x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Students provide lesson in budget travel

Two British university students set out with no money or travel tickets and get all the way to Abu Dhabi's Corniche as part of a charity stunt.

ABU DHABI // It was a trip that gave new meaning to the phrase "economy class". James Pollock and Lulu Earle set out from a snow-covered green in Cambridge, England, one of nearly 100 teams in a university charity stunt. Their task: get as far as they could in 36 hours, without money or travel tickets. But it was no obstacle for the intrepid pair. The next day, they were enjoying the sights of the capital's Corniche, having covered nearly 5,500km.

They surprised even themselves. "We went from absolutely freezing cold to 25 degrees," said Mr Pollock, a politics student. "We just had backpacks with mostly warm stuff. I had a ski jacket." Friendly donors, and a combination of ingenuity and luck made the trip possible, said Ms Earle, who is studying classics. "We never expected to get that far," she said. "There were several points during our journey when we thought we weren't going to make it, but a bus let us go for free, we did some hitchhiking, and it depended a lot upon people's kindness."

The pair, both 19, raised more than £5,000 (Dh28,000) in the University of Cambridge's annual Jailbreak contest. Friends and relatives sponsored them for a set amount of money per mile travelled. Several of the nearly 100 teams failed to leave Britain. Mr Pollock and Ms Earle were among the few to get out of Europe, having raised money for their outward journeys on the first morning. They asked grocery stores in Cambridge if they could bag items for cash. Then, they hitched a ride 10 minutes south to Saffron Walden, where a supermarket allowed them to work for an hour and raise donations from customers.

"There were £10 notes, quite a few £5 notes. Two people gave us £20 notes, which was amazing," Ms Earle said. In five hours they collected around £365, enough for the outward portions of a pair of return plane tickets. Competition rules allowed them to use their own money for their return journeys. A bus to nearby Stansted airport cost £22 each. From there, they went online to book the furthest flight they could afford, ruling out Bahrain and Oman because of visa complications and timings.

Their Qatar Airways flight to Abu Dhabi left at 9am British time the next day, arriving at 11pm UAE time. Once here, the pair swapped their winter coats for swimwear and headed for the beach. During 25 hours in the capital, they visited the Emirates Palace hotel and strolled around the Madinat Zayed souqs, returning with a souvenir khandoura. "We wanted to get to Lulu Island because obviously it's my name," said Ms Earle. "But, unfortunately, we weren't able to."

To prove they had arrived, the pair swam out to the sea and sent a photograph of themselves on a pontoon. "It was my first time to the Middle East," said Mr Pollock. "I was impressed with how well-developed it was - clean, modern, very slick. "I'd never seen so many people in traditional Arabic clothing, and we even bought an outfit." While both are confident that they raised more than any other team, they did not travel the furthest in the contest. The winners reached Washington, DC - nearly 5,900km - funding their trip by performing magic tricks and speed-solving Rubik's Cubes en route.

Mr Pollock and Ms Earle took second place, just 4km further than the third-placed team, who got to Dubai. "We knew Abu Dhabi was further, so luckily we picked that and could afford it," said Ms Earle. "We had one sponsor who had sponsored us a pound per mile, so, by making it to Abu Dhabi, we tied them down to a fair bit of money," Mr Pollock said. One sponsor also pledged to match the funds they raised with an equivalent donation to earthquake relief in Haiti.

This year's competition was considered one of the most successful. Last year, teams reached New York, Athens and Budapest, and raised more than £16,000 for charities including the Alzheimer's Society, the British Red Cross, the Fund4Rwanda and the Cambridge Rape Crisis centre. mkwong@thenational.ae