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I think there should be a specific term for someone getting a free ride without consent, but I keep thinking of the word "hijack" which clearly isn't correct.

Examples include jumping on a train without a ticket, or riding without consent on the back of a truck. Or perhaps I want to sit in on someone else's meeting and just observe.

Am I gatecrashing? Or going along for a free ride?

Equally, if I hop on the roof of a train to get somewhere for free, is there a term for that?

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freeloading.... – GEdgar Jan 25 at 14:09
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I wouldn't use a travel metaphor for sitting in on someone else's meeting to observe. I'd just call myself an observer. – Paul Johnson Jan 25 at 14:37
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@RemarkLima: Ahh. Perhaps you could just say "I'm just here for the ride", or "tagging along" (dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tag-along). "Stowaway" would imply you were sneaking in without permission. – Paul Johnson Jan 25 at 14:55
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"I want to sit in on someone else's meeting and just observe"... if you do this without any invitation, indeed you'd be gatecrashing. – BiscuitBoy Jan 25 at 15:32
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If you're just observing a meeting with no input you could say that you're a fly on the wall – Wayne Werner Jan 25 at 16:16

15 Answers 15

up vote 56 down vote accepted

A stowaway is:

a person who hides aboard a vehicle, ship, or aircraft in order to gain free passage

(Collins Online Dictionary)

From Alexander Rein's The Blue Streak: A Hacker's Guide to Special Relativity:

For example, if a railroad train is passing by a bystander who is very close to the tracks and at the same time a stowaway on top of a railroad car is running in the forward direction, the Velocity of the stowaway relative to the bystander is simply the sum of the two Velocities: the ground velocity of the train and the Velocity of the stowaway relative to the train.

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I think you nailed it. The word even applies to a free ride inside the airplane wheel well. +1) – Rathony Jan 25 at 14:18
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A more train-specific term would be hobo. – Darrel Hoffman Jan 25 at 14:43
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Yes but as a native speaker (AmE) I'd not use stowaway for hiding or being uninvited in the back of a truck or an automobile. The vehicle needs to be a large vehicle with plenty of places to hide. – GoDucks Jan 25 at 15:14
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This is great, but I'd say that a stowaway definitely stresses the "hiding away" part - I wouldn't use the word for a fare dodger on public transport; that person isn't hiding at all, they've just been crafty and eluded the payment system. Otherwise, they just look like a normal traveller. – J... Jan 25 at 21:02
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@Rathony I believe the correct term for attempting to grab a free ride by way of an airplane wheel well is “suicide”. That little area would be neither pressurized, nor climate controlled. – Morgen Jan 26 at 3:00

In the UK at least, someone who rides public transport without paying for a ticket is called a 'fare dodger'

Fare Dodger - noun

1 - A person who deliberately avoids payment for public transport

www.wiktionary.org

However this term does not apply to someone riding without consent on the back of a truck [or other vehicle].

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"Watch out for Hop-Ons!"

Hop-ons are people who jump on to the back of the stair car for a free ride. They are a constant annoyance for the Bluth family members who must drive the stair car. (source)

Stair Car Hop On

If your vehicle was towing a small cabin, you would of course need to watch out for Live-Ins.

This is a running joke from the TV series Arrested Development, but "hop ons" would be an easily understood term for the situation. You even used it in the question!

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A free ride is a hitch:

  • (informal) a ride obtained by hitchhiking.

(Collins Dictionary)

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14  
But is hitchhiking done without consent? – BiscuitBoy Jan 25 at 14:16
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Hitchhiking is done with the consent of the driver since they need to stop for the hitchhiker to offer a ride. – Kristina Lopez Jan 25 at 15:50
    
hitch a lift/ride: to get a free ride in someone else's car. –TFD. Hitchhiking requires consent. hitching a ride doesn't necessarily. – Mazura Jan 25 at 20:06
    
Train surfing –Wiki. AKA = train hitching. – Mazura Jan 26 at 2:45

There is an archaic legal term 'bilking' which can be used in the sense of using a service and not paying for it. It would not cover sitting in on someone's lecture, but it could be used for getting a free ride by not paying for a ticket.

Here's the definition from The Free Dictionary

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Bilking is still used in BrE for running off without paying for your taxi. – Andrew Leach Jan 25 at 23:27
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Also used, particularly by police, for filling up with fuel and driving off without paying for it. – Widor Jan 26 at 16:52
    
Or running off without paying for a restaurant meal. The legal term is "making off without payment". It's an offence under the Theft Act 1978. – bdsl Jan 27 at 20:55

Free RiderM-W

n. a person who is supported by or seeks support from another without making an adequate return

"claimed that welfare recipients were a bunch of free riders with little or nothing to offer society"

Synonyms bloodsucker, freeloader, leech, hanger-on, moocher, parasite, sponge, sponger

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"Free rider" is a very commonly used term in the field of economics. – undefined Jan 27 at 2:04

When we used to grab onto the bumpers of unsuspecting cars for a tow while skateboarding, we called it hitching skitching.

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There's a specific variation of this: skitching. – PCARR Jan 26 at 17:33
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You're right. That's what we called it, not hitching. I totally forgot. – samglover Jan 26 at 17:49
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obligatory reference to the sega genisis game: youtube.com/watch?v=SQjgwVZEles – dwjohnston Jan 29 at 3:20

"Tagging along" to or "observing" (e.g. "I'm just here to observe") a meeting implies you have the consent of at least one person in the meeting.

Being a "fly on the wall" is another common expression, meaning someone observing a meeting or conversation without being part of it in any way (including any effects on the conversation one's mere presence would have).

"Gatecrashing" or "crashing" refers to your desired concept as it applies to a party.
"Freerider" gets at the concept as applied to common carrier public transit.
"Stowaway" gets at the concept as applied to the parts of a vehicle not designed for passengers.
"Audit" refers to it in as applied to an educational class, and is usually done with the instructor's permission.
You are correct that "hijack" is a different concept which involves changing the direction or destination of whatever is being hijacked.

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This is the only answer which actually addresses the "sitting in on a meeting" example! – Widor Jan 26 at 16:53

Riding the rails was the term, especially during the Great Depression, for "hopping a freight" to obtain free (though dangerous) transport across country.

There were variations. "Trainhopping" was another general term, and riding the rods was the term for the even more dangerous practice of riding on the truss and brake rods under the car (vs riding in an unlocked boxcar or riding atop a car).

Fare dodging is the somewhat more modern term for dodging the conductor or ticket taker on a train or bus.

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How about piggybacking?

link to or take advantage of (an existing system or body of work). "they have piggybacked their own networks on to the system"

OED

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How about "tagging along", meaning "to go ​somewhere with a ​person or ​group, usually when they have not ​asked you to go with them.

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tag-along

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I'd say tagging along means your propelling yourself, not riding on somebody else's vehicle or expense. – einpoklum Jan 27 at 11:28

This is not a travel metaphor, but in college we would call that an audit. You can audit a class which means you attend the class, but you don't get a grade or credit on your transcript.

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Auditors often pay for the classes they audit. – curiousdannii Jan 26 at 5:49

Specifically applying to subways (and possibly other modes of public transportation) is turnstile jumping.

This refers to the act of avoiding paying at a turnstile, which is a gate which opens when you deposit your fare, by jumping over it. I couldn't find a definition but it's widely used in US newspapers

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Consider,

fare beater/farebeater

n. Informal One who avoids paying the fare for public transportation, especially the subway. American Heritage® Dictionary

noun A person who illegally avoids paying a fare, as by entering a public bus through the exit door. Random House

fare evader

fare evasion or ticket evasion is the act of travelling on public transport in disregard of the law and/or regulation, having deliberately not purchased the required ticket to travel (having had the chance to do so.) Wikipedia

As I am almost certainly the only person on this board who has ever arrested anyone for this activity, I can tell you with absolute certainty that in New York City, the legal term that the State of New York uses in the statute that describes this criminal offense is theft of services. The formal, but not the legal, term for the action (such as might be used in the press, or in a news release issued by the Transit Authority) is fare evasion, and a person who does not pay his required fare is a fare evader. The popular term universally used by police is "farebeating", while a person who "beats the fare" is a "farebeater." [...] I would consider "fare dodger" to be something those unfamiliar with the term might not immediately understand.

GreenWhiteBlue, January 14, 2009 - WordReference (emphasis is mine.)

deadhead

Slang A person who attends a performance, sports event, etc., or travels on a train, airplane, etc., without having paid for a ticket, especially a person using a complimentary ticket or free pass. Random House

One who has not paid for a ticket M-W

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This is getting a bit away from your question, but, if you observe a meeting or other activity without the consent — and, especially, without the knowledge — of the participants, you are snooping or spying.  If you are primarily listening without the consent and the knowledge of the speakers, that's eavesdropping.

On the other hand, if you overtly attend a meeting in order to obtain refreshments to which you aren't entitled, that's mooching, or simply stealing (or theft).

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