posted 2 years ago

Why do you never see hitch-hikers anymore?

Is thumbing a lift a dying art?

Driving out of Manchester on a busy dual carriageway last week, I saw something I haven’t seen in at least five years, possibly longer – two hitch-hikers thumbing a lift.

A straw poll of friends and family confirmed my gut feeling – we just don’t see hitch-hikers any more.  But why? In an age of economic austerity and interest in all things green, surely hitch-hiking is the perfect form of transport?  I decided to investigate.

Statistics from the AA confirm that – in the UK at least – hitch-hiking is a dying art.  A staggering 91% of 2,000 drivers surveyed in 2011 said they wouldn’t stop for a hitch-hiker, while 93% of 18-24-year-olds had never tried it. 

But research to explain why hitch-hiking has fallen out of favour is very hard to find.   Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s a combination of rising car ownership, safety concerns, a bad media image and a risk-averse culture.  The Freakonomics team take a look at some of the reasons in this podcast

Despite the statistics, I didn’t have to look far to find someone who had hitchhiked within the last couple of weeks – so perhaps it is more widespread than we think.

Hitch-hiking to a festival

Thirty-two-year-old freelance camera operator and editor Guy Crawford found himself in need of a lift when his travel plans to the Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons in Wales fell through. So, having just completed a job in Gloucester he got his work colleague to drop him off at Strensham North services on the M5 to see if he could hitch a lift.

Rather than adopt the traditional technique of thumbing a lift by the slip road, Guy first tried hitching via social media – sending out messages on Twitter and Facebook.

But in the end it was good old-fashioned face to face contact that did the trick.  Approaching people in the service station car park, he landed a lift with a family going to the festival itself. It took him just 30 minutes.

He said: “I don’t usually need to hitch as I have my own car but I ended up in the position where it was really my only option.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was; they were a lovely family and I was lucky enough to get a lift all the way to my destination.”

Was he concerned for his safety? “I think you have to have your wits about you, but if it's clear that people are heading to the same festival, I would trust them.  Especially as I could see they were a family.  If I was trying to get across London or Manchester at 3am, I would consider a safer option.”

Would he pick up a hitchhiker? “Depending on the circumstances, yes.  I’d certainly give someone a lift if they were in the same position I was in.”

Hitch-hiking to a wedding

At the opposite end of the spectrum are seasoned hitch-hikers Ania and Jon, the people behind the inspirational hitchhikershandbook.com blog.  In their latest post, the pair have written about how they successfully hitch-hiked from London to Bath for a wedding – complete with a sizeable wedding gift! 

The pair are part of a small but determined band of fans working to build a more positive image for hitch-hiking – and to promote its environmental and wider social benefits.  Check out www.hitchhikershandbook.com for inspiration – and some beautiful travel photography.

With thanks to Guy Crawford from Marick Live for his story and hitch-hiking selfie.