The Citizen newspaper article
as published on October 3, 2001.
The Flying Dutchman
An empty purse, a well-used thumb, the Internet and a perfect idea are Ramon Stoppelenburg's ticket to the world. He spoke to JENNIE RIDYARD.
THUMBS up to a great idea, to being able to travel the world by surfing along on your charm, entrepreneurial spirit and the world-wide web.
Oh yes, and on the bones of your behind, for Ramon Stoppelenburg's lightest luggage in his purse, which merely contains a "bank card for emergencies", and that card is gathering dust as he hitchhikes down the information superhighway and around the planet.
This is blond, blue-eyed media darling Ramon, the 24-year-old Dutch chap who wanted to see the world and was somewhat bored with his journalism studies.
So, he sup up a website, called letmestayforaday.com, asking folk around the world to put him up for the night, and then sat back, waiting for offers of hospitality to come in.
The idea, he says, was based on sendmeadollar.com, a site which made its sharp sponge of a creator a lot of money for just sitting on his butt.
Accomodation offers came in a flood, with Ramon's site receiving some 1-million hits a month - once ven peaking at 1,4 million in a day - and some 2200 invitations from 67 countries, from Argentina to Yugoslavia, Costa Rica to Pakistan.
He laughs at the memory: "I thought I'd be lucky to get as far as Belgium".
But instead, his hitchhiking days in his homeland caused minor traffic jams, as people queued to pick him up, then phoning radio stations with whoops of: "I've got him - he's with me."
On the flipsite, while he was standing thumb out on an Irish lane, a local asked why he was hanging around like that, arm out-stretched, looking imploringly at passing traffic. When Ramon explained that he was signalling his need for a lift, the man was thrilled by the idea, and left saying he was going to try it too.
Despite these down-to-earth occurences, Ramon's happy lot was instant celebrity which this son of a housewife and engineer never expected. Within a week he was on Dutch telly and Wired.com had logged on and tracked him down. He was even invited to the star-strewn premiere of Pearl Harbour in London.
The modern-day Pearl Harbour of the World Trade Centre tragedly ploughed into Ramon's website too, with requests for a statement coming in only hours after the first plane struck.
He says wistfully: "Thirty-five people who I was in touch with are on the World Trade Centre's missing persons database."
Prior to his May 1 departure, the ever-smiling Ramon was being interviewed three times a day, by media from Chile to China, and that's no exaggeration.
Then up went that thumb and off he set, his fan base following his every step on his website, which he updates daily, using his hosts' internet connection.
His constant companion is his digital camera, with which he snaps away at everything and everyone, then uploading these personal postcards onto letmestayforaday.com.
"If you can spare a bed, a meal and have internet connection..." he solicits sweetly, although even the bed isn't entirely necessary. He's slept on floors, couches and even shared a bed with a baby.
The there were the Irish castles, Scottish pubs, and even the bar at an airport in Birmingham, when his host stood him up.
He was in Belfast for the volatile marching season and was once given a lift by a self-professed witch, who said she could change traffic lights to suit here. And she did!
One host dragged a microlight out of a hangar in his garden and took a thrilled Ramon up into the blue, but equally memorable was "a little student room where we sat on a mattress and the student shared her last portion of spaghetti with me."
"It depends on my host whether we go out or watch TV all day - I am still the guest," he explains politely, his English Dutch-accented and peppered with accidental quircks, which add to his warm charm.
For instance, he claims his "length" is 1,85m, and describes an eye infection as "constipation" around the eye. He's just so boy-next-door that you want to take him home... in fact, two girls in the offices of his South African sponsors, eTravel, were already clamouring to keep him when he arrived on Monday. The whole world, it seems, wants to take Ramon home.
Of course, this type of travelling has its ups and downs, in everything from food to people, but Ramon philosophically accepts what comes his way and writes uncensored about what he sees, whether he's being served reindeer and whale in Norway or having drunken, late-night rows with his hosts in Ireland.
He writes about it all, and sets accidental debates raging in the hundreds of emails he receives daily.
It's quite a grind at times and Ramon sighs: "You have to sing for your supper every day and that can be exhausting."
Keeping the Ramon fans happy requires the services of a back-up team of his friends in Holland, who diligently open the emails he receives. Without his admin assistance, he'd never made it out from behind his computer in Zwolle, Holland.
The traveller keeps fit with the aid of the 20kg backpack he lugs about, while a massage in Norway reconnected him with muscles he'd forgotten about, and everything he wears is sponsored. "Shoes, backpack, clothes, even my underwear..."
Although he has no cash available, occasionally hosts give him change for a "cup of coffee on the road". Sometimes he manages to bum a cigarette too.
Hosts are always asked to give him a thoughtful little gift as well, preferable something personal and lightweight, which he passes on to his next home-for-a-day. It doesn't always work according the plan: once he was given an acoustic guitar to present to his next surprised host.
Ramon does his laundry when he gets to a home with a thumble drier and sometimes stays and extra day to catch up with any backlog on his website or just to sleep. After all, he does try to travel a few hundred tiring kilometres a day, much of it on foot.
He has a sponsored cellphone too, and sponsored medical insurance, while the travel world are logging in and latching on, sponsoring ferries and plane tickets in the hope of an on-site mentioning. Thus he hopes to see the world outside of his native Europe.
"I am a very good swimmer," he quips, "but for this case I depend totally on sponsors."
Yes, this upsets his die-hard fans, but it would take more than a lone Dutchman with a winning grin to hitchhike safely around South Africa. ETravel has organised him some sponsored flights, and hotel rooms, but he still needs more invitations from around South Africa, for staying with real people in working homes is what is mission is about.
Ramon wants to see the world on the hospitality of its inhabitants. Yes, he'd be happy to be a be a blond chap in the townchips, but his hosts here, as everywhere, need to have a net connection.
HE is not sure where he'd going next, he explains, it all depends on the dots he makes on his map: "Every invite becomes a dot, and then I can plan my route."
He's leaving America for last though (whenever the finally decides he's had enough and the time has come to write books) intent on seeing lesser-known places first. But he's already decided where he wants to sleep that final night: "I'd like to spend the night in the White House."
However, Mr President, a night may not be enough, for occasionally roaming Ramon yearns to put his backpack down for more than a day or two, to truly connect with the people he meets.
"It is sometimes a hard job - you always have to go..."
The Citizen newspaper article as published on October 3, 2001.