Part Five: Places to Sleep
Places to sleep are important, and you may camp or use cheap hotels and hostals, if you prefer.
I usually use a technique known as ‘covert camping,’ (spending the night in some concealed place such as the bushes along the side of the highway, showers in an all-night gas station, or a drainage ditch). Make sure you pick out a place that you won`t likely be disturbed or discovered in the night. In major cities, places like concrete drainage ditches and other concealed spots work well…or just find a friendly local homeless person, who is usually happy to show you his bridge. If your in the country, cow pastures or forests work best. Wake up with the sun.
All-night gas stations are also an option, especially if it’s cold outside. You can stay up all night and drink coffee, and sometimes the attendants will let you sleep in the back.
Bus stations in Latin America are usually large and oftentimes open all night. Curling up and sleeping all night is totally accepted, and you can even sleep into the morning if you feel like it. Just find a dark corner and crash out; security doesn’t mind; they even let homeless people crash there, so bus stations are a good option, especially if you’re facing down a freezing night on the streets.
Public servants will sometimes help you out. I’ve had the most luck at fire stations and police stations.
If you´re travelling with a friend and you have a tent big enough for the both of you, parks and plazas can be nice camping spots. Alone is considerably riskier, since these places tend to be favourite hangouts of petty thieves – but if you sleep alone then make sure you sleep light and that your gear is connected to your body in some shape or form.
You can also just make friends. Talk to people, nice, family people. If you’re lucky they’ll let you crash on their couch and give you a hot meal.
If you’re in a city and don’t want to try any of the above options, go to a place away from the city to make camp. Try to find somewhere high up of otherwise concealed.
When you’re riding with you’re ride, speak serenely about the hospitality and kindless of all the strangers you’ve met on your trip. Then don’t say anything for awhile and let the sound of the road take over. This can lead to a bed, breakfast, and a ride back to the highway. (Thanks to digihitcher Lightfoot for that one!)
Part 5.1: Security while camping in dangerous areas
Oftentimes you may have to spend the night in a dark, unfamiliar city far away from friends or even aquaintences. If you are simply cautious, smart, and you sleep lightly, you will be able to avoid most potential problems before they happen.
First, choose a spot close to help. If there is a 24-hour video store nearby or a gas station, these would be better than being alone in a dark, out-of-the-way corner where, should anything happen, there would be no wittnesses.
It´s usually better to bring a friend and use a tent. Your friend will help protect you and the tent will not advertise to the passerby exactly what kind of gear you´re carrying.
When I hammock-camp alone in parks, plazas or simply a populated area with a few trees, I use a security system I designed for the safety of my gear. It consists of tying my pack (emptied of the most important contents: i.e., passport, any money I may have, weed), to the closest tree with a complex series of more than one rope and knots, which are in turn connected to my hammock. Therefore, when a potential thief tries to move the pack, untie the knots, or even cut the ropes, vibrations will be sent to my hammock, waking me up.
If I am in an especially high-risk area, I also employ the use of hidden ropes, which connect my pack to either the hammock or some sort of precarious object that will make a lot of noise if knocked down. These hidden ropes are usually concealed under dry leaves or litter.
Part 5.2: Hammock-camping tips
I adore hammocks. Sleeping in them while vagabonding is perhaps the best way to spend a night – providing the weather is co-operative and it is not too cold. A hammock can be set up practically anywhere where there´s a couple of properly spaced trees, pillars, or any sort of sturdy, vertical object, and the hammock-bandit need not worry about things on the ground such as sticks, rocks, thorns, thick underbrush, and unpleasent ground-dwelling insects.
To hang my hammock I use an easy, quick-release knot called the Siberian hitch, both to join the rope with the tree and the hammock with the rope. I also usually add six or seven half hitches over the hitch closest to the hammock to reduce the risk of slippage.
Rain presents a problem – or more specifically, storms. You´ll need a tarp, extra rope, and the platitude to spend a rough night getting blown around and dampened. I use the same knots to hang the tarp that I use for the hammock, which, depending on the size of the one I have at the moment, does not usually take too long to rig. I hang a rope horizontally over the hammock, (leaving about 1 m of space over the hammock if the tarp is very large and considerably less if it is small), and fasten it downwards to make a pitched roof. I try to fasten it to readily availble objects such as other trees and sturdy plants, but sometimes these are not close enough and you must stake the tarp down.
Bugs are also a problem – a mosquito netting in worth it´s weight in gold and possession of one will garuntee you vastly fewer sleepless nights and dramatically reduce your risk of contracting mosquito-borne illnesses. Hang it from the same rope as your tarp.