by Silent Doug
While similar to letterboxes, hitchhikers (sometimes known as parasites) have their own set of rules. To help you avoid making a letterbox faux pas, here's a primer on Hitchhiker Etiquette.
Creating a Hitchhiker
Hitchhikers tend to get more wear and tear than regular letterboxes. They're constantly being carried about in knapsacks from letterbox to letterbox, and then stuffed into containers. Therefore, when you create a hitchhiker, think compact and sturdy. You don't need to include any more than a rubber stamp, the hitcher's log book and some brief instructions and contact information -- no stamp pad, pencil or other items are required. You can choose to package a hitchhiker either in a ziplock bag or its own plastic container. If you choose to use a bag, be sure to use the sturdy "freezer" variety or else the hitchhiker will sprout pinholes after a few journeys. If you choose a container, use a small one, since the hitchhiker needs to be hidden alongside an existing letterbox, and there might not be much room in the hiding place.
Once you've created a hitchhiker, it's nice to send an announcement to the LBNA Talk List, though there's no requirement that you must. Whatever you do, don't publicly divulge the location of the hitchhiker!
Finding a Hitchhiker
The whole point of hitchhikers is that they travel from box to box across the country. So what happens if you find a hitchhiker and you're not planning to go letterboxing for several months? You might consider leaving the hitchhiker in the letterbox rather than letting it sit in your backpack or desk drawer for an extended period. Go ahead and stamp into the hitcher's journal and record it in your own log, but let the next letterboxer carry the hitchhiker to its next home.
Logging a Hitchhiker
Whenever you find a hitchhiker, you need to make sure to log the find in several places.
- Record the hitchhiker's stamp in your personal journal.
- Record your personal stamp in the hitchhiker's journal.
- Record the hitcherhiker's stamp in the host letterbox's journal (the letterbox where you leave the hitcher).
- Record the stamp of each host letterbox in the hitchhiker's journal.
This can be confusing when you're out on the trail, especially when you're with a group, so take your time and make sure that every journal is stamped accordingly.
Counting Hitchhikers That You Plant and Find
You should count each hitchhiker as a "find" in your PFX count. If you are the original creator of a hitchhiker, you can count it as one of your planted letterboxes. You should not count a hitchhiker as a plant when you leave it in a host letterbox.
If you find a hitchhiker in one of your own boxes while doing maintenance, then you may pick it up and carry it to another letterbox, recording it as a "F" in your count. Checking up on letterboxes that you've planted is a good practice and part of the letterboxing experience, so it's perfectly acceptable to give the hitcher a ride.
There's no agreement on how to record a hitchhiker that you find more than once. Some letterboxers will record it as a find, as long as it's been carried by other letterboxers to at least one other letterbox in between finds. (In other words, you can't leave a hitchhiker in a letterbox, and then come back a month later and "find" the hitchhiker in that same box.) But most letterboxers would move the hitchhiker to a new box, but not include any subsequent finds of that hitchhiker in their PFX count.
Providing Hitchhiker Status Reports
Most letterboxers enjoy hearing about the travels of their hitchhikers. If a hitchhiker includes the email address of its creator, please send a status report indicating where you found and where you left the hitchhiker. Some hitchhikers even have their own web pages where their travels are recorded.
You might also send a notice of your find to the LBNA Talk List or the Letterbox Travellers List (even though travelers and hitchhikers are not exactly the same thing). Though you may tell your fellow letterboxers on the list where you found the hitchhiker, do not announce where you left it. That might spoil the surprise for the next visitor to the box.
Conducting Maintenance on a Hitchhiker
As with letterboxes, you may occasionally find a hitchhiker that's in need of maintenance. It could be as simple as replacing the plastic bags protecting the hitchhiker, or it might be more complicated, such as drying out a rain-soaked journal. It's usually okay to make minor maintenance and repairs to a hitchhiker; in fact, it's bad form to knowingly replace a damaged hitchhiker. If the hitchhiker is in really poor shape, or if the journal is completely full, then contact the creator to seek advice. It might be time for the hitchhiker to be retired and/or returned to the creator.
Dropping Off a Hitchhiker
Hitchhikers and letterboxes come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes the two are incompatible. If you carry a hichhiker to a new letterbox and find that it doesn't fit inside or in the box's hiding place, then don't leave the hitcher behind or record it in the letterbox log. Instead, carry it with you to the next letterbox you find.
It's fine to leave a hitchhiker in a letterbox it's already visited, but remember that the whole point of a hitchhikers is to see how many different boxes it can visit. It might be more fun to drop off the hichhiker at your next letterbox find instead.