Travel brings people together, breaks down barriers and makes the world a better place. At least that's what Ray Dolin thought when, with a spring in his step and a song in his heart, he set out to hitchhike across the United States to research a book called The Kindness of America.

With comic inevitability, the book's title was up for review a short while later, when Dolin fell victim to an indiscriminate roadside shooting.

He had been quietly tucking into his lunch on the roadside when a car pulled up. Thinking a ride was at hand, Dolin approached the vehicle, and was shot.

Happily, he lived - with a minor wound to the arm - and what could have been a dreary self-published tome will suddenly have a queue of bona fide publishers lining up.


So, with some luck, the talkshow circuit-bound Dolin might soon see a brighter side to his awful experience.

Hitchhiking has been getting bad press for decades. Last year, the Let's Go budget guidebook series (once something of a Bible for the hitchhiking movement) ditched the raised thumb from its covers.

Here in New Zealand, the awful murder of Czech tourist Dagmar Pytlickova has been a stark reminder of the dangers of travelling a quiet road alone.

But safety is only one factor in hitchhiking's decline. Cheap secondhand cars and staggeringly cheap flights have also done their bit.

(If you must hitchhike in New Zealand, check out the Safe TXT message service, which lets people know where you are and the registration number of any vehicle in which you're about to travel. Smartest of all: be safe and be with a mate.)

Anyway, it's a pity to see the good name of travel besmirched - bad things don't just happen on the road. Ask Sam Swain, the Englishman who bicycled 16,000km through Europe and Asia with his father.

Over 10 months they went from the west coast of Ireland, through Europe, Tehran, India, Cambodia and China before finishing in Tokyo.

Celebrating the conclusion of their eventful - and crime-free trip - dad and son were at a restaurant in their hometown of Bristol when Sam's bike was nicked from outside the eatery.


"We had no problems throughout the trip," said Sam.

"We come back to England and my bike gets stolen."

Call it the unkindness of Bristol.

STOP PRESS: Ray Dolin has admitted making up the story of his shooting. Police in Montana, who are considering whether to lay charges against him, described his self-administered gunshot wound to the arm as a "desperate act of self-promotion".

Dolin's irony-filled tale went around the world, and he's done a disservice to the already shaky name of hitchhiking.