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An illegible copyright statement appears onscreen; however, the film was not registered for copyright. Although almost all contemporary sources list Gene Fowler as the film's editor, Gerald S. Shepard, who was credited onscreen, was the sole editor. Hollywood Reporter printed a correction to the erroneous Fowler credit on September 29, 1972. Don Mitchell's first novel, Thumb Tripping (a slang term for hitchhiking), was a semi-autobiographical collection of separate but connected stories detailing a hitchhiking trip he took with his girl friend, whom he would later marry. He was twenty years old when he wrote the book and twenty-two when it was published in 1970. Avco Embassy had registered the title for use as a film as early as October 1969, as noted in a Daily Variety news item. In December 1969, Hollywood Reporter announced that Mitchell was reporting to producer Irwin Winkler to begin work on the film adaptation of his novel. Publishers Weekly stated in May 1970 that one of the novel's stories was being published in Esquire and another in The Atlantic.
Although Hollywood Reporter announced in April 1970 that the producers planned to shoot the film in Hollywood, contemporary sources reported that it was shot on location in California in Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel, San Jose, San Francisco and around the Russian River. According to Filmfacts, when the production began Avco Embassy announced that Joy Bang would play "Chay." A Hollywood Citizen-News article of July 3, 1970 stated that the dialogue heard in the finished film was obtained while the director shot footage in moving cars, rather than the more common practice of dubbing in the dialogue later. That article and press materials pointed out the youthfulness of the film's principal players, including Mitchell, twenty-three-year-old director Quentin Masters, and the twenty-two-year-old stars, Michael Burns and Meg Foster. Thumb Tripping marked the only American film made by Masters, an Australian director. According to modern sources, Donald Elson played the gas station attendant and Hugh Bayless appeared in the film.
Thumb Tripping was shot during the summer of 1970 but was not released until October 1972. Several reviews mentioned the delay, stating that the trend of what Variety called "youth-on-the-road" pictures had died out since the film's inception.