The Vanishing Hitchhiker is an urban legend in which a person travelling by vehicle encounters a hitchhiker and offers them a ride to a destination. While appearing in all manner human, the hitchhiker subsequently vanishes without explanation during, immediately upon or after the conclusion of the trip; revealing themselves to have been a ghost.
More often then not, the Vanishing Hitchhiker is considered to be a form of docile curse, where the ghost is trapped repeatedly hitchhiking from one location to another in an endless repeating loop for eternity. While encounters are often by chance, drivers can avoid interaction with Vanishing Hitchhikers by not pulling over and offering them rides.
Vanishing hitchhikers have been reported for centuries across the world, with encounters taking many forms ranging from docile to malicious in intent;
- The vanishing hitchhiker departing as would a normal passenger but leaves some item or information with the driver so that they may meet again. The item/information is later revealed to either lead the driver to a graveyard, the site of the passenger's death or another location where it is revealed that the passenger was a ghost (eg family home).
- The vanishing hitchhiker borrows a garment from the driver for protection against the elements outside of the vehicle (scarf, coat or umbrella) and leaves information on where to retrieve the garment/item at a later time. The information is later revealed to either lead the driver to a graveyard, the site of the passenger's death or another location where it is revealed that the passenger was a ghost (eg family home), with said garment/item visibly placed at the site waiting for the driver to retrieve it (eg, draped over or propped against a gravestone).
- The vanishing hitchhiker disappears from the vehicle at some point during the trip without the driver noticing them vacating the vehicle.
- The hitchhiker leads the driver to the scene of their own death, where upon they will either vanish or cause the driver to endure the same accident that killed them, often killing the driver in the process.
- Encounters most often happen on an anniversary of the Vanishing Hitchhiker's death. The anniversary can be yearly, monthly, weekly (eg, appears every Saturday), or daily (eg, appears every day at 10pm).
- Public knowledge of the term expanded greatly with the 1981 publication of Jan Harold Brunvand's book The Vanishing Hitchhiker, which helped launch public awareness of urban legends. In his book, Brunvand suggests that the story of The Vanishing Hitchhiker can be traced as far back as the 1870s and has "recognisable parallels in Korea, Tsarist Russia, among Chinese-Americans, Mormons, and Ozark mountaineers".
- Not all vanishing hitchhiker reports involved allegedly recurring ghosts. One popular variant in Hawaii involves the goddess Pele, travelling the roads incognito and rewarding kind travellers. Other variants include hitchhikers who utter prophecies (typically of pending catastrophe or other evils) before vanishing.
- A variation of this ghost, known as the Phantom Cab Driver, has the driver and vehicle as the ghost and the passenger as the living being.