Don’t plan where to sleep
There’s no truer way to say it. If you want to hitchhike, and if you want to get the most out of this novel way of travel–or least if you want to get out of it what you’ve heard you can get out of it–then you can only plan ahead to a certain extent. You have to forget any preoccupation you might have with the idea of not knowing where you will lay your head on any given night. For some this is daunting. For everyone, though, it’s liberating.
Camping – 5 times out of 10
I carry a small tent that is lightweight, waterproof, and dark green. “Camping” is a rather broad term, since it can mean anything from curling up under a palapa on a Mexican beach getting attacked by crabs all night, to sleeping comfortably in my tent in an alpine bowl alongside some beautiful glacial lagoon.
“Covert camping” is necessary in many cases. You never know who is watching, and the worst way to get robbed is in your sleep. I always make sure to find a place that is relatively lifeless. If privacy is not an option, then the exact opposite is preferable. Bright lights and a lot of normal people around makes for a safe environment. This means that 24-hour gas stations with several attendants are excellent for camping.
Random – 3/10
This is the best option for the adventuring hitchhiker. This is the part of hitchhiking that is liberating.
For first-time hitchhikers, refusing offerings of food, help and places to stay is a normal reflex, but a misleading reflex nonetheless. You hitchhike because you want to meet these people. They will offer anything from a bed to work, food and money. I almost always accept an offering of a place to stay. The offers are almost always authentic, unique and honest, and from them I garner the most revealing stories on life.
“Random” also refers to any bed that I come by through simply asking around. Someone offering me a place from off the street, finding a bed at a fire or police station, or at a park ranger lodge–these fit into this category. Random comprises anywhere that I’m not sleeping helplessly.
Couchsurfing – 2/10
Couchsurfing.org is an online social networking site. It’s purpose is to connect travelers with locals all over the globe. It is a hospitality website that brings real people together via cybernet introductions. I am using it in this voyage, and in the travel stories I refer to it as “CS”. Those who use it are “CSers”.
The way it is used is as follows:
You have a profile populated by pictures of you, information about your life and references written by other people. When you want to stay with someone, you look up your destination city and read the profiles until you find someone with whom you might get along well. Then you send them a personalized message showing you’ve read their profile, saying why you want to stay with them and when.
I go to an internet cafe when I know I’m headed to a certain city, and send out messages to hosts there. When I get a confirmation, I make my way to that city. Hitchhiking limits my ability to use the website, because I cannot give exact arrival dates or times. However, some CSers are willing to give me their addresses so that I can make my way directly to their home when I arrive in their city. 2012 Update: Couchsurfing has updated itself, so that now you can post “open requests” to a city. It’s not dependable, but it’s a start.
The site is changing travel for many people, and now there are over 3 million members in nearly every major city in the world. For anyone interested, I wrote a paper: Couchsurfing.org: Rethinking Community Development Through a Virtual Travel Network.