No you probably won’t die, and yes, knitting is lovely.
Growing up, it was rare to ever hear anything positive about hitch hiking. A united front of “it’ll get you killed” was shared between media, parents and schools. And for good reason. As a middle class white kid growing up in rural Alberta, there was really no need for me to learn how to hitch hike. Any attempt would result in a neighbour picking me up, taking me home and getting the “we’re disappointed” talk from Mom and Dad.
Now that I’ve grown older, more irresponsible and more effective at rationalizing my poor decisions, I decided to give hitchhiking a shot and travel 2000km from Edmonton AB, to Mt. Hood in Oregon. Here’s what I learned from interviewing a bunch of ultra experienced hitch hikers, and from my time pounding the pavement.
Location is Everything
Throughout our interviews, the number one piece of advice we got from people was to pick your location well. It can be the difference between standing in a spot for 3hrs or 30min. The best spot is next to a stoplight, close to the turnoff that you’re trying to get onto. If the stoplight is followed by a space (like a parking lot or gas station) for the cars to turn into, that is the perfect spot.
Look and Smell Decent
If you look sketchy, people will treat you like they typically treat sketchy looking people, by avoiding them. If you can smile and wear something that says “I’m not sketchy, but also not rich enough that you should rob me” that’s great.
Smelling decent is more about respect for the people who picked you up than increasing your likelihood for getting rides. If these people are generous enough to stop and pick you up, the least you can do is not make their car smell like shit.
Don’t Go Solo
This one is a personal preference. Other than our very first ride, I rarely felt nervous when getting into a vehicle with Lindsay. That said, in the one vehicle that I was solo in, my nerves where through the roof. Even if nothing happened during this experience, I doubt I would be able to relax and enjoy hitchhiking as much as I did with a partner. If you can help it, I suggest trying to hitch hike with one other person. It will be more difficult to get rides, but you will be much safer than if you’re on your own.
Bring this Stuff
- Water and Snacks
- Bring plenty of water and snacks. Standing on the road for hours can go from sucking, to dangerous pretty quickly without the proper hydration.
- Good Shoes
- You’re standing a lot. If you can afford it, having some boots with good support that can weather the rain will be very worth it in the long run.
- Mobile Phone Charger
- Your phone is your friend, and if you’re on the road for long periods of time, plugging into people’s cigarette lighters might be your only opportunity to recharge. Having an external battery pack is useful as well.
- A Physical Map
- Just in case you lose your phone or it runs out of juice, or you don’t want to spend the cash on roaming fees in a different country, its always good to have a physical map to know where you are and where you need to go. If you don’t have a map, asking strangers at gas stations or convenience stores is the next best solution (you might even get a ride by starting up a conversation with them!)
- Season Appropriate Clothes
- Being wet, cold, too hot, or getting sun stroke will make your experience hitch hiking far worse than it needs to be.
- A Tent
- When you’re travelling for long distances, don’t have friends in the cities you’re travelling too and want the legit hitch hiking experience, bring a tent to put up during your travels. We never had to do this and do not endorse it, but it was suggested to us to seek out bushy areas, low traffic areas to pitch your tent in.
- A Knife
- If you happen to get in a vehicle with someone sketchy, its good to have a plan to defend yourself. This is a generally controversial topic online, but the best tip that we got was to bring a bowie knife with you for camping and functional purposes, and to have just in case the shit hits the fan. You never want to actually use it, but if someone is being weird, a tip we got was “to take out your knife and start cutting your nails with it. That guy dropped me off pretty quickly after I started doing that.” Intimidation before aggression.
- A Small Backpack
- If you can help it (we couldn’t), try and pack as a little as possible. A smaller backpack will increase the amount of people who are willing/able to pick you up, decreasing the amount of time you have to spend on the road.
Episode 5 | How to Hitchhike While Knitting a Canadian Flag
Take of a Picture of their Licence Plate.
Before getting into a car with someone, ask if you can take a picture of their license plate with your phone. If they decline, don’t get in the car with them, and go back to trying to hitch a ride. I like to think of this as a sketchy person litmus test, if they have good intensions they shouldn’t have a problem with their license plate being on the cloud.
Use a Sign
We got mixed feedback from people about this strategy, but it seemed to work well for us. Grab some cardboard from a dumpster, and a sharpie from the clerk at a connivence store, and you should be good to go.
Common Sense Tips
- Don’t EVER get in a car with someone you’re getting weird vibes from. If their breath smells like alcohol, or you get the heeby jeebies, politely decline their offer.
- Don’t hitch hike at night.
- Check the laws of your province or state before hitch hiking.
Be Open and Accept Gifts
One of the best tips we got from our pre-hitchhiking interviews was “to be open to the stories and experiences that people offer you.” Through following this advice, our trip become much more than just getting from A to B.
Hitchhiking is this unique exchange of trust between total strangers, and it seems that this “accelerated” trust forming process allows individuals on both sides to open up. Within minutes, many of our rides would be sharing deep personal stories, offering food and “wishing that they could take us further.” Here is a list of people who gave us rides and what they did for us.
Juliana, Jill, Carlin: Julianna and Jill drove us 6 hrs from Canmore to Kelowna and introduced us to Carlin, who let us sleep at her house for a night, while we tried to figure out a way out of the city.
Geoff: Bought us pizza, and let us stay at his place for a night. He then drove us 1.5 hrs in a blizzard to Merrit, and immediately drove home so he could get to work on time.
Tim: Drove us four hrs to Vancouver in exchange for a phone cozy I knit him.
Kris: Let us stay at his house for the night.
Erin: Picked us up in a snow storm, bought us food and drove us for an hour during his lunch break.
John: Saw us in a coffee shop late at night and offered for us to stay over at his place that night. He made us breakfast and gave us some food to eat the rest of the day.
Addis: Drove us through Seattle. Also offered to buy us food
Kany: Wasn’t going to Portland, but had some free time and wanted an adventure. She took us to her house first to give us some food, drop off her baby and pick up her boyfriend. She then drove us two hours to Portland, and turned around to drive home that night.
Stuart: Took us from Portland, to a good location for us to get to out to our final destination.
Jodie: Picked us up on her way to go baby sit her sister’s child, and dropped us off 20 min later. 15min after dropping us off, she picked us up again, told us her sister found someone else to baby sit, bought us food and took us the rest of the way to the mountain.
PEOPLE ARE AMAZING
If you told me that during this trip we would have strangers letting us into their homes, offering us food and canceling their baby sitting to help us along our journey, I would’ve said you’re crazy. In reality, these people stepped up and gave us everything they could to make us feel safe, welcome and well fed.
Yes we’re a couple of white guys hitch hiking down the west coast, and yes we got lucky with the folks that picked us up. I will never argue that. No matter the circumstances, I came out of this experience feeling far more optimistic about humanity and than I did going into it. People are generous, giving and kind, you just gotta give them the opportunity to be.