Listen: I have never hitchhiked before and I don’t really know what I’m doing. In most parts of the world (especially where I am from, Canada), hitchhiking is a downright stupid idea that frequently finishes with a body floating face down in a shallow riverbed. One more confession: despite having spent a cumulative month in this country, I really haven’t been outside of Reykjavík to see the rest of this wonderful land. This city is awesome, but honestly, it’s time to get the fuck out of dodge!
There are lots of modes of travelling around here – what tourist hasn’t taken at least one bus tour or rented a vehicle – but for the truly frugal and car-pool minded, hitchhiking is a viable and recommended alternative. This is not for everybody, of course, but if you get off on the element of uncertainty, the hikes through the countryside, the potential to meet new people from all walks of life and generally feeling like a hobo, then you’re in luck. It’s damn easy to do around here.
My trip came together through the help of CouchSurfing.org, basically the housing equivalent of hitchhiking (I should mention that my experience with the Icelandic couch surfing community has on the whole been fantastic and I strongly encourage more people to join, host and surf). The site hooked me up with another young woman from Canada planning on taking off for the same time frame I had in mind. On June 6th, I headed down to meet her in Selfoss and we started our six day, counter-clockwise trek along the Ring Road. I would now like to share with you (in no particular order) a few bits of wisdom and reiterate some basic common sense that I found to be essential while undertaking this artful form of travelling.
1. Pack light.
Seriously. Even lighter. You are really going to want to kill yourself a bit if your backpack is anywhere over 10kg, so ditch anything remotely unnecessary (makeup, razors, bedazzled headbands), suck it up, and hand wash your socks every couple of nights. If you’re at a hostel, you can spring the 500 krónur for the use of their washing machine.
2. Everyone’s a friend.
If you’re from North America, you know that there is no chance in blue hell that you would get a ride from anyone well known. In Iceland, the odds aren’t so unlikely. In our case, we were given a ride by actor Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, who has been in almost every Icelandic movie worth watching (Devil’s Island, Angels of the Universe, Jar City). He was incredibly friendly, casual and like the rest of us, wasn’t entirely sure where he was going. The lack of movie star attitude was pleasantly surprising and a welcome change from North American pop culture.
3. You gotta take a stand.
Generally I would recommend that between rides, you keep walking, especially if you are off the main highway. However, some locations are prime spots for staying put, such as the passageways to tourist destinations and gas stations. These spots are especially good for the tour bus traffic that circulates through them, and if you catch the same luck we did, tour guides and bus drivers will offer you cushy rides.
4. Pick the right tent.
We travelled with a one person tent that cost $15 (about 2.000 krónur). It was very pale blue and didn’t have an outside layer. Um, yeah. If you plan on camping at all, you will need a tent with three essential characteristics: 1) size; both for the sleepers and for how small it packs up, 2) wind resistance; because this country has motherloving crazy weather, and 3) colour; dark colours absorb heat and keep your tent warmer, and will be easier to sleep in if the summertime night light bothers you.
5. Apply peer pressure.
People can be very malleable, particularly other tourists. If you share your destination plans enthusiastically, you may convince your drivers to take you a bit further than they had originally planned. This may sound slightly manipulative, but it’s really for the benefit of everyone trying to see the country. You also won’t think so when you’re faced with spending the night in an abandoned shack by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Just saying.
6. You can go your own way.
Hitchhiking alone in this country is remarkably safe, so don’t shy away from hitting the road without a partner. At the end of our trip, my cohort and I decided to go on separate paths and I found that even as a solo female traveller, there was no looming danger. In fact, I got rides even quicker and all from very comforting, parent-like characters who stuffed me full of pylsurs and candy!
7. Don’t you dare close your eyes.
If it’s your first time going around the country, don’t nap in the car. You can sleep when you’re dead. There is too much to see and it’s incredible how quickly the landscape changes. You may look down at your map for a few moments and when you raise your head, it looks like you’re on a different planet. Pay attention, damnit!
Overall, I would have to say that I was fairly lucky on my trip. We never had to wait an egregiously long time for a ride. We met some colourful, interesting and unexpected characters who taught us a few life lessons and hopefully got some in return. We had the pleasure of bumping into many of the same travellers as we made our way around the country, creating a sort of Ring Road camaraderie and a sense of intimacy that probably no other country could rival. We took our time but didn’t dawdle; we saw almost everything there was to see along the way, and were endlessly overwhelmed and overjoyed by this beautiful, insane, hilarious, confusing and disarming island.