Rest area

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A rest area (or service area (RSA), service station) is a public facility located next to a motorway at which drivers and passengers can rest, eat, or refuel without exiting on to secondary roads. It can be a great place for hitchhiking: you can ask for a ride when drivers re-fill or wander around the area, or you can stand by its exit (that leads to a motorway) and hitchhike there.

Rest areas often serve one direction of a motorway, but often rest areas in both directions of the motorway are situated opposite each other or within a short distance of each other. However, in some countries rest areas serve both sides of the motorway, as the drivers from one side are facilitated with connecting roads. Such rest areas are quite common in the United Kingdom and in Austria and are somewhat less suitable for hitchhiking as the rest areas which are only accessible from one side. There are even some situations, for example in Austria, where rest areas are situated on the junction of two motorways, which are therefore used by traffic going into four directions. This in general is certainly not an advantage when looking for rides on these stations.

Facilities of the rest area may include park-like areas, fuel stations, toilets, and restaurants. Rest areas are common in the United States, Canada, Australia and parts of Europe and Asia.

Not all rest areas include petrol stations - this means that the traffic on such rest areas will, in general, be much lower, and one can expect more difficulties when looking for a ride there. For service areas with petrol stations see information here.

Food and Drink

Depending on the country, food at rest areas can be highly overpriced and, in case of pre-prepared food, pretty abysmal. However, many German Raststättes now prepare food (mostly pasta) on the spot and, although still overpriced, it is actually pretty good. In Japan, Korea, and Malaysia the prices might not be much higher and the quality not much poorer than in a city.

Get out of a rest area

It might be necessary to get out of a rest station because it's empty and you think it will be easier to try to hitch on the local roads, because you are really close to your destination, you are on the wrong side of the motorway or you want to camp (see below). Many rest areas are fenced but it is usually possible to get out even in those cases. Many times there are breaks in the fence, you can try to see if there is a way to get out via the entrance or the exit, and of course see whether it's possible to jump over the fence. You can even ask the staff to open the door for you, keeping in mind that in this case you may not be able to re-enter.

Rest areas allowing cross-overs

Although the traffic in both motorway directions remains separated, some rest areas, typically restaurants, serve both sides of a motorway. In those cases both sides of the motorway are connected by a pedestrian-only tunnel, a pedestrian-only bridge or a bridge restaurant, like the huge Dammer Berge bridge restaurant on the A1 in Germany, and on those it's obviously easy to cross the motorway should you need to do so. On others there are sometimes crossings for (official) vehicles that can also be used by pedestrians. On occasion you may have to walk a fair distance to get to the other side of a motorway. Crossing the motorway using a bridge or tunnel is not always possible. In Germany passing to the opposite rest area is often, but not always, possible through so-called "service roads".

Here's a list of links to crossable rest-areas per country:

Sleeping

It is possible to sleep at rest areas, but you are advised to keep a low profile, as it may not always be legal to do so. Be aware that those areas that lend themselves to sleeping might also used as public toilets, so a light is a good idea when it's dark.

Also, be aware that rest areas may not be the safest places due to petty crime.

United States

In most states of the United States there are no petrol stations at rest areas. In these states the rest areas are a relatively good option for hitchhiking. In some of them (Ohio?) you will even find free wireless internet. In New Hampshire you can try to hitchhike at the state liquor stores that are very popular because of the state's low (non-existing?) tax on alcohol.

Personal experiences

Kimdime managed to camp in rest areas where there was trees and/or places reasonably hidden.

Prino has slept at many rest areas in many countries of Europe. The key is to disappear when nobody is watching and to avoid the aforementioned "public toilet areas". On one occasion he even managed to sleep right in the middle of a small bed of shrubs on an Italian area Servizio, reasoning that nobody would actually expect anyone to be so bold. However, in general he prefers to sleep in the restaurant, finding either a closed-off section, or a far-away corner. It is both safer and warmer.

Hippietrail has slept right on the benches at the front of several rest areas in Japan with no problems at all.

wikipedia:Rest_area