By: TED BARNABY
Hitchhiking is a great way to travel cheap. It’s also a one-way street to unforeseen and unabridged adventure. Sometimes half the fun is figuring things out as you go along, but there are definitely a number of tricks I wish I would have known earlier on in my hitchhiking career.
I’ve started this list with the basics and, near the end, included some really amazing tricks that have certainly made my travels much easier and more enjoyable over the years.
Here are the top 10 tips and rules of hitchhiking:
1. The best places to stand are…
- Right after the on-ramp. Cars are moving much slower when first getting onto the highway, which gives people a second to look you over.
- At the edge of town, at the last set of lights. Once again, people are stopped and able to get a good look at you.
- Anywhere on a straight and long stretch of road with a large shoulder. The larger the shoulder, the shorter the wait.
- In front of a gas station or truck stop. This is only really good if the gas station is right off the highway. It gives you the benefit of oncoming traffic, truckers, and people stopped for gas.
- Wherever you stand, just make sure there’s plenty of room for cars to pull over safely.
2. Dress to impress
No one wants to pick up a smelly, sketchy-looking hippy. I’m not saying wear your best dress shirt; just look presentable. Sometimes I even like to get a haircut before hitting the road.
3. Is it important to use signs?
I’ve heard countless testimonies to the benefits of using a sign with the name of your destination. I’ve also had people tell me they’re useless, and that your thumb is the best bet. Honestly, it’s just preference.
4. Sleeping arrangements
Your sleeping arrangements will vary from night to night. You’ll have to learn to get creative.
I usually tent up in the green space by the on/off ramps, but any old field will do the trick. If you’re in the city and in a bind, try climbing fire escapes and tenting on top of buildings. Wherever you stay, try to be up before 7 a.m. to avoid being spotted and stirring up potential conflicts with locals.
If you’re out early enough in the morning, you can get away with sleeping pretty much anywhere.
5. Eat quick meals
When you’re on the road, you’re not going to have time to set up a camping stove and boil yourself soup, rice, or oatmeal. Do yourself a favour and pre-pack a few of these foods:
- Wraps (tuna and peanut butter/banana are my favourites)
- Trail mix
- Snickers bars
6. Assert a proper drop-off location
This can be huge. Don’t be afraid to specify where you need to be dropped off. Most people who pick you up have no idea where the best drop-off location is and will instinctively head for the Tim Hortons in the middle of town.
Save yourself an hour’s walk from the centre of town to the highway by being assertive. It’s as easy as asking, “Could you please drop me off at the edge of town by the on-ramp?”
7. The hotel trick
When you’re hitchhiking, money can be tight. Your diet typically consists of bread, peanut butter, trail mix, and a lot of rice. The problem is lugging around a 60-pound bag all day in the sun stirs up a hunger that rice and peanuts can rarely satisfy. This is where the hotel trick comes into play. How does it work?
The idea is simple: 90 percent of major hotels offer a free continental breakfast between 7 and 10 a.m. In other words, if you’re in need of an endless supply of hot and delicious breakfast foods (and if you’re on the road, this is probably the case), then this trick can be a real life saver.
The execution: When you’re looking for a spot to crash for the night, try to do so within walking distance to a major hotel. Give yourself enough time in the morning to make it to the hotel by 8:30 a.m. at the latest. Stash your bag in the bushes somewhere close to the hotel and walk straight into the breakfast room like you own the place. The room won’t be hard to find, and since no one will know the difference between you and an actual hotel guest, your only responsibility is to enjoy your free breakfast.
If you stash some of the non-perishables for the road (oatmeal, tea, etc.) true drifter style, you can survive almost solely from the hotel industry’s hospitality.
This is also a great opportunity to use the hotel’s pool and shower amenities before you hit the road.
8. How to get cheap trail mix
GORP—good old raisins and peanuts, that is—is a backpacking staple. Although the contents of trail mix vary from person to person, one ingredient is, in my opinion, a non-negotiable: peanut M&M’s. They’re delicious and a great source of protein. The problem is, they’re fairly expensive.
However, if you’re a shoestring hitchhiker making your way across the country with nothing but a backpack, the Superstore or Metro can probably afford you a small discount. Stores like these typically keep their trail mix in little clear cases on a wall where you pay by weight after attaching a tag to each food bag denoting the respective price code.
Peanut M&M’s are about $2.31 per 100 grams. Candy sours, meanwhile, are only 50 cents per 100 grams. Simply write down the price code for the cheapest food on the shelf and attach it to your bag of expensive food. Try to make sure the foods you switch slightly resemble each other. Match nuts with nuts and candies with candies, and you’ll be golden.
Lastly, just make sure you choose the youngest-looking grocery store clerk. The older ones usually take their job pretty seriously, and there’s a greater risk of being caught.
9. Trust the road
This is probably the most important rule of hitchhiking, and it’s very simple: trust the road.
Trust the road—even when you’re exhausted, soaked in rain, shit on, fucked over, and lucked out. Trust the dear road like you trust your very own mother.
Sometimes it only takes 15 to 20 minutes to catch a ride; sometimes it will take hours. Just remember hitchhiking is a journey of many small miracles.
There is no consistency, and every ride you get will feel like a fluke. Yet every time—especially when all hope is lost and you’re contemplating a one-way bus ticket home—a ride will come. Often, that ride will take you farther than you anticipated, or you’ll be offered a place to stay for the night, or perhaps the driver will ask to treat you to lunch.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat out on the highway thinking, “There’s no way I’ll catch a ride from this place,” or, “I just got lucky up until now. This time I’m fucked.”
Every time, I’ve been proven wrong. Do yourself a favour and cut worrying out of the picture.
Of course this rule can be easier said than done. If you’ve ever been stuck in the rain without a ride for a few hours, you know what I mean. But trust me: trust the road.
10. Be a “Yes Man”
Don’t get caught up in your time frame or barreling through to the next destination. If someone asks you to get a beer, or to spend the night at their place, or for you to come to a party, just do it. Although it may prolong the journey, keep in mind that it’ll also expand the story.
Be a yes man. Step out of your comfort zone. If someone asks, “Wanna crash at my place and have a few drinks?” it doesn’t mean they’re trying to lure you to some sex lab in the woods. It just means you’re going to have a fun ass night and a comfy sleep.
Hope these tips and tricks serve you as well as they’ve served me. Happy travels, and good luck!