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Italy is a member state of the European Union as well as the Schengen Agreement, and so are France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. Border crossings shouldn't be a problem, but avoid revealing yourself as a hitchhiker at the border, since it might still be considered as part of the highway and thus illegal. Hitchhiking is a bit less common than in France or Germany, but it's very well possible and doable. Just don't expect high speeds (particularly in the north) and be prepared for a night on the road.
In Italy, you will find motorways (autostrada -- A) and state roads (Strada Statale -- SS). Hitchhiking on the autostrada is generally illegal (this includes petrol stations, check the legal section of this article for details); to avoid problems you can try hitchhiking on the strade statale. It takes little bit more time, but you meet more local people and you can see the countryside.
You can get a free map of a whole Italy at almost every petrol station (autogrill) or here. This map has all petrol stations marked in the map. Getting rides on petrol stations is generally easy. Toilets are free at petrol stations in Italy. Make sure to stay on friendly terms with the staff.
If you make a sign, try writing the name of a sensibly chosen city some 200-300km in the right direction. For example, if you're heading from Milano to Napoli, few people will be going that far in one stretch. So try writing first Firenze, then Roma and finally Napoli. You might get there in just those three stops.
Trucks do not drive on either Saturdays or Sundays, so if you prefer to drive with them, a good time to get a ride with them is early morning on a Monday.
As described above, you'll find in Italy motorways "Autostrada" and state roads "Strada Statale". Motorways look pretty much like French ones : contrary to Germany, there are tollgates where drivers have to get slower.
Roads in Italy, both state roads and motorways especially in the North, are surprisingly heavily arranged : there are lots of barriers or rails on the side of the roads, and lots of (really lots of) tunnels to cross uneven landscapes and ranges. In the North, in the Alps, some roads are only succession of tunnels (like in Aosta valley), and sometimes even tiny roads leading to a small valley will have barriers one both sides. You can then sometimes get stuck because there is absolutely no place to hitchhike and stop a car, on a road between two tunnels and barriers on both sides.
More generally, roads in Italy are quite tight, although really almost all the time very well sealed, and finding a good spot to hitch is maybe a bit difficult in mountains regions. Also because roads are stirring a lot, maybe more than in others countries.
Art. 175 co. 7, capo B of the Italian codice della strada states:
- Sulle carreggiate, sulle rampe, sugli svincoli, sulle aree di servizio o di parcheggio e in ogni altra pertinenza autostradale è vietato (…) richiedere o concedere passaggi.
- On roadways, on-ramps, junctions, service or parking areas and on any other area belonging to the autostrada it is forbidden (...) to ask for or grant rides.
The law is pretty clear, and while it is not at all unusual in Europe that hitchhiking right on the motorway is illegal, Italy explicitly includes service areas into the law as well. Be aware that drivers picking you up may also be fined; for hitchhikers, the fine appears to be 21 euros, for drivers up to 137 euros.
Of course it is still possible to hitch the width and length of Italy on freeways without being fined all the time. On-ramps and exits of petrol stations have big signs saying no autostop; if you stay before those, you should be fine; even if police have a problem, they will mostly just ask you to move further away from the sign. The ban on hitchhiking is not generally enforced in highway gas stations, but all the more when you're in a place where it actually is potentially dangerous to stand. It can happen that they ask you to leave a gas station and continue by train (see public transportation section for advice on how to travel for free by train). Generally it is smart to lower your thumb and try to look like a straying botanist or something whenever you see coppers approaching near the motorway.
According to this legal article (Italian), this does not apply to tangenziale, bypasses, unless they are autostrade or other high-velocity roads. All in all, it's less likely that you will encounter problems if you're not Italian -- and, if you speak Italian, don't reveal this to police (or the armed forces, carabinieri).
Border crossings that are on the motorways (such as the Grand Saint-Bernard at the Swiss border) might be considered by the police as part of the highway. Nina was hitchhiking with a nice truck driver who was trying to help her get her next ride at the border, but the policeman did not allow her to continue hitchhiking (even not to stay in the truck with the same driver!) and instead drove her to the bus stop and gave her money (much more than required for the bus). Others might not be so generous though.
Edit: (TommytheCommie) We had no success trying to hitchhike from the toll bridges at the entrance to highways (autostrade). Everybody in Italy knows it's illegal to hitchhike on the highway. The police moved us back to the roundabout before the toll bridge, which was fine, but nobody was stopping in either position. So instead we hitchhiked on minor roads (named SS-9/10/etc.) and never waited longer than thirty minutes once we found a good spot. We hitchhiked down from Alessandria to Bologna on the Via Emilia (SS-9), getting short rides of 20 or 50 km at a time, but never waiting long.
The northern part of Italy is quite safe, but take care in the South. When pitching a tent in the wild, make very sure to stay out of sight. Roads are often not laid out for bicyclists and pedestrians which makes it harder to walk towards or find good spots. Some areas, especially on the outskirts of cities such as Rome, can be dodgy for single female travellers for the reason that prostitutes frequent these places. When you get into a car, make sure that the driver's motives are not determined by his meat loaf.
North across the Alps
Take the motorway A23 (in the eastern part of Italy) to Austria (don't try to hitchhike through Switzerland, it's very difficult). Follow the A23 to Villach and Salzburg to get through the Alps very easy. On that way, you will also find a lot of people heading to Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. You can also try to hitch A22 to Bolzano, Innsbruck over the Brennero, but it's quite difficult to find a hitch from A4 to the A22 except when it is holiday time.
Also, don't go via Milano, it's really difficult to get out of the ring because almost everybody drives into Milano and very few stop at service areas located nearby.
There are a lot of tourists from Austria and Germany, especially in summertime. The new European car plates start with a letter on the left side of the plate, representing the country. Most Austrian (A on a plate) and German (D on a plate) are on the way to the sea or on their way back from holidays, so if you want to go North or South, try to find Germans or Austrians (usually, they speak better English than the Italians, too).
Another option is stay on the A4 and ask trucks on the petrol stations. Many trucks go to Austria, Slovakia, Poland and more north through Slovenia to tank diesel there because there is cheaper diesel and on the roads there aren't so many hills so it saves fuel.
Edit: (TheLoneBaker) Crossing the Alps via Switzerland from the A9 seemed to be extremely easy. Lots of traffic at the service stations. Probably not worth the effort to go a different route if already in Western Italy.
Regions and cities in Italy
Ferries between Italy and Greece
It's possible to hitchhike from south-eastern Italy to Greece, but it seems to be quite difficult. Find more information here.
As in any foreign country, learning some of the language is recommended. Aside from Italian and local dialects, French is spoken in some areas of Piedmont and Aosta, as well as German in South Tyrol. A handful of words from a local dialect may make drivers loosen up. Spanish is easy for Italians to understand. English is less widely spread than in more northerly countries.
"Hitchhiking" is autostop or passaggio in Italian. Just say faccio autostop or cerco un passaggio and the name of your your destination or show your thumb, otherwise Italians might think you are asking directions as Italy gets a lot of tourists. A sign can also help to avoid misunderstandings.
Also, service stations and restaurants on highways are commonly referred to as Autogrill.
For detailed information on speaking Italian check the Italian phrasebook on hitchwiki.
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