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I hear some crazy stories where young hitchhikers get abducted and even murdered by killers who prey on young hitchhikers. Are the odds of such bad incidents high?

Is hitchhiking in western Europe safer (less risk of getting abducted) if you're travelling with at least one other person?

  • These are stories I hear from people I know, not from news sites. I get the feeling that the public makes hitchhiking is more dangerous than it really is, which is why I'm asking the question. – Joshua Benabou Apr 18 '15 at 22:06
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    This question is likely to be closed because "safety" is all relative. Maybe if you change your question to specifically ask the statistics of abduction of hitchhikers it might not be subjective any more. To give you hints of answers, I can remember such a story in the news a couple years ago in France. This one incident is to be compared with the thousands of deaths due to "simple driving" in France. So objectively, you have more chances to have a car accident while hitch hiking than being abducted - no matter how many people you are. – Vince Apr 18 '15 at 22:57
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    Of course by "safe" I mean safe according to statistics. What else would I mean? – Joshua Benabou Apr 18 '15 at 23:06
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    You ask if it is safer with another person, that's subjective to me. The size of samples is probably not big enough to make a serious comparison between abduction among lone hitch hikers and among groups of hitch hikers. – Vince Apr 18 '15 at 23:11
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    Safe? Subjective. Safer? Yes. – Mark Mayo Supports Monica Apr 18 '15 at 23:58
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Is it safe? Safe is a broad word, and nobody can be absolutely certain about safety. You'd consider driving or taking a plane 'safe', presumably, but crashes happen sometimes too. It's relative.

So now that we establish that, we can look at hitchhiking. Is it safe? Depends on who sees you, who picks you up, and how you react.

We actually have a post on this site on ensuring safety while hitchhiking (although really, you can't ensure it, you can only increase the odds of being safe). That may be worth a read to you.

Generally, yes, travelling in numbers increases your odds of safety. You have someone else to make a decision with, and if you get into trouble, your numbers are boosted.

There's a wiki for hitching called Hitchwiki. I definitely suggest looking at that for how to hitchhike in the countries you're aiming at.

I've hitched in a few Western European countries, and had zero problems. Most drivers just want someone to talk to on the journey, and I've still got some of them on Facebook. However, my experience is just anecdotal, much like the 'people you know' stories you mentioned, and in the end you'll have to weigh up the small risk with the rewards and decide if it's for you or not.

Note: Hitchwiki actually has a page about safety while hitching.

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    Don't think it qualifies for FGITW if I was the second person to answer, hours after the Q was asked ;) – Mark Mayo Supports Monica Apr 19 '15 at 1:36
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I have hitchhiked all over Europe, including boats and empty leg flights, on multiple trips. My own experience is generally positive and I see staying in cheap hotels as a far greater danger than hitchhiking.

It can be dangerous sleeping in an unlit or unattended rest area. And depending upon your definition of 'danger', standing upon the Autobahn or any road with "E" status will get you arrested (or harshly warned as a minimum). I would not recommend hitching a ride across the English Channel into the UK; the Border Force will not like it and they are very likely to detain a hitchhiker on failing to meet Paragraph 41 of the immigration rules (securing an onward journey).

Also if you are hitching a ride across Skagerrak with a trucker, it can get bloody cold, even in the summer. So there's a tangible danger of ill effects from exposure and ruining part of your trip.

Hitchhiking anywhere near Sangatte France can be dangerous, arguably the most dangerous spot in Northern Europe. After that I would rank Rostock Germany as the second most dangerous for hitchhikers. And in third place I would put the whole A1 between Naples and Rome as a particularly unsafe place to hitchhike. It's strictly opinion though, I expect there would be a wide variance in opinions.

Beyond the concerns I have identified above, I see no reason to be worried about the safety of hitchhiking. All natural caveats about reasonableness and diligence apply here.

I always hitched alone and so have no experience on the benefit of having a partner. I suspect it makes things worse because it limits the number of people who have room for two people, but that's only a guess.

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    Why is Sangatte, France dangerous? – Joshua Benabou Apr 19 '15 at 0:51
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    But why would this be dangerous for hitchhikers? – Joshua Benabou Apr 19 '15 at 1:01
  • @Willeke, that's a good answer. Put it as an answer so I can vote on it. – Gayot Fow Apr 19 '15 at 8:35
  • Standing where on the Autobahn is bad? – verve Apr 19 '15 at 10:24
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    @verve: Anywhere. Roads of that type are not meant for pedestrians and thus do not come with a sidewalk or any other area that pedestrians are expected on. (In fact, vehicles aren't normally (i.e. unless there's a jam, an accident, or an otherwise serious technical problem) supposed to even stop at all.) – O. R. Mapper Apr 19 '15 at 13:00
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Yes, I think you can consider it safer if you're travelling with another person but I assume it's always safer to hitchhike with someone else. It's probably also harder to find people who will pick you up when you're not alone though.

As to whether Western Europe is a particularly dangerous place to hitchhike, I would say in my experience no, at least not in comparison to other regions. Newspaper reports will always give a biaised view (they only report on the bad stuff).

If you're looking for some statistics about the safety of hitchhiking, take a look at this article (which is specifically about hitchhiking in the US but it's still relevant): https://wandrlymagazine.com/article/hitchhiking/ Those statistics, might give you some ideas about how to minimise risk. I like his conclusion:

As with any activity, use your brain. Hitchhike during the day, especially the early morning. If you’re a woman, try and take lifts from other women. You’re under no obligation to accept a ride from someone you don’t feel comfortable with.

Anecdotally, I've never, ever had a problem hitchhiking. But unfortunately I do know someone (a woman) who was very seriously assaulted while hitchhiking.

Having said all that, if you're asking this question, safety is obviously something that concerns you, so why not consider another means of transport (bus/coach and rail are generally very good in Western Europe and not too expensive but obviously not free). If you want to travel by car, maybe even consider a ride-sharing site, such as https://www.blablacar.com.

Hope that helps and have an enjoyable and safe trip!

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    LQP = Low Quality Post, btw (new user) – Mark Mayo Supports Monica Apr 18 '15 at 23:44
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    When you state anything on internet you should always assume more people than just the intended one will read it. So cover all bases. – Willeke Apr 19 '15 at 10:05
  • I think this answer is fine in its current state. I did want to mention that in my experience when I travelled by train in Western Europe I found it very anonymous, not friendly. I met loads of friendly people hitchhiking there though. And I met a couple of friendly people on trains in eastern Europe and many friendly people on trains in India, especially the cheaper trains and cheaper carriages. – hippietrail Apr 19 '15 at 12:46
  • @hippietrail, I agree with you — it is quite anonymous and not particularly friendly, people tending to want to keep to themselves, which is understandable too. – pingin Apr 19 '15 at 13:46
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Hitch hiking, while not dangerous in most cases, can not be called safe as there is the risk of a crazy driver. And while two people are less likely to suffer from one of those than one person alone, there is still the risk.

I would only suggest to hitch hike in Europe if you would also hitch hike at home. Hitch hiking is a special way of traveling, not the best way to see a continent as a tourist but if you hitch hike at home you know that.

Abductions are not that likely, the most dangerous risks I have heard are rape, stealing all your belongings when the car leaves and when traveling with two, one of you already out of the car while the other is still in the car to face rapine alone. And not just girls, nice looking young guys were/are in risk of rapine as well.

I have never hitch hiked but I met plenty of people who do and also used to know people offering rides as matter of fact. Most of those do not do it any more as hitch hikers are rare in our area these days.

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    “Hitch hiking, while not dangerous in most cases, can not be called safe as there is the risk of a crazy driver.” I find this sort of statement meaningless — without some idea of how large the risk is, the same thing could be said about anything. How does it compare with the risks of (say) walking in cities at night, or cycling in busy traffic, or sleeping in shared rooms in cheap hostels? All of these have some nonzero level of risk, but many travellers are quite happy to accept them. Are the risks of hitch-hiking in the same ballpark as these, or much larger? – PLL Apr 19 '15 at 17:27
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    I would also not call walking around at night, city or elsewhere, safe. But I do feel hitchhiking should come with warnings, as the risks are much higher than with most other ways of traveling. – Willeke Apr 19 '15 at 17:35
  • And what about cooking, taking the plane or driving? What's your evidence that risks are much higher? – Relaxed Apr 20 '15 at 10:23
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In addition to the excellent info here, I would add that abduction is the least likely scenario, considering hitchhikers are generally broke. It would be a bad investment to kidnap a hitchhiker: obviously, they don't have a ton of money.

As for rapes and muggings, the threat always exists, hitching or not. Nobody really knows if hitching is more dangerous than taking a bus, or walking down the street. As this study reports:

No independent information exists about hitchhikers who are not involved in crimes. Without such information, it is not possible to conclude whether or not hitchhikers are exposed to high danger. However, the results of this study do not show that hitchhikers are over represented in crimes or accidents beyond their numbers. When considering statistics for all crimes and accidents in California, it appears that hitchhikers make a minor contribution.

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