10 Inspiring Travel Tips from University Jailbreaks

Image shows the moving walkways in an airport. 36 hours. Umpteen small teams of students. No money. How far do you think they’d manage to travel?

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This is the aim of the ‘Jailbreak’, a charity fundraiser organised by numerous universities, which aims to gather funds for worthy causes through students getting sponsorship for their adventurous travel challenge (often per mile travelled, hence the need to get as far as possible). The object is for each team to get as far away as they can, by any means, without spending any money; there’s a prize for the winners, but the aim of the game is to raise as much money as possible for charity through sponsorship and money collected en route. It’s common for teams to make it into Europe, but some have got as far away as Argentina, Thailand and Sydney. This unique way of travelling has given rise to some useful travel tips that will be handy whether you’re taking part in a jailbreak yourself or embarking on a more conventional form of travel. Let’s take a look at what travel lessons can be learned from this exciting concept.

1. Pack diligently

Image shows people with luggage on a railway platform.
Travelling light is a valuable skill.

First and foremost, you’ll need your passport – you’re not going to win without it! You never know where you’re going to end up in a jailbreak, so bringing plenty of layers should equip you for all eventualities. Shirts, with vests underneath, a jumper on top and a warm jacket over that, give you lots of flexibility to take off a few layers if you end up somewhere warmer than the chilly UK. Pack as lightly as you can, as you’ll have to carry your luggage everywhere with you (a backpack is a lot more convenient than a suitcase), and take only plane-sized toiletries in case you end up flying. In case you’re not aware of the regulations, the rules are that you can only have ten 100ml bottles, and they should be held together in a transparent plastic sandwich bag. Any toiletries or water bottles you have that exceed these limits will be confiscated at airport security. Energy bars will keep you going, and finally, don’t forget that essential item of modern life: your phone charger. You might need to make some calls or use Google Maps, and although you’ll be on the move, you might be able to utilise phone charging points at airports if your battery is running low.

2. Be eye-catching

Image shows a runner in the London Marathon wearing a rhino costume.
Some people run the London Marathon in astonishing costumes.

Anyone who’s ever watched the London Marathon on television will know that one of the most effective ways of raising money is to be eye-catching – hence all the runners in fancy dress or setting unusual records. We’re not saying that you should follow this man’s example and lug a fridge around with you, but some sort of costume would serve as a good conversation starter, and it gets people interested in what you’re doing. When my sister and her friends did the Oxford Jailbreak, their aim was to make it as far as New Zealand, so they dressed up as characters from Lord of the Rings (they didn’t make it quite that far, but it did get them noticed!). There are also tales of students making it as far as the Mediterranean dressed as bananas, or getting into trouble in Athens for photographing themselves outside the Parthenon dressed as cows. In addition to (or instead of) a costume, some sort of attention-seeking banner would be a good way to catch people’s eye. Write something short on it that describes what you’re doing, such as “Charity Hitch-hike”. Including a brief call-to-action might help encourage people to stop and talk to you or offer you a lift, such as “Please stop” or “Help us help them”. Don’t forget, also, that because you’re raising money, you’ll need something to put the money in. If you can make this eye-catching too, perhaps including it as a prop in your costume, this might encourage donations as well as giving you a practical place to put coins and notes in.

3. Standby airline tickets

The days of getting free airline tickets for charity may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get hold of cut-price tickets. When check-in closes, airlines sometimes sell tickets of no-shows or other spare seats at reduced prices. You might need to be prepared for a frantic dash across the airport to get to the departure gate, but these ‘standby’ tickets are good to know about, particularly if you’re doing a jailbreak, as you’ll want to reduce the amount of your own money you spend on travelling. If you’re just thinking of taking a holiday and don’t mind where you go, this technique might also work for you, though it’s a bit of a gamble.

4. Be careful with hitchhiking

Image shows a man trying to hitch a lift at the side of a very long road.
Hitchhiking needn’t be unsafe if you use your common sense.

There’s no two ways about it: hitch-hiking can be dangerous. University jailbreaks try to make it as safe as possible by providing teams with emergency numbers and using a tracking system so that they always know where students are. Here are some other hitch-hiking safety tips:

  • If you’re at all dubious about the driver, turn down their offer, perhaps by pretending that they’re going the wrong direction for you.
  • Write down the vehicle’s registration and its make, model and colour (or take a photograph) before you get in, and if possible, text this information to a friend.
  • Try asking drivers at petrol stations if they can give you a ride. This means that you can assess what they look like first and only ask people you think look ‘normal’, eliminating the element of surprise inherent in flagging down an approaching vehicle.
  • If you’re a team of women, try asking female drivers at petrol stations if it makes you feel safer.
  • If you are going to thumb a lift at the side of the road, wear bright clothes, so that you can be seen from a distance. This gives drivers a chance to slow down and stop in time, as well as keeping you safe by being visible.
  • Position yourself somewhere where you’ll be seen in plenty of time for drivers to stop, and where there’s somewhere for them to stop safely, such as a layby.
  • Make sure that hitch-hiking is legal in the country you’re in.

You’ll find more tips for safe hitch-hiking here.

5. Get a celeb to pay for you

Image shows a mountain in Argentina.
A Jailbreak team from Trinity College, Dublin, had celebrity help getting home from Argentina.

In the age of social media, celebrities are much more accessible than they’ve ever been and can be directly contacted on social networking sites such as Twitter. Appealing to them via Twitter is a good move, because Twitter is a public forum and many celebrities are keen to bolster their image by letting everyone know that they’re partaking in charity fundraising missions. We’re not sure how they did it, but one university jailbreak team managed to get Chris de Burgh to pay for their tickets home from Argentina. Contacting a celebrity who has a known interest in one of the charities you’re supporting will increase your chances of getting them involved. And don’t forget to be opportunistic; if you spot a celebrity at the airport, muster up the courage to go over to them and explain what you’re doing. They may say no, but you have nothing to lose by trying!

6. Be very confident

Not everyone is adept at blagging things, but it’s amazing how far confidence can take you. Rumour has it that during one university jailbreak, a team was trying to get from Scotland back to Ireland. They were in a bus station and the lady at the desk rang up head office and handed them over so they could ask about getting free tickets. They were told (over the phone) that they wouldn’t be able to offer them free tickets, but the students ended the call with a cheery, “thanks so much for all your help, that’s really kind of you” – and they then told the woman at the desk that they had been told that they were allowed free tickets. Although we wouldn’t advocate the sort of deception implicit in this example, it does go to show that a little confidence goes a long way!

7. Use a talent

Image shows a unicyclist performing for a crowd.
You can use your talents to raise money.

If you’re reluctant to hitch-hike, or it’s not working for you, you could instead try raising money for airline or ferry tickets by using a talent. Busking with a musical instrument, or entertaining passers-by with magic tricks or story-telling, is a good way of raising funds fast. Obviously you’ll need to be careful with where you stand; touristy areas tend to be good places for this, as there will be lots of people in a holiday frame of mind, feeling generous. If you’re dressed in costumes and have a banner, as we recommended earlier, then so much the better. To get permission to do this and stay on the right side of the law, you may need to phone the local council and explain what you’re doing first.

8. Get on the phone

Make good use of your time by dividing responsibilities between you and your travel companions. While one of you tries to thumb a lift or persuade drivers to offer you a ride from a petrol station, the other one or two of you can be phoning round different companies (or even newspapers or magazines) asking for sponsorship. You never know – some may be willing to pay for airline tickets or other travel expenses. Picking companies with a travel theme, and perhaps offering to blog about your experiences for them in return, may increase your chances of getting sponsorship, as it’s good publicity for them, too. One team managed to get a flight to San Diego paid for by Hotels.com, for example! Getting the media involved can be a good way to encourage other companies to gift you flights, as they get positive press coverage from the fact that they’re helping out a charity.

9. Blog your efforts

Image shows a young woman on her mobile phone at an airport cafe.
You can update twitter from just about anywhere.

Live blogging (or live tweeting) is a good way to draw attention to what you’re doing. If you have a dedicated website, such as a Tumblr or WordPress blog, it’s easy to provide live updates via your phone when you’re on the go, and you can include sponsorship buttons on your posts to encourage readers to make additional donations. Including photographs of where you’ve got to and how you’re attempting to get free transport will reassure sponsors that you’re working hard for their money, and make them feel more involved. Doing this also means that you have a web address to give to companies or media organisations that you speak to over the phone. It gives you a more presentable image and tells these companies that you’re in it to raise some serious money, not just because you want a free holiday.

10. Keep an open mind

Image shows New York at sunset.
How far can you get?

Another travel tip for jailbreaks (or similar adventures) is to keep an open mind, and don’t bother making a plan for where you’ll go, because you never know where you’ll end up. It helps to have some sort of strategy in place before you start, but when you’re turning up at airports or ferry terminals to see what tickets you might be able to get your hands on, you’ll have to make do with what you’re given. A jailbreak isn’t a holiday – it’s a fundraiser, and people are sponsoring your efforts; so you can’t just use it to have a good time (however tempting it may be!). Don’t rest on your laurels, either; even if you make it as far as New York, you can still raise more money by adding to your number of miles, so persist in trying to get even further away before your time is up. Just don’t forget that you’ll have to pay for your own journey back!
Finally, perhaps the most important overall tip for this kind of challenge is to be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is infectious, and if you come across as excited and passionate, you’ll win others over. Being friendly and entertaining will make you friends quickly, and make people much more willing to help you. In fact, that’s a good rule for life, not just travel!

Image credits: banner; railway; runner; hitchhiker; mountain; unicycle; tweeting; New York