student life

My daughter is hitchhiking, but it’s all for charity

Around 400 students from Sheffield University have just returned from a nine day hitchhiking trip to Vilnius, Lithuania, raising over £48,000 for local charities.

Around 400 students from Sheffield University have just returned from a nine day hitchhiking trip to Vilnius, Lithuania, raising over £48,000 for local charities. Amongst them were a team of three, ‘The Borrowers’ which included Nova Arkasrivorn, Thomas Jowett and Sophie Duffree.

Now the astute amongst you may wonder if the latter team mate and I are related. Yes we are. And everything I’ve ever taught her about never hitchhiking was turned on its head in one phone call.

“I’m going to take part in a charity hitchhike to Lithuania.” Pause.

“That’s great,” I replied, smiling through my maternally gritted teeth, mentally going through the parent’s guide to reverse psychology. I finished the conversation and promptly started imagining horrific worse case scenarios about young girls hitchhiking.

I needn’t have worried.

Bummit is a charity hitchhiking society independently run and managed by students from the University of Sheffield. It began ten years ago when some students came up with a new idea to raise money for Sheffield RAG. What started as an attempt to hitchhike to Bognor Regis without spending any money had this year grown into a trip to Vilnius, Lithuania. The team had to have a male in their group and he was to be the first to enter a vehicle and be the last to leave. 

The students were not restricted to just hitchhiking—they could use public transport and most of them managed to have the fee waivered by pleading and showing the guards their ‘Bummit Bible’, which included an official letter from the Student Union as well as wise words of advice and embassy contacts. Each team had to report in to the organisers back at the SU once a day.

A useful tracker was set up via the internet which enabled the teams to highlight and comment about where they were enroute. Speaking as a parent it was reassuring to go online and find they had “got their first hitch,” or were “currently hiding in the back of a lorry heading down the M11.” Don’t ask me why but I was particularly proud of that one, and a wee bit envious. The fact they had to sleep on a bench all night at the Port of Harwich however made me realise why you do these things in your 20s.

Tracking them everyday took away the worry and I was interested to hear how they were getting on. The enthusiasm from the team was never in doubt although it was obvious they were becoming exhausted through lack of sleep and quantities of service station food.

The worst part of the trip according to Nova was waiting over four hours in the falling snow for a hitch in Nuremberg—making reaching the half-way point, Prague, one of her highlights.

Prague was reached on the fourth day and the teams met up with each other to discuss tactics, swop stories and no doubt to complain about the freezing cold weather. It was unusually cold and even the locals were complaining. “At one point we were told it was minus 17C and I could well believe it,” Sophie said. “We all had a bad cough and were grateful to have a decent roof over our heads. Previously we had slept in a car park in Nuremberg; we found a little room, possibly used for storing bikes, which had started off slightly warm but when I woke up at 4 in the morning it was absolutely freezing.”

They went on to Poland where they took some time out to visit Auschwitz which proved to be a harrowing occasion. “It was a surreal experience and I was grateful that we had something to focus on after leaving the memorial,” Nova remarked.

The following morning they realised they actually had to be at their destination a day earlier than they’d assumed. The race was on to find the perfect hitch across the Border as opposed to leisurely sightseeing around Warsaw.

They were picked up and taken to a service station where they waited for another hitch. During the wait they had to watch a loose dog dodging the traffic. “It was inevitable that it would not end well,” Sophie reported. “There was a huge thud and we saw the dog run at top speed from the road whilst the car bumper was strewn across both carriageways.” They eventually got picked up and taken to the border of Lithuania where another trucker took them to the road that led to Vilnius.

Finally the team arrived in Vilnius in the early hours of Tuesday 26th March, exhausted, full of cold, but proud of their efforts. They were treated to a celebratory meal with all the other teams. So far ‘The Borrowers’ have raised over £750 and had a fantastic experience into the bargain. Tom summed up their trip: “It was an opportunity to see the real countries and meet the actual people.”

You can learn more about Bummit here. Have you been on one of these trips? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.