Most 18-year-olds spend their free time playing video games, revising for their A-Levels or at the pub with their friends. But Jakob Poffley spent his February half-term doing something extraordinary – undertaking a solo hitch-hiking challenge across the UK. It was all in aid of Shelter, who help millions of people struggling with bad housing or homelessness every year in order to tackle the root causes of homelessness.
The four-day feat took Felixstowe lad Jakob to London, Brighton, Bristol and Manchester – the four cities with the highest homeless populations in the UK. He took no money with him, relying on the generosity of drivers to get around and living off of donations and food waste. However, he does not profess to knowing what it’s really like to be homeless, saying it ‘would be patronising and wrong’ to suggest he did. “It is only four days and people are more likely to help you when you are doing something for charity,” he explained.
So, how did Jakob come up with the idea? He had read about people who had travelled around the world, taking no money with them, which really inspired him to find out what it feels like to be totally self-sufficient. He said: “I had thought of doing a couple weeks of cycling next summer, taking this idea forward, because cycling is obviously a free method of transport and it is very easy to camp wild for free as well. But instead of waiting until next summer I thought I may as well do something sooner.”
He then tailored the idea to fit into four days in February half-term. “It turned out the four UK cities with the most homelessness were laid out in a way that would allow me to hitchhike from one to another each day and spend a night sleeping rough in each,” he explained.
Although it was Jakob’s my first time hitchhiking in the UK, he was surprised at how successful the trip was. He said: “It really is a wonderful way to travel – you meet so many amazing people, each with their own stories to tell, and the unpredictability of it makes it very exciting! I think a lot of people find the idea of hitchhiking very scary and very few people do it these days but, it is a lot safer than people realise. The very act of hitchhiking almost self-selects the nicest people on the road as they are the ones who are likely to stop for you!”
That said, Jakob is well-versed in travelling solo, having spent 25 days cycling in Norway and 18 days hiking in the Alps last summer, all before hitchhiking from Zermatt to Budapest.
Jakob became the talk of the town in Brighton after Ali Ceesay picked him up for the M23 leg of his journey, posting his story on the Hanover Community Notice Board on Facebook. She called him “a lovely guy for doing this off his own back” and “a brave and compassionate guy”. “Everyone who picked me up was incredibly nice to me and extremely generous. I was given food, invited round for showers and given money to add to my fundraising total,” Jakob added.
He’s now gone back to studying for his A-levels – Maths, Physics and Chemistry – and has raised almost £1,400 for Shelter. Although this keen adventurer hasn’t got any more fundraisers in the pipeline, he’s planning to take a year out before heading to uni and hopes to spend more than seven months cycling through South America.
Jakob will be keeping his donations page open until August, so if you’d like to make a contribution, click here.