Alastair: Please tell us a little bit about your adventure.
Steve: I set off with my best friend and hitchhiked from England to Malaysia. We set ourselves a couple of rules: never paying for transport (to make sure we were hitchhiking rather than getting on a bus here and there), and never refusing an offer (to make sure we were open to people’s invitations to stay with them and things like that).
Alastair: I love that aspect of it, never refusing an offer. I think the fact that it encourages you to accept invitations rather than relentlessly rushing on towards your goal is a really good thing. Rushing is something I’m often guilty of on my journeys. Also it allows you spontaneity: it is so important to let the journey just evolve however it may happen.
Steve: Yes, absolutely. We hardly planned at all. We knew Malaysia was the end and we knew we’d be going through Iran and Pakistan, but that was it really.
Alastair: Last week I interviewed Tom Allen, the cyclist. He set off to cycle around the world and because he wasn’t obsessed with the end goal, he ended up completely changing his plan and marrying an Armenian. Which I’mm sure wasn’t on the plan when he set off!
Why did you decide to hitchhike rather than going for a long walk or a long bike ride?
Steve: I’mve been thinking quite a bit about that recently. I think the beautiful thing about hitchhiking – and I think you also have it with walking and cycling, but definitely not with driving or getting on a bus or public transport – is that you’re thrust into the arms of the people you meet on the way.
So it’s all about the interactions. And that shapes your trip completely and gives you amazing insight into the places that you go through and the people there.
I think if you were to walk if you meet people on the way that’s going to be great, but when you hitchhike there’s nothing you can do to prevent meeting people. You’re completely dependent on them [meeting people to make any progress].
I just love it as a form of transport. As long as you have time in hand. That’s probably the major drawback: you’re completely reliant on other people to get you places and you don’t know how long it’s going to take.
Alastair: You have to be quite relaxed as it’s possible to be standing next to a hot roadside for hours.
Steve: Yeah, exactly. I’d hitchhike every day if I could but, practically, when you’re away from the adventure scene and you haven’t got time to burn, then you can’t really do it. If you’ve only got a weekend to play with, it [standing by the road] takes up quite a bit of your weekend.
Alastair: And it’s a lottery isn’t it?
Steve: Yes, exactly.
Alastair: I love hitchhiking because in the UK I’mm not the sort of person who would just go up to a stranger and start chatting to them. I’mm not brave enough to do that and yet, when I do chat to people I really like it. And that’s the aspect that I’mve loved on my own hitchhiking trips. You are forced to meet totally random people and just immerse yourself in whatever might happen.
Steve: Yes, absolutely.
Alastair: What were you doing before this trip? Had you done any other big adventures? Or were you a normal person?
Steve: I think this was the major first adventure. I hitchhiked to Morocco as part of the big university event in aid of charity called Link. So that probably whet my appetite, and I hitchhiked a bit with friends in Europe as well, but nothing quite on the same level.
Alastair: Before you set off on the adventure, I presume you had various worries. And I’mm sure people had worries on your behalf. What were those worries? How did they compare to the reality of the trip?
Steve: I don’t think I was particularly worried, actually. I tend to sort of have a laissez-faire attitude to life, and I’mm a hopeless optimist; it comes from being a Tottenham Hotspur fan. But there were certainly others worried on our behalf.
The night before we went away, some really good friends of ours said to us, “we’re not sure that it’s a particularly great idea to be going through Turkey and Iran.”
You know, this was the night before we went, and I said to them, “it’s not great timing to say this now! And we are going to do it, so thanks, but…”
Alastair: And how were Turkey and Iran?
Steve: They were the highlights, especially Iran. It’s the country I talk about all the time, and when I meet Iranian’s I can’t help but introduce myself. I can recognise them instantly just by the way they speak.
Alastair: This has been a common theme in the people I have spoken to so far. The countries that are being perceived as dangerous are actually the wonderful ones to travel through.
Steve: Yes, definitely.
Alastair: How much preparation, research, planning, organising did you do for this trip?
Steve: Very, very little. I think we probably arranged it about a month before we went. I was coming to the end of my degree and my friend was coming to the end of his contract.
We were thinking, maybe I would work six months and raise some money, but he said “I’mve been saving up for quite a bit, so let’s just go, and then you can pay me back when we get home.”
So that was it really. We ended up getting visas and looking into visas just a week before we went, which is ridiculous and ended up costing us quite a bit of money to fast track [the applications for] Pakistan and Iran. That was it really.
Alastair: Do you have a rough idea how much your whole year cost?
Steve: We budgeted £10 a day, each. It was £1500 each to get us to Malaysia, and it took six months. So it worked out as about £300 a month-ish.
Alastair: Do you have any tips then for people about living cheap during your adventure?
Steve: I think tents help. We budgeted £10 a day throughout the trip even though, in terms of how much it costs in various countries, that does vary quite a bit. In Europe particularly, it’s much more expensive for accommodation and food than in, say, Pakistan.
In Europe we were much more likely to camp and then further down the road it became quite cheap to splash out on accommodation. Although all along the way we kept meeting people who took us into their homes. I have been quite amazed to hear people like yourself who keep knocking on people’s doors and inviting themselves in for the night, which I’mve not really done actually.
In fact, the one time we did do something like that, my friend, Will, needed the loo and decided he wasn’t going to go by the side of the road because it was a bigger job than that.
He knocked on someone’s door and sure enough, a couple of minutes later – well maybe 10 minutes later – he came back with a big smile on his face saying, “You’ll never believe this, follow me.”
We ended up having a night in their home, just because he needed the loo. That was in Croatia but it could actually happen anywhere.
Alastair: Brilliant, and I like your story of… perhaps you could tell it, of the family who wouldn’t let you leave. You were kidnapped by kindness.
Steve: Yes, absolutely, that was in Iran, which is very typical of the place. We met a guy called Iman in Tabriz, which is the first big city you get to when you cross over from Turkey. We ended up staying with him and his family for 10 days in Tehran and then staying in about 5 different places in Iran with his friends and family. In one city, Shiraz, his cousin Ehsan loved us and took a real shine to us.
Every time we said “we’re going to move on” – we had been there about a week – he kept saying, “No, farda“, which means tomorrow, and we would go, “ok.”
Then when tomorrow came, he would go: “No, pas farda” which means “the day after tomorrow”, and so it just kept going on and on, which is amazing and so unlike you’d expect.
Alastair: Yes. That’s wonderful, really wonderful. How has that big first adventure influenced what you’re doing since then?
Steve: Well, yes, it’s influenced everything, really. I wrote a book about it. That took me about a year after I came back to write that up and to get it set for publication. I worked at a deli part time to pay my way.
Then, I got into journalism, probably as a direct result of having written the book. I mean, I was always interested in it anyway, I’d done a few journalist-type things at Uni but I think the book certainly helped.
Alastair: If you were to go back and do that first trip again, what do you know now that could have helped? Or what would you do differently with the wisdom of hindsight?
Steve: I probably would have been a bit more bold and knocked on doors more often… Going to the toilet more perhaps. Seeing where that took us. I think that’s one thing I would do.
And then, beyond that, I think my major regret is there were a handful of occasions where, because of language barriers, we got into the situation where our “never pay for transport attitude” brushed us up the wrong way with people. In hindsight, I think it’s more important to forget the rule occasionally and pay if they really insist. It’s not going to hurt you.
That’s probably the way I look at it these days whereas, at the time, we were very, very set on keeping to our rule.
Alastair: Yes, yes. I think I agree with you on that. One of the concerns that people [planning adventures] have is whether they should travel solo or with a friend. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Steve: Yes, it’s a difficult one. I read someone saying that when you’re doing something like walking on your own, or perhaps even driving on your own, then that’s probably better in terms of your mentality and whether it will lead you to meet people or not.
I think if you’re with someone else and you’re driving rather than hitchhiking, like I drove to Afghanistan with a few friends a couple of years ago, it was such a different experience. It was completely different, far fewer interactions and it was all down to us to make those interactions happen. Whereas if you’re on your own then that’s more likely to happen. Or if you’re hitchhiking, that has to happen.
For me, I do generally prefer to be with other people and I think hitchhiking cancels out the [mentality of], “OK, I’mm with this person, I’mm going to talk just to you.” Because when you’re hitchhiking you just have to meet people. You don’t have that negative side of being in your own little bubble.
Alastair: Yes, yes I think that’s a brilliant thing about hitchhiking. What about the storytelling aspects of journeys? It seems more and more people these days when they do an adventure want to document it. Whether it’s a blog, or Facebook for their friends, making a film, writing a book, recording audio. Do you think that adds to a trip? Or hinders the trip?
Steve: I suppose it depends on how you go about it. I loved writing the book on the way. I used to write in my journal over breakfast, every morning, or pretty much every morning and that became the book when I got home.
Alastair: Was that always the plan?
Steve: Well, it was strange. It was the first people we met on the trip who gave me the idea. We went around the ferry on the way to France just asking people where they were going, and seeing how far we could get with someone wanting to give us a ride.
We ended up going all the way down to Poitiers, which is about 7 hours, and the lady who picked us up, an English lady, suggested, “Oh, you should write a book about this.” It suddenly just stuck, so instead of my journal entries being, you know, “I feel tired” or whatever, I tried to write in a bit more of a narrative style. And yes, I found it fun, rather than a hindrance.
Steve: No, I haven’t.
Alastair: Okay. I’mll send you the link. It’s one of the most powerful bits of storytelling that I have come across recently and I think that would be a wonderful thing for a hitchhiking trip. Because you’ve got people trapped, you can get their stories.
I think for your next trip, which we will talk about in a minute, I think that could be great because you’ll have fewer language issues won’t you?
Steve: Yes, indeed. I’mve been learning Spanish.
Alastair: Well tell us about your next trip while we’re on the subject.
Steve: Next month – in fact in a month and 2 days – we will be flying off to the tip of Argentina to a place called, well I’mm not I’mm going to pronounce it correctly, which doesn’t say much for my Spanish, but…
Alastair: ‘Uss-why-a’ [Ushuaia]
Steve: Ushuaia, exactly! There you are. So flying down and then hitchhiking up to Alaska, which is quite far.
Alastair: Are you going to Prudhoe Bay?
Steve: Where is that?
Alastair: That’s the end of the road in Alaska.
Steve: Well, we will see, we will see. I think at the moment the aim is to get to Anchorage really.
Alastair: Oh, no, you can’t do that! Alaska gets good after that!
Steve: Okay, okay.
Alastair: You have got to get to Prudhoe Bay. [sorry, Steve, for being bossy!]
Alastair: Who are you doing this trip with?
Steve: This time, I’mm doing it with my wife. She wouldn’t let me go without her this time. Last time around we were sort of pseudo-engaged, as it were, and she let me go off quietly because she already had her own adventure planned with another friend going off to see a bit of Australia and Southeast Asia. So while she was away, I thought I would do something interesting and did this hitchhike. But this time around she wanted to come.
Alastair: That’s great. I get a lot of emails from people who want to go off and do adventures but their other half is not keen on the idea. I think you’ve done really well to recruit her to the cause so you can keep heading off on adventures!
Steve: Yes. Absolutely.
Alastair: The idea of Adventure1000 is to try and give people the knowledge and confidence to plan and commit to their adventures, but while they are doing that to save up £20 a week for a whole year. Do you think you could do a big adventure for £1000?
Steve: Yes, definitely. With £10 pounds a day, you can hitchhike for 100 days and that can take you pretty far.
Alastair: I’mm asking everyone on this: how far do you think you could get from your front door on £1000?
Steve: So, let me think about this. Just with our trip, and 100 days… I think we were in Iran at least if not further, and actually, we could have been a bit more thrifty if we had wanted to be.
Alastair: OK. Let’s say to Pakistan, how about that?
Steve: Yes, that sounds good.
Alastair: If I gave you £1000 now, where would you hitchhike to?
Steve: I think that of the two places that I could potentially reach from home, I would either go down towards Israel, or I would go south and further south [than Morocco] into Africa. One of those two.
Alastair: For your next adventure you’re going to be hitchhiking from Ushuaia to Alaska. How long do you think that’s going to take? And how can people follow your trip?
Steve: We’ve set ourselves about 9 months’ for it, so we are hopefully going to finish around the end of the year. In terms of following trip, we’re still working on that.
Alastair: But you’re going to be doing some sort of blogging along the way?
Steve: Yes, we are. We will do a blog. In fact, we were thinking of writing the book on the blog as it were. On the last trip I ended up writing up all my journals when I got home, and ended up sort of rewriting, not the story, but rewriting things quite a bit.
This time I wanted to make the process a little bit faster, perhaps. I’mm going to make sure we write it all up as we go, and when we come home it will sort of be ready as a book.
Alastair: I think that will obviously save you time, but I think it’s also good because it gives you the real freshness that what you’re writing is what you’re feeling, and it is what is happening right now.
When you write it later, you can polish, and polish, and polish – and there’s pros and cons of both – but I think that’s definitely a good idea to try…
Thank you very much for your time, Steve. I look forward to following your trip.
Steve: My pleasure.
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