Five (and One More) Commandments of Hitchhiking

Hitchiking in a tunnel by tommyhevroy@flickr

Author: Tomas Marcinkievicus


Freedom of movement is one of the most common human right concepts. Poverty is another concept, mostly common amongst students. Combining these two is a basic skill of surviving in the academic society, and nowadays it‘s not so hard to do it. Cheap flights, bus, train and ferry tickets, carpooling, hostels and hospitality services on the internet are all part of it, but the most philosophical way of free movement is for sure hitchhiking.

Popularized by guys like Jack Kerouac and Douglas Adams, hitchhiking is still commonly used and admired throughout the world, especially in Europe. There are hitchhiking clubs, races, travel logs and databases, but no stable system: some prefer it alone, some do it with company, some do it occasionally, others live on the road, some see it as fun and others make a distinguished philosophy out of it.

Hitchhiking in punk Kosovo

I am the philosophical type here. After hitchhiking in about 15 European countries, I can share my system and its set of commandments, though I‘m sure you will question and discuss it in the comments based on your personal experiences. Here they are:

Thou shalt not think only about destination, but enjoy the road.

Of course you want to get where you‘re going, but that‘s not the only point to hitchhiking. I usually feel disappointed of my hitchhiking trip if a car stops in five minutes and takes me right to the destination point. If it‘s like taking a bus, I miss changing several interesting drivers, having to find the best spot to stand, making signs, even the meditation mood that comes to you after an hour or two by the road. If you’d rather take a bus, be kind and do take a bus.

Exceptions: having no money and desperately needing to get somewhere; being tired as hell and falling asleep in the car; standing by the road for more than 3 hours.

Hitchhiking to Sofia with subtitles

Thou shalt not panic or give up.

It was about 9 PM and already dark when I got dropped off next to a small Slovak village. My destination of the day, Budapest, was hundreds of kilometres away and my chances looked grim: during the whole day I only made a few hundred kilometres, the trip included missing the right turn, staying for two hours in one town, standing on the highway and walking through mountain villages. But these are the moments you love hitchhiking for: almost the first car stopped and the driver said „Yes, Budapest“.

When hitchhiking, one needs to have faith in future. The worst thing that can happen to you is getting stuck in a totally unfamiliar place without any money or acquaintances, but that‘s the adventure, isn‘t it? So keep your head calm and your thumb up at all means.

Exceptions: we‘re all humans: moments of panic and despair are part of our lives; I was feeling most hopeless ever – after 7 hours being stuck by some Slovenian road and sleeping in a truck parking lot on Slovenian-Italian border. Thankfully, I had a good traveling friend then who kicked my ass and made me go on.

Thou shalt not take the road for granted.

You wouldn‘t want to make the gods of hitchhiking angry, would you? They can strike back with furious anger. One of the most important thing while thumbing is letting it go and falling free into the hands of fate. Chaos of the universe is not something you can handle or plan, so just give in for it and go to the end.

If the car stops, even if it‘s for a few kilometres or to the next gas station in the right direction, I get inside. If people prove to be insensitive bastards, I always believe there‘s one black sheep somewhere amongst them. That‘s why I was riding with drunken drivers for a few times (one of them was doing 140 km/h) and I‘m still able to tell you these stories here and now.

Exceptions: the guy who has just stopped has a bloody chainsaw in the back of his car (maybe he just works in a slaughterhouse?) or is about to rape you; standing in the middle of highway is nothing but pure fate.

All ways lead to Riga

Thou shalt be humble.

You‘re a guest in the car that stopped, so don’t apply your rules here. It‘s pretty hard to balance on a tight rope of funny conversation and politeness, but hey, that‘s art. Tricking drivers, like hiding your male friends in the bushes or directing them to a wrong road just because you‘re going there is unacceptable. Why? Think about all the other hitchhikers on the road and how this guy or girl will not pick any of them anymore if you leave a bad taste in his/her mouth.

Most drivers are nice and helpful: they stopped for you, didn‘t they? There‘s nothing wrong to ask for or take offered food, water, beer or a place to sleep, but demanding that is just inhumane.

Exception: stand up for what you believe in anyway: if driver‘s a homophobe, you don‘t have to become one just to please him/her, just disagree nicely; if he/she‘s creepy, you don‘t have to stay at their place.

Thou shalt not think it‘s impossible.

If there‘s a road, one can hitchhike on it. There‘s always a way, even in countries (like the US of A) where it‘s forbidden. Highways have entrance ramps, gas stations and emergency lines. In Lapland, there are roads where one or two cars go per day, but hey, are you in a hurry? And you can for sure hitch yourself a motorbike, pickup truck, horse cart or a tractor. I‘ve been driving in a tractor‘s cart for a few times in Albania and Macedonia and believe me, there‘s nothing more fun than enjoying local scenery this way.

Exceptions: Somalia and North Korea.

Through Polish mountains to Budapest

Extra commandment: Thou shalt not behave according any list of commandments.

Hitchhiking is about first-hand experience, so if you think some ass on can tell you how to do it, you‘re wrong. There are lots of discussions on what‘s better: being a guy or a girl, going alone or with friends, using signs or simple thumbing, asking in gas stations or standing by the road, going as far as possible with each car or looking for the best spots to stop etc. All of them deliver one answer: it‘s all personal and relative.

But that‘s what it‘s all about. When I see the road, I am amazed by all the places it could take me to that day, tyranny of accidental events and webs of endless opportunities that I know nothing about yet. So may the exhaust gas of passing cars be your morning tea!


This is one of the winning articles of the Mladiinfo Article Writing Contest. The content of the articles does not necessarily represent the view or the position of Mladiinfo.

2 thoughts on “Five (and One More) Commandments of Hitchhiking

  1. I see almost no hitchhikers any more, whereas they used to be a very common sight in Germany in the 1980s.

    The only country where I still see a lot of hitchhikers nowadays is Israel. I like to give soldiers there a ride. It's a cool thing to have a couple of guys with assault rifles in your car.

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