HYDERABAD: Amidst a clatter of abandoned trolleys, 33-year-old Paul Smith, a social media junkie, found himself bored in a supermarket on a Saturday and wondered how far he can get in 30 days, while wishing to be somewhere else under azure skies. That’s when Smith turned his daydream into the adventurous journey of his life. He travelled seven countries in 30 days, using only social media tool twitter and help of its users.
At 40, Smith is a twichhiker, start up advisor, writer, blogger and author of a bestselling book. He takes time to talk to Hyderabad Express and share what he learnt on his journey.
How did twitchhiker become your alter ego?
I was already working with startups and my work entailed using extensive use of Twitter. So I think twitchhiker, by then had become my alter ego. And as for the idea, it came at a time when I was extremely frustrated and was not happy in life. I started thinking what it would be like to be somewhere else and not this Dearton place where I was .
I think you were brave. Did you feel that way during the tour?
I was nervous and scared. I wasn’t scared of meeting strangers. The problem was that I didn’t know where I would go next. I would travel for 12 hours and then not know what my next destination would be! But in hindsight, I can say that this helped me to become adventurous and I learnt that people are kind.
What was need for the three rules of twitchhiking?
I realised that when you set out to do something like this, you have to be transparent. The rules were partly for my benefit – to make sure I didn’t become complacent, or linger in one place too long – and also for the audience watching, to make sure it was exciting!
And you also got Stephen Fry to bail you out.
Not so much – I was heading through the US Mid-West and I had no help waiting for me; two people who’d connected on Twitter because they both liked Stephen Fry – one in the UK, on in the US – got together to make sure I wasn’t stranded by spreading the word. So in a sense, Stephen Fry did save me!
Do you think your expedition will motivate people to change the way they travel or backpack currently?
No, I think people will always find their own way to have adventures that suits them. I was lucky to have an adventure that suited me!
Lessons you learnt during those 30 days.
I learnt that the world isn’t so big and scary – we’re told there’s a lot of bad in the world, but that’d because it’s the bad news that makes the headlines. It’d be pretty boring just to talk about people being nice to each other and getting on with life. There are lots of people in the world willing to help you if you’re lost.
You relied solely on Tweeps. Did you have a backup plan in mind if you had faced a situation wherein if you didn’t have access to internet and thus couldn’t reach out to your potential helpers.
Not really – the rules said if I couldn’t get help or move on, I had to go home. It kept things interesting.
When did you decide that you wanted to pen a book on detailing your expedition?
The story of Twitchhiker was still very popular on Twitter six months after I finished travelling. One day, a publisher saw tweets about it and got in touch. It was never the plan to write a book.
I bet you were not really surprised when The Twitchhiker became a bestseller.
I was very surprised! Most books by first-time authors only sell a few hundred copies. Twitchhiker has sold thousands around the world! I’m lucky that people like the story and the concept.
Please tell me a little about the charity work you have undertaken.
I raised money for Charity: Water as I travelled – I wanted some good to come out the trip if the world was going to help me. And it worked – the trip raised money to help build two wells for villages.
What brings you to Hyderabad?
I’m very proud to be a founding advisor for Spark10, an accelerator programme that helps early-stage tech startups build better, stronger, smarter businesses.
When can we expect to see your alter ego again?
He’s retired for now. But never say never :)
- Philosophy in life: Be kind. Give first.
- Advice to backpackers: Be safe, but be brave!
- Most memorable moment during the trip:
- Travelling through New Zealand.
- Inspiration: Meeting and working with people smarter than me.
- What next: Work with the teams at Spark10 and help Hyderabad’s tech scene shine!