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I picked this book up from my local library completely on a whim. I had never heard of Paul Smith and I'm not a twitter user but it seemed like such an unusual travel story I couldn't pass it by.
The basic idea is that Paul Smith, a twitter enthusiast trying to make it as a freelance writer after beginning his career in radio is stood in his local Tescos (other supermarkets are available) when he has a crazy idea. Would it be possible for him to travel across the world relying totally on the support (physical, emotional and financial) of other twitter users? Would he be able to make it from his family home in Newcastle to the point physically the furthest he could get from his front door - Campbell Island, off the southern coast of New Zealand? Swept away by the excitment of it all he set up a twitter page and blog for the occasion and cautiously told his wife of five days (!!!) what he was planning. Far from expecting the public to just finance a free holiday for him, he did it in he name of Charity:water and planned to raise £3000 for them during the trip. The surge of interest and support that followed was incredible and before he knew it he was leaving New Castle on the adventure of his life. If it wasn't already difficult enough, he had a time limit of 30 days and a number of self imposed rules to follow. His supporters had to be relied upon to provide ferry crossings, coach trips, flights and places to stay. If a suitable offer didn't present itself it would be game over and if only one offer came up he had to take it no matter what it was or where it would take him. The trip hung in the balance the whole way and relied entirely on the generosity and openness of friends and strangers alike.
The book is the day by day account of the adventure including the run up and the return journey. I won't reveal how far he gets because that would ruin it for you. The thrill of the book is following the highs and lows. The good days and the days he thinks hell never make it. The days full of laughter and new friends and the days where more than anything he wishes he was home.
I cried, I burst out laughing and it has heightened my already existing plans to travel anywhere I get the opportunity. I sped through it and especially like that he has included genuine tweets that were exchanged at the time. A heart warming and reassuring account of all the good people that are still out there despite what the papers tell us and a huge world just begging to be explored it'd be an awful shame if you missed out. Read immediately!
This review is of the paperback book "Twitchhiker - How One Man Travelled the World" by Paul Smith. It is the true story of the author's attempts to travel around the world relying only on Twitters users to help him with his travel and accommodation.
The author, Paul Smith, had worked in radio production for over ten years before deciding that the management position he had risen to involved rather too much office politics for his liking. A combination of recalling his joys of reading travel authors such as Pete McCarthy and discovering the Internet site Twitter had given him an idea for a new challenge.
Smith set himself the challenge, whilst day-dreaming of travelling by relying on people he hadn't yet met on Twitter and to see how far around the world he could get in 30 days. As Smith wrote about his thoughts, "it was the most ridiculous, least violent thought I'd had in the past hour, and I had absolutely no excuse not to attempt it".
This was the basis for Smith's charity expedition and he set himself some simple rules. He would only use Twitter to find accommodation and travel, he could plan his travels no more than three days in advance, he could only pay for food, drink or things that would fit into his small case and he'd chose his favourite option but if there was only one option he'd take that. He would go for 30 days, but would have to stop if he failed to find someone on Twitter to make him travel or accommodation offers.
Without giving too much away of how his travels went, they were in generally successful in terms of destinations, he not only got to the United States but appeared on national television in front of millions, he crossed Europe and managed to get to the other side of the world by reaching New Zealand. At times he rather relied on commercial enterprises to fund his travels, which took away a little from the personal acts of kindness and generosity, but this didn't spoil the adventure.
The message that comes from the book however wasn't to me the experiences themselves, as many of these were quite mundane and simply about the practicalities of travelling. What you won't find in this book are a list of sights to see around the world, as the planning of the adventure rather precluded any opportunity to see the more traditional tourist sites that could be seen.
The fact that much of the book is about the practicalities of travelling doesn't though take away from the travels, because what the book does allow readers to do is to dream of the adventures that they too could have, and the experiences which could be achieved. Smith was not a celebrity or backing his venture with thousands of pounds, he was just an average user of an Internet site, showing what can be done by anyone.
I found the author's style very readable and engaging, and I was genuinely interested to see both how the offers of accommodation were received, and how he got on with those adventures. There was the risk at any stage that the adventure would end, and the project would fail at an early point, and although it's clear to readers that didn't happen, the fact it might does add some emphasis and interest to the book.
There is a very positive glow to the book as well insomuch as that it is a reminder that very many people want to help others, and introduce them to their culture. That in itself is a warming thought, and given that the author was someone that I warmed to and wanted to succeed, it combined to make an interesting travel book from a number of angles.
The paperback's ISBN is 9781849530743 and the book was published by Summersdale in August 2010. The book is 320 pages long and retails for 8.99 pounds, and is currently available new on Amazon for 7.04 pounds including postage. Second copies are currently available on Amazon for around 4.50 pounds including postage.
As an aside, and because this review is for the paperback book version, it is disappointing to see that the publisher is charging 6.39 for the Kindle edition, a saving of just 65p from the printed edition. Although there are different VAT rates (books are zero-rated, e-books aren't) many publishers have recently taken a more realistic view of pricing to make it fairer. Given this book was about an Internet site, the pricing point of the e-book seems rather high, especially as Summersdale publishers claim to have a long history in publishing e-books.
However, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, both in terms of being an interesting story, but also as a reminder of how anyone can plan an adventure of their own, and that there are people around the world who will help in such endeavours. An interesting book, and recommended.
Twitchhiker is a travel book with a contemporary spin. The twitchhiker is actually a Englishman called Paul Smith. With a background in radio, he subsequently became a freelance journalist with a specialism in procrastination. He was also a big fan of the social networking site Twitter*, which would figure, as Twitter is a good way to waste time. One day Paul had an idea whilst shopping in Tesco, but unlike most of us who have ideas and dreams, he followed through. His idea was to travel the world through the goodwill of fellow Twitter users. He worked out that Campbell Island off of New Zealand was the geographically opposite land mass to his home in Gateshead. He decided to leave in a month and sat down to work out some rules (and to work out how to tell his wife of four days that he was about to go off to see how far round the world he could get in 30 days and leave her with their two sons).
The rules of twitchhiker were thus:
1. Only accept offers of travel and accommodation from people on Twitter
2. Can only make travel plans no further than three days in advance
3. Can only spend money on food, drink and anything that fits into his suitcase
4. If there is more than one offer, he can choose. If there is only one, it has to be taken up within 48 hours
5. If unable to move on from a location in 48 hours, the challenge is over and he goes home.
From here on in you get a detailed, personal account of the highs and lows of Paul's epic 30 day indirect journey as he tries to get to New Zealand. On this journey Paul addresses his own flaws and problems frankly and honestly. He is always polite but honest about his hosts and those that assist him in other ways (some of which are quite eccentric), and I was quite impressed with the variety of people prepared to go out of their way to assist a complete stranger off the internet, sometimes offering their sofas, a ride in their cars and even using their personal funds to become part of a small, internet phenomenon. Overall I think there is a 'feel-good' undercurrent to Paul's story, however circuitous the journey (both in the physical and emotional sense). He took some flack for his actions from across the world (and he mentions it here), but he does not dwell on the negatives or the arguments of his detractors. In spite of the low points he has whilst he is away, he manages to accentuate the positives for the most part and embraces the opportunity and challenge that he has set himself. Paul's writing style comes across as a friendly narrative, it is not pompous or arrogant, but humble and humorous. Each day is a chapter and each chapter has varying sized chunks of text covering his on-line and human interaction and all-round feelings and thoughts. For someone like myself, who rarely has the opportunity to read for an extended period, it is great to have these natural breaks, and I think this also makes the book good for shorter journeys where you may get interrupted. My paperback has 332 pages so it is not a bulky book either, I personally found I got through it very quickly. If you are looking for a travel book full of evocative passages and romantic descriptions of places then this isn't the one for you. Paul rarely gets much sightseeing done, sometimes seeing only hotels, railway stations or planes, but if you are looking for a light, funny read with a difference than I don't hesitate to recommend it. In my opinion, Paul didn't come across as greedy or ungrateful for this opportunity, as some critics may claim. He raised money for charity and went to hell and back (not literally - hell is one place he didn't go to!) in order to see his brainchild through as far as he could, which is quite inspirational. I don't think you need to be a Twitter user to appreciate what he did.
* For those unfamiliar with Twitter or have been living on the moon, Twitter is a kind of social networking site, launched in 2006, where you post messages of up to 140 characters in real time to your 'followers' who can they respond or forward ('re-tweet') your message to other registered users.