Twitchhiker has New Zealand in sight
20 Mar 2009
New Zealand’s legendary hospitality will be put to a unique test next week as the world’s first ‘Twitchhiker’ continues his goal of making it around the globe relying solely on goodwill.
Twitchhiker is due to arrive in Auckland, New Zealand, early Monday (23 March) and, from then on, will be relying on Kiwi hospitality to make his visit worth writing home about.
Twitchhiker on Twitter
Paul Smith, a British freelance journalist from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, has become the world’s first ‘twitchhiker’ by using Twitter - an online social networking service - to hitch rides around to the world.
Smith came up with the novel idea of seeing how far he could travel in 30 days relying solely on the hospitality and advice of the Twitter community, while using the opportunity to raise money for charity.
Before leaving, Smith said his aim was to get to New Zealand, possibly as far as Campbell Island - a remote subantarctic island south of New Zealand.
Smith, who left the UK on 1 March, has since travelled to the Netherlands, France, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and the US.
After 20 days of travel, Smith has reached the West Coast of the United States where he is now preparing for his biggest challenge - getting across the Pacific Ocean.
Already he’s attracting interest from New Zealand media and Air New Zealand, as well as offers of hospitality from Kiwis who’re following his progress.
So far, Smith’s Twitter page has amassed an online following of more than 9000 people, and numbers are climbing on an hourly basis. The journalist is also writing a regular blog about his adventures.
Smith said the inspiration for the trip came from combining a childhood ambition to hitchhike with the modern twist of using social networking.
"This has never been done before so it has novelty value," Smith said.
The ultimate aim is to raise money for charity, and Smith has already reached his target of UK£3000 for 'charity: water' which works to give people access to clean water through funding water and sanitation projects.
Rules of engagement
Smith’s journey is governed by a set of self imposed rules - he can only accept travel and accommodation from Twitter members, cannot make arrangements more than three days in advance, and if he only gets one offer, he must take it within 48 hours.
"What it proves is Twitter is more than just a social network - it's a human search engine," he said.
The Twitchhiker idea was born among the aisles of a Tesco supermarket, where the queues of dawdling customers had him yearning for a place far away, Smith said.
"Having vented my frustration by tweeting on my mobile, I recalled a fleeting thought I'd had several months earlier: would the Twitter community support me if I tried to flee the North East and travel the world?"
Within five hours of posting the idea on Twitter, he’d had a positive ‘tweet’ or comment from well known British comedian Stephen Fry, who’s become an ambassador for the social networking site.
On average 2,000 new Twitter accounts are created every day.
Twitter is a service for friends, family, co-workers and strangers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: "What are you doing?"
Answers must be less than 140 characters, and can be sent via mobile texting, instant message or the web.
Smith said that beyond his social experiment was the potential for Twitter to change the way people travel.
"If you find yourself in an unknown city, a quick tweet will see followers suggest how you can best spend your time. Offering reviews of hotels and airlines, real-time travel updates, a spare sofa for the night, Twitter is an infrastructure that facilitates a global conversation, a social club, a newswire, a group hug, a support network, a human search engine - all at once. And it's growing exponentially. Spend a while cultivating your Twitter account, and you could develop contacts in every time zone," he said.
Good Morning America
So far Smith has been bombarded with press coverage throughout his trip, including an appearance on Good Morning America yesterday (19.03.09).
In some smaller towns he has had people fight over who would put him up, and in one instance was given accommodation by a family who were in temporary accommodation themselves having suffered a house fire.
In another, a girl offered Smith a couch for the night but when her boyfriend objected, she paid for the Twitchhiker to say in a hotel.
100% Pure NZ hospitality
Tourism New Zealand Chief Executive George Hickton says New Zealand will be ready to show the Twitchhiker 100% Pure New Zealand hospitality: "We welcome him to New Zealand and know that he’ll find he couldn’t have chosen a better place to aim for in terms of a destination that offers genuine hospitality and a life-changing experience.
"An important part of our strategy is about encouraging people to spread the word about New Zealand, and the internet is a key tool for doing this. Social networking sites and technology that enable users to talk to each other and share online content are a growing phenomenon and present new opportunities for marketers and communicators," he said.
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