Hitchhiking (also called lifting or thumbing or, universally in all non-english European languages auto-stop with different pronunciations) is a form of transport, in which the traveller tries to get a lift (a ride) from another traveller, usually a car or truck driver, for free. This wiki contains a lot of information about hitchhiking: where to start, practical info on how to do it, pictures and much much more. If you've never hitchhiked before and you want to try it out you should check out the article hitchhiking for the first time.
Contrary to popular opinion there are a lot of hitchhikers, all over the world, even in the United States. There are people like Irv Thomas whose hitchhike experiences span more than half a century. Hitchhiking is a very common means of transport in most less affluent countries (although often a form of payment is expected). Hitchhiking is probably as old as the wheel and will probably exist as long as people need to move from one place to another.
There has been surprisingly little scientific research on hitchhiking, so it's really hard to say come up with any hard statements on the rise or demise of hitchhiking. There is a nice community of hitchhikers in Europe, and it seems to be growing. It's sort of going hand in hand with the hospitality exchange movement. Some try to link this to the much larger (and economically highly influential) movement of free software and free information (think GNU/Linux and Wikipedia), and there is huge potential in this sense. If we want it or not, internet will be in people's pockets and most of our locations are already easily tracked. Link this to the potential trust available in online social networks (friends of friends), the rising prices of petrol and the lower need to be in one location and hitchhiking could be just at the start of a global come-back.
People will participate because it's ecological, others because of the economical aspects. Numerous people pick up hitchhikers is means of getting a bit of excitement in their life. For some hitchhiking starts as a form of extremely cheap transport and then it turns into a lifestyle that allows to do amazing and useful things without being trapped in an office 5 days a week. Some people have this idea that hitchhikers are stinky bums. Of course, at (rare) times hitchhikers can be on the road for more than 24 hours and feel the need for a shower, but others are traveling equipped with laptops, mobile phones, a fresh shave and shower and GPS devices.
There are several types of hitchhiking.
- traveling by train, either the risky act of train hopping or, as is sometimes possible, with the permission of the engineer or conductor.
- traveling by ocean vessel, often called boathitching
- traveling by air: planes and helicopters, also called airhitching