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I'm planning on hitchhiking from Montreal to San Francisco in a week or so. I want to get to SF as fast as possible.

Do you think it's feasible in +/- 10 days, maximum two weeks?
Does anyone have any experience of this trip?

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    I know this isn't what you're asking, but you can fly from Montreal to SF anytime from next Thursday for C$278 (and probably even less if you make your way to the US and fly from there). Is 10 days of travel really worth more than C$278? – Doc Apr 16 '15 at 16:05
  • I might have thought it was just for the experience, @Doc, but the OP specifically requested "as fast as possible".... – Shokhet Apr 16 '15 at 16:19
  • It is certainly feasible, I've driven this before in about 5 days, 8 hours driving a day. Of course, hitch hiking is another matter altogether, I guess it really depends who is willing to pick you up. Good luck, and be careful. – zanussi Apr 16 '15 at 16:28
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    Are you planning to take the Trans-Canada or the US Interstates? – Gayot Fow Apr 16 '15 at 23:17
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    Thanks for the answer. Doc and pnuts, yes i considered the plane - as well as the bus which would cost around US$120. I want both to be in California as fast as possible to meet a friend there, but the hitchhiking experience across US is tempting. As well as the time challenge... Gayot Fow: I was planning on taking the US interstates. – juliet Apr 17 '15 at 17:13
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I've actually hitchhiked tens of thousands of miles across North America, and while I haven't done any in the past few years (so things may have changed a little) I think it's certainly possible to do this in under two weeks. I've gone from Massachusetts to California in six days, for instance.

What I don't have is any experience hitchhiking as a woman, so I can't give much advice there. I will strongly recommend you keep your passport, phone and money/cards on you at all times, though, never in a purse or backpack.

I mapped this out on Google Maps and I'm fairly happy with the road route it gave as a hitchhiking route. The things I want to note in particular are:

  • Use public transit (where available) to get into and out of large cities. On the proposed route, this includes Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Chicagoland, Omaha/Council Bluffs, Salt Lake City, Sacramento and the SF Bay Area itself. It's extremely difficult to hitchhike from within a city itself, though I have managed it on rare occasions. Google Maps' public transit search will be very helpful here and I wish it had been available when I was out on the road.

    This also includes using the Tunnel Bus to cross the border at Detroit/Windsor. (Don't accept a ride across the border unless you're both willing to spend a couple of hours in secondary inspection.) Once you clear immigration, take SMART bus 830 south to West and Grange in Woodhaven near the end of the line and then follow I-75 south toward Toledo. Though, given the state of Detroit today, I'd also consider taking a bus all the way to Toledo.

    Chicagoland is going to be the worst of these. If you are dropped off anywhere around here, your goal will be to get to Joliet, to continue your trip westbound on I-80. Alternately you can take I-88 (the Ronald Reagan Tollway, formerly known as the East-West Tollway) out of Chicagoland; you may get shorter but more frequent rides through Illinois on this route. Take the Metra train from Chicago to Aurora. This is a lot of ground to cover either way, and you absolutely should use public transit to get into and out of Chicagoland.

  • Carry bottled water. You're going to be crossing desert in the western US and will dehydrate quickly, not the thing you want to do while at the side of an interstate exit ramp 30 miles from nowhere. I'd keep one for drinking and one for a spare, which I'd replace whenever the opportunity arises.

  • Hitchhiking is not legal on the Interstate highways themselves on any part of this route. It is almost always tolerated if you are at the top of an exit ramp where it connects to the cross street. You may still have trouble in Indiana (where police usually don't know it isn't illegal) as well as Utah and Nevada (where it actually is illegal). As a general rule, I would not pass the sign which says pedestrians are prohibited. If stopped, be respectful to the police and you'll be fine; I've actually gotten several rides from police officers this way.

Some location-specific advice based on my own travels:

  • Despite what I said above, it's possible to remain on I-80 and bypass Chicagoland to the south. If your driver is going into Chicago and not taking I-80 himself, get out at Portage, Indiana at Exit 21 where I-80, I-90 and I-94 all converge. There are two truckstops right in the middle of this interchange where you can seek a ride which is staying on I-80. But be aware your driver may not want to stop here due to being charged an extra toll. In that case I'd just take public transit through Chicago from wherever. If your driver planned to exit here anyway, confirm exactly where he is going, as some of the areas immediately west of here in Gary are not someplace I would want to find myself at any hour of day or night.

  • If you have to hitch near or in the Quad Cities at the border of Illinois and Iowa, ask the driver if he is going at least as far as Walcott. This is just outside the beltway west of the Quad Cities. It has the "world's largest truckstop" (it is actually a large complex housed in several buildings, of which most people only see one) and very heavy traffic from long distance travelers of all sorts. This is a good place to wait for a long distance ride. In the reverse direction you may get a ride all the way to Chicago or even farther.

  • Near Des Moines, Iowa, try to stay on I-80 rather than going onto I-235, which passes through downtown. A truckstop is just east of the split at exit 142 (Altoona) which will make a good jumping off point if your ride is going north from Des Moines, or into the city. There's another truckstop on I-80 at exit 125 (Clive), but traffic there will be more likely to be going south, or back into Des Moines, than west. I once had to wait here several hours to get a ride going the right direction.

  • In Omaha, buses 55 or 97 will get you to 120th and L streets, where you can rejoin I-80 westbound at exit 445. (Note that the Omaha bus system extends into Council Bluffs and you can catch a bus there if necessary.) But the interchange here is a cloverleaf in a suburban area; you should expect to wait here quite a while. Unfortunately all the other options within Omaha are worse. Accept any short ride, as the next few exits farther west are much better. A truckstop and outlet mall are at exit 432; a friendly driver might be willing to go a few miles out of their way to take you there.

  • When you reach Wyoming you should start packing extra water if you aren't already, as you are about to enter the Rocky Mountains and then the desert.

  • It's illegal to hitchhike anywhere in Utah or Nevada. If this concerns you, stop at Evanston, Wyoming, just across the Utah border, and try to get a ride all the way to California, or at least to Reno (which is near the Nevada-California border), from the truckstop at exit 6.

Finally, some general advice:

  • Consider hitchhiking from rest areas (haltes routières). You are more easily able to attract attention from drivers here, and it is often safer. I've seen this done, but have never done it myself; I mainly present it as an additional option to consider. If you're on a time constraint, though, you might not wish to do too much experimentation.

  • You will almost never get a ride from a trucker. While many of them would like to give you a ride, their company policies and insurance prohibit it. I wouldn't bother with hitchhiking from truckstops unless you already happen to be at one or you are entering or leaving a city, and even then, expect to get a ride from someone in a car. If you do get a ride, it will likely be one who owns his or her own truck, rather than a driver for a large trucking company.

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    @pnuts Less than $20? The Chicago portion may vary a lot, depending on where you go from and to, but it won't be much overall. – Michael Hampton Apr 16 '15 at 21:50
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    @pnuts In most places crossing the metro area will cost between $2-$3. Chicago is the wild card here as the trip will require transfers and maybe between completely different transit systems. It could cost as much as $10. – Michael Hampton Apr 16 '15 at 22:24
  • wow thank you so much Michael Hampton for your thorough answer. This is so helpful. Indeed, I'm a little concerned with the fact that hitchhiking is illegal in Utah and Nevada especially because I'm not a US citizen. Do you think it's actually possible to find a ride from Evanston all the way to California without too much difficulties/waiting? It looks like a very long way and I'm wondering if many cars would do the journey (considering the fact that I don't have the time to wait 3 days at the same spot) – juliet Apr 17 '15 at 17:22
  • I was also wondering if it wouldn't be easier and faster for the beginning of the trip to head to New York and from there to Chicago - instead of via Toronto? Just a though, not sure if it's relevant... – juliet Apr 17 '15 at 17:32
  • @juliet If you go via New York you would end up going through several additional cities, i.e. Buffalo, N.Y., Erie, Pa., and Cleveland. I'd expect this to add a lot of time, and it even adds several hours to the driving directions! The route via Toronto and Detroit is much more direct. As for Evanston, I don't think it should be too difficult to get out of there, though it may take several hours or even a day. It's the only truckstop for a very long distance in either direction. – Michael Hampton Apr 17 '15 at 17:59
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This is the "Relative Ease of Hitchhiking Each State of America" from Hitchwiki. I will presume you are not an experienced hitchiker so you'd want to avoid the red areas. Now Montreal is not on this map but it seems you will have problems in Ohio-Indiana-Illionis or if you get further south the Kansas-Oklahoma. This http://expertvagabond.com/hitchhiking-america/ fellow did a coast-to-coast hike -- but it took him five weeks.

Hitchhiking in the USA

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    This map is quite subjective. I've found some of these "red" states quite easy to cross, and some of the "green" ones quite difficult. – Michael Hampton Apr 16 '15 at 19:20
  • And I've read that guy's story before. It's very interesting and you get a good feel for hitchhiking. But he (mostly) intentionally took it very slowly. – Michael Hampton Apr 16 '15 at 19:46
  • Yeah, I've read the "expertvagabond" story and wondered if the 5 weeks was just the right time to do it or he intentionally did it slowly. – juliet Apr 17 '15 at 17:25
  • Regarding the map also, it seems like Utah and Nevada are not so difficult to get through. Is this considering the fact that it's illegal? Yes, I'm a very experienced hitchhiker especially not in North America. I've hitchhiked quite a few time in China, but it's a totally different experience I guess! – juliet Apr 17 '15 at 17:28
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    @juliet Yes, he would stop for a day or two or three every time he got to some town. And once he hopped a freight train going the wrong way. So it's not surprising that it took him five weeks. – Michael Hampton Apr 17 '15 at 18:41

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