Cheap Travel

Hitchhiking lends itself beautifully to travelling on the cheap. You will be amazed by how little you spend while hitchhiking. All it requires to spend less on the road is a little preparation.

Travelling with a small tent can give you a great deal of freedom.
Travelling with a small tent can give you a great deal of freedom.

Getting yourself a hiking tent (small, light and easy to carry) will give you an incredible amount of freedom. A sleeping bag, depending on the climate is also a good idea. As is other sleeping equipment such as hammocks which have the added benefit of getting you up off the ground away from bugs or wild animals. Be warned though, my mate and I hitched through Japan sleeping in hammocks and we came to a shocking conclusion, hammocks are shit to sleep in. we ended up spending a substantial amount of money on alcohol just so that we could get some shut eye.


Sober+hammock=pins and needles

Keep that in mind.

Having something that allows you to sleep outside comfortably acts like a safety net. I often find that I’m less stressed while travelling with my tent, it’s a better back up plan than sleeping on a park bench or in a bus shelter.

Take a lesson from snails and hermit crabs, bring your bed with you.

Ask people if you can pitch your tent in their yard for safety. Most drivers, even complete strangers (if you present yourself well) are cool with this. Once they have opened their home to you they feel guilt that you’re sleeping outside when there is a perfectly good spare bed or couch inside. You will be amazed how often this happens. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, the worst thing they can do is say no, which takes nothing from you.

Sleeping for free can be a daunting task when within a city and is not always viable. Best to do it in a group as it’s bloody scary when on your own in a dark park with drunks and hobos roaming.

In that situation I try and stay with whoever gave me a ride there or one of their friends, this almost always works. Simply be friendly, spark up conversation, explain your situation and people will run to your aid, it’s amazing.

There are other options, depending on where in the world you are and what time of day it is. You could begin searching out parks and nice quiet spots to nestle yourself once dark, or universities for nap spots. Or you could get a hostel, or an overnight bus to somewhere else, or public transport to a smaller town with better chances of finding a spot to nap. Or sit in a café and befriend someone getting them to let you camp at their place. Or stash your bag in lockers and hit up some bars, who knows where you will end up, even if you don’t end up at someone’s house, party until the suns up then pass out in a park or beach, sleeping during the day time is a lot safer than night.

Personally I stay at people’s homes or hostels when in large cities. Parks and beaches can be too dodgy, I don’t fancy waking up with a homeless man snuggling up to me or rifling through my things.

Searching for a spot in a smaller town is better, any parks, riversides, forests, bus stops, quiet corners etc. You can also knock on someone’s door and ask if you can sleep on their property (will be gone by the morning etc.). This works especially well if you’re somewhere obscure and don’t speak the language. Get someone to write out in the local language a note asking to sleep on their property for the night, a group of us did this with a piece of paper written in Serbian while hitching in the border hills of Montenegro, with resounding success.

A very cold night in a plum orchard next to a Monastery in Montenegro.
A very cold night in a plum orchard next to a Monastery in Montenegro.

Remember you want to be out of the way so that drunks or anyone else for that matter is unlikely to stumble upon you causing you grief. Be wary of security guards and police, they can be a real pain in the arse when they wake you up and move you along at three am. Also, you will want to be close to water and an area where you can go to the toilet, mother nature is the best place for this.

World Heritage sites are not good places to sleep. We were woken by security and made to move on in the middle of the night.
World Heritage sites are not good places to sleep. We were woken by security and made to move on in the middle of the night.

Potential Sleeping Spots:

  • BENEATH BRIDGES (the homeless generally have the monopoly on all the warm and dry spots within cities, they can fiercely defend their turf, so be careful)

In Europe the large service areas are ideal for sleeping, they have food, water, shelter, amenities and probably more important than the rest, they are populated solely with travellers, so you will not be frowned upon for sleeping on a bench. In fact at one service area I slept at in Slovenia all throughout the night drivers parked and followed my example, stretching out on the picnic tables to sleep. Felt very safe.

The 5 layers of cardboard made for a very comfy night sleep in this Japanese University
The 5 layers of cardboard made for a very comfy night sleep in this Japanese University

Cardboard is very useful in these situations providing an extra layer between the earth or cement and your tired back. In Croatia I frequently stumbled upon foam beach mats that tourists had discarded on the stone beaches. These are ideal for rolling out and sleeping under the stars.

As a general rule, the less humanity nearby the easier it is to find a quiet spot to sleep for the night.

So make friends, take advantage of the networks people have. Travellers bring an excitement into people’s mundane routine that is greatly appreciated, it’s a mutually beneficial interaction, not one sided as some believe. Why do you think Couch Surfing is so popular? Be a cool guest, be kind, courteous, easy going and one who laughs and shares a lot. Respect people and their things and they will respect you. Always give something, no matter how small: a smile, laughter, a story, a compliment, chocolate, wine, flowers, food, etc. Whatever it is will be returned tenfold.

Most of all enjoy yourself. Those that have fun and revel in the small joys of life are prized by all others. If you bring light into another’s life then they will cherish you and your presence.

Hitchhiking removes transportation and quite often accommodation costs. These are the two most expensive parts of travel, but we can go cheaper still.

I tend not to eat at restaurants or cafes unless I’m in Asia, where the food is exceptionally cheap and ridiculously awesome. The supermarket is the hitchhiker’s friend, with just a few dollars you can feed yourself for a few days. My favourite items for hitchhiking are those that don’t easily spoil and can handle being thrown around in your bag. Seeds, nuts, carrots, canned anything (mainly beans or tuna), oranges, apples, a jar of tahini, peanut butter or Nutella are my standard inventory. It’s vital there is an item of food in your pack that picks you up when you are down, gives you a burst of energy and helps with moral. For some this is chocolate, for me it’s tahini (yeah I’m weird, I know) whatever works for you as long as it’s easily portable. This food will be your secret weapon when you are having no luck, feeling home sick and need something to boost your spirits.

I often find myself dragging along a bottle of red wine too. You never know when a party will spring up.

There is also the option, personally I have never tried this, of dumpster diving. Having worked at a supermarket when younger I was constantly amazed by the extent of the waste. Perfectly good products being thrown out because there use by date was approaching or just past. This is a possible free meal if you are willing to scrounge through the bins out the back of supermarkets and service centers. Use common sense, be discreet, most people don’t react well to others with their heads in a bin, choose only that which looks fresh and is wrapped or sealed. Don’t dumpster dive for meat or seafood, that’s asking for a severe case of the squirts, which is the last thing you want while hitchhiking.

I like to spend my money on good times rather than crap I don’t really need, such as four walls and a roof, a bus that takes longer than hitchhiking would, a greasy meal that repeats all day. Spend your money freely on friends, parties, education, books, experiences out of your comfort zone and occasionally on food that is really special.

Often money is one of those things that limit your experiences while on the road. Constantly striving to stick to that budget, you miss what’s around you. How about you disregard your budget, make it redundant? Get outside into nature, climb a mountain, wander through a forest, eat wild berries and drink from streams. Go off the radar, disconnect from that which you know and merge with the lives of a foreign culture.

This style of travel, I promise, is transforming.

Cheap Travel Summary:

  • Travel with your bed
  • Drink alcohol if sleeping in hammocks
  • Ask the people who pick you up if you can pitch your tent in their or a friends yard
  • The less humanity around the easier it is to find a quiet place to sleep
  • In cities stay with the person you have hitched with or one of their friends or family if they can’t have you.
  • Don’t be afraid of asking
  • Avoid places where there are likely to be drunks unless you are getting drunk
  • Take advantage of the wonderful value of supermarkets
  • Purchase food that can handle being thrown about in your bag
  • Have a secret weapon, a food that will pick you up when down
  • Dumpsters out the back of large supermarkets can be a treasure trove of perfectly good food