It was early March, the end of the Australian summer, when I posted an ad on Gumtree (an online classifieds website like Craigslist or Kijiji in North America). I was traveling solo from Sydney to Melbourne, and was looking for someone to share the drive and travel costs with. I received a few responses before this landed in my inbox:
I ended up finding a rideshare with an English comedian named Iain, and, of course, I told him about this completely inappropriate response to my ad. Being from the UK, Iain was quite familiar with Gumtree, and said he had never had such an experience back home. Was it Australia? Was it that I was a woman?
Driving long distances with a stranger can make you come up with some crazy ideas. This is the social experiment we brainstormed together: We would both post the exact same travel ad on Gumtree looking for a road trip partner and looking for work. The only differences: our names and photos.
Iain received two responses. Both were kind and legitimate, like this:
Hi there, we are looking for a travel buddy for an east coast road trip leaving Sydney on the 26th of March and spending just over a month traveling up the east coast to Cairns. We’re a pretty laid back group consisting of an English girl, German girl and German guy. We’re renting a campervan for the trip that seats and sleeps four. If you want to know more, text us. I’ll be in Melbourne this weekend if you want to meet up for a chat.
I received over 40 responses. There were a few that were genuine. The rest were not. Here are some of them (original text kept intact):
Hi jen, to be frank I’m looking for a sex partner during my stay in Melb. I’m a 30 yrs old professional travelling in n out of Victoria. I will pay $100/hr. We can have an easy coffee first n we go from there if both happy. Text me if u r interested.
Hi Jen, I have already sent a message to you about traveling together in my Mustang convertible (which is red with a white interior—the colors of the Canadian flag). I have since realized that you are also wanting to earn some money while you are here to help cover your travel expenses. I have recently subscribed to a site called “rentafriend” and I have been paying various girls by the hour just to spend time with me doing such things as shopping, dining at restaurants and going for drives. I was wondering if you would be interested in such an arrangement while you are here in Melbourne?
We are looking for female massage staff if you are interested please sms me. We are opening a new center soon.
Jen would you consider getting reflexology done to you and getting paid $100/hr?
I would like to drive you to various tourist attractions. Perhaps we could drive along the Great Ocean Road or to Phillip Island. I will pay for all travel expenses if you accept my offer. I hope to hear from you, Jen. Please take good care of yourself, Jen.
Hi, I am a Melbourne barrister and I can offer you $500 for an evening of your company in my city apartment, possibly on a regular basis. Let me know if you are interested.
Hey there. If you don’t mind doing massage, I’m after a one hour sensual massage either as a once off or regular basis. Paying cash. I’m happy to pay around $150 an hour. I’m after a slow sensual massage with oil, long strokes under and over the body. I’m not after a professional masseuse, just someone who enjoys giving a massage :)
You seem cool xo I need some casual help should be fun n open minded text me. Also am am new here looking to travel around.
Hello. Just wondering if u would be interested in the money side of this offer. I am commissioned to do a photo shoot for a fetish gallery showing just legs and bums, no face. It’s wearing skimpy shorts and really high heels.
Hi Jen, I met up with 2 teenage German girls off Gumtree in September 2014 and they accepted my offer to drive them along the Great Ocean Road. I paid for all our travel expenses which included a one night stay at the Great Ocean Road Tourist Park located in the town of Peterborough. I am happy to pay for any accommodation if necessary. I realize that I am considerably older than you are, Jen, but I prefer spending time around people of your age and I am hoping that this will not be of concern to you.
Among the dozens of responses I got a legitimate one from a bar looking for staff:
Hi, I need some staff in my bar in St Kilda. If you still looking for work please contact me.
Iain was looking for work in Melbourne so he could extend his trip in Australia. He called and told them I passed along the information. Their response? We only want to hire a woman.