“Oh I wouldn’t want my daughter to hitch!” says Aileen, when she picks me up from Ashburton and takes me to Rolleston just south of Christchurch.
Welcome to my Sustainable (ish) Travel Blog. When I write this I am on Day 2 of my ‘big trip’ from New Zealand to Northern Ireland to visit my mum. I will continue with the radio show while I travel and I hope this blog will support my show. With each posting, I will focus on a different aspect of travel from a sustainability perspective.
At the moment I am on my way to Auckland travelling from Dunedin, and my hopes are to do it only by hitching. For the whole journey, from New Zealand to Northern Ireland, I hope to fly as little as possible, if at all – and instead to travel by lower carbon options – freighter travel, bus and train. And hitching. My decision to travel this way is part of a sustainability challenge I am setting myself, as well as the opportunity to have a midlife adventure. My aim is to travel via Central and North America. My route will be the ‘long way round’ as my friend James says – from Dunedin to Auckland, then by freighter from Auckland to Panama, then north to the US by bus or train, where I will go from Philadelphia to Antwerp in Belgium. From there I will take bus, train and boat trips to Northern Ireland.
Today’s posting is about hitching. Not the horrors which are mostly what we hear about – but the joys. And for me, hitching has largely been a joyful exercise, where I meet interesting people from a broad cross-section of society. I feel sad that hitching has received such a bad reputation. Little research has been done on hitching and its safety, but two studies reported in WikiTravel have found hitchers to be at ‘not disproportionately greater risk of crime’ than non-hitchers.
Earlier in 2015 I went to a talk where the speaker urged us to consider hitching a spiritual exercise. As I understood it, she meant that hitching requires trust. Trust in other people, trust in the universe that you will get to where you want to go, or even better trust that where you end up is the right place for you to be! Hitching is all about trust, and community, and I would be sad to see it disappear from New Zealand as it is a real indicator of the trust that exists between strangers in a community. And of course hitching is a very valid and sustainable mode of travel that in particular reduces the footprint of the person who picks up the hitcher! The Carbonzero website places a value of 0.07kg Co2 per person per kilometre, less than four times the carbon footprint of domestic air travel. However, as hitching involves getting a ride that is definitely going anyway, I prefer to think of it as carbon neutral for the hitcher and carbon offsetting for the driver!
There are also many other joys of hitching, and I discuss these at length with my guest Paul Armstrong in the Eco Living in Actionradio show that was aired on the 4th December.
As part of my big trip I intend to hitch where I consider it safe to do so. What practical advice can I give about hitching? Firstly find out what the hitching norms are for the country you want to hitch in. According to the WikiTravel site, hitching in New Zealand is classified as Occasional, Easy, and Legal. If you are inexperienced in the art of hitching, you might like to travel with another more experienced person at first. There are sites out there that discuss in detail ways in which you can improve your likelihood of getting a lift – such as wearing bright or light coloured clothing, smiling, making eye contact, and having a sign (or not) saying where you would like to go. You should also wait at a spot where traffic is travelling relatively slowly and can pull over safely. I usually only accept rides that are heading to main centres and I ask nicely if they will leave me off on the side of the town that is on the side closest to where I am travelling. This means that more of the traffic passing your way will be headed in your direction.
In my life I have hitched many times by myself and I have had no really serious issues. In fact the kinds of issues that I have had, I would also be likely to have in a non-hitching situation – getting lifts with drivers who have poor skills, who drive too fast, or who tailgate. Certainly, following your instincts is very important. As a hitcher it is essential to be able to say ‘No thankyou, I think I will wait until the next ride’ if you don’t like the look of the person who has stopped. Don’t feel beholden to getting into that car. There are nice ways of turning down a lift. You can think of your own favourite white lie.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you are feeling very uncomfortable, you should seek to get out of the car. For example, at the next main centre, you could tell them that you are going to be sick and can they pull over. Ideally keep all your important belongings with you so that you can easily take them with you.
Have fun! Hitching is not parasitical. Most of the people who give lifts are genuinely interested to have your company, and to help you get to where you want to go. Endeavour to be agreeable. You will have some great conversations. I think it’s also a nice gesture, but certainly not expected, to give a small gift by way of thanks. For this trip, I have vegetable seed packets to hand out.
For more information about Hitching
- Carbon footprint of hitching at http://www.carbonzero.co.nz/EmissionsCalc/tourismeditor.aspx
- lots of tips and info at Wiki Travel – http://www.wikitravel.org
- My radio chat on Hitching with my guest Paul Armstrong (4th December 2015), here on Eco Living in Action – see under Transport or at http://www.oar.org.nz
Postscript – By the time I arrive in New Plymouth to visit with my daughter (before I head to Auckland), I have had eight lifts of which five were with women. The longest wait was one hour at Oamaru and the shortest was less than a minute out of Christchurch. To help me get to good hitch points, I got a ride with my friend Sue (who I was staying with) to the north side of Christchurch, and I also took a train trip out of Wellington to Waikanae.
Another postcript – arrived in Auckland with easy hitches. No waiting longer than 10 minutes. I even got a lift with a police officer who did not tell me off for hitching. Tomorrow I leave on the ship to Panama!
Maureen Howard is a Sustainability Educator and Facilitator, based in Dunedin. She is currently travelling from New Zealand to Northern Ireland to visit her mum and family. She plans to share her sustainability tips as she travels.