A man from Northern Ireland wanted to know more about the world, so he went hitchhiking … for 15,500 miles
This isn’t a hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, but it’s not far off.
eet Thomas Kearney, the Belfast man who “thumbed up” from Argentina to the Arctic Circle – a staggering 15,500 miles.
The 28-year-old, who studied international politics and conflict at Queen’s University in Belfast, decided he wanted to see the world for himself “rather than learning it in the abstract”.
And he told the Belfast Telegraph that his year-long journey of self-discovery was an “incredible adventure”.
“I was frustrated to learn about the world through books,” said Thomas, who has now written one of his on The Journey of a Lifetime.
“I wanted to travel but I didn’t want to do the normal tourist thing where you walk around with all the other Westerners and see all the same places.
“I wanted to do something different. I read two books – Into the Wild and The Motorcycle Diaries – and they gave me the idea to travel unconventionally and try to drive a car. stop, throw me there.
“I wanted to meet as many people as possible and have a whole range of experiences that most people wouldn’t have.
Not only that, but the former student of Rathmore Grammar began this epic journey – and spent three months on it – alone, before being joined by friends from Belfast along the way.
“I started alone then a friend David Meehan joined me for five months. Then two other guys, Gareth Woods, came for a month and Tiarnan Mackle, for 10 weeks, ”said Thomas, who currently teaches English in Berlin.
Although he had “been talking about it for months,” Thomas said his father was shocked when he left on his epic adventure.
“I started with a few short trips after I graduated,” he recalls.
“I cycled alone from Cork to Donegal, then from Normandy in France to Istanbul in Turkey.
“The ‘big trip’ started on September 1, 2015.”
He flew to Ushuaia in Argentina from Dublin via Amsterdam and Buenos Aires; four flights and 36 hours later he was at his point of departure.
He had a backpack, a tent, and eight books – “half of my backpack was full of books; what a stupid decision “- with him.
“I was terrified for most of the trip, but I was also ignorant and naive enough about everything that it wasn’t until after things had gone wrong …
“From day one people said not to hitchhike, they said it was too dangerous; we were getting robbed or killed … but most of the time things were going well, so I built great faith in humanity.
There were, however, “a few” frightening incidents along the way – the first four months to come.
“People attacked David and me with bricks on the outskirts of a town in Colombia; luckily they failed, ”he said.
“We ran into an armed, hooded street gang in Guatemala in a town called Escuintla a few months later.
“I was also arrested by drug addicts and ex-prisoners … while traveling alone, a man took me to his home in America and pulled out a gun …”
In total, he has hitchhiked in 16 countries – including Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, the United States and Canada – with 5 £ 000 in the bank, having financed the trip by working in a bar and retail business.
Thomas has a sister Caitlin (31) who lives in Sydney, Australia and works in marketing, and a younger brother Eamonn (21) who is studying computer science at the University of London, England.
His father Seamus (64), an electrical contractor, has his own business and still lives in Belfast.
The family lost Mum Collete, who suffered from depression, in 2006 when she was just 44 years old.
His death, along with the loss of other close family members at a young age, prompted Thomas to embark on his odyssey into the unknown in 2015.
“Mom had been sick for a long time and we knew she was in a terrible situation. His death was an absolute tragedy, ”he said.
“My uncle and aunt also passed away at a young age and I decided I couldn’t spend my life hoping to live to be 80. I wanted to start living my dreams and stop procrastinating.”
He hated his time in El Salvador because “we saw two corpses by the side of the main road in different places and we were told it was like that every day because of gang problems.”
But he loved Chile: “you have massive mountains, lakes, rivers, trees, volcanoes and flamingos… and the people were really nice to us there. People would take us to their homes and let us sleep on their sofas.
However, there is one memory that stands out.
“I climbed a volcano in Guatemala and camped in the crater,” he said.
“While I was there a nearby volcano erupted and all night long I just watched the lava fly through the sky and roll down the side of the volcano … when I woke up my tent was covered with a thin layer of ash It was amazing Probably my best experience.
That and meeting his girlfriend Karolin (31) – who is German and works on climate conservation – during the trip.
“She’s actually on the last page of memoirs,” he said.
Maybe it’s one for his next book.
Thomas Kearney’s Thumbs Up is available on Amazon and on The Book Depository website