9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2010
If you've ever found yourself cooking up a great plan or adventure whilst taking your morning shower, only to find after weeks or months of procrastination that someone else has executed your grand idea, then you must read this book. Why? Because here is a man who had the guts to follow through.
The aim is singular: Paul Smith is to travel from Newcastle in the UK to Campbell Island near New Zealand. Yet the method is beautifully incomplete: By his own rules, he must advance his journey exclusively through travel and accommodation offers from people on Twitter. He's not allowed to plan more than three days in advance, and his own money may be spent on food and drink only. If he receives just one offer for the next stage of his trip, he's obliged to take it. If there's more than one, he can choose.
There is a point in the book where Smith compares his story to a Choose Your Own Adventure tale, where the reader controls the outcome by making choices at key stages in the book ("If you want Jim to get on the train and follow the man with the suspicious-looking hat, go to page 13"). I remember lapping up these novels as a teenager, and at a basic level this "crowd-sourcing of the plot" idea might explain the child-like fascination and blind trust displayed by the random strangers who helped shape his unpredictable journey through public "@replies" on Twitter.
Luckily the parallel with these novels stops there. Unlike those relics of teenage nostalgia, Smith's book has the feel of a rounded, well-crafted novel and it proceeds at a satisfying pace that makes it hard to put down.
You don't need to be a social media enthusiast to enjoy it. Although the book exposes the brilliant possibilities that open-ended Twitter communications embody, the tool itself is no more than that: It is a means to an end.
For me, the book is much more about human nature and our collective desire to transcend the mundane in order to become part of something big and meaningful. We're genetically programmed for it, and so are the wonderful characters Smith meets along the way. From high-flying middle-aged German entrepreneurs through ageing Californian hipsters to no-nonsense patriotic Kiwis; each had their individual motivation for helping out, but the common thread was simple: Here is someone doing something that people will talk about, and I want to be a part of it.
Smith's biggest achievement is to portray himself as a fallible character. One of the back cover reviews calls him a "true British eccentric", but I think it misses the point. The real power of this tale lies in Smith's exposition of his own fears, misconceptions and faults without sounding annoyingly woeful or pretentiously self-effacing.
We don't need to be "eccentrics" to do great things. Normal people with mortgages, kids, demanding jobs and personal weaknesses can do so too. And for every critic or detractor there will be ten people offering encouragement and support, because they see in the adventurer a courage that, possibly, they find lacking in themselves.
I must confess that I have a certain prejudice against lad-ish humour and witty pop culture references, and whilst reading the first few chapters I feared these might derail the book. But I was wrong, firstly because they are used sparingly and sensibly, but ultimately because I bought into Smith as an individual, and such references naturally become part of his character. By page 40 I found myself willing him towards success.
If you're long on ideas but short in motivation, then buy this book. It's a brilliant portrayal of a simple fact: The best way to get things done is not through pondering and analysing, but through getting up and doing something about it. The details have a way of working themselves out along the way.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2010
Thoroughly enjoyable. A really brilliant, unique idea which like all good ideas is fantastically simple. Could it ever work? The fact that it did tells you more about the true spirit of human nature than the technology behind it all. The book really takes you alongside Paul through every moment and emotion of the adventure. It gets tough going in the middle when you just feel that despite his good intentions, he's just hating it. But then a moment arrives when the clouds clear and he really starts loving it. A great account of what really must have been a fantastic adventure. The fact that no one with a twitter account has done anything even remotely unique since pretty much sums up the idea, and Paul.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This book is highly rewarding on a number of levels; first, it's an eccentric and humorous read, second, it's testimony to the positive aspects of human nature and generosity, and thirdly, the journey it recounts raised a lot of money for a very worthy charity.
Filled with humour, this is the extraordinary tale of Paul Smith, aka Twitchhiker, attempting to travel from Newcastle to the opposite point on the earth, Campbell Island, some way of the southern tip of New Zealand's South Island, using only offers of transport and hospitality from members of Twitter. It's a bit like Tony Hawks' trip around Ireland, only on a bigger scale and without the fridge (see Round Ireland with a Fridge). It is quite simply, a brilliant idea; eccentric, adventurous, and exploiting social networking for assistance. The journey is, unsurprisingly, filled with many surprises, interesting characters, detours, parties and of course, difficulties; these range from funny situations regarding clean clothes and the like, to more serious ones, as the author recounts with openness how he misses his family and how his bipolar disorder affects him.
The many people across the world who help Smith are a testament to human good nature, generosity of time a spirit and a desire to be part of something quite mad. There are rich business people, large companies, poor couples and families, journalists, old people, young people, experienced travellers, all sorts really, and they're all willing to help. From offers of a sofa for the night, to paying for a long flight, or driving Smith for many hours, these are people who are warm-spirited with a sense of curiosity and adventure.
Finally, the large sum raised for charity: water adds another dimension to reinforce the good nature of this tale; thanks to Smith's efforts, the charity has not only received important donations, but also lots of publicity.
A great read, funny, encouraging and energetic.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 2010
This book is addictive. As I turned the pages I felt I was by Paul Smith's side on his amazing journey. Each page seemed to make me smile (and indeed often laugh out loud!!) with his honest and brilliant style. A real 'feel good' book, laced with the anticipation of 'Will anyone respond?...How will he get to America?...Will he get a bed for the night?..Could he be kidnapped and never heard of again???..this book makes you realise that there really are fantastic, kind, generous, people out there, beyond your own back yard. This book will make you want to pack your bag, explore new places, meet new people, taste new foods and indeed have afew cheeky bevvies on the way. I dare you not to enjoy this book!!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2010
Twitchhiker is the tale of an ordinary man who had (a) an extraordinary idea and (b) the courage of his convictions to make it happen. Like a 21st century version of Around The World In Eighty Days' Phileas Fogg, Paul Smith decided to undertake an incredible journey, travelling - literally - to the other side of the world, his destination being Campbell Island, a point diametrically opposed to his starting point of Newcastle. Aiming to complete his trip within 30 days, his self-imposed rules stated that he could only use transportation provided and funded by fellow users of the microblogging service Twitter. In other words, his objective was to travel to the other side of the globe relying solely on the kindness of strangers.
If you aren't familiar with this social networking tool, it is essentially a platform which allows you to share updates of up to 140 characters which can be read by any other user. These could be Facebook-like status updates ("Good morning! Stuck on the M4 again"), conversations with another user, weblinks, photos or relevant news. Its detractors point to it being just another way for self-promoting narcissists to broadcast the minutiae of their lives, but Twitter has notably become the fastest way to engage with friends with shared interests (or followers, in Twitter's terminology), or to disseminate news around the world, from the Iranian elections to the emergency plane landing on the Hudson. Personally, I love it - it is my front-line for information-gathering, making 'traditional' push media like email alerts or RSS feeds feel positively cumbersome by comparison.
Smith's grand expedition underlines the sense of community and altruism which exists in this virtual world. Friends, acquaintances and complete strangers come together, Pay It Forward-style, to move him from the UK to the European mainland, and from there to the US east coast. Fellow tweeters pay for Greyhound bus tickets and drive him across the country to a chance meeting with the actress Liv Tyler at a Hollywood party, and from there to New Zealand, where he falls heartbreakingly short of his final objective (Campbell Island being both one of the most remote and difficult to reach locations anywhere on Earth and a UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site on account of its endangered sub-Antarctic fauna).
And I do not say 'heartbreaking' lightly, for while Smith recounts the events of his trip with a deft, frequently wry touch, the man and his mission draw you in emotionally so that you feel you are right there with him every step of the way. This is more than your common-or-garden semi-serious/semi-humorous travel book - it is a journey, in every possible sense.
Over and over again, his adventure demonstrates the capacity of Twitter as a force for great good, eliciting acts of charity in the most unlikely of circumstances, and for facilitating serendipitous events, aligning the orbits of loose acquaintances or like-minded strangers in distant locations around the world - genuine 'social networking', if you will. In real time, the Twitchhiker's voyage captured the imagination of all those people who provided their help and support. Reading Smith's account more than a year after the events in question, it captured mine too. A rollicking good read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2010
This book is competently written but it is the story itself which is spellbounding.
To get from Newcastle in the north east of England to New Zealand in thirty days
without paying for a thing is simply amazing. I read the book in two sittings and at the end I just sat and reflected that truly the world is a very small place.
And also, if you are willing to test yourself a bit you will be surprised by,not only, what you will find, but also what you will find out about yourself.
I certainly would recommend to anyone that they should read this book. Enjoy
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 December 2014
It is probably something to do with my age . I enjoy reading travel books , finding out a bit about the author and the way they tick , About their interactions with the people they encounter on the journey , their descriptions of the places they travel to and their reactions to these places . I don't do social media and I thought this would be an enjoyable change , to have one's journey dictated by others . I was seduced into thinking this was a good example of travel writing by the many positive reviews .
It is true that I was to learn something about the author . Let me just say his haphazard approach to life did and general angst not inspire me .
The journey , as far as I got , was not the most well observed and experiential . Amsterdam just enough time to change transport . Paris for 2-3 days , what could have been but wasn't because he had to spend all his time work , twitter , blog ...... At this stage I was beginning to think WHY !! Let's face it , if you are going to go on a world journey , why are you not enjoying the world you are going to see ?
The train journey to Saarbrucken just about finished me off . '....rural France came into view , a patchwork quilt of farmed land with a handful of towns scattered here and there . ' Real riveting description eh what !!
So he got to The States and then should he / shouldn't he just keep on flying ?
Enough is enough . It might have been more interesting if I'd actually found the humour reviewers had promised me .
Maybe its something to do with my age . I remember telegrams . ' GOT TO PG 104 .STOP.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 December 2011
Jules Verne's Phileas Fogg meets Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but unlike these fictional masterpieces Twitchhiker is all true!
I didn't know what to expect with this book. What I received was many laugh-out-loud moments but also a poignant and emotional story told with self-depreciating humour by protagonist Paul Smith.
My fear was that this could be a travel journal but Paul's unique journey and writing style create a multi-layered real-life story. At the society level we see how communities can be mobilized in the virtual and real world behind a good cause (charity:water), how friendships are created and perhaps most poignantly what family means to a man who for 30 days leaves his wife and twins in the North East of England to go on this adventure to other side of the world with only strangers on Twitter to guide him and physically assist him. He set-out with his strict rules and stubbornly refuses to break any of them even if this takes him to the brink of failure and often very awkward and amusing situations. With his open engaging style Paul builds rapport and personal relationship with the reader; I was eagerly willing him on to the next stage!
Social media is a huge topic in society but in many ways I understood more in these humble pages than much of the hype out there. A social network is no more than the community that uses it. Paul shows that creating a purpose with creativity and imagination can stimulate and mobilize people and is a real lesson of how to create real purpose, a refreshing change to much of the reactiveness and apathy that exists on much of today's celebrity focused social media.
Finally, any virtual community requires an element of physicality to exist and Paul discovers that as he travels into the thinly dispersed population in the beautiful mountain ranges of New Zealand's South Island, but he also uncovers how in the USA small communities can be much stronger and passionate than many of the biggest cities.
A great adventure, wonderfully narrated by Paul Smith; I look forward to hearing his next crazy idea!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2010
Twitchhiker is a travel book with a contemporary spin. Paul Smith, a freelance journalist, with a specialism in procrastination. He was also a big fan of the social networking site Twitter. 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 were fairly simple but still gave him a challenge.
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 passages 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. 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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 August 2010
I remember Paul's adventure well - I followed it day by day on Twitter last year, after his initial announcement of the idea when we all told him he was quite mad. He still is of course, but is now quite mad having travelled the globe in 30 days at the mercy of strangers ;) As an avid Twitter fan I knew many kind and generous folks at home and further afield, but still the idea of travelling via their kindness alone was an ambitious and scary one - we genuinely never knew if he'd make it home in one piece. Friends and I put our heads together to see how we could help, and so my 'mongrel figurine' and I (it was a pig, dear readers) waved him off on the first leg. His words to us before departure were something along the lines of 'this may be the last time anyone sees me alive' and 'I may have soiled my pants' with a cheeky but evidently nervous smile.
Those of us who followed his journey never imagined it would end up in a book, but I for one am glad it did. It's a fantastic tale full of details he never even touched upon at the time, full of the incredible highs and the inevitable but surprising lows, but with a lot of personal insight and depth I frankly wasn't expecting. It's this depth and honesty that gives the book its addictive and human quality - I read it cover to cover in 36 hours. Page 62 had me chuckling, 124 had me in tears, and the rest of the book was a rollercoaster of unrepeatable adventures (Liv Tyler!), heartache and missing underpants that I couldn't put down. (The book, not the underpants!)
It's funny, it's heart-warming, but most of all it's real. Even for someone who was involved with and followed the adventure from the start, the book is still a brilliant read. I hope it inspires everyone to at least act upon those mad, impossible ideas once in a while...