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Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide for Canada

The Hitchhiker’s Guide is full of information about the pros and cons of hitchhiking and tips for staying safe.

Hitchhikers Guide
Stay safe when hitchhiking in Canada

Hitchhiking is the ultimate form of cheap travel in Canada. Still, I wasn’t quite sure at first about adding a Hitchhiker’s Guide for Canada to my Backcountry Canada Travel Guide. First, I was worried a bit. I don’t want anybody to hitchhike because of reading my Hitchhiker’s Guide. The purpose of my Hitchhiker’s Guide is, to share information and some tips for travellers who want to do this. It’s not to inspire you!

Is it a good idea to hitchhike, and is it safe?

I have hitchhiked many thousands of kilometres over the years, in many different countries, so I know what it is all about. Still, do I recommend it? This is a decision you have to make on your own. Bad stuff does happen and you hear about it on the news. I’m not suggesting that you should hitchhike. Anything can happen when you hitchhike in Canada. I’m not supporting it in any way, but passing on information and personal experience meant for travellers, who have already decided to hitchhike in Canada.

Hitchhiking is still quite common among younger travellers strapped for cash and seeking an adventure. The Hitchhikers Guide gives you all the information you need to decide.

I haven’t had one single bad experience during my hitchhiking years. The situation might have changed some since then, but I believe that people are still the same, and so are the hitchhiking rules. Not once did I get stuck somewhere because I didn’t get a ride. I met amazing people, heard many great stories, and even made a few friends along the way.

How To Choose A Good Location

StreeHitchhikers guide - Street sign
Check the local hitchhiking laws

Check the local hitchhiking laws! In Canada, several highways have restrictions on hitchhiking, particularly in British Columbia and Ontario. There is a great website available with detailed information on hitchwiki.org

The more traffic, the harder is to catch a ride. People in larger communities are less likely to help a hitchhiker and city people are too much in a rush to stop.

If you need a ride to get out of a busy town or city, it’s a good idea to make a sign, written in sharp bold letters, stating where you want to go. This way you have a better chance to get a ride all the way where you want to go.

Make sure you choose a good location with enough space for a car to safely pull over. You might have to carry your backpack for a few kilometres to just find a good spot, but it’s worth it.

Once you are in the rural areas it gets much easier, especially on country roads. The rural population is usually keen to help if you make the first step.

And then there are the pity rides when somebody just stops because they feel sorry for you. Maybe it’s pouring rain or the temperatures are below freezing and they can see you shiver, and you look hungry!

The Trans-Canada Highway is the main road across Canada from east to west.

Hitchhiker’s Guide – Gender

I never got stuck when hitchhiking anywhere and that’s because I’m female. Most motorists are cautious about giving rides to male hitchhikers but see no risks when stopping for a female.

If you are a male hitchhiker, you will spend LOTS more time waiting at the side of the road.

What can you do? Try to look as harmless and respectable as you can and smile. Maybe find a female companion to hitch with. Couples have it easier, but then you need to get a ride with two seats available. Or just accept the fact, that it will take you a bit longer to get to your destination.

And a suggestion I found on a blog. Ask yourself, would I pick me up? Think like a driver who might enjoy giving you a ride!

Hitchhikers Guide – Semi Trailers

When it comes to hitchhiking in Canada, big semi-trailers are my favourite vehicles, and it’s easy to catch a ride with one of them. In Australia, it used to be the road trains.

Those drivers travel hundreds of kilometres each day, often without seeing a soul, and most of them appreciate some company, male or female. Semi-trailers are always on a very tight schedule, and you get to cover great distances fast. Travelling in a semi-trailer is comfortable and some have huge cabs. You might even be able to stretch out in the back if it’s a night drive.

Some drivers picking you up will go out of the way to take you where you want to go. Be polite and thankful when someone does this for you.

I have never heard of any problems with getting rides with semi trucks, but then again, there could always be an odd one around. It comes down to your personality and comfort level. If you are not sure, don’t do it!

Hitchhikers Guide – How To Get a Ride

What some hitchhikers in Canada do is wait at roadhouses or truck stops and approach the truck drivers or other people and ask for a ride. The only problem is, that people might get pressured into giving a ride, even if they don’t want to.

Many trucking companies don’t allow their drivers to take along passengers because of safety and insurance reasons. Some drivers take hitchhikers along anyway, some don’t. Approaching them and asking for a ride might pressure them into breaking rules. Or he might say no and feel bad for not helping you. Putting people on the spot like this is not always a good idea.

You might just want to hang around a roadhouse with your backpack and a sign with your travel destination well visible, but the best way is still to just stand at the side of the road. Isn’t that what hitchhiking is about? It’s important to stand at a place where semi trucks will be driving slowly, for example just after a roadhouse or turn-off, or just out of town, where he has room to stop but has not gathered speed. Once they pick up speed they can’t stop that easily.

Unless it’s obvious where you want to go it is good to have a sign, one that can be read from some distance.

It’s also important to have a positive attitude. If you are happy and look forward to the trip and meeting yet another nice person, believe me, you will have a great trip and it will all happen. It seems to work every time! And it never hurts to smile, it’s contagious.

Recommended Safety Practices

  • Trusting your instinct.
  • Refuse rides from impaired drivers, drunks, and druggies.
  • Hitchhike during daylight hours only.
  • Don’t be afraid to turn down a ride if something seems not right.
  • Have your cell phone on hand, and let someone back home know exactly. where you’re going (some areas in Canada have no cell reception).
  • Don’t get into the back of a two-door car, because then you don’t have an exit strategy if you need one.
  • You want to be within walking distance of town – in case you don’t get a ride by nightfall AND because if you’re way out in the middle of nowhere it looks like someone kicked you out of their car
  • Never assume that you are entitled to a ride, even when sitting outside for hours in the rain and watching car after car pass by.
  • Buy a ‘Spot’ messenger – it is a global GPS with a dedicated SOS button, which you can use for first responders to be dispatched to your location.

Hitchhikers Guide – What to Pack and More Tips

What to pack depends on what route you will be taking. Certain northern regions are inhabited by only a few or no permanent residents. So it is very important to go with the proper equipment and if you go to remote areas I suggest registering with a local authority before such a trip.

75 % of Canada’s population lives in the south along the US border, anywhere else, the population can be pretty sparse. It’s normal in some parts to drive a couple of hundred kilometres without seeing another soul and once you head north it gets worse. Read about Canada Facts and Climate and find out about Wilderness Dangers before embarking on your journey.

Always be prepared for the worst!

Take proper equipment along as well as warm clothes and always have some food packed.

Be prepared for dropping temperatures beneath – 30 Celsius in winter, when you can’t stay out longer than 15 minutes. Wear the appropriate gear and take precautions to never be stuck outside without shelter. In winter roads are icy and it’s difficult for cars to stop. Make sure you choose a safe place for a car to pull over. Apparently, in some areas, like in the northern Territories, citizens are bound by law to help citizens in need from hazards of temperatures or nature.

The locals won’t kick you out of shops, restaurants, or gas stations in extreme weather. In summer it is a different story!

Do not depend on your cell phone, it might not work where you’re going. Mobile phone networks have improved a lot but they don’t cover the whole country yet. Phone booths are mostly located at gas stations, or by shops or restaurants. I suggest that you take a prepaid phone card along or you can try to call collect. Internet Cafes are rare in Canada and Wifi is often only available in main urban centres. Public libraries offer free Internet access, regardless of where you are from, and most tourist information centres as well.

You find a different culture and lifestyle out in the country and get to know a different breed of people. And those are my kind of people, the country folks!

What about wild animals, bears, and cougars?

Expect to come across bears and other wildlife

Hitchhiking in Canada is not the same as hitchhiking in Europe. Here we have bears and cougars to deal with. Educate yourself before you hit the road.

Learn about the behaviour of grizzly bears and black bears and know what to do if encounter one. If you plan to camp and put up your tent in Bear Country, make sure you obtain and understand special safety and food storage regulations. Be aware of where bears live, eat, and travel. Never keep any food in your tent. Odours of food can attract hungry or curious bears and other animals too, so it is important to store your food properly. In some areas, this means hanging it up a tree, preferably a fair distance away from your tent.

Always carry bear spray if you’re out by yourself in bear country.

You never know how things are going to work out when you start the journey, but that’s half the fun and excitement!

Enjoy the ride!

And don’t forget to get travel insurance!

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