One man's attempt to travel the globe in 30 days, depending solely on the generosity of strangers through Twitter
There were five rules of Twitchhiker. I can only accept offers of travel and accommodation from people on Twitter. I can't make any travel plans further than three days in advance. I can only spend money on food, drink and anything that might fit in my suitcase. If there is more than one offer, I choose which I take. If there is only one, I have to take it within 48 hours. If I am unable to find a way to move on from a location within 48 hours, the challenge is over and I go home.
Bored in the bread aisle of the supermarket one day, Paul Smith wondered how far he could get around the world in 30 days through the goodwill of users of social networking site Twitter. At the mercy of these rules, he set his sights on New Zealand—the opposite point on the planet to his home in Newcastle, England. All he had to do next was explain the idea to his new wife. In an adventure wrapped in nonsense, he traveled by road, boat, plane, and train; slept in five-star luxury and on no-star floors; schmoozed with Hollywood A-listers; and was humbled by the generosity of the thousands who followed his journey and determined its course.
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Paul Smith is a former Sony award–winning radio producer and now edits websites, blogs, and builds iPhone applications.
Read an Excerpt
By Paul Smith
Summersdale Publishers LtdCopyright © 2010 Paul Smith
All rights reserved.
It was quiet and still, the very dead of night when the dead themselves might consider turning in, and I had no business being awake. I'd deprived my body of a full night's sleep for a fortnight, occasionally through choice but mostly through circumstance. This time, however, I was of the unshakeable belief that the blame rested squarely with the mattress.
Despite the name, a folding bed shares few genes with its everyday equivalent, even when it's one provided by a Hilton hotel. Such mattresses are more a bucketful of rusty, tired springs thrown into a sack of damp dust. One spring in particular was attempting to puncture my torso, but I denied the wicked implement its blood-letting and instead sat up to peek through the curtains. Like any city centre in the pre dawn hours, Austin was motionless, save for the occasional flicker of headlights straying between the building blocks. The Texan capital gazed back at the twelfth floor of the Hilton and recoiled in horror at the haggard bald head at the window.
'Nearly time to get up, mate.'
The voice belonged to the previously unmentioned Norwegian gentleman in the room. He was also in bed; not mine, but a real bed several feet away, with its real pillows and real mattress, plump with goose feathers and unicorn hair and kittens. There was still time to kill him and claim it. I thumbed at my mobile phone; the display momentarily blinded me. Half past five, it blared. No point resorting to murder and spoiling the sheets when we were due to receive a phone call any minute. And we did.
'Hi Paul,' said a man called Syd, a television producer. 'Good night's sleep?'
'Yes,' I lied.
'Awesome. We're just about set up for you down here.'
'We're nearly ready,' I lied again, standing in full view of Austin with my left testicle hanging out of my boxer shorts. 'We'll see you shortly.'
A hot shower massaged out the knot between my shoulders but did little to soothe the one in my stomach. I rooted through my bag for a set of clothes that didn't look like they'd been stuffed in a wrestler's thong for a week, and pulled out a red T-shirt I'd promised to wear for the occasion. The socks had been worn for only two consecutive days and so were reasonably fresh, and a woman called Cindy had donated a three-pack of boxer shorts in a Wichita car park two days earlier. Choosing what pair of trousers to wear was even less problematic, since one of the three pairs I'd packed was some 1,600 kilometres distant in a Chicago hotel, possibly still in the wardrobe where I'd hung them five days before.
'Come on then,' said Matt, the previously unnamed Norwegian gentleman with his previously unmentioned Cheshire accent. 'Let's see you make a daft sod of yourself for the camera.'
The first time Matt and I met was in the very same hotel, twenty-four hours earlier. I'd agreed to bed down in his room barely twelve hours before that. We'd been perfect strangers less than two days ago, yet there we were accompanying one another along silent corridors to the elevator, where we descended to the ground floor and tiptoed through reception to the lobby bar. The previous evening's drunken roars from twenty-somethings in ironic T-shirts were replaced by the sound of a three-man production crew tearing duct tape to secure snakes of cable across the floor. A light stronger than the Texan sun singled out a chair in the centre of the room. Syd the producer gestured to me to sit down and stare into the light, while I sneaked a mic and an earpiece under my T-shirt to my neckline.
'Morning, Paul. You're looking really fresh today,' an excitable voice crackled into my ear. The owner of the voice had the all-American name Ted Winner, and he was a television producer talking to me from Times Square in New York City. 'Thanks again for doing this so early on a Sunday!'
'You're very welcome,' I lied once more as the cameraman bothered my face with powder. 'Just out of interest, how many people will be watching this?'
Through my earpiece, the disembodied voice of Ted suggested the sort of number scientists fling about with dizzy recklessness when describing how many stars populate the galaxy, or the number of atoms in a wheel of cheese. That couldn't be right. He must have meant thousands. Or tens. The situation really wasn't making any sense. I couldn't discern a) what I was doing out of bed so early on a Sunday, b) why anybody else would be up at the same time, unless they were on fire, and c) why these people cared to interview me when viewers could no doubt be watching a non-stop CSI marathon on another channel.
'Bloody hell, really?' was my considered response. 'Were you having a slow news day?'
'Hey, you're big news, Paul. We're really lucky to have you.' Flattery will get you everywhere, I thought, except at ten to six on a Sunday morning.
'Nervous?' asked Ted.
'More so now you've asked the question,' I replied.
'Don't worry, you'll be fine.'
I was about to be beamed into the homes of several million viewers on ABC's Good Morning America, live from Austin, Texas. A fortnight ago, I was burning Yorkshire puddings in my kitchen, nearly 8,000 kilometres away in the north-east of England. In the space of fourteen days my world had become a blur of travel, of trusting strangers with my life, and there were plenty more moments of suspended reality to follow. I would go on to woo A-list celebrities, have film stars ejected from VIP lounges and gaze across the greatest natural beauty on earth — all while wearing the same pair of underpants.
How the hell did I get here?CHAPTER 2
When we resign from a job that has made us progressively ill, miserable or mad as hell to the point of wanting to punch a nun, we pray the management will realise the error of their ways and beg us to stay. We hope the boss will break down in floods of tears, fall on their knees and wrap their arms tightly around our legs with childlike abandonment of shame, plead with us to reconsider, and offer more money than can be stuffed into a reasonably sized duffel bag.
We dream to be irreplaceable, indispensable, we want to be that vital cog in the corporate machine, to know our departure will bring about the end of days for the company and see those responsible burn in a festering trough of their own faeces, while we laugh heartily and skip into the golden sunshine of our future, having stuck it to The Man good and proper.
What we don't wish to observe under any circumstance is our line manager stand up and point at the door while screaming spittle into our face in a manner similar to Donald Sutherland during the finale of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Or appear so unmoved by proceedings we question why they hired us in the first place. Or perform any other act which serves to reinforce how utterly worthless and pathetically inconsequential our contribution to the company has been.
Given the choice between these two scenarios, it'll come as no surprise whatsoever when you learn which one greeted my decision to exit a twelve-year career in the radio industry.
I developed a crush on radio when I was fourteen, while my friends were developing a taste for illicit sips of Diamond White, as well as still-developing girls. I didn't manage to kiss the fairer sex until I was seventeen, by which time several of my classmates were fathers; I'd become far too occupied with loafing about in hospital radio to waste time going tops-up. Wearing my dad's blazer and sharing the occasional can of Kestrel Super Strength with Adrian Taylor in the abandoned yards and wynds of Darlington town centre was the height of my recklessness.
As my affair with radio blossomed, my interest in academia evaporated; after two months at Leeds University studying physics with astrophysics, it was patently obvious that a) I cared little for a career as a rocket scientist, and b) I was never going to get laid if I kept studying it. I abandoned my degree and set about carving out a career at my local radio station, beginning as an unpaid dogsbody and quickly progressing to unpaid lackey. I also dabbled in on-air presenting but my brain ran at twice the speed of my mouth and I would constantly trip over my words. It was immensely gratifying, though; in the same breath I had an idea, it would spill out into the microphone.
I became friends with a local musician call Jon Kirby, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, happy-go-lucky character, full of jokes and laughter and reputed owner of Darlington's largest collection of Razzle back issues, and who'd enjoyed modest chart success with north-east band Dubstar. Jon soon became a regular guest on the evening show I presented, and together we critiqued new releases. Perhaps our most insightful review was of the debut single by an unknown group called the Spice Girls, who'd perfected the sonic imitation of a bag of cats having their backs shaved. We didn't hesitate in ruling out any future success for girl power. You just can't buy that sort of intuition.
Those were heady days, when indie ruled the charts, England discovered they could play football again (so long as you were content with not winning anything), and I was a very minor personality after appearing on page eleven of the Darlington and Stockton Times. In the decade that followed, I whored myself at another ten radio stations up and down the country, as a radio producer, programmer and manager. There were the stratospheric highs of scriptwriting for Johnny Vegas and Hugh Laurie, and employing Richard Bacon for a whole five weeks, and the subterranean lows of getting up early to argue with Terry Christian before, during and after his daily breakfast show on BBC local radio, but I could only ever see myself working in radio. I adored everything about it — its diversity and immediacy, its warmth and intimacy.
Meanwhile, my friend Jon had been led away from the lifestyle of the jobbing songwriter by the allure of insanely repetitive playlists, and had joined the promotions department of a local commercial station. We daydreamed of working together again, and opportunity knocked while I was a producer at the BBC in Leeds — my editor John Ryan inexplicably entrusted me with a weekly show and allowed Jon to co-host, despite having only my word that it wouldn't be a diabolical shambles.
And so, Jon and I set the controls for the heart of the sun, with a blank canvas for trying out all the nonsense we'd dreamed up over the years. Our favourite feature was undoubtedly My Mum's Better Than Your Mum, which involved quizzing one another's mother to determine who had bragging rights for the following week. It was often my mum who proved the most entertaining — partly because she would flirt outrageously with Jon, but mostly because she was and remains as mad as a barrel of monkeys:
Jon: 'Right, Sheila, question one. What animal is also a type of shoe?'
Sheila: 'What type of what?'
Sheila: '... is an animal?'
Paul: 'Is a shoe, mother. What type of animal is a shoe?'
Sheila: 'I don't think I know that.'
Jon: 'Think of Winnie the Pooh, Sheila.'
Paul: 'He always helps you, doesn't he?'
Sheila: 'I know he does.'
Paul: 'No, I said, he always helps. He always helps.'
Sheila: 'He's what?'
Paul: 'Eeyore mother, Eeyore!'
Sheila: 'Oh, Eeyore!'
Sheila: 'Is the answer donkey?'
Jon: 'Yes Sheila, the answer is the donkey shoe. Well done.'
Eventually I was offered a job managing the presenters of a regional station in the north-east of England, where I wasted no time in taking on Jon as my deputy. We'd become best friends and I trusted the man with my life — admittedly, he'd probably have some excuse about the traffic when arriving ten minutes late to save it, but he'd turn up nevertheless. We were in charge of a station that broadcast to two million people and had a very generous budget to blow, so we'd nurse beers in our favourite bars, daring to dream of a new golden age of radio that teemed with big personalities and bold ideas.
We barely got started. I horribly underestimated the demands of senior management and amount of political bullshit I'd be forced to wade through. All I wanted to do was win the audience over with exciting, engaging radio, not play games and massage egos, which meant I spent my days either in a manic whirlwind of ideas and hyperactivity, or as an impetuous, miserable child with a face like a burglar's dog.
After ten months, the role broke my spirit and my passion for radio had bled away. I never saw it coming; there wasn't a defining moment that required a defining song, just a sequence of days and then weeks that increasingly saw more bad than good. And so without much of a clue as to how I'd pay the mortgage, I resigned. My managing director, a tall lady with a demonstrable addiction to Walkers Sensations Thai Sweet Chilli flavour crisps, barely ticked the boxes one should when faced with the resignation of a senior manager. A boss should at least feign the five stages of grief for the sake of the employee, yet there was only a smattering of denial, barely a whiff of anger, precisely no bargaining, a sliver of depression, with the acceptance of the situation arriving midway through a mouthful of crisps and far too quickly for my liking. In summary, my managing director wasn't entirely arsed.
I still had to explain my decision to the group director, who arrived unexpectedly a couple of hours later. He was a man I'd admired from afar since starting out in radio; an intelligent, well-respected operator who knew plenty about the industry, but who had smothered me with a lard-doused pillow since the day I arrived. Instead of allowing me to learn from my mistakes, he saw to it that I never made any; my frustration had led to conflict and resentment.
Our meeting was short and to the point. The lack of expression or concern on his face meant I was neither going to be sorely missed nor leave in a blaze of glory. And when I spoke of my frustrations and being held back from trying my big ideas, that's when he scooped my guts out and spilt them all over the carpet:
'It's not your job to have big ideas, Paul. It's mine.'
Ouch. All the plans Jon and I had, all our schemes to ensure the station saw its day in the sun, they were never going to happen. I clenched my jaw tight, hoping the furious rage chewing at my chest wouldn't reduce me to tears.
During those final few days of bitterness and misery and blubbing like the fat girl at the end of a party, I registered on a social networking website called Twitter at five minutes past nine on the evening of 20 October 2007. My account remained largely unused for the first few weeks — I was too busy figuring out what the blithering hell I was doing with my life. I only knew that I had to be in control, so that whatever ideas I had — no matter how idiotic or likely to fail — wouldn't have to remain a daydream.
* * *
My yearning for epic adventure was aroused many years before I plucked up the courage to walk out on my radio career. In fact, I was in the bath. It was a nondescript Saturday afternoon in September 2004, and if I had become accomplished at anything by my thirtieth year on planet Earth, it was submersing myself in lukewarm water for several hours at a stretch. That, and skilfully manipulating taps with my feet. I only ever shower when I can't justify writing off half a day for a bath, or when I can smell my own body odour. Bathing, on the other hand, is an activity for gentlemen — an altogether regal luxury enhanced by a chilled glass of 1988 Krug and an eagerly anticipated hardback autobiography. Or a can of Stella Artois and the free paper.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, the lazy autumnal sunshine filtered through the patterned glaze of the bathroom window and a copy of McCarthy's Bar was perched on my belly, nervously teetering above the waterline. Pete McCarthy was reasonably well known for his series Travelog on Channel 4, and his first book sold over a million copies. McCarthy's Bar was a rudely brilliant and deeply personal account of his journey through the backwaters of rural Ireland. It was impossible to read without tumbling into love with the notion of slinging on a rucksack and exploring the Irish countryside, seeking out the truly traditional Irish pub that proved so elusive to McCarthy, rather than those that celebrate St Patrick's Day by investing in foam hats. At that point I'd only ever travelled as a teenager with my parents to the Costa Brava, and on a package holiday to Egypt, which I recalled not so fondly as being one part Indiana Jones esque temples and hieroglyphics, and two parts food poisoning and subsequent squits.
Excerpted from Twitchhiker by Paul Smith. Copyright © 2010 Paul Smith. Excerpted by permission of Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 Jul 10I actually bought this (in a 3 for 2) and am quite disappointed that I did so - I was going to offer it on a BookCrossing bookring after I'd read it, but actually I can't recommend it so I'm just going to release it.It's a topic I should like - travelling the world using only Twitter to source only free lodgings and travel, but I really didn't take to the author at all. Even though he explained the reasons for some of his behaviour, and there were some amusing scenes and interesting people depicted, it just seemed really trite and shallow, with nothing much learned except that people are generally nice, and you miss your family when you're away from them.I don't know if it being my last read of 2010 made it even more disappointing; I certainly didn't need to wait till the end of the year to construct my top ten!