Every year, hundreds of cash-strapped Rye students manage to scrounge up just enough to travel the world. Patrick Erskine explores the upside of ditching the itinerary for spontaneity, beds for park benches and plane rides for hitchhiking.
Shauna Kewin stands at the side of the road, with a knapsack strapped to her back and not a clue how she’ll get to the next town. A large van slows to a stop as it approaches her and a 68-year-old man peeps his head out the window. His long white hair‘s the same length as his beard and he grins at Kewin invitingly.
“Need a ride?”
Kewin shrugs and hops in.
Hitchhiking doesn’t come with all the luxuries a company like WestJet has to offer. There are no flight attendants to show you how to fasten your seatbelt or to bring you packages of assorted nuts. The seats don’t recline. Yet more and more, Ryerson students are opting to rough it across the country instead of checking into hotels and resorts. They’re trading in plane tickets for gas money, itineraries for entropic adventures and hotels for park benches. This isn’t surprising, considering Ontario still has the highest tuition fees in Canada and the benefits of roughing it extend far beyond simply saving money.
So what classifies as ‘roughing it’, exactly? Well for starters, giving up the normal luxuries of a vacation is a must. Say goodbye to the friendly concierge in the hotel lobby and the chartered air-conditioned busses. Also, you may want to lower your standards of what you consider a ‘good meal,’ because you probably won’t be enjoying a steak dinner and a Grey Goose martini during your trip.
Kewin, a fourth-year social work student, hitchhiked her way across British Columbia for a month after tree-planting one summer. Despite having an awkward drive with an older man who used more sexual innuendos than an amateur comedian, the relationships she built with people were invaluable, Kewin says.
“We met a lady who we called ‘Mama Faye’. She is a 65-year-old lady we met who cooked us dinner and made us care packages when we left. We still write and she sent us a Christmas package last year.”
This likely wouldn’t have happened if they spent their nights in a hotel.
Anastasia LeSage, a fourth-year psychology student, had no problem forgoing amenities as she travelled across Canada this summer to cherry-pick in British Columbia. Instead of spending over $1,000 for a round-trip flight, LeSage estimates she spent around $300 dollars on gas money to drive instead. Her meal of choice during this escapade? Quick Oats for breakfast with free hot water from various gas stations, peanut butter for lunch, and beans for dinner. Also, running into some relatives and friends along the way provided opportunities to eat healthy vegan meals for free.
“They were some of the best sleeps of my life,” says LeSage recalling her roadside slumbers and park-bench naps.
“We pulled into a lookout point over Banff National Park to get some rest one day. When we drove in, it was pitch black and we couldn’t see anything. But in the morning, waking up to the illuminating sun rising over Banff with my hands at the steering wheel, it was one of the best feelings ever.”
After about five days of travel, LeSage made it to the Okanagan Valley, where she planned to cherry pick as a short-term employment experience.
But when LeSage and her friend arrived, it was too dark and unfamiliar for them to locate their final destination.They were driving around in darkness when they overheard some noise coming from a beach and decided to check it out. The noise was coming from a few travellers. One was a crazy Australian and the other was a man who howled at the moon on a regular basis.
Friendships were made, a drum circle was formed and accommodations were decided upon. They stayed at the beach after making a deal with a police officer who told them it was illegal to sleep there. As long as they cleaned up the area, they were free to stay.
If the idea of sleeping outdoors, eating food and taking rides from strangers doesn’t sound like something you would consider doing, there are milder ways you can rough it and still guarantee yourself an adventure. Hostels, for example, are a cheap alternative to hotels. And depending where you are, you can almost guarantee yourself an interesting time.
Katie Wilson, a first-year food and nutrition student, spent more than two weeks with four friends in a rental car on the south island of New Zealand. While they spent over $1000 during their trip, the events that occurred are no less absurd. They checked into Base Queenstown Hostel and took the last five beds available. Unbeknownst to Wilson and her friends, Queenstown was officially known as, “the party hardest town in New Zealand.” At the time, Base didn’t feature the girls-only dorm now known as “Sanctuary,” so they were put with two random travelers that happened to be standing right next to them.
“One of us had to sleep on the floor because the guys had spilled beer all over the bed. We all fell asleep before the guys came back from partying. I awoke from a noise coming from the bed next to me, where one of the guys was sleeping for the night. I turned around to see what was happening and saw several pairs of hands amidst the sheets and the darkness. I remember thinking ‘okay, there are at least two more people in that bed than there’s supposed to be, and those hands definitely don’t belong to any of the girls in my crew. So I went back to sleep. Unfortunately, whatever was happening in that bed got a lot louder and kept my best friend up for the entire night. Luckily I’m a heavy sleeper.” The more structured a trip is, the less likely any sort of adventure story is bound to happen.
And while you may be the type of person who would rather spend the week relaxing at home watching DVD’s, a new study says that you’re probably the minority, at least when placed on a broad scale.
A study that appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research said productivity is a central value in Western societies. It argues that we often evaluate our self-worth based on how much we’re able to accomplish or how productive we can be. And for many, travelling or backpacking extensive distances satisfies a deep sense of accomplishment.
In all cases of backpacking and adventure tourism, a standard rule is to never travel alone. There is always safety in numbers, especially when hitchhiking or staying with people you don’t know. So what to do if you’re an adventure-seeking traveller who has nobody to travel with?
The Adventure Society — also known as the Oakham House Outdoor club — regularly organizes skiing, hiking, and exploration events. While the club itself doesn’t organize cross-country or overseas travelling, Jennylyn Pringle, the president of the club, says likeminded people have often got together and travelled after meeting at one of their events. If you’re planning a trip during reading week and aren’t interested in trekking across the country with a backpack and a few bucks, Travel Cuts suggests booking your trip at the beginning of January. Prices always rise during reading week, and classes don’t start until January 10th, which gives students almost two weeks to get away. Discounted prices for early January start towards the middle of November, and you’ll save hundreds of dollars. But whatever your method of travel is, spontaneity seems to be the constant variable for ensuring your vacation produces some interesting stories.
Photo: Marta Iwanek