Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

The Twitchhiker book – three weeks and counting
12/07/2010, 16:24
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Amazon has been updated with the final cover design for the Twitchhiker book, so I shouldn’t get into trouble by posting it here.

I’m really pleased with it – partly because the designer was sourced through Twitter (many thanks to @JO_PARRY_ART for her wonderful work) but also because the cover quotes are from two of my favourite people – Radio 2’s Alex Lester and Guardian columnist (and radio legend) Martin Kelner. In the words of Edouard LaPaglie: “I know I would.”

Three weeks to go!


The Twitchhiker book – done! Sort of. Nearly.
05/04/2010, 16:12
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It’s been deathly quiet round these parts for the past month, and with good reason – I’ve been trying to finish the first draft of the Twitchhiker book. I’m bloody thrilled to say that I completed the manuscript yesterday evening, with 85,903 glorious words, and only five weeks after my deadline passed.

I’ll tell you more about the writing process at some point, suffice to say it was the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. And there’s still oodles of work to be done; as this is the first draft, I’ve now got to work with my editor Lucy at Summersdale on revising the text and crafting it into better shape – editing, deleting, expanding where appropriate.

So lots to do, then, but I can now sleep a little more soundly. It also means if you’ve pre-ordered the Twitchhiker book on Amazon (and I’d be delighted if you did) there’s a far better chance of you receiving it, as opposed to a couple of months ago when the words were still locked in my head and stubbornly refusing to spill out through my fingers.

I’ll let you know more as and when I can, and hopefully I’ll be able to let you see the fabulous cover too, which was produced by @JO_PARRY_ART. It’s worth buying for that alone, as well as the foreword by the delectable @jemimakiss. Hooray!

The Shorty Awards – now it’s time for the finals!
31/01/2010, 20:00
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Today marks exactly one year since the concept for the Twitchhiker project was conceived. I can’t quite believe how time has scurried by so quickly – or how it has changed my life.

I never expected it to, and I vehemently resisted it in the beginning. I just wanted everything to settle down, to get back to work, spend time with my family. I didn’t act on the calls to write a book – I accepted the offer of an agent but I barely lifted a finger. Nor did I bother exploiting what had become a brand, despite some very adamant individuals with money wanting me to.

But slowly, everything changed. I changed. I found myself wanting to travel more – I’m desperate to travel to Asia, Hong Kong, Singapore when I have the money. I’ve been back to New Zealand, albeit briefly – I hovered in Auckland airport for an hour or two on my way to Australia to blog about Crave Sydney. I am writing a book, although that offer didn’t appear until November – eight months after I’d finished my trip. And aside from this blog, I’ve given up on travel writing – I haven’t the time for commissioning editors who either ignore every pitch or blatantly steal them, passing them onto staff writers as a cheaper option.

And now, on the first anniversary of Twitchhiker, we’re able to celebrate it all over again.

Twitchhiker is in the finalists for the Shorty Awards, a celebration of people who have done something different and unique with Twitter – it’s among a handful of brilliant finalists in the travel section.

Plenty of you have voted for Twitchhiker in the past month and for that I’m blatheringly grateful. To win, however, I need one last favour: the voting for the winner in each category begins at midday EST tomorrow (5pm for the UK) and continues for just five days. While the winner isn’t simply determined by the quantity of votes – other factors are taken into account – it certainly can’t hinder our chances.

So. If you thought Twitchhiker was a fun, interesting, unique or standout use of Twitter – please vote tomorrow.

When I talk about this, or Twitchhiker in general, I tend to about we, not I – I might have been the point man, but it never would have worked without the 40 or so people who directly helped me, the hundreds of offers, the thousands of followers or those that donated of thousands of pounds to charity: water. As far as unique, community-driven, travel-related uses of Twitter go, I don’t think it has been topped, and a Shorty Award would be the perfect way to celebrate what we did together.

It’d be fun to win. Not just for me, but for you too. Let’s see how the week goes.

Twitchhiker, the book – ETA Summer 2010
23/11/2009, 16:17
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I’m happy. Very, very happy. It’s that particular brand of happiness where if I wasn’t overweight or desperately unfit, I’d consider performing a backflip to express my mercurial state.

When I undertook the Twitchhiker project in March, it was to satisfy my curiosity – to see if social media in general and Twitter in particular was capable creating a physical network that would allow me to travel around the world. On the way we raised thousands for charity: water and plenty of awareness of Twitter.

It was a tremendous adventure, enjoyed not only by myself but those who assisted me (and I dare say some who followed me, if only to see if I ended up mauled by a bear), and while I struggled with the relentless schedule at the time, I look back at it with nothing but fondness and pride. Since then I’ve done a smattering of public speaking, recounting my travels in a montage of photos and tall tales – and while I considered writing a more in-depth account of my travels immediately afterwards, it was ultimately more important to settle back into the slog of everyday life and earn what I laughingly call a wage.

After all this time has passed, I thought that was the end of it. So I’m thrilled to teeny tiny bits to announce I’ll be writing a book about Twitchhiker. It’s all a bit of a blur right now – the offer came barely a week ago and the deadlines are very tight – but I’m so excited about revisiting my journey with the benefit of perspective and a good night’s sleep.

I’ll tell you more about it as I find out, but for now it’s time to dig out the notes and the A3 envelope stuffed with all my flight details, trinkets and room cards (the plastic, easily replaced type of course) and turn the clock back eight months.

Photo of the day – Johnny’s Tavern, Lawrence
06/08/2009, 23:41
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Most of my time travelling during the Twitchhiker project was a dizzying blur. In the case of Lawrence, Kansas, I spent all of 13 hours in town before heading on to Wichita. Aside from meeting the team at Lawrence Journal-World, having my journey hijacked by the enthusiastic tweeps in Wichita (I was due to be heading to Denver) and enjoying a hot bath, I also squeezed in a visit to Johnny’s Tavern with @joey96, who had picked me up in Kansas City. Yes, there is always time for the pub.

I was a pathetic drinking buddy, managing just a pint of Guinness and a well-stacked burger before nodding off at the table, but it was a great bar, chocked out with college kids and locals for quiz night.

Twitchhiker - Johnny's Tavern, Lawrence

It was a bitterly cold Kansas night, but the blazing colours warmed you through before you walked through the door.

What are Feats of Tweet?
16/07/2009, 22:01
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Twitchhiker - stranded abroad, but in a good way

There are worse places to be stranded in the world than here. Not that I’m actually stranded, but merely presented with the illusion of being so. This is because the only sign of life is a supermarket a mile to the east, there’s no pub within walking distance and the nearest town is half a day away, but only if you ignored the advice that suggested CAR HIRE IS ESSENTIAL. I could call a taxi anytime I like. I think.

I’m staying in a gated resort, stuffed full of private villas and apartments, most of them deserted right now. Regardless, the pool is immaculate, the temperature’s high and the sky is a piercing sunshine blue. The halcyon blend of factor 20, backstroke and sangria, away from the distractions of my dining room office, has led me to calmly consider two decisions concerning what happens next between Twitter and I.

First, there’s Twitchhiker. It was a very dear experience, to me and plenty of others, but I almost ruined that by forcing through another idea that really didn’t make sense.

I still find myself travelling plenty, I’ve an appetite to do so even more since March, and I’d like to gather all my thoughts, photos and writing together as I skip naively along the way. So the plan is for the Twitchhiker blog to get a new lick of paint, keeping all the material from the March trip and adding new posts whenever I happen to stray somewhere interesting. It’ll become more of a travelogue than just a holding page for the jaunt to New Zealand.

I’ve also agreed to take part in a project to promote the North East of England. It’s been my home for nearly all my life, so I’m looking forward to exploring all the nooks and crannies of somewhere I like to think I know well. They apparently want me to try out extreme activities; I’m afraid of heights and not brilliant in water, so I suspect I’ll be hanging from rock faces and diving in the North Sea. Gah. I’ll probably post updates through @twitchhiker, because after travelling around the world I’d like to share my place in it with everyone else.

The bottom line is I won’t personally be dreaming up another project to try and move the story on. As I tug on a second can of Amstel and reluctantly take my MacBook indoors to evade an aerial onslaught of black winged things, I really don’t think Twitchhiker is shouting for a sequel.

So onto that second decision.

I mentioned in recent entries that I’d had another idea. As with Twitchhiker, I tested the idea on the same small handful of trusted tweeps, but despite a unanimous seal of approval I hesitated in setting to work on it. What concerned me was losing my life to another project, especially a project that had no fixed end date. I didn’t want to jeopardise my writing career again, and blah blah blah. All of that doesn’t matter now, because while I wasn’t sure initially, I now believe it can work. And if it works, the sort of project it is means there’ll be plenty of people to help me. I also get to stay at home this time, which will hopefully lessen the probability of divorce.

While it makes sense to simply use the @twitchhiker account for this project, it has to live or die on it’s own merits. So there’s a new Twitter account I’d like you to follow, and I’d like you to ask your followers to follow, too. It’s called:


Over the coming weeks there’ll be a new website, chocked full with blurb about what Feats Of Tweet is and how it’ll work. The project itself will hopefully launch in September, once there are enough followers behind it. Between now and then I’ll be asking for some help too – as you’ll have noticed I’m not a graphic designer or a web developer by trade, and I could do with a hand in the PR department too.

Sorry for not giving much away right now, but very soon the information will be coming thick and fast. Thick, at least. If you have a moment, follow the account and lets see what happens. It should be fun.

Twitchhiker meets The Guardian
04/02/2009, 14:35
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There are already several complimentary posts and features about Twitchhiker, and it’s only been two days. There are more to come, too – I’ve got a batch of Q&As to write for various blogs. If it’ll help pick up a handful of supporters, brilliant – one of them might just be the person I rely on to complete this.

Wow. I’ve just caught myself typing “the person I rely on to complete this”. Do I really believe I can get all the way to New Zealand? Not quite. Not yet.  Anyway, I’ll create a page for press links so you can see what’s happening, but in the meantime I wanted to ask you to read the Guardian for a couple of reasons.

As I’ve mentioned, I do some freelance writing and blogging for the Media section of both the paper and the website. I also wrote a feature for the travel section of the website last year, and editor Andy Pietrasik was kind enough to ask me to write a piece about Twitchhiker:

Twitchhiker in The Guardian

One of the great things about the Guardian is that they’re never afraid to push their content onto new platforms and try new ideas; if you get a chance, have a look at their new feature twitrips by @benjilanyado. At this moment, Benji is in Paris, following tips and advice passed onto him by Twitter users. If you know Paris well, get involved.