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How do you travel more than 2,000km without spending a single penny?


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How do you travel more than 2,000km to one of the furthest outcrops of Europe without spending a penny? Don’t be afraid to be cheeky, explain University of Sussex students Lucie Wolfman and Olivia Macintosh.

Holidays are planned with military precision these days. Thanks to the Web, you see 36 different angles of the hotel room you like before you’ve even booked it.

But what if holidays were more spontaneous? What if you arrived at the airport not knowing where you were going? Better still - what if that holiday wasn’t going to cost you a penny?

We were able to enjoy the thrill of travelling impulsively as altruistic contestants of the first ever Sussex Jailbreak; a fundraising event which challenged participants to get as far away from the University of Sussex campus in 36 hours… without spending any money.

What we hadn’t anticipated were the life lessons we would learn through our adventure that would eventually land us in Reykjavik, Iceland.

When the race began, our first task was to convince a bus driver to allow us to travel for free to the town of Lewes – some five miles east of the university campus.

After a few hours in Lewes, we had collected all the money needed for a flight. We made our way to Gatwick thanks to the sheer kindness of strangers; from the thoughtful couple who bought us tea and Kit Kats in Lewes, to the station manager who chased down a train supervisor to explain our situation despite also dealing with a football crowd.

The Jailbreak code rules out any serious pre-planning, so we arrived at the airport with only two small rucksacks containing a change of clothes and not much else... not even Olivia's toothbrush!

But like any traveller worth their salt we were quick to adapt and improvise, grabbing some cardboard from a university recycling bin to make a sign that convinced sceptical airport security as to the genuineness of our purpose.

We ran to different airline desks asking where we could go with the funds we had. We could have chosen Venice, Rome or Barcelona but chose to brave Iceland.

It wasn’t until we got talking to Hermann, an Icelandic tourist guide who sat next to us on the plane, that we realised how unprepared we really were for one of the world’s least populated countries where the temperature was unlikely to rise above zero.

It was funny how the challenge encouraged us to be really sociable and talkative when normally we would both quite happily sit silently on a plane trip ignoring our fellow passengers. Instead, here we were chatting away with a complete stranger, learning far more than we would have on a normal holiday.

We landed in Keflavik late on Saturday night and everywhere seemed deserted as we travelled into Reykjavik. It was a desert of snow; truly breath-taking scenery.

It soon dawned on us, however, that in our ambition to reach Iceland, we had limited where else we could go.

So, we decided to hitchhike into the city and head to one of Iceland’s seven universities, the University of Iceland, to talk to people about our experiences and the charity.

Luckily, we weren’t waiting long at the roadside and were picked up by a lovely Icelandic man and his dog, who took us on a tour of Reykjavik’s tourist sites.

Reykjavik really lives up to its quirky reputation with its rows of colourful houses and a tiny punk museum in a former subway toilet. The gothic church Hallgrimskirkja and its beautiful architecture was a calming haven after being rushed off our feet throughout our adventure.

We were recommended a famous hot dog stand, once frequented by Bill Clinton. The dogs were cheap (by Icelandic standards) and delicious!

Although we didn't have time to do all the things we would have liked to (no time for a calming bathe in one of Iceland’s famous natural thermal spas or chasing down the Northern Lights), we felt we learned more about the culture through meeting the local people.

Iceland was a whistle-stop adventure and an unlikely place for us to end up! We had certainly not come prepared for the weather conditions, wearing only trainers and no gloves in minus temperatures, but being able to get a taste of a new culture and to meet some of the people was great.

The biggest lesson we took from the experience was learning to be bold and to unapologetically engage with people. That’s not a bad thing to take away from a holiday that lasted just 36 hours.

Despite concerns about hitchhiking, it’s good for the environment and it’s a great way to meet new people. Everyone should try it at least once, it’ll force anyone to come out of their shell, help us all to be a lot more empathetic and understanding of different people as we share experiences.

Lucie Wolfman and Olivia MacIntosh were among 19 teams of University of Sussex students taking part in the first Sussex Jailbreak which raised almost £8000 for Alzheimer’s Society, the Clock Tower Sanctuary and Turn2us.

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