Paul Archer decided it would be funny to drive round the world in a taxi. And so began a great adventure…
Alastair: Hi Paul, can you start by giving us a quick outline of your adventure?
Paul: Myself and two buddies from uni decided it would be funny to try and drive a London taxi to Australia and break the world record for the longest ever taxi journey. We set off from Covent Garden in a taxi we bought off eBay for 1,200 quid. It continuously broke down the whole way.
We ended up getting a bit of support, in terms of followers and some press coverage, and out of the blue a company asked to sponsor us to go the whole way around the world!
So, we ended up turning what was supposed to be a six month expedition into a 16-month expedition. We arrived back in London in May 2012, having broken two world records. One for the longest ever taxi journey; one for the highest ever taxi journey. We drove 43,000 miles through 50 countries and raised £20,000 for the Red Cross. We also racked up £80,000 on the taxi fare meter, which was on the whole way.
Alastair: (laughs) Fantastic. I love that the premise of your whole adventure was that it would be funny. That’s a good starting point, I think.
Paul: (laughs) It was true. It started in a pub, and obviously we visited a few pubs on the way, and it was designed to be fun. It wasn’t designed to be arduous, it was designed to be an adventure with two buddies in a truly ridiculous vehicle.
Alastair: Why did you decide to go for a taxi? Was it purely just comedy or had you been having some yearnings for adventure and were casting around for an idea? Or is it that you suddenly had this idea and you’d never thought about adventure before that?
Paul: I’d had yearnings of adventure. It wasn’t the first thing that I’d done. I’d previously gone on smaller adventures myself, having hitch-hiked across West Africa, organized projects in East Africa, kayaked in the Nile, climbed some mountains, snowboarding here and there. These are all trips which could be done over a much shorter time scale. So that sort of itch for a bigger adventure was there. We were talking about maybe doing something big, a big road trip somewhere, and then the idea just came in the back of a taxi one evening. What’s the longest ever taxi journey? Found out there’s a world record. Decided to try and break it. The only taxi we could use was a classic London cab. So that’s what we did.
Alastair: How long did it take from having the idea until the trip began?
Paul: A long time. Three years. We were still students. We decided we wanted to do it, so we told people we were going to do it and nobody believed us. So we spent our student loans on a black cab from eBay. When everyone said they didn’t believe us about the trip, we could show them a photo. But we were still a million miles away from being able to fund a road trip like this, so we saved and worked part-time jobs. We graduated and then got real grown-up jobs in the city, knowing full well that we were going to quit them. We did it just to earn a bit of cash and just saved and saved and saved.
Eventually I handed in my notice. We re-built the taxi with some modifications though none of us knew what we were doing, but we blagged it. Then we set off.
Alastair: There seems to be a couple of common features to these Adventure1000 interviews I’ve been doing. One is that there seems to be some sort of Rubicon that people have to cross in order to force them to commit. A threshold that needs crossing to tip you into action. Whether that’s buying a flight somewhere, or in your case, buying the taxi. Then the second thing is, no one seems to know what they’re doing in the start and there’s a lot of use of the word ‘blag’ and just trying to make stuff happen, really.
Paul: (laughs) I think no one knows what they’re doing at the end either. I’m sure if you ask Ran Fiennes what he was doing, he’d tell you he blagged his way into this and that. So, yeah, there’s a certain amount of that. Just giving it a go and seeing what happens. We had one guy who was marginally more capable at fixing vehicles than the rest of us, which is a good start, but that was as far as we went with it. Regarding the commitment, we had to shell out cash and we had to buy that car, but when we were going to do it was pretty open-ended. We were certainly going to do it at some point in our lives, but it had to wait until we were able to fund it or we could find enough sponsorship or whatever it would to allow us to do it. But we were committed to do it, we just didn’t know when.
Alastair: During all the daydreaming and then the actual planning phase, what were the main worries that you had and what were the main worries that people were communicating to you?
Paul: Money. There’s always that worry for everything you’re doing, especially vehicle expeditions, which are inherently very expensive. The other worries were routes. For getting to Australia you either go over Afghanistan or you go under Afghanistan. Each have their own set of problems. It was the ongoing debate of whether we’d go through Iran and Pakistan or go over the top instead. Everyone told us that it’s crazy, you shouldn’t go there. They were worried about our safety there.
Alastair: How did the reality of that pan out?
Paul: I got deported from Iran. We got into pretty nervous times in Pakistan, but we survived. We got through it, so it was all good in the end. It was fantastic. Iran is an amazing country. Absolutely beautiful, great people, and a really good place for some adventures. It was just bad luck with some of the security services. Pakistan’s a pretty scary place. It’s one of those places you rush through because it’s a little bit nerve-wracking, but I’m sure if you had the time to really explore it, it would also be beautiful.
Alastair: What was your favourite country then?
Paul: I loved Finland, of all places. There’s another aspect of the trip I should mention, because we planned it based on what we thought was funny. We thought it would be funny to do what all bad cab drivers do and drive the longest route possible to rack up the fare. We drove all the way to the Arctic Circle and through Russia, then back into Europe again. So, we ended up in Finland: this amazing place. Snow everywhere and huskies and snowmobiling and all that kind of stuff. Just the greatest people and the northern lights going over the top, it was a once in a lifetime experience. Second, would be Tibet. Because it’s Tibet and it’s beautiful.
Alastair: Another feature of these interviews I’ve been doing, is how often trips don’t pan out exactly as they intend to. Would you say that having the flexibility to just go with the flow is important?
Paul: It’s really important. There’s a really delicate balance between planning and not planning. Certain things you need to plan, especially with vehicles. You’ve got logistics, and some countries that you have to get to because of visa restrictions and meeting people and things like that. But once you have those plans, you have a relatively informed idea of what’s needed to make those happen, and therefore you also know where your flexibilities lie. So once you know you have a couple weeks to spare, then that’s where the adventures really happen.
Alastair: Vehicle adventures are expensive. Therefore most people probably require sponsorship. Can you skim through any thoughts on the process of getting sponsorship as it’s quite a back-breaking process?
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. I actually advise a lot of people on this. It seems to be one of the recurring topics. When we set off, we had 25 sponsors, but the vast majority of the expedition was self-funded. Most of these guys were giving away gear, equipment, engine parts, car parts, things like that.
If you’re asking for product, it’s much, much easier than asking for cash.
So I always advise people go in and ask people for a product first and then maybe they’ll give you some cash as well. But don’t expect to be receiving any cash.
When you go into the approach, I think the key mistake that most people make is that they try to tell them why their expedition is great and why they need that sponsor’s help. What they should be doing is telling the sponsor why the expedition is great and why the expedition is great for the sponsor. What kind of benefits are they going to get out of it?
This is the key thing – every business has their marketing spend and their ideas of their branding, and things like that. So you have to be able to tell them why what you’re doing aligns with what they’re doing and how it will help them, ultimately, sell more product. Or, as another alternative, how will it help to keep their staff happy. Because that’s another thing, a big company is quite keen to show their staff that they are involved with these kind of projects and get involved that way. It’s on more of a CSR kind of basis.
Alastair: I think that’s brilliant advice. One of the tricky things though, even before that stage, is how do you get to actually speak to anyone? Emailing “firstname.lastname@example.org” is a waste of time, so how do you actually get in front of real and relevant people?
Paul: Use your own personal networks, first of all. Tell everyone you’re doing an expedition. Absolutely everyone. It’s great, because it also kind of forces you to do the trip, as well. Because you don’t want to look stupid when you speak to those people again and they ask you how your expedition is and you go, “Nah, I actually decided to stay at work for a bit longer.” You never know who they might know. Always ask them if they know anyone, because they probably won’t rack their brains unprompted to see if they know someone who might know someone who is a marketing director of some company who might sponsor you.
Another thing that we found hugely valuable is tradeshows. We managed to blag our way into an auto tradeshow on the company day before any of the normal public was allowed in. On that day, it’s very much a trade day, so you’re going to get the managing directors and marketing directors – the important people – on the stands and you can get to the right person right away. They put a face to it. You’re shaking their hand and you get their own personal email address. So, when they inevitably say, ‘sounds great, send me over a pack’ you know that you’re emailing the right person, they’re going to know you and your chances of success then are 100 times higher.
Alastair: The premise of Adventure1000 is that people save up £1,000 and then that will go towards their trip. Clearly, going around the world in a taxi costs quite a lot more than £1,000. For anyone interested in doing some sort of vehicle-based adventure, what’s the most ridiculously cheap way that you can go do some sort of adventure in a vehicle?
Paul: The Adventurists have a thing called the Mongol Rally which is fantastic. That’s allowing thousands of people to have had really, really, great adventure and to get to the heart of a vehicle-based adventure in a really good atmosphere. So, that’s always great.
But if you look at a map, you can drive from France to Singapore without taking a boat or shipping it. Shipping’s where the big, big expense is. Fuel is a lot cheaper in other places. Buy vehicles which you don’t really care about, if you just trash it and it eventually dies, then you can hop on a flight home. That’s always quite good and you can do things for cheaper [that way]. Basically as long as you don’t go to China where it’s incredibly expensive to have visas for a vehicle, you can do a vehicle expedition for very cheap.
Just thinking about the £1000 basis, if you get four buddies that’s actually £4000. If you save up for two years, that’s £8000. You buy a vehicle for a grand or £1500. And you certainly now have a budget that you can run away and have a three month adventure driving around, driving as far as Mongolia or something like that.
Alastair: Brilliant, that’s a very cool suggestion. Crossing borders is quite a hassle with vehicles. The thing I was imagining was to go to India, or some other massive but cheap country, buy something there and just do a lap of India. That could be months of driving…
Paul: Yeah, that would be awesome.
Alastair: Then at the end, you just give your vehicle to someone who’d really appreciate it.
Paul: Or you put a post on your website and ask who else has saved up a grand and fancies buying your Royal Enfield or whatever it is and checking out India for a couple months too.
Alastair: Ooh I like that. Very nice. Just finally then, Paul, when you’re in a taxi in London or wherever now, do you tell cabbies about your trip?
Paul: It depends entirely on how many drinks I’ve had. (laughs) Normally, I don’t, but actually last weekend I did for the first time in a long time and the guy didn’t believe me. (laughs)
Find out more about Paul’s adventure on the website.
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