Thumbs up? Map shows Europe’s hitchhiking landscape

Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.

Thumbs up? Map shows Europe’s hitchhiking landscape

Heat map for hitchhiking speed across Europe: green is good, red is bad

Image: Abel Suyok
  • A popular means of transportation from the 1920s to the 1980s, hitchhiking has since fallen in disrepute.
  • However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
  • In some countries and areas, you'll be off the street in no time. In other places, it's much harder to thumb your way from A to B.

Rated for hitchability

User-based tips and tricks on how to hitch a ride throughout Europe (and the rest of the world).

Image: Hitchwiki

If you've never stuck out your thumb to get somewhere, nor picked up someone who did, you're now part of the overwhelming majority. Nevertheless, like vinyl, hitchhiking has survived the predictions of its demise and occupies a small but thriving niche.

There's an entire wiki dedicated to the practice, including a map detailing hitchhiking spots around the world, rating each for 'hitchability' and providing a user-generated average waiting time for each spot.

Based on that information, Abel Sulyok has produced this map, showing average waiting times across Europe as experienced by hitchhikers themselves. The map provides a curious overview of the continent's hitchhiking landscape, indicating where it's easier to hitch a ride, and where your thumb is going to be sore before you're picked up.

Hitchhiking heat map

Hitchhiking success (or failure) doesn't just depend on your technique or appearance, also on your location.

Image: Abel Sulyok

In areas colored darkest green, you're off the street in 10 minutes or less. Lightest green: half an hour. Things turn yellowy in areas where you have to wait up to an hour and then change to red for times up to 90 minutes. If it's more, you're in a deep burgundy.

A few observations:
  • Some countries seem more hitchhiker-friendly than others. According to this map, you'll have most luck sticking out your thumb in Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Albania and Romania – all mainly light green.
  • In-between countries include the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Turkey (among others).
  • Worst countries to hitchhike, at least according to this map: Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Austria, Sweden.
And, more specifically:
  • Border areas seem prone to hitchhiking problems, although curiously often just in one direction. Check the Russian-Belarus border, or the ones between Bosnia and Serbia, Greece and Turkey, or Austria and all points south.
  • Urban rides can be more difficult to hitch; see the 'hot spots' covering Paris, Athens, Kiev and the Liverpool/Manchester area in northwest England. In big cities, motorists can always soothe their bad conscience thinking the next car will pick up that rain-soaked stranger.
  • Red can also mean remote, as it certainly does in Scotland's furthest north, or the interior of northern Sweden and Norway.
  • Other red zones are more difficult to explain. Why the generalized aversion to autostopistas in both southern Spain and southern Italy? Why is Germany's Frisian coast so atypically hostile to hitchhikers? And what makes the southern Swedes so unamenable to helping out their non-motorized fellow travelers?

As this map shows, your hitchhiking success depends not just on your presentability, but also on where you present yourself.

From freighthopping to hitchhiking

A young Ernest Hemingway (17 in 1916), freighthopping to get to Walloon Lake.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Hitchhiking has a long tradition in the U.S. Its direct ancestor was freighthopping. After the Civil War, if you were looking for work but without your own means of transportation, you'd hop on freight trains to travel long distances.

By 1911, the ranks of these hobos (1) had swelled to an estimated 700,000 – or about 0.75% of the entire U.S. population at the time.

While lots of people kept riding the rails throughout the 20th century (2), the rise of the automobile provided a much safer and more flexible means of hitching rides to faraway destinations.

Popular (and patriotic)

Hitchhiking (3) really took off after 1929, when the Depression both limited people's options to buy their own cars and increased their need to move around to find work. Under the New Deal, the US Government even set up a Transient Bureau that helped both hobos and hitchhikers.

Hitchhiking entered the national consciousness, portrayed in popular books (John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath) and films (It Happened One Night, starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert).

By one estimate in 1937, at least one adult American male in 10 had hitched a ride at least once. A Gallup poll conducted during World War II, when fuel-rationing and car shortages were keeping hitching popular (and patriotic), indicated that nearly half of all Americans had picked up a hitchhiker.

Friendly traveler or vicious murderer?

Two FBI posters, signed by America's anti-hitchhiker-in-chief, J. Edgar Hoover.

Image: FBI / Public Domain

However, there were problems with hitchhiking almost from the start. Early on, public opinion swung against aggressive hitchhikers, sometimes standing in the middle of the road, practically "demanding a ride". Reports of crimes – real or otherwise – committed by hitchhikers predisposed the public and the authorities against it.

After WWII, laws and law enforcement further discouraged the practice, as exemplified by these FBI posters, warning drivers against hitchhikers: They could be "a happy vacationer or an escaping criminal – a pleasant companion or a sex maniac – a friendly traveller or a vicious murderer."

In the 1970s and 1980s, a slew of highly publicized crimes involving hitchhikers (to name just one: the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders, 1972-73) – and a few movies playing on the fears they generated (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974; The Hitcher, 1987) – helped end its heyday.

Unsuited to hitchhiking

The Interstate Highway System in 1976

Image: U.S. Department of Transportation / Public Domain

Add to that the generalized sentiment nowadays that 'stranger' equals 'danger', and the demise of hitchhiking seems logical. From the 1920s right up to the 1980s, thumbing a ride was a fairly common way to get around. These days, it's the option of last resort.

But perhaps the main reasons for hitchhiking's decline have less to do with moral panic, more with fundamental changes in infrastructure. For one, there's the post-war rise of the Interstate Highway System: Bigger, faster roads that are unsuited to hitchhiking.

The biggest underlying factor may be the rise of car ownership. The percentage of US households without a car has steadily declined, from about 50% in 1941 to less than 10% today (4). If you have a car, you don't need to hitch a ride.



This map was produced by Abel Sulyok, based on data from Hitchwiki. Image found here on Reddit. Reproduced with Mr Suyok's kind permission. Many thanks to Katrien Luyten for pointing it out. It would be interesting to see a North American version.

For more on hitchhiking's decline, check this great article by Dave Margulius, first published in the Washington City Paper in 1988.

Considering all the scare stories, hitchhiking is much safer than you'd think. Nevertheless, if you're considering thumbing your way across the world, read up on some practical and safety tips first.

Strange Maps #977

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.


(1) A short dictionary of early 20th-century vagrancy. Hobo: someone traveling to look for work. (Term possibly derived from hoe-boy, i.e. 'farmhand', or an abbreviation of homeward bound). Tramp: someone traveling, but not looking for work. (From tramping, i.e. long-distance walking, as this was their main means of getting about). Bum: someone neither looking for work nor traveling. (From the German bummler, 'loafer').

(2) There are still enough hobos around to animate a National Hobo Convention, every August since 1900, in Britt, Iowa. Nevertheless, the lifestyle is definitely fading – see this article about The Last Great American Hobos.

(3) Curiously, the term is much older than the automobile. It describes the practice of 'horse-sharing' in the Old West. According to an article in the American Motorist in 1978, "One man would start walking while the second man rode the horse to a predetermined spot. He would hitch the horse to a tree and walk on. When the first man [arrived], he would take the horse and ride past the other man to another predetermined spot."

(4) In 2010, 91.1% of American households had at least one car. In 2015, that figure had dropped slightly to 90.9%. Trendwatchers attribute this first decline in decades to millennials in big cities preferring car 'usership' over car ownership. However, the U.S. Census figure for 2017 indicates car ownership has gone up again, to a record 91.2%.

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Credit: Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
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Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

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According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
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