of his van. “Hop in then.”

And he drove me all the way to Keswick: never, ever, under any circumstances, give up.

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at

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