An exclusive extract from Twitchhiker, following one man's travels from Newcastle to near-enough Campbell Island, New Zealand
Bored in the supermarket one day, Paul Smith wondered how far he could get in 30 days through the goodwill of users of social networking site Twitter. His first message went like this:
paul_a_smith Alright. Here we go. Everyone, I need your help on this. Please follow @twitchhiker, RT this message and read the blog at http://twitchhiker.com 12:25 PM Feb 2nd
Paul set his sights on reaching Campbell Island near New Zealand via Twitter – the opposite point of the planet to his home in Newcastle. He travelled by car, bus, boat, plane and train, slept in five-star luxury and no-star sofas, resorts to the hair of a dog in multiple time zones and schmoozes with Hollywood A-listers – all the while wearing the same pair of underpants. And when he got home, he wrote a book about it.
Twitter is a free website where people read and post little messages, sometimes called micro-blogging
Tweets are up to 140 characters long and show on the owner's profile page and on the pages of other Twitter users who have subscribed to get their messages
Twitter users who have subscribed to get other Twitter users' messages are called followers
RT stands for re-tweet. When someone repeats another twitter user's message
How one man travelled the world by Twitter
by Paul Smith
It was in the bread aisle where I finally snapped. There’d been some sort of multi-trolley pile-up, and there was no way through without cutting-gear or dynamite.
paul_a_smith It’s not a social club, people. The bread aisle is at a standstill while you reminisce how much better life used to be. Now for fuck’s sake, move. 1:19 PM Jan 31st
What was I doing in that place? I wanted to abandon my trolley, set it free and skedaddle the hell out of there. Twitter. Travel the world using Twitter, that was it. Why didn’t I go ahead and try that?How far could I circumnavigate the globe relying on people I’d never met? Was it remotely possible? How long before I ended up a torso case in a ditch?
I was going to be a Twitchhiker, and it’d be a grand adventure, an adventure wrapped in nonsense and cocooned in daft. All I had to do was explain the idea to my wife, Jane.
The wife to whom I’d been married for four whole days.
‘OK. Just put it on the calendar and let me know when you’re going.’ I looked her in the eye, held her stare for a handful of seconds. She was serious. And she was smiling. I had her blessing and that was that. And that’s why I had married her.
twitchhiker I’m neither nervous nor excited right now. Both sensations hit me in waves, like... well, waves. Sure I’ll be nervously excited soon 2:38 PM Feb 16th
Irish bookmakers Paddy Power offered odds on the likelihood of my success or failure, the odds on the latter being shorter than the shortest of Tom Thumb’s thumbs:
7/2 – Twitchhiker to reach Campbell Island within 30 days
2/1 – Twitchhiker to have to abandon his mission due to lack of support from tweeps
twitchhiker Well. I’m all yours folks. I start in Newcastle on Sunday. Can you help me get anywhere else? Can you offer me a bed for the night?
And... nothing. Nothing at all. Two or three excruciating minutes passed where all the tweets stopped, like animals sensing an imminent earthquake. Nobody would step forward.
kierondonoghue @twitchhiker I can give you a first-class ticket to London, if that’s any use? 12:03 PM Feb 26th
minxlj @twitchhiker Have you been to Amsterdam? I have an overnight ferry trip to Amsterdam for you, leaving Sunday afternoon 12:03 PM Feb 26th
Two offers appeared near-simultaneously and the crowds went wild. We were back and ready to take on the world. From the depths of despair to unwavering faith in a tweet or two. Screw Campbell Island, let’s go to the moon!
Tweeps found their voices and suddenly everyone had a sofa I could crash on, a porch I could shelter under, a floor or a spare room. It didn’t matter, there were people who wanted to help me and the prospect warmed my heart.
I’d already witnessed the wild beauty of Piha to the west of Auckland, but the voyage across the Cook Strait into Picton was breathtaking, and not because of the smell.
Now, that may appear to be a lazy description and indeed, breathtaking is a word that is overused to describe everyday, mundane occurrences that do no such thing. Trust me when I say the sight of dolphins jumping across the path of the ferry while travelling through the forested magnifi cence of the Marlborough Sounds caused my jaw to loosen and my lungs to be gently squeezed empty of air.
twitchhiker Dolphins are jumping across the bow of the ferry. This place is like nowhere else. It’s so wondrous I could cry. I won’t, obviously 4:37 PM Mar 25th
I did, obviously, but I wasn’t going to admit it. It was quite the most magnifi cent, serene, perfect spectacle and it moved me to tears with little effort.
twitchhiker In Bunkers hostel on Stewart Island. Dutch girl picks Rock Anthems CD to play in lounge. Track 1 – The Final Countdown. The end is the beginning 6:09 PM Mar 27th
Being back on the mainland after my brief sojourn on the island meant two things – a plentiful supply of Internet access and mobile reception. And the former had good news for me:
fl yairnz @twitchhiker – we will fl y you home! 5:37 PM Mar 28th
Thank you thank you thank you. I’d secretly hoped somebody might see me fill a spare seat on a fl ight to the UK, but I hadn’t been banking on it. There wasn’t a plan B since I didn’t have the funds to see myself home; perhaps plan B was to twitchhike back the way I came.