Hitchhiking in Europe : The Ultimate Guide

Welcome to this complete hitchhiking in Europe guide. I will share all my knowledge that I acquired throughout the years on the road traveling with a small budget or even without money. I’m from France and I hitchhiked in most countries in Europe.

This article is made for you if :

  • You have never hitchhiked before and you want to know how it works.
  • You want to know what should or shouldn’t do while hitchhiking.
  • You want to travel on a budget or without money.
  • You want to find free places to sleep.
  • You want to know how to eat on a low budget.
  • You have tried hitchhiking before, but you know you could still use new tips to perfect your skills.
  • You want to know how different it is to travel in Europe compared to other continents.
  • You have a lot of experience hitchhiking and you want to deepen your knowledge with a few new ideas.

Table of Contents | What you will find in this article :

  1. Hitchhiking
  2. Sleep
  3. Water
  4. Food
  5. Packing
  6. Safety
  7. Conclusion

Hitchhiking

But first, is it legal to hitchhike ?

Yes, it is totally legal to hitchhike in Europe. No countries are forbidding this practice, however :

  • Most countries in Europe forbid pedestrians to walk on the highway, therefore as a hitchhiker you can’t hitchhike directly on the highway, instead you should ask for a ride before entering.
  • Italy is one of the toughest countries in Europe, hitchhiking on a highway is explicitly prohibited even in the gas stations. You, and the driver (!!) might be fined. A better option is to hitchhike using national roads.
Hitchhiking on the emergency lane
A good example of what not to do, but sometimes…

Where to hitchhike ?

Highways

Most countries in Europe have highways, and these are the fastest way to hitch from one place to another. It’s a bit tricky to enter and there are several rules to follow otherwise the police will be fast to cause you trouble. I’ve never had any problems with the police though, and you probably won’t if you respect the rules.

National roads

In most countries in Eastern Europe you’ll have to hitch on national roads since there are no highways. It might be easier, because cars have more place to stop and I feel like there are less rules to follow. The downside is that most cars won’t necessarily go very far, sometimes only a few kilometers. Using a sign on a national road would be clever, as you might come across a person willing to take you for a longer distance and not taking the highway to save money such asit can be the case in very often in Spain.

How to hitchhike ?

A common and efficient way to hitchhike is to :

  • Go to the outskirts of your town
  • Find a spot in your desired direction with space for cars to stop and where cars are not going too fast (after a roundabout for instance).
  • Aim at entering the nearest highway going in your direction.
  • Once you are on a highway, the hardest has been done, the golden rule is to never leave it before you reach your destination !
  • Ask the driver where he’s going. Ask him to leave you in the last gas station on the highway before your paths are splitting. It requires a lot of awareness and a map.
  • Once you are at the gas station, ask people in they can help you to go to your destination, or stand with your thumb up at the exit of the rest area.
  • Repeat until you reach your destination !

Rest areas/ Petrol Station :

They will be your best friend and you’ll spend a lot of time there.
You can have access to toilets, shelter and expensive food. The best part is that you’ll find many drivers already on a highway going in your direction ! You just have to put on your best smile and talk to them. You can also make a sign and show drivers.

Staff can also let you sleep inside if you’re stranded at night.

Don’t be afraid to go to talk to drivers, at worst they will only say no !

What to hitchhike ?

When thinking about hitchhiking, most people think that mostly trucks are stopping ! In the statistics I kept from my journeys, trucks composed about 10% of my rides, while private cars are about 90% of the total.

Private cars : The most common vehicle to pick up hitchhikers are private cars. They are usually fast and comfortable, although they tend to go shorter distances.

Trucks are also commonly picking up hitchhikers.

  • In Europe trucks can’t drive during the weekend on the highways.
  • It can also be illegal for a truck driver to pick you up. Some companies forbid to have another person inside the truck. If something happens, they could end up in trouble. But in my experience, some drivers still pick you up to have company.
  • You’re much more likely to get a ride from a truck if you’re hitchhiking alone, because trucks have only two seats.
  • Night time is a perfect time to target trucks, they might be more likely to go long distance and you can have a bit of rest.

Why I prefer private cars other trucks ?

This is very personal but in my mind, speed is an element of hitchhiking, and a truck will be much slower than a car. Trucks are limited to 80 or 100 kilometers per hour on highways. A car would usually have a faster speed, sometimes up to 130 km/h, or even more.
On the other hand, a truck will usually go farther than a car, but it’s also a disadvantage to me. I understand this point could be truly controversial, but here’s my mindset : The main reason why I’m hitchhiking is to meet people, talk with them, learn about their countries. Therefore I’m trying to meet as many people as possible, and I truly don’t mind often changing cars. I also noticed that in general, people driving a car on a highway have usually a higher level of English than truck drivers, which allows us to have a deeper conversation.

Other options :

  • Motorbike/Scooter : In my experience it’s very rare to hitch a motorbike or a scooter in Europe. Most drivers don’t have a second helmet for you to use. Scooters are forbidden on the highway. Motorbike drivers have a space constraint so they won’t be able to pick you up if they are already two or if they have lots of luggage.
  • Company car : Similar to truck drivers, people driving a company car might not be insured if they have another person inside, that doesn’t mean they won’t do it though.
  • Boat : More difficult and not as straightforward as hitching on the road, you could also hitchhike boats around Europe. Websites like findacrew.net or this Facebook group are good platforms to find a ride, or even better you could directly go a marina and hang out there while asking sailors.
Hitchhiking a sidecar in Romania
The most original ride I’ve ever had, a sidecar !

Get out of a city :

The trickiest part about hitchhiking in Europe is to get out of the city.
It’s especially tough in Western Europe, where the road system is more complex, where drivers have almost nowhere to stop for you and where rules are stricter and more enforced.

Think twice before entering a city, you should do it only if you really want to visit that place or if you have a host there.

The concept is to find a spot with enough space for drivers to stop safely, and a spot where most cars will go in the same direction as you.
Imagine yourself hitchhiking in the middle of the city center of Paris near the Eiffel Tower. People are likely to go in any direction, and maybe sometimes just a couple of kilometers farther, but if you stand at the entrance of the highway in direction of the north, drivers are quite likely to go for a longer distance towards the north.

Therefore the key to getting out of a city is to find a spot where you optimize your chances without losing too much time or money to get to that spot.

Should I hitchhike with a sign or not ?

It’s the eternal debate among hitchhikers. I personally don’t use a sign 80% of the time but some experienced hitchhikers can’t live without.

Have a sign especially if you plan on hitchhiking on a road with many possible directions (such as near the center of the city).

Having a sign improves your confidence and asserts your status as a hitchhiker.

If you like hitchhiking with a sign, I’d suggest to buy a white board with a marker. You can reuse the white board easily

Potential Spots :

Highway on-ramp/before the toll booth :

You can stand right at the entrance of the highway. That’s my favorite spot. It works well in most cities, cars have enough space to stop and usually have a slow speed so that they can see you. It works perfectly in most medium-sized cities and smaller.

Traffic light before the highway :

Standing at a traffic light just before the highway is a good spot to use when there’s just no spot to stop at the on-ramp. You’d better use a big sign and move to show drivers your destination while the light is red.

Petrol station before the highway/main road :

When there’s no good spot, you might be lucky enough to find a petrol stations soon before the highway. Asking people there is a good way to get out. Previously I used this technique in the city center of a few big cities and it worked ! It can be a good option instead of having to walk/take a public transportation to reach the outskirts of the city.

Main road leading to the highway/the right direction :

If the highway is a little too far to reach, you could try on the main road leading to this highway. Surely some drivers would take the highway, so you could use a sign to be clear.

Resources to find a good spot

  • Hitchwiki.org is a very good website where hitchhikers share their best spots to get out of cities. It’s pretty complete in Europe.
  • I also frequently use Google Maps to understand the road system better. You can switch to Google Street View in order to see if the spot is good or not before you get there.

A few countries, namely the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark have created some official hitchhiking spots, I sincerely hope that this will become more common around Europe !

A girl hitchhiking at an official hitchhiking spot in the Netherlands
One of these official hitchhiking spots in the Netherlands (Source : Wikipedia)

Ways to reach a good spot :

  • Walking : The most obvious solution to get out of a city is to walk. But in some cities this could mean hours and hours of walk. You could walk if there’s less than an hour walk to your desired spot.
  • Public Transportation : No matter where you are in Europe, you’ll find some public transportation to help you reach the outskirts of the city. You’ll usually have to walk a little bit after getting off to reach your spot. It can be a free way of getting out if you choose to blackride (enter without paying), as it’s relatively easy in Europe.
  • Foldable Bicycle : One good idea that I’ve never tried can be to cycle to your desired spot with a foldable bike or another compact mean of transportation. You might miss out on a few rides if their cars is already full, but you’ll win a lot of time, problems and money.
  • Ask people : To hitchhike in a city, my favorite way is to talk to people. If you’re walking along the main road and you see a driver parked, waiting in his car, you could ask him if he’s going in that direction.

By experience, I noticed that the more developed the country is and usually the hardest it will be for you to get out of the city.

What to do inside the car ?

As soon as I step into a car, my objective is to make sure that I’ll leave a positive memory to the driver. I never want to be the last hitchhiker that a driver picks up, so I try my best to show a positive side of this “hitchhiking community”.

Share your story, show them hitchhiking is not as dangerous as they think it is, get to know your driver better, inspire them to travel. You might be surprised that it might result in an invitation for lunch, or even an invitation in their home, sometimes a job offer, or one driver sharing this story with his friends who in turn might stop for a hitchhiker the next time they see one on the side of the road…

Follow your feelings, sometimes the driver just doesn’t want to talk. A positive attitude can be just a smile and enjoying the ride !

It also happens frequently that you can’t really communicate with your driver, signs and gesture go a long way in that situation. In these situations, you could discuss general topics that can trigger a small conversation, such as talking about family, work or even football !

Inside a car there are several things you should avoid to, unless the driver authorized or offered you :

  • Eating food
  • Sleeping
  • Smoking
  • Talking about religion and usually politics
  • Touching or adjusting things inside the car

You’ll be surprised by how deep and private, conversations might be. Since drivers know they probably never going to see you again, they sometimes won’t mind opening their thoughts with a total stranger. But isn’t it the beauty of hitchhiking?

What to do if no car stops ?

Patience is the key. If you’re hitchhiking, you need to be ready for the possibility that no one might pick you up. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. It can be a few hours, and sometimes a few days without getting a ride. It’s part of the game and you need to accept it, no matter how experienced you are.

  • If no one is picking you up, first you should try to find another more suitable spot for cars to stop.
  • Get a sign, or give up the sign you have.
  • If you start to feel desperately hungry or pissed off, you might want go backwards to the closest city in order to take a break there.
  • Don’t give up ! The bad moments you are going through will be the ones you will remember and joke about later on.

What you should do while hitchhiking ?

  • Always SMILE ! This is the most important tip you can get from this whole guide.
  • Follow your guts and trust your feelings. It is alright to refuse a ride if you don’t feel it.
  • Stay happy and enjoy what you are doing, you are in this situation because you chose it. You can dance, sing or whatever lift your mood while on the side of the road ! The driver will feel this positive energy and stop for you.
  • Wear light or bright colored shirts. I’m a huge fan of wearing white shirts to hitchhike.
  • Always carry your valuables on you, that include passport, cash, credit card, phone.

What you shouldn’t do while hitchhiking ?

  • Avoid wearing sunglasses when you hitchhike, eye-contact is extremely important in my opinion.
  • Avoid walking or hitchhiking directly on the highway’s emergency lane as the police will probably be the ones to pick you up. You can get away with it in Eastern Europe.
  • You should not hitch on a downhill road, instead hitch uphill or after a speed bump. Cars will go slower, so they have more time to see you and make their decision.
  • Don’t have a time constraint, it can make hitchhiking miserable.

Sleeping

Most travelers will try to combine hitchhiking with a way of reducing their accommodation cost. It can be pretty expensive in Western Europe to stay even in a dorm, where prices in most capitals would start around 15€ a night. If you’re planning on traveling long-term, paying for accommodation every night is just not an option, but most people would automatically associate overnight travel with hotels, or at worst hostels.

Where would you sleep if you had no money? You probably never asked yourself this question, therefore this guide is here to show you the various possibilities you have in order to avoid hostels.

For more details, feel free to check my other article :

Sleeping for free in Europe : The Ultimate Guide

Camping in a tent
Ok this wasn’t in Europe, but it was pretty nice to sleep in the middle of a tea field

Contents | Where to find a free place to sleep ?

  1. Find a host through an hospitality website
  2. Airports
  3. Rest areas on the highway
  4. My favorite option : Ask People !
  5. Other options

Find a host through an hospitality website :

Couchsurfing / Trustroots / BeWelcome / Warmshowers

The concept is simple : Type the city you’re going to, find a host’s profile with whom you share similar interests with and send him/her a unique and personal request. If you get the chance to be accepted you’ll be able to stay in someone’s home without any money involved, even though you might have to share time, stories and accept the host’s rules while staying.

It would require to plan beforehand, but if you plan on visiting a specific city, you could use one of these hospitality website to find a host before reaching the city :

  • Couchsurfing – The most popular site with millions of user. It’s very popular in Europe, but maybe a bit too much these days and you might really struggle to find a host in big cities.
  • Trustroots – Started in Europe, you’ll find a steady amount of hosts there, usually with a different mentality than the ones on Couchsurfing. Maybe more hitchhikers orientated.
  • Warmshowers – More cyclists orientated.
  • BeWelcome – Same concept but with less users.

Come and read our article about how to find a Couchsurfing host !

Trustroots map with hosts
The Trustroots interface, as you can see you have a decent amount of hosts to choose from !

Airports

Airports are comfortable, safe and let you access to water and toilets 24/7. You also normally won’t have any trouble with the police there as you won’t be the only traveler sleeping there. Unfortunately it’s not always a piece of cake to get there.

There’s even a website dedicated to sleeping in airports, you can check it here.

Sleeping in an airport
Sleeping in an airport? Works like a charm !

Rest areas on the highway

This one makes a lot of sense if you haven’t reached your destination. There’s no point for you to enter a city if you have nothing to do there or if it’s already very late, because exiting a city is one of the hardest parts when it comes to hitchhiking in Europe. Therefore if it’s night and you already feel pretty tired, or nobody wants to give you a lift, you could rest for a while. In the biggest petrol stations, they have restaurants open for 24 hours. The staff there is usually pretty kind with hitchhikers.

You can sleep in the restaurant with a sign indicating your destination (just in case!), or find a place to camp behind the gas station.

A tent in a gas station on the highway after hitchhiking
Setting our tent in a gas station

My favorite option : Ask People for a free place to sleep !

Once upon a time, I found a roof countless times just by asking random friendly-looking people on the streets. It has many advantages, first, locals know the city much better than you do, so they might be aware of a suitable spot for you to sleep at. Secondly, it’s a great way to make new friends ! I don’t know for you guys but I’d feel pretty bored to just go around a city without meeting anyone… This technique is the best remedy to fight against loneliness and boredom, and you might even end up sleeping in someone’s home and have a lot more stories to share after that!

Photo with a couple I stayed with
My first time being invited after speaking to a couple on the streets !

Other options to sleep :

Train Station / Bus terminal – These are usually more conveniently located than an airport, but the rest is usually worst. Less safe, less comfortable and often guards will wake you up very early.

Parks – Opening a map and spotting the main green area is often a viable option. Once again you won’t be the only one sleeping there. It can be a good option if you have your own sleeping material, like a sleeping bag, a tent or a hammock.

Stay in the nature – When it comes to urban survival, one of the easiest ways to make it pass the night is to leave the city. Similar to sleeping in parks, and depending on the gear you’re carrying with you, why not just leave the city in order to find a suitable spot inside the nature ? That could be setting your hammock between two trees in the forest, or pitching your tent in a field for instance.

Urban survival – A city offers many options to sleep, for instance you could crash on the last floor of a building, under a bridge, sleep in a fast food opening all night or just sleeping in front of a building such as a church. It’s a good idea to carry at least a mat for these situations.

Why not going to Couchsurfing event and trying your luck there? Maybe someone will be in the mood for hosting after hearing your story.

More details and options about where to sleep in Europe on this link.

A guy sleeping in a park
I thought a random guy sleeping in a park would fit just nicely.

Water

You’ll probably never have to spend any money on drinkable water in Europe. Tap water is safe to drink almost everywhere in Europe. Therefore you only need to find a tap to refill your bottle. First here’s a map :

Where is it safe to drink tap water in Europe ?

Tap Water in Europe : Where is it safe to drink ?

Source : European Union Commission, Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, World Health Organization, Can you drink tap water in Croatia ?, How good is tap water in Belarus ?, Water in Ukraine

You should always ask locals first in case of any doubt. That’s always one of the first questions I ask when I arrive in a new country.

Please be aware that even in countries where the tap water is safe to drink, it could upset your stomach due to your body being used to a different composition of water.

Nevertheless I drink tap water everywhere locals do it, and I’m still alive.

In countries where water is not drinkable, you are more likely to receive water from drivers when you hitchhike.

  • Boil water anytime you get the chance to do so. Carry a stainless bottle for these occasions.
  • Find a dispenser to fill your bottle (banks, museums…).
  • Ask people ! If you explain your story, most restaurants and bars surely won’t mind filling your bottle. At worst the answer is only a no.

Food

Even if you’re on the highway, you can often find food easily when you’re hitchhiking. The problem is that the food sold in rest areas is much more expensive than in town.

If you’re on a low budget, your best option is to get to a supermarket and buy a few things to fill your belly. Don’t hesitate to carry a bit of food in case of hunger, nuts do this job perfectly.

In Europe, we waste 1/3 of the food we’re producing. The least to say is that food wasting is a huge problem here, therefore it opens possibilities for you to eat without spending a dime.

This is only a quick summary, but I wrote a complete article about “How to find food in Europe for free or cheaply”, feel free to check it out by clicking on the link down there.

Food and Water on a budget in Europe : The Ultimate Guide


Contents | Where to get food for free or cheaply ?

  1. Supermarket
  2. Dumpster Diving
  3. Asking bakeries for leftovers
  4. Other options
  5. List of cheap food to get
  6. Suitable food to carry in your backpack when you hitchhike

Supermarkets

Supermarkets are the best option to find cheap food. They are numerous around Europe, mostly located at the edge of towns and near populous areas.

Cheap supermarkets that you can find in many countries around Europe include Aldi or Lidl.

Food in a supermarket

Dumpster Diving

It works well in Europe because we are wasting so much food. There’s a website with lots of information about how and where to dumpster dive called Trashwiki. Dumpster diving will normally be easier in Western Europe than Eastern Europe, simply because Western Europeans tend to throw away more food and have less people in need.

Resources : http://dumpstermap.org/

Bear doing dumpster diving
Don’t feel any shame, not only humans are doing this !

My favorite : Asking bakeries for leftovers

Very similar to dumpster diving, I found that one efficient technique is to ask bakeries if they have any leftovers that they are going to throw away. I start by introducing myself and explaining why I would need these leftovers, and if I get a positive answer then the staff will urge me to come back around the closing hour. This is my favorite way of getting food. Feel free to ask a local to write a message in the local language to explain what you’re doing, it works better.

Bread in a bakery
Imagine what happened to them if they can’t sell them ?

Other options

  • Table diving : It means to go to a restaurant, usually a food court, and eat whatever people left on their plate. Imagine yourself going to a fast food, and eat the fries that someone left on his plate, this is table diving.
  • Local markets : You can find cheap fruits or vegetables there. It should be at least fresher than supermarkets. You can also ask sellers if they have anything that they’re going to throw away.
  • Carry camping gear to be able to cook anywhere is a good option if you don’t mind the extra weight.
  • Eating whatever the nature offers you, such as mushrooms, berries or picking up a FEW fruits in a garden. You can actually survive for a very long time if you know where to look and what to eat. Reading a survival guide could go a long way.
  • Be ready to be hungry, but don’t worry, fasting is said to be good for health !

Non-exhaustive list of cheap food to get in Europe :

  • Oats
  • Rice, Pasta
  • Bread
  • Lentils, beans
  • Instant Noodles (not very healthy though)

Suitable food to carry in your backpack when you hitchhike :

  • Nuts & seeds (not cheap, but light and nutritious)
  • Energy bars
  • Rice crackers
  • Boiled eggs
  • Dried fruits
  • Prepare sandwich before, you can fill it with peanut better, ham, cheese or whatever suits your diet.
Nuts and seeds
Carrying enough nuts and seeds will help you to go through the day, but that could hurt your budget.

Packing

Packing your bag for a trip is an art. Too much weight and it can make your trip miserable. Check our my article with all my best tips on what to pack for a hitchhiking trip.


Safety

Hitchhiking as often been associated with dangerous. Limited data is available but according to Wikipedia, two studies have shown the risk is lower than what the public perceives.

What I firmly believe is that, most people with bad intentions will just drive past you, to busy focusing on their unhappiness.

Talking to drivers at petrol stations is a good way to gauge them before accepting the ride.

As a solo male hitchhiker most of the situations I felt unsafe were with reckless drivers, often it involved drugs and alcohol but I have never been assaulted.

If you have any doubt, always remember, you’re free to refuse a ride. Trust your instincts !

Safety for women

I’m quite aware that many women hitchhiking are victim at one point or another of sexual harassment. Be firm, clearly state your intentions, invent a boyfriend/husband waiting for you in the next city, pretend that you’re sick and get out at the first safe opportunity.

I am not a woman and I can’t put myself in their place. But my wife started to hitchhike alone in Europe when she was 20 and she’ll make an article about it very soon.

Hitchhiking at night

  • Less people on the road, slower speed but not impossible. Keep asking people at the gas station.
  • You can target trucks, they are usually sleeping at this hour, but if they are not they might drive way farther than private cars.
  • If you’re thumbing up at night, you’d better have bright clothes. Reflecting lights would be an advantage to get picked up as the visibility is less than during the day.
  • Be careful and make sure that your driver is not impaired.

Other & Conclusion

Which countries are easier to hitchhike ?

The purpose of this map is to help you to plan your trip, to awake your wanderlust and to give a rough ideas about which countries are “hitchhiking-friendly” or not. Your experience on the road will differ from this map. Don’t let it stop you, but inspire you instead !

Be aware that inside a country some regions might be harder to hitchhike than others. For instance the South of Italy is probably easier than the rest of the country.

Hitchhiking map of Europe

Shower

  • Lakes and rivers are a good spot to take a shower and wash your clothes if it’s not to cold.
  • Near the sea you’ll often find free public showers that people normally use after a swim.
  • Free shower spots, mainly in Spain

Useful Mobile applications

  • Maps.Me – Google Maps – OSMand+ (offline map if downloaded in advance)
  • Hitchhiking Maps
  • iOverlander
  • Couchsurfing/Trustroots app
  • Google Translate

Useful Links

Let me know if you have any question. Feel free to comment here with your hitchhiking adventures all around Europe !

Maxime

A young father following his dream of travelling the world, now joined by HiuYing, his wife, and Darian, their first son.

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