One of the greatest mysteries – and masteries – of hitchhiking lies with the humble luggage. Few other methods travel place so much reliance upon the process of packing, since stuffing your bag with the right things may well determine the success and failure of your venture. Nor can achieving a balance have such substantial power over dictate your fate as a hitchhiker – whilst not possessing the appropriate kit could either cause discomfort or even fatal damage, carrying too much may dissuade drivers from picking you up and/or pose as an overbearing burden.
This does call for a extra dosage of effort and cunning when it comes down to pack.
Fear not, fellow hitchhiking enthusiasts. I understand from past experience how tedious this logistical side of hitchhiking truly is, and so, condensing all the knowledge I have gathered from my past excursions, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks which may double up as your to-bring list.
One thing I may say with little doubt: if one believes one can hitchhike with several suitcases in tow, then one is admittedly delusional. One of the most apparent determining factor for anyone considering picking up a hitchhiker is whether or not the vehicle can fit in the hitchhikers and their baggage.
The other aspect for hitchhikers to consider is mobility. When successfully getting into a ride often involves spontaneous sprints and lengthy treks, you wouldn’t be wasting your time fraternising with the cumbersome suitcase.
So, backpacks it is.
Choosing the correct rucksack is an art few have mastered – my rucksack of six years was pre-fitted for me and I haven’t had to worry about it since. Check out Globetroopers‘ comprehensive guide on how to choose a backpack.
For my past hitchhiking expeditions I’ve counted on my Lafuma Cordillera 60, which has served its purpose with flying colours. At risk of spotting the obvious, the size and volume of your rucksack depend on for how long you’re intending on going away.
People travel in different styles. People also hitchhike in different styles. Some choose to embrace minimalistic living, whilst others like their hitchhikes interlaced with glamour. It’s important that, before setting off, you identify your limits and determine how far you’d be willing to rough it.
No better way can I demonstrate said identification with accommodation.
If you’re throwing your hands into fate and wing it, content with asphalt and mattress alike, then at least bring a sleeping bag. Occasionally you may be offered a place to crash by people you encounter along the road – having a sleeping bag and cut the hassle for them is the least of decencies you can reciprocate their favour with.
Clothing. Considering the pieces of fabric undisputedly occupy the majority of your baggage space, selecting what to bring and what to leave home does require a lot of thought.
Especially, from a more practical point of view, clothes serve the purpose of maintaining your level of comfort. And so we shall explore attire with a pragmatic mentality.
First up, temperature. Hitchhiking often involve travelling long distances, altering your surroundings and their respective geography. Often during summers you end up ascending into mountain ranges, where the altitude has replaced heat with frigid breezes; even in mid-winters you exchange Arctic conditions on your journeys for unexpected sun spots. The brothers of extreme-temperature-induced conditions, hypothermia and hyperthermia, are two of your most hostile assailants – not having the right clothes will leave you susceptible to either of the two, and succumbing to this in the middle of nowhere may well be your worst hitchhiking nightmare.
Opt for layers and avoid single pieces of thick clothing. A fleece is likely to take up the room sufficient to accommodate over ten t-shirts. And chances are you’d be warming under ten layers than one – insulation is achieved by trapping air, and more layers ensnarl more air, thus more warmth.
Another bane of the hitchhiker: moisture. Whether it be rain or snow, fog or hale, these little droplets of water will go so far to antagonise your mobile wardrobe. Needless to say, never forget to bring your waterproofs – a sturdy water-repellent coat would suffice. Invest in a few fast-dry items – they’ll prove their worth when you catch the drench and have nothing dry to wear. Somehow, by rolling your clothes rather than folding them into neat squares, they are less likely to get wet when your bags undergo a waterproof fail.
The most important body parts of a hitchhiker: limbs. Adequate footwear, preferably reliable walking boots, should keep your feet complaint-less from all the walking and sprinting. But said precaution is not as severe as that you protect your hands with. For Pete’s sake, they are the ultimate epitome of hitchhiking – and by wearing gloves (I’m a sucker for fingerless ‘hobo’ gloves) your long-exposed rolled-up palms will owe you much gratitude.
Panic button, feel my fingertip. Having to abandon 90% of your closet collection and playing the rough game may terrify the hell out of many fashion enthusiasts – myself included. Looking presentable isn’t just a matter of vanity: for the hitchhiker looking trampy won’t go down well with your negotiating your spot on someone’s vehicle.
Before you “OMG” it, fret not: there are ways around it.
Shirts are the ultimate distinction of formality. Whacking on one instead of a scruffy t-shirt you instantly ascend in appropriateness. Always bring a few shirts in the stead of t-shirts – ones adjourned with colour patterns (checked shirts are quite the trend right now) will fix you up with smartness, yet maintaining the aura of casualness befitting of your hitchhiker status.
Hauling a suit along dwells in the category of impracticalities. But what about those formal events you’re bound to attend along your hitchhike? Cardigans and waistcoasts will come to your rescue. They are much hardier than whole suits, capable of being very stylish and, most importantly, highly customisable. Thin cardigans can double as additional layers when you need quick shedding or donning of clothing in adjustment to a temperature change. Waistcoasts are increasingly fashionable and favoured – pull one out of your rucksack can be your solution to pretty much any dress codes.
Customisation is key. Instead of rigid outfits, bring clothes that can be easily mixed and matched. That way you won’t get bored of wearing the same sets everywhere you go.
While I may be accused of commit backpacker’s treason by straying off into flashpacking territories, equipping oneself with technological kit isn’t exactly uncommon and frowned upon in this day and age. Ignore sneers and scorns of hitchhiking ‘purists’ who snubs you for gearing up with cables and silicon chips, because having them at your disposal will assist you in greater ways than imagined.
Internet connections for a hitchhiker isn’t merely an opportunity for procrastination. To be wired up meant you are in contact with the world around you and the world back home; but for the hitchhiker it also allows you to access logistical information. Hitchwiki, for instance, has an extensive database of user-generated location guides which will empower you with knowledge on, to name a few, ideal hitchhiking spots, legality statuses of hitchhiking in certain countries and local attitude to hitchhiking.
Memorable as hitchhiking experiences may be, photographic memoirs are more likely to endure the episodes of hardship that is forgetfulness. Take plenty of pictures throughout your voyages, especially with people who gave you a ride. Don’t forget to bring extra memory and back up regularly – hitchhikers are somewhat more prone to camera ‘accidents’, particularly when their focus lies with trying to hitchhike.
Do make sure you don’t go overboard with jamming your sack with gadgets. It’ll only be your back that suffers if you pack too much.
Nobody wants to stay still for too long when hitchhiking. And I have no intention of jinxing you – I’m merely referring to accessories you might want to have handy when on the road.
The mighty felt tip pen – you can only regret when you realised you’ve forgotten to carry one. For one of the most effective ways of hitchhiking is by displaying a sign detailing your intended destination and any message for incoming drivers to see. Having a trustworthy marker pen will add the ink on your banners.
Even though it’s condescendingly easy to get your hands on them, it isn’t everywhere that cardboards are readily available. When you score a good supply of cardboard boxes always save a few for later.
Though it’s easy to summarise a folded knife as an essential ‘defence mechanism’, you’d be surprised how much it can accomplish. One piece of wisdom I’d once acquired from a Lonely Planet column on survival kit when travelling to remote islands: “what is worst than horrible canned food is canned food you can’t open”; most Swiss Army pen knifes have tin openers installed on them, amongst screw drivers, bottle openers, tweezers and scissors.
Do not forget your first-aid kit. In fact, attend a first-aid course prior to departure. You’d much prefer to have done so than not when misfortunes strike.
Next: Grand Canadian Challenge