x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The Twitchhiker's guide to free global travelling

The British freelance writer Paul Smith has managed to get himself to New Zealand and back by relying on the kindness of fellow Twitterers.

The "Twitchhiker," Paul Smith, in New Zealand.
The "Twitchhiker," Paul Smith, in New Zealand.

The British freelance writer Paul Smith has become the first person to travel half-way around the world on Twitter. Smith, who considers himself to be an ordinary person with "no track record in attempting extraordinary feats", succeeded in travelling for 30 days, relying on the kindness of Twitter followers. Dubbing himself the "Twitchhiker", Smith vowed not to pay for transport or accommodation during the month of travel, instead relying on offers of help from Twitter users. Smith also decided to not plan anything more than three days in advance and to spend no longer than 48 hours in any one place.

He made his goal the farthest point on the other side of the world from Britain - a knuckle of rock called Campbell Island, several hundred miles off the southern tip of New Zealand. The most important restriction was this: Smith couldn't ask Twitter users for specific help. It was up to them to offer assistance and decide his route. When he accepted an offer, he would arrange to meet the sender to pick up his ticket. This meant the fate of his travels was entirely in the hands of Twitter followers.

Within two days of announcing his idea and intended destination online, Twitchhiker became headline news in New Zealand. The British comedian, writer and presenter Stephen Fry heard of the journey and asked his tens of thousands of followers to help Smith's travels. Smith's adventure inspired extraordinary acts of kindness from Twitter users around the world. Followers gave what they had, from a compliance manager for Siemens who used his airmiles to buy Smith a one-way ticket from Frankfurt to New York, to a couple in Pittsburgh who had lost everything in a fire but still shared their home with a stranger.

Although he got as far as New Zealand, Smith never made it to Campbell Rock - but at least Fly Air New Zealand's Twitter account offered to transport him home.