How We Cracked Jailbreak 2019

For those of you who don’t know what Jailbreak is, the rules are simple: Try to get as far away from your University as possible in just 36 hours using none of your own money and relying solely on the kindness of strangers. It’s not all fun and games though, or a dare gone wrong, depending on which way you look at it. Though an exciting adventure and a competition, it’s aim is to raise money for charity. At Leeds it was run by the RAG society and my friend and I teamed up to raise money for Leeds Mind, a mental health charity focusing on raising awareness and providing support, from helplines to housing, throughout the city. I will leave a link at the bottom to their page if anyone would like to find out more about the great work they do.

[Image: Leeds Mind]

On the 23rd of March, we stood on the Parkinson Steps, our backpacks on, with signs that said ‘Charity Hitchhike’ and no idea where we would even be sleeping that night. As the adrenaline kicked us into gear, they shouted ‘go!’ and we raced the other teams into town. We had decided that, as two girls, or rather our parents had decided for us, that we shouldn’t actually hitchhike in a "hitchhike challenge", so in the interests of safety, either we would get free train tickets, or we would have to bucket collect to buy them ourselves. After being turned down for free tickets at the Train Station, we were told we couldn’t stand on private property and so we graciously stepped just beyond the perimeter and from outside Trinity shopping centre we managed to raise £50 in under an hour! We chanted, held up a sign that said ‘Leeds to London’, and told people why we weren’t using any of our own money to get there. Before we knew it, we were on a coach to the capital!

With only a couple of hours of sunlight left, we stood outside Victoria Train station in London chanting at passers-by - hopes faded that someone rich would come and offer to buy us flights. We had raised about 60 quid as we yet again received the expected request to leave by station staff, however as we mulled over our wish to get out of London that night, and make it to Europe, we suddenly remembered the existence of a coach to Paris! Lo and behold there was one leaving in an hour right from where we were, and it cost less than 20 pounds per person. We soon found out there was a reason for that… Never take the overnight bus to France if you can avoid it. One hour in, we’d barely left London, and were caught in a traffic incident that involved a shouting match between our coach driver and the driver of the car in front, blocking the entire motorway and making us miss the ferry at Dover. Being on the front row, I think it’s needless to say, sleep was already a distant memory.

We arrived in Paris on 2 hours’ sleep with 13 hours on the clock. Could we get further? Lucky to have relatives there, we received a hot shower, a baguette and an espresso, of course! We promptly then headed out to one of the busiest places in Paris, the Champs-Elyséés, and I can say for certain I never thought I’d be heckling tourists next to the Arc de Triomphe looking so much like a local, in my school leavers hoody, a bright orange charity t-shirt, and clad with signs and a bucket which really completed the look of French student turned beggar. Unsurprisingly, the Parisians weren’t too generous, and we ended the day absolutely exhausted sat next to the Eiffel Tower eating protein bars from home. Deciding that getting further was unlikely, we realised that it would be wrong to be in Paris and not enjoy it because we hadn’t managed to get further. So, we stayed, ate a lot, drank wine, and even heard an English woman mutter ‘Tramps’ under her breath as we walked into a restaurant for dinner, lovely!

After that whirlwind weekend, it would be wrong for me to go without passing on some of what I learned from the experience, perhaps the sort of thing you won’t find elsewhere online and why you should definitely do Jailbreak next year:

Firstly, Jailbreak is not as easy as it used to be. Gone are the days of emailing Richard Branson and being offered free flights. In the weeks leading up to it I emailed and called many airlines, travel agencies and brands, but as Jailbreak is more common now, across the UK, these opportunities barely exist anymore. Instead, you have to try and think more creatively. We were pleasantly surprised by people’s generosity on the streets, and learned that, contrary to what you may think, it is most commonly not the rich-looking businessman walking past who is the most generous, It is often those who don’t look like they have much to give who have the time and want to hear what you are doing. Hitchhiking is actually a viable option, as there’s a tracking system provided, but you must follow advice and be safe when doing it. Also, it’s worth thinking about exactly when you’re going. March 23rd was expected to be Britain's final weekend in the EU, and as a result, airlines were losing money or even going bankrupt; in other words, nobody was feeling very generous, especially not towards Brits at the time.

Despite the fact it seemed our odds were stacked against, our planning had pretty much gone out the window on the day, and the challenge seemed pretty far-fetched to many of our friends and family, we went ahead and had an unforgettable experience. This is most definitely not a holiday, at least not the kind of relaxing one I’d want to plan. And we didn’t win. But between my friend and I, we smashed our target, raising £650 for Leeds Mind and were the first team to make it out of the UK. I’m hoping to do it again next year, and who knows, maybe I’ll see some of you at the start line!