What to Pack for Hitchhiking
- What to Pack for Hitchhiking
Rain, hail or shine there are a few essential things that every backpacker should make sure they have thrown in their bag before leaving. There’s something different and exciting and unique about backpacking. It’s a certain kind of travelling; for the brave, for the free-spirited, and, I’m afraid to say, – for the ones with substantial less dignity than other travelers. It’s not always glamorous, it’s often unhygienic, and sometimes you really have to question just how far you’ll go to survive for as long and as cheaply as possible.
It is very important to remember that whatever you pack for hitchhiking will be carried upon your back at all times. And when you are hitchhiking, it is not uncommon to have to walk for large distances if you have been left in a bad place. As most hitchhikers also free-camp, your pack is your burden, so make it is light as possible. A happy hitchhiker is a free hitchhiker, so don’t let your bag be the thing that holds you back.
We all pack extra socks, shampoo and our toothbrush. Here’s a list of unlikely things that I have formulated that I consider of the UPMOST IMPORTANCE when backpacking. I’ll have you know, some things I found out the easy way; by picking up tips from other travelers, or using my own quick-witted and super intelligent common sense. Others I have learned the hard way; I may have fished it out of the bin when looking for a substitute, or I may have had to survive without it and thought ‘gee, if I was quick-witted and had super intelligent common sense I would have packed this’. Regardless of weather, climate, country or terrain, here are the things you’ll need. Trust me. And if you don’t – have fun digging through bins to find them.
Below is a summary of what you should take with you while hitchhiking.
Having a weak or uncomfortable backpack can ruin a trip. You need a backpack with comfortable, padded straps that you can wear for hours at a time without discomfort. It must be big enough to hold all of your worldly belongings, but don’t get something too big otherwise you will be tempted to overpack.
Many hitchhikers choose hiking style boots for the times when they have to walk large distances. I personally find that these get sweaty and uncomfortable – they also look rather clumpy. A pair of flip-flops are great for summer when standing around and a comfy pair of trainers (running shoes) is my preference for footwear as most of the time, you will not be walking over heavy terrain that requires hiking shoes.
High Energy Food Supplies
Weight is precious, so take only a little. High energy foods and dehydrated foods are great, so think of taking supplies such as peanut butter and dry pasta. Any wet foods offer you low calorie consumption and you can probably find more of what you need in the next place you are going. As a hitchhiker, it is very easy to jump from settlement to settlement (as that is where people are going), so don’t worry too much about packing many days food in advance. It is also quite common to be offered food or snacks from people who pick you up.
Try and always carry at least half a liter of water – personally I prefer to take a one liter bottle. This is really important if you get stranded, but taking much more makes your pack too heavy – remember that you can find water from any settlement by approaching a house or shop and asking for your bottle to be filled. Be careful when cooking, that you don’t use the last of your drinking water as eating increases your need for water.
A sharp knife, wooden spoon (for cooking and eating), and a pot are all you really need. This allows you to eat and prepare both hot and cold food. My favorite way to cook, is to make a beer can stove as it is very light, can be made from any metal drink can (so costs nothing), and burns high alcohol liquid which is cheap to buy.
Standing around in the sun all day can be dangerous if you are not protected and you never know how long you might be stuck for in an exposed area. Take appropriate covering, which could mean clothing (such as a hat) if you are prone to getting burnt, or sunscreen if you deal better with the sun.
Most things can be borrowed or found along the way, so pack light, going only for the basics which essentially means a toothbrush and soap. Girls, this is not a time to be lugging around a one liter bottle of shampoo.
You never need as many clothes as you think you need. There are people who travel with just one outfit and use it for everything. As a maximum, I would recommend taking two tops, one jumper (for nighttime), one pair of trousers, one pair of shorts, two pairs of pants, and two pairs of socks (unless of course you are hitchhiking in winter). If you want to have a full wardrobe, hitchhiking probably isn’t for you.
High Visibility Vest
This is optional, but a real asset when hitchhiking at night. It allows cars to see you from a great distance which makes them more likely to stop and keeps you safe. Some people who use these claim that cars sometimes stop for people wearing them because they presume them to be officials or people in need of help.
Just generally good for stuff. Most common uses I’ve found is as a plate/chopping board for snacks…fond memories of Paris involve hostel dinners of cheese, crackers, cold meats and pastries…all cut up and shared communally via the newspaper. Most hostels will actually have communal kitchens with cutlery and crockery now, but you never know. Also good for wrapping food for transport. I used newspaper to made homemade earplugs once in Croatia when my roommate was a snorer. I once made a sleeping mat out of newspaper at a train station in Slovenia. Bonus – double secondary use is (language permitting) as an actual newspaper. Winning.
Plastic Zip Lock Bags
This is by far a life saver. I’m so glad my travel companion at the time was quick-witted and had super intelligent common sense before be begun our first backpacking adventure. These are incredibly helpful, for taking food to your next stop, stuffing snacks in for the day to carry in your pack, to transport that little bit of rice to the next hostel that you don’t want to throw out…because, you know, rice triples in quantity so a couple of handfuls turns it into enough to feed three people. I’ve also used them for squeezing the last bit of shampoo out of the bottle…enough for one wash, so that you can leave the bottle behind. Jewelery, spare batteries, leaves or small souvenirs you pick up – to avoid things getting lost and broken in your pack – throw them in a zip lock bag.
These are great if you want to make signs. Cardboard can be found at the back of every shop / garage, and you can simply write where you are going. One of the best signs to use is a sign that simply reads ’20km’ as most drivers are travelling that far, so are more likely to stop.
A sleeping bag is important if you are sleeping out at night and you should couple it with a bivvy bag, tent, or hammock, to help protect you from the elements. I prefer not to take a tent because it is a much heavier option that the other two. Many hitchhikers also choose to take nothing but a sleeping bag and find covered areas (such as bridges) to sleep under. The only thing that you are not protected from in this scenario, is insects.
Invaluable for when lost / hitchhiking at night or trying to find a place to sleep. I gleefully mocked my travel companion at the time for packing a head torch, when we were backpacking around the big cities of America. From the East to the South to the West…we were never going to be isolated in the wilderness. It’s America. It’s westernized. They have electricity. However how silly I looked when we pulled it out almost every night. In shared dorm rooms – don’t be that person that turns on the light when you come home late. I said she’d look like an idiot using a head torch. Turns out I was the idiot who stubbed her toe and put her pajamas on backwards because I couldn’t see properly – something that could have been avoided if I had packed – you guessed it; a head torch.
Needle and Thread
These two things have saved my bacon multiple times. From quickly stitching up a hole in my pack until it can be repaired, to fixing pulls in scarves, shirts and once I even sewed up a friend’s winter boot – with basic needle and cotton we were convinced it wouldn’t hold…but it remained functional for the remainder of our trip, and hey, she didn’t need to buy new shoes because of it.
I’m sure there are various different versions of this stuff; but it’s essentially multi-use cleaning soap. You can use it on your body, on your face, on your hair, on your dishes and on your laundry. As I’m writing this I’m actually starting to question exactly what kind of stuff they put in it that makes it so versatile (!), but it’s small, compact and saves bringing 5 different bottles of stuff for one thing that can essentially do the job. Despite a friend’s assumption; you don’t need wilderness wash only when you’re in the wilderness…and need to wash.
Plastic Garbage Bag
Ok, so maybe you pack one. Not sufficient. The ways in which I’ve used plastic bags when travelling is endless. Once, my friends and I sat on them at the foot of a Swiss mountain to eat lunch to avoid sitting on the snow. I’ve stood on plastic bags in the most unhygienic showers in hostels, to avoid the visible fungi from touching my feet. I’ve literally worn a garbage bag when I didn’t have a raincoat. Once, years ago, a friend cut my hair in a hostel in Munich and a plastic bag was my cape. Friends have wrapped their feet in plastic bags before putting their shoes on to keep snow out. And you know, there are tons of conventional uses for plastic bags like carrying damp towels, transporting food, etc.
Incredibly light, but if you are liable to suffer from hay fever, dehydration, or diarrhea, don’t forget tablets to counter these common occurrences.
It is always good to know where you’re going if you have a destination in mind. If you don’t care where you end up, leave the map behind.
Pack as light as possible. The happiest hitchhikers I have met, carry packs of little more than five kilograms. I promise you that overpacking is far easier than underpacking. All of the things on this list are good – because they are small, or space-saving and most of them are disposable. For something so little, I guarantee they’ll save you time, effort and money. So just do it. Embrace the unconventional backpacker’s lifestyle. I assure you you’ll be surprised by how low your standards will be when you’re out there living the dream.