September 15, 2009

How to hitch hike across Canada: 7 tips

Rebel Youth is looking for hitchhiking stories, and also experiences with the challenges faced by women, trans people, hitchhickers facing racism, or stories of people with disabilities on the road...  If you have a good hitch hiking tale, write a comment below or email us at Rebel Youth (at)

Kieran Szuchewycz

Most people you ask will tell you hitchhiking is dead, or so dangerous it’ll kill you the moment you get in your first ride. Those who have actually hitchhiked will tell a different story of this age old thrifty transport.

Last summer my girlfriend and I hitchhiked from Toronto, Ontario to Dawson City, Yukon. It took 7 days of travel to arrive at our destination, and 7 days to get back home. We’re both students, and without the dozens of free rides it would have been financially impossible to travel. We were not alone, we saw many other young people traveling like us, to one coast or the other. We also found that in many rural communities’ youth use their thumb to just get to the next town over. It was an unforgettable experience crossing this large country and I suggest it to everyone.

Hitchhiking tips:

1. Safety. Always try to travel in pairs. Sometimes it is hard to get picked up as a single male, and even harder with double males. It is much safer to be in pairs, and we found it was easy to get picked up if you appear to be a couple. If you feel uneasy about your new chauffeur act as if someone knows exactly where you are. For example say your meeting someone in the next town at a certain time, or that you talked to your friend in the last town. For safety reasons always have each hitchhiker carry a knife.

2. Where to Stand. Though it is sometimes not totally clearly where the best place is to get picked up, the edge of town is generally a good rule. Make sure the car has room to slow down and stop, and has time to see you as well. Other good places are service centers/truck stops or even gas stations. There you can find dozens of trucks fuelling up. On the very busy 400’ highways of southern Ontario you will be stopped by police, but all other highways are fair game.

3. Trucks are perfect for long distance trips, though you have to figure out how far the driver wants to take you. Usually “truckers” appreciate company and will take you long distances. Some trucks have double bunks which they may or may not offer you to sleep in. (these beds are much warmer than sleeping outside).

4. Sign vs. Thumb. Personally I prefer using a cardboard sign with either the general direction of travel (e.g EAST, YUKON, etc), or the name of the next town on the road. Cardboard can be found littered at the side of any highway! Cars travel smaller distances and are more likely to pick you up if they know exactly where you’re going. Using your thumb can be good for inner city travel. If you’ve been dropped off somewhere far away from the edge of town you may need just any ride to get you somewhere better. For short rides the thumb is useful, but once you’re out of town drivers feel better knowing exactly where you’re going before they think of picking you up.

5. Sleeping. It isn’t good to hitchhike after dark unless you’re at a busy truck stop. So finding places to sleep will be necessary. There are campsites in nearly every town, and if you wait for the warden to leave, usually after 9 pm, and leave before 7am, you’re safe. If you didn’t pack a tent you have a number of options. The roof or door ways of schools are useful. Playgrounds with small “towers” with walls to protect from wind are also good. Sleeping in the backyard of Churches can also be relatively safe.

6. Traveling time. As I mentioned it took us 7 days from Toronto to Dawson City. From other travelers we heard that it takes about 5 days from Vancouver to Toronto. The Trans Canada Highway is the easiest way to get across the country, most truckers on this route are going to either Toronto or Vancouver.

7. Packing. It is always best to pack light, but these items are essential.
- Road map of travel area
- Sleeping bags
- Large Black Marker
- Can opener
- Thermos (for saving hot water for Tea)
- Knife* (for cutting and defense)
- Large bottles for water
- Cutlery
- Lighter
- Comments


  1. check out the website which has very good itineraries of what to see & do along the way, as well as places to stay. Cool maps, highway notes, and links to other websites as well.

  2. Sounds good, thanks for the useful tips. It is fabulous to have the chance to see a lot of the world for almost no money. I have always wanted to try this type of transport, but I am quite afraid of it. My friends who tried it, though, say it is an amazing experience.


  3. Hey my friend and I are talking about trying to hitch to the Yukon this coming summer. We were just wondering what it was like getting a ride to dawson city or if you have any advice on how to make it from BC to the Yukon?

    1. Not much to it really. Have a raincoat and some minimal stuff for sleeping out. Anything you need you can buy at the next town. Take the normal precautions for bears with your food. Also, I'm a fan of totally waterproof canoing backpacks.

  4. Great, practical tips. Thanks very much!
    My friend and I are planning to hitchhike from one coast to the other next summer, and play guitar on the street when we need some money. I can't wait to experience our beautiful country from one end to the other :)

  5. Thinking of hitchhiking across some country, and I heard Canada would be the easiest. You did forget to mention to bring a towel. That is rule number one.

  6. Great advice! You will definitely be stopped by the police on 400 highways in southern Ontario. Also, a knife is a concealed weapon, so I would think twice before carrying one.

    1. Check the size requirements. If it is small enough then I think it is okay.

  7. Such an act can only be a privilege of a male bodied person. Females are seen as prey, patriarchal capitalism has sexually objected females so much now that it is a smothering blanket impossible to shake off. Made of steel and jarred wire. Please agknowledge my reality as a female. Womyn are part of common humynity.

  8. The reality of other female-bodied people is that hitchhiking is something that is done, that it is not an exclusive practice of those with the privilege of male bodies (not that all male-bodied people enjoy the same privileges accorded by patriarchy, e.g. trans women). While it's true that female-bodied people are subject to violence and greater obstacles in the realm of hitchhiking, it doesn't stop them from doing it. The oppressed are responsible for their own liberation - and while I don't think pleasure trips across Canada amount to class struggle, I think the logic still applies.

    All that said, women ought to be smart. Don't just do it without consulting women who have experience doing this sort of thing. And this article should do definitely do a better job of talking about the challenges faces by women, trans people, non-white people, people with disabilities (who may not be able to hitchhike at all, depending on the specifics), and so on - WITHOUT taking the defeatist approach exemplified by Master of Puppies, either.

  9. You forgot one really important thing: Hitch-hiking ettiquette. What to do if you go to hitchhike and find another or more than one hikers already there. I've been hitch-hiking many times and some guy will come walking up stand right in front of me, and stick out his thumb. Completely taking first place in line. If you see somebody hitch-hiking, you keep walking past him. Way past him, so as to not effect his/her getting a ride. I've seen many fights almost take place because of this. RESPECT!!

  10. Hey there people. I have to say being a male that has hitched all of BC and lots of ontario and from ontario to kamloops and surrey. From my experiences is to be best listed.

    wear steel toe shoes/boots - although heavy and a pain in the ass they do help against a possible violent attack.

    try to stay CLEAN (clothes and apperance) most people now a days wont pick up stragglers because they are scared of the stereo type. druggies apple pickers etc..

    its usually best not to bring an animal along with you. makes those few that would pick you up not want to.

    card board signs are best with BIG LETTERS all capitals showing where you are going.

    always bring a couple felt pens with you and a small pocket knife aka swiss army isnt illegal it helps cut the box up and if needed a small defense.

    now its alot easier even having a cell phone that has WIFI capabilities and the cells charger you can sit at a coffee shop or truck stop and casually charge it. always let someone know your last whereabouts that way if something inevitable does happen.

    there are alot of churches and shelters in many different cities or towns that offer help. hence a wifi capable cell can help you find those in each town your at or intend to spend a night at.

    depending on your means of travel and money situation ALWAYS BE POLITE especially with cashiers / attendants of gas stations truck stops etc they can be your best friends. chat it up with people and be friendly and sincere, smile a little those people are more inclined to give you a free coffee or donut or something on the house. do not ever be rude even if they were rude to you. because you will make it harder on every other hitcher.

    last but not least..

    have a plan on where your idea of getting to in a day travel if it gets dark out and bad weather etc hits make sure you are safe and wait it out if neccesary.

    I hitched across from Oshawa Ontario to Kamloops BC in 4.5 travel days and met some amazing people that I still keep in contact with, and was bought bus tickets and given food and a lot more. I hitched in January 2007 when it was winter and -20 plus windchill I was prepared with 62 pounds of gear stuffed into a deep backpack and a gym duffel bag. I had paper and small fire log packs a few lighters hand warmers and clothes food and winter boots loaded myself and went on my way I had $5 left to my name and hit the praries with -56 windchill. I have to say my worst city of experience was Sudbury I had to walk around the outskirts of town for 5/6 hours before a guy picked me up and dropped me off at a truck stop. Northern Ontario was some amazing people and some great people through the praries as well. anyways just my 2 cents worth. I am almost thinking of leaving to BC from Ontario again Feb 2014 because my father in BC is sick. This time though there are websites such as Kijiji and Craigslist where you can post for free WANTED rideshares etc I havent had any luck right now but a few offers that im working on. Good luck fellow travellers and stay safe.


    1. Hi! I am searching someone who would like to hitch hike across the Canada this summer! I am 21 years old girl from Lithuania. And I live in BC now. I have hitchhiked just short distances (longest ~ 350 km). And it would be so great to find someone who has more experience and really enjoys the flow of traveling :) So, if you interested, just e-mail me:

  11. Hi..I just emailed you about this. I was wondering the same find a companion to hitch across Canada with. Love to hear from you.


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