It’s on the Meter
An Interview with Paul Archer
You’re in London, it’s late at night and there’s not a black cab in sight. When you eventually find one, they refuse to take you home, saying “sorry mate, not going that way tonight” or something along the lines of “south of the river? You’re joking.” It’s a horrible feeling and one we’re all familiar with.
That’s why it’s surprising that three friends not only managed to find a black cab, but a black cab to take them all the way to Australia.
Paul Archer (24), Johno Ellison (28) and Leigh Purnell (24) decided to do something a little different on their gap year. They decided to buy a London black cab and drive to Australia, going through 41 different countries and clocking up 30,000 miles in the process. Their round the world trip was all in the aid of charity and they aimed to raise £20,000 for the Red Cross (you can still donate to It's on the Meter).
The threesome even managed to clock up a world record along the way, breaking the Guinness World Record for the longest ever taxi ride, a fare that would have reportedly cost them £54,000.
The team set off from London on 17th February 2011, travelling via Europe, Russia, the Middle East, India, China and South East Asia.
10 months later and they’re still travelling. They’re currently making their way down the east coast of Australia to their final destination, Sydney.
We thought we’d catch up with the boys and ask them about their gap year adventure ‘It’s on the meter.’
Hi guys, great idea for a gap year and we absolutely love it. Which one of you thought up this crazy idea?
We were in the back of a taxi one night, perhaps slightly drunk, watching the meter ticking up and up when we thought, "What's the highest the meter has ever been?”
When we woke up the next day instead of forgetting about the whole thing we did a bit of Googling and decided to try to set a new record...
Another great idea born from being drunk. Why a London black cab though?
London Black cabs are one of the quintessential icons of the UK and London and we thought it would be the perfect vehicle to set the Longest ever taxi journey in.
They really are great cars... for driving around the flat, cold streets of London.
And why name her Hannah? I always thought black cabs were more masculine than feminine…
“Hard Hearted Hannah (the Vamp of Savannah)” is a classic 1920s song about a famous femme fatale in Savannah, Georgia, who hates men and ‘loves to see them suffer’. It seemed to fit with the car.
How long did it take for you to plan the trip?
We planned for about three years while we were studying and working - finding sponsors, getting the car (from eBay!), and setting and tweaking the route.
We quit our jobs about six weeks before we left and worked full-time on getting everything ready for the big launch in February 2011.
How did you save for the trip?
We're lucky enough to have quite a few sponsors who helped us out with things like fuel and visas, but even just our living costs for 10 months without a job quickly add up.
Before we left we spent about eight months working full-time and saving every penny. We've also maxed out overdrafts and credit cards but it's all been worth it though!
Of the 41 countries you’ve travelled through, which has been the best and worst? Which has been the easiest and hardest?
Turkey was a great place because it was totally different to my expectations; it had beautiful scenery and perfect roads as well as incredibly friendly people.
The most challenging place was probably India mainly due to the terrible roads and torrential monsoon rains that nearly killed the car and team.
The easiest was probably Luxembourg; it only took 15 minutes and we drove through the entire country naked!
As you do. There's nothing quite like a naked taxi. How many miles have you done exactly? What’s on the clock?
About 30,000 miles. The car’s done over 300,000 (we think) but the odometer is broken.
What was a typical day on the road? What was your routine?
We probably drive about five days a week and typically aim to be on the road by 8 or 9am. We're always late though so it's usually closer to 10 or 11.
The three of us normally drive for about two to three hours each and have lunch on the road. Though we do stop if we see anything cool along the route.
Our accommodation can range from wild camping in the countryside to couchsurfing with local people to cheap hotels and hostels.
Have you been eating and sleeping in the car or do you see yourselves as backpackers (with the addition of Hannah of course)?
We definitely see ourselves as backpackers - the car just lets us carry a little bit more than usual!
Now that we're out of South East Asia where food and accommodation were super cheap we camp a lot and usually cook our food.
We've only had to stay in the car a few times - the worst was on the freezing Russia / Belarus border where a problem with our visa registration meant no hotel would accept us and it was way too cold for our thin tents.
What’s the worst problem you’ve encountered so far?
We've had all manner of problems including being denied visas, being arrested by the Russian police, wheels falling off the car, almost running out of fuel in the desert, contracting dysentery in India and being deported from Iran on suspicion of being a spy!
Now we've got the attitude that any problem can be fixed, it's just a case of taking it one step at a time and seeking a solution rather than letting it get you down. There’s a solution to anything if you put your mind to it.
Of all of those things I think running out of fuel in the dessert would worry me the most! How did the locals react to you as you were passing through their towns and villages?
Almost everyone loves the car; it really is a great conversation starter! We're all used to every other car on the road just waving, beeping and taking pictures! One guy in Armenia was paying so much attention to us, he crashed into the car in front!
Have you met anyone on the road that you’ve thought “yep, you’re totally awesome. I love what you’re doing…”?
Definitely, we've met loads of people that have inspired us and shamed our attempt.
In Turkey, after driving up huge hills in the baking heat all day, we met two Canadians who were following a similar route to us but on bicycles!
We also met an amazing family in Laos that were driving around the world in a 1920s car and had been going for 11 years. It really was incredible.
What’s been that one item you’ve bought or brought that you couldn’t live without?
I was tempted to say duct tape or cable ties but both of these stopped working in the crazy heat of the Middle East and Australia.
Our laptops have been great for keeping us sane by allowing us to listen to music and watch films and also to keep in touch with everyone back home.
How much do you think this trip has cost per person (that’s a scary question I know)?
Our personal contributions have been quite large but once spread out over the 10 months we have been going it's probably only equal to about what you'd pay in rent back in England, so we think we've had some great value for money.
Was social media helpful in allowing people to track your journey?
Social media has been instrumental in helping people follow what we're doing, raising awareness and letting us keep in touch with friends. We use our Facebook page to let people know what we’re up to.
We've stayed with and met up with loads of people through Facebook, Couchsurfing and our website, and it really has added a huge amount to the trip (not to mention saving us a lot of money!).
One record down. Have you ever broken any other records?
We drove the car up to Everest Base Camp at 5,200 metres when we were in Tibet so we think we may have also set a new record for the Highest Ever Taxi Journey!
The team have travelled all over the world between them from South America to Africa before and during University, but these are our first World Records.
Are you planning any other adventures? If so, where?
We've actually just got a new sponsor and so will be extending our trip across the USA and back to England, finishing in April 2012.
After that, who knows? We’ve got a few ideas up our sleeves...
What are your five top tips for anyone attempting a similar trip?
- Believe in yourself - Mentions of the taxi three years earlier inspired smirks and rolled eyes but now we've got the two records, international news coverage, have raised nearly £10,000 for the Red Cross and are almost at our original finish point.
- Spread the word and be cheeky - Lots of our best times have come from just talking to people and telling them our story. You never know what sort of contacts people have - from getting news stories to being offered a place to stay.
- Don't plan too much - Be prepared for things to change often as delays, breakdowns and other problems happen. This is all part of the fun. Also, just talking to local people is much better than any guidebook so don't make your sightseeing itinerary too rigid.
- Make sure it’s original - If nobody has done it before then people will be more interested in your trip.
- Have fun - These trips are tough but make sure you enjoy yourself and never take things too seriously.
Also, you can still donate to the Red Cross to make sure the boys hit their all important £20,000 target.
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