Driving with strangers

What hitchhiking tells us about humanity

By Jonathan Purkis

Driving with strangers


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-6004-1
  • Pages: 312
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £20.00
  • Published Date: February 2022
  • BIC Category: Sociology, Travel writing, HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General, Lifestyle, sport & leisure / Travel writing, TRAVEL / General, Humanities / History, Society & social sciences / Sociology, Anthropology


At a time of climate crisis, isolation and social breakdown, Driving with strangers is a manifesto to alter how we think about our place in the world. Veteran hitchhiker and lifelong aficionado of hitchhiking culture, Purkis journeys through the history of hitchhiking to explore the unique opportunities for cooperation, friendship, sustainability and openness that it represents.

Join Purkis on the kerbside, in search of Woody Guthrie as he examines the politics of the travelling song, deep on a Russian hitch-hiking expedition, or considering the politics of travel and risk on the 'Highway of Tears' in British Columbia, Canada. The reader is taken on a panoramic road trip through a century of hitchhiking across different decades, countries and continents.

Purkis, a self-styled 'vagabond sociologist', is the perfect passenger to accompany you on a journey away from isolation, social distancing, closed borders and into a better understanding of why and how strangers can enrich our lives.


'This book is an ambitious, comprehensive and fascinating celebration of the righteous pursuit of hitchhiking. I hope it inspires new hitchers and convinces uncertain readers.'
Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun

'A marvelous, profound look at the art of hitchhiking: it is a journeying, questing book, opening up avenues of exploration, following curiosity-paths, creating networks of thoughts and discursive, fascinating politics. This is a book with a world within its covers: I am richer for having read it.'
Jay Griffiths, writer and author of Wild: An Elemental Journey

'At a time when cultivating human connection has never been more important, Driving with strangers is a wonderful tribute to the great art of hitchhiking and what it can teach us. Purkis takes us on a fascinating journey and opens up worlds of wisdom, story, and possibility. This is a captivating book that pays tribute to the remarkable power of the thumb to connect humanity.'
Ruairí McKiernan, Irish Times No. 1 bestselling author of Hitching for Hope: A Journey into the Heart and Soul of Ireland

'From the emotion of the first ever "thumb out" experience and the immediate discovery of all manner of life on the road, through to the fascinating unfolding history of how hitching has ebbed and flowed through the decades. Crossing continents, political time-zones and yesteryear travel scenes, this delightful narrative continues through to today's world of technology dominated travel environments. On the basis that travel will always be a force for good, enhanced by direct human communications, Jonathan Purkis' commentary, observations and stories will remain travel relevant for further decades to come. A cracking read and wonderful journey.'
Jono Vernon-Powell, Founder and Managing Director, Nomadic Thoughts (Worldwide Travel)


Prologue: 'A Romantic, gallant and even brilliant adventure'
1 The intention of a tradition: Definitions of hitchhiking
2 How to think like a hitchhiker: An introduction to vagabond sociology
3 In search of Woody Guthrie: Singing the politics of hitchhiking
4 'Maybe we will meet a nice person': Hitchhiking, conflict, human nature
5 The great European adventure trail: Hitchhiking as a measure of freedom
6 The Alaska Highway hitchhiker's visitor's book: The personality of the 'extreme hitchhiker'
7 The power of the gift without return: Hitchhiking as economic allegory
8 The myth of the great decline: Hitchhiking and the increasing levels of trust in the world
9 Climatic dangers: Hitchhiking and the relative realities of risk
10 Good news from Vilnius: The rich life of hitchhiking in former communist countries
11 A prescription for hitchhiking? Travel and talk in the age of pandemics and extinction
Afterword: The bookcase at the end of the road

Acknowledgments: A hitchhiker's guide to the journey


Jonathan Purkis is a writer, independent academic and musician. He grew up in Hull, studied and later taught sociology at several English universities, and has published many works on environmental protest and anarchism. Since 1982, he's covered 40,198 miles by thumb and travelled with 1309 total strangers. He's hitched with his border collie, a guitar, two ice axes and half a drum kit (although not at the same time).

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