It looks to me that the ability of signs to speed you up/slow down while hitchhiking is significant. I think they are useful in places where you want to specify your direction explicitly, like for example the ramps. When already on the motorways it gets more difficult. I tend to write the next big city on the sign and/or the motorway number, however it has happened to me that people going directly to my destination did not realize the city I wrote was on the way or they were thinking that I am stopping there. So a thumb might have worked better.

It looks like that knowing what to write and how to write it is a whole craft one has to master. What are your experiences and best practices with using signs while hitchhiking ?

  • This is a great question for a site that doesn't continuously rail against subjective questions, but what about here? May 15, 2012 at 10:51
  • 1
    @hippietrail I really hope you are going to put your 2 cents.
    – crenate
    Jun 13, 2012 at 8:36
  • As you know I love travel.SE and I love hitchhiking but as worded I find this question invites discussion by seeking a subjective "best" as directly askin for our experiences. Thus I feel quite uneasy about participating in it because I don't want to have double standards when telling other contributors their questions break any of those Stack Exchange rules. What to do? \-: Jun 13, 2012 at 8:43
  • Sometimes an answer from the point of experience is best, but yet I see what you mean. It is difficult to weight those cases...
    – crenate
    Jun 13, 2012 at 8:48
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    I think Mark should start the travel.SE blog like he said he was going to and I would be delighted to give him an interview on my hitchhiking techniques (-: /nude @MarkMayo ! (-; Jun 13, 2012 at 8:53

8 Answers 8


I've hitchhiked plenty during the 1990s, all over continental Europe and never found a sign useful. I would make sure I would travel from gas station to gas station, where I then could talk to drivers in person. You get to know the driver a bit, and the driver gets to know you a bit, while you can figure out whether the driver is going in the right direction or not.

  • I agree, that asking at gas stations was the best way to hitch a ride, but fist you need to get there, and getting out of city (ie. getting the first ride) was always hardest part for me.
    – Tschareck
    Jul 15, 2012 at 15:30
  • Agreed. Though the best bet for me often was a gas station on the edge of town, which could be a tough one if you don't know the city. Then again, with portable digital maps being ubiquitous, finding these should be much easier now. Also, there used to be a book on this, "the best hitch hiking spots in Europe", or something like that.
    – MastaBaba
    Jul 16, 2012 at 5:49
  • There's HitchWiki today. It mentions good spots and how to get there. In many cities in Europe there is at least one gas station on a motorway that is reachable by public transportation, plus perhaps some walking. Google Maps with satellite view is also helpful.
    – feklee
    Oct 28, 2012 at 22:56

To counter @jpatokal a little - although I get what he's saying, I have hitchhiked with and without a sign.

In the UK, I tried to hitch from Guildford (hah) to Southampton. The driver who finally pulled over said that he only slowed to see what my sign said, so in that case, it got his attention. I merely had the road on it (A3 if I recall), as it gives you the opportunity for an excuse once you've had a chat to them if you get a bad feeling.

He was brilliant though - taking a truckload of tyres down south, chucked my backpack on the top of the tyres and I hopped up in the cab with him. Ghanaian guy who had been in the British Navy - some great tales.

But you will also get those who take pity on you for the weather, or who remember when they used to hitchhike, or who fancy you (can be good or bad), or just want someone to talk to on a long drive. So yes, sometimes the sign helps, but do think about what drivers see and whether it may discourage them.


IMO it depends on the road layout. In most places the ramp simply leads to a road in one direction. However in some places, Gordano Services (Bristol UK) for instance, the ramp leads onto the road system where the driver then changes to Wales or London.

In such places a sign is a useful thing. I would suggest carrying a fat marker pen...if you find you need a sign, you can always find a bit of cardboard to make one.


In Japan, I used a sign that said simply "I SPEAK JAPANESE" (日本語できる), and was repeatedly told that they would not have picked me up without it. Of course, you have to actually know the language to be able to use this!

But other than that, I think signs are generally pretty useless. It's better to have more cars stop and have to wave on a few because they're going in the wrong direction, than it is to have cars that could have picked you up not stop because your sign made them think they are going in the wrong direction. Even a short lift to get from a bad hitching spot to a better one can be very useful.

Also, why would you need a sign at an on-ramp? Usually there are separate ramps for separate directions and you just need to pick the one going your way.

  • It depends on the construction of the ramp :)
    – crenate
    May 16, 2012 at 15:56

I carry around a DIY portable whiteboard and dry erase marker. It's just a grid of flashcards taped together with cellotape, which folds down to pocket-sized and can be wiped clean with a tissue. I stick to simple messages like "EAST", "WEST", "NORTH", "SOUTH", "I-5 NORTH" in large, bold, easy-to-read letters. If you've ever driven past someone with a long sign, you know there's no way to read it (unless it's impracticably huge).

That said, most of the time I don't bother. I read a book and stick out my thumb when there is traffic.

  • 1
    I-5 doesn't go east...
    – ki9
    Jul 25, 2016 at 0:32

If you are on an easy hitch-hiking route, and you don't want to go halfway, a sign is critical. For example, if you just spent a weekend on Martha's Vinyard and need to get back Boston, it is very simple to get a ride at the ferry parking lot exit at a busy time. It is easy to get a ride straight to Boston, and hard to get a ride from an intermediate point. For example, a ride to Plymouth, MA would a disaster as it is very hard to hitch a ride from Plymouth to Boston.

Otherwise, I think the other comments (@MastaBaba) are good; to many conversations with drivers isn't a bad thing if you have the luxury of time to hitchhike.


Firstly, I should say that success while hitchhiking is hard to measure, due to the many factors involved (and chaos). People who never use signs will insist they aren't needed. Those that always use them swear by them. There's no way to tell what's best because it depends on... everything!

Here's a technique for using signs effectively with local traffic that helped me in southern England.

I was about 100 miles away from a major city, which was my destination, Brighton. I wrote 'Brighton' on a sign. Nobody stopped! I wasn't on a motorway, so the highway seemed to be all semi-local traffic.

I figured the drivers saw the Brighton sign, thought "I'm not going there! I'm just going to xyztown," and then passed me.

So I wrote a sign for the nearest town! I got picked up quickly by someone who knew the town and was passing it. I asked him what was the next town after that and made another sign. It took many rides to get to Brighton, but at least I was moving! There was no long distance traffic on that road anyway.

This technique is only useful on routes with local traffic. If you're on a motorway, the drivers probably aren't from the area and don't know the names of the small towns.

Hitchwiki, by the way, has an article on signs. (Has nobody mentioned it yet?) One thing that I've always remembered from that article was:

Write only the initial letter in capital. The human brain detects a word not only by combining a few letters, but also by recognizing the different ascenders and descenders (the heights of the different words). When writing only in capital letters you lose this advantage. That's why street signs respect the upper and lower case.

It makes sense to me.


For what it's worth, in my little experience of hitch-hiking, I used signs to speed up because of the number of people. We were 3 and after a while we decided to write on the sign that picking 1 person was fine. Very quickly we got people picking us up.

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