is marvelous to listen to the other nine teams in the Global Scavenger Hunt, a
23-day mystery tour around the world where we don’t know where we are going
until we get the call to get to the airport – excitedly relate their separate
adventures and experiences. This happens when we gather at airports (which the
teams use as time to do peer-review of each other’s lists of scavenges
completed and points won), on the bus to a hotel, at breakfast, or when we come
together for the meetings where we get our booklets describing the challenges
in a destination or find out where we are going next. Indeed, even though this
is in a theoretical sense a contest, a competition, it is a friendly
competition and people are helpful even though the rules prohibit actual
those who have dropped out of the competition still pick up on organizer Bill
Chalmers’ (the Chief Experience Officer and ringmaster) challenges because they
invariably lead us to wondrous and fascinating things that we may not have
considered, or some experience at a highlight that we might not have considered
that prompts new perspective and understanding. And since the competition is
intended to crown “World’s Best Travelers” it is designed to challenge one’s
ability for logistics and handling the inevitable trials and tribulations of
travel. That’s the sport.
Without Borders, the team of Zoe and Rainey Littlepage, of Houston, has now
done the Global Scavenger Hunt more than a dozen times and won it five times,
in addition to being avid adventure travelers on their own. But they appreciate
the difference in traveling this way – first as a mystery tour, so you have no
ability to research or plan in advance what you will see or do at a
destination; second, the challenges force you to experience things or see
things from a different point of view and become immersed, even in an
abbreviated way, in local culture and society; and third, the rules (such as
not being able to use your cell phone or computer to research or book, not
being allowed to book through the hotel’s concierge, not being allowed to hire
a taxi driver for more than two trips) are aimed at making you “trust in
strangers” and interact with local people.
through our adventure, the Lawyers are currently leading the contest (no
surprise). Rainey explains that a lot is luck (for example timing), but I think
it is more art and willingness to embrace challenge as opportunity. And an
ability to plan so effectively you can accomplish more scavenges, higher-point
scavenges, and simply amass points. The problem is, if you fail to achieve any
of the “mandatory” challenges, you don’t get any points at all for that leg.
different than regular travel,” Rainey tells me. “Play the game. The sheet
gives purpose to do things you wouldn’t do. You have to plot. It’s a brilliant
way to see things… You decide how many to do, but you turn to look and find
another. How between trains you might
have an hour, and get 3 scavenges done. It’s an experience to get it done. I
feel pity for those who are just there
– no points.”
things bring a sense of accomplishment (like identifying local fish at the
market). “How you solve. I love the game. We have been lucky this year,” he
says, pointing to how one of the mandatory challenges in Jordan was to be at
the Citadel in Amman at sunset – no mean feat since they had to get there from
Petra. The sunset was at 7 and they arrived at 6:15 only to discover the
Citadel closes at 6 pm. It was cash, not luck, that got them in: they paid the
guard $5 to let them in to get the photos they needed as proof at sunset. “We
would have lost the whole competition if he didn’t let us in.”
the Dead Sea, where the mandatory challenge was to swim, it was nighttime when
they arrived, but found someone (the kindness of strangers, is a theme of the
Global Scavenger Hunt), to let them take the required dip.
Wadi Rum in Jordan, where they stayed in a tented camp, another mandatory was
to be on a camel wearing headdress. But it was night and camel rides were no
longer available. They found somebody to provide the camel and even let him put
on his headdress. They then paid a guy with a pick up truck to bring them fro
the tented camp to a taxi at 3:40 am to get to Petra by 6:15 am (when I met
them). They completed the challenge of making it all the way through Petra,
hiking up the Monastery Trail (about 8 miles altogether) by 9:15 am when they
dashed off to Jerash (by 2:30 pm), accomplishing in three hours what it takes
most 4-5 hours.
had to sit through an hour-long church service before the required element
would appear, took a Turkish bath, went to a café to smoke a hooka, ate falafel
at a particular place, sent a stamped postcard from Petra to Petra (Bill and
Pam Chalmers’ daughter who couldn’t come on the trip), and for the “beastie” challenge,
pose on a camel. “Points are king,” he tells me.
here’s an example of real luck: Getting back from Inle Lake in Myanmar, Zoe has
her plane ticket but Rainey did not (again, they had to be back in time for the
6 pm deadline). Rainey was 30 on the waitlist, when a man offered his place on
the plane. “I had to run to an ATM down the street to get the cash to give
him.” (Read Zoe’s blog: https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com)
of it as “Around the World in 80 Days,” where Phileas Fogg had to use such
ingenuity to get place to place (and out of trouble) by a deadline to win the
bet. Or how Indiana Jones, who had that powerful scene at Petra, in “”The Last
Crusade used the clues in his father’s notebook in pursuit of The Holy Grail,
which ended with a “leap of faith.” (If the trip sounds a lot like “The Amazing
Race,” that is not coincidence – rumor has it that the reality TV show
producers got the idea from the Global Scavenger Hunt.)
think upon Chalmers’ pep talk during our 8-hour layover challenge in Bangkok:
You escape the
airport albeit for a short time with only one rule…don’t miss your flight!
…you embrace this short window of opportunity
…you take a mini-excursion…explore a neighborhood…see something you’ve always
wanted to see
…you stretch your legs in an exotic location
…you go out and see and do as much as possible
…you maximize your exposure to a new place, a new culture
…you engage with real human beings
…you have a good time
…take a whirlwind hit n’ run no-time-to-waste tour
…but the clock is ticking— you have to be time sensitive
…you won’t turn into a pumpkin—but you will miss your flight!
…so efficiency matters…you have to know when to walk away—it’s just not working
…forget lines and mass tourism spots
…our layover challenges test their Travel IQ…their situational awareness…
…but they have to be careful, be smart
…remember the vagaries of local logistics
…and the airport boogaloo awaiting them: check-in, security,
customs & immigration queues…
…Remember: don’t miss your flight!
are now midway in our 23-day around-the-world mystery tour and en route to
Athens for a 30-hour challenge.
all feel confident, comfortable, would do new things, trust strangers, found
balance between event and joy. Maximum joy, embrace that,” Bill Chalmers, says.
Chalmers created the Global Scavenger Hunt not just to promote the benefits of international travel to cultivate Global Citizens, and all the benefits of travel – from providing economic foundation to sustain places of history, heritage and culture that might otherwise be abandoned, provide jobs and improve the living standards for communities and societies, and promote an exchange of understanding and ideas just as Marco Polo did centuries ago, where we are also encouraged to engage in voluntourism projects along the way – but serves to support The Global Scavenger Hunt’s cause-related, charitable purposes. The annual event raises funds for GreatEscape Foundation’s twin goals: building co-ed elementary schools in low & middle income nations, and distributing interest-free no-fee micro-loans to budding global entrepreneurs (mostly mothers).
“Both our methods of helping others help
themselves are designed to facilitate their great
escape from the cycle of poverty—one person at a time!
Happily, we have improved the lives of thousands: building a dozen schools, a
mid-wife training facility, and funding thousands of mothers wanting to make a
better life for their families,” Chalmers writes.
The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.
is a growing concern and not just for residents of popular places being overrun
and rendered unaffordable and uninhabitable by onslaughts of tourists, possibly
assisted by the mad dashes to the next “hot” place, prompted by social media
“influencers” and “user generated” posts (‘Look at what a wonderful place I’m
in, you should come!”). Governments and municipalities who otherwise relish the
jobs created and economic benefits of tourism, are increasingly concerned about
the literal destruction of the very thing that so attracts travelers –
effectively killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
Some destinations are being mindful – Venice is even contemplating charging admission to day-trippers and there are now gates in place that can close off the city to anyone who isn’t a resident or hotel guest at night. Coral reefs are being killed off by snorkelers wearing popular sunscreens with oxybenzone (a travel company, Aqua-Aston Hospitality, won an HSMAI Adrian Award for Leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility for its “Reef Safe” Campaign raising awareness, including giving out 70,000 samples of appropriate sunscreen and ultimately got the state of Hawaii to ban the damaging chemical).
like the Galapagos and Macchu Picchu limit the number of people; the National
Park Service has a lottery system for permits rafting in the Grand Canyon and
people wait years for their number to come up.
can love a place to death, or just be so selfish and insensitive not to care –
look at what happened the Joshua Tree National Park during the government
shutdown, with vandals and marauders destroying trees that take 1000 years to
grow, and will take 200 to 300 years to restore the park.
a dual-edged sword, though: tourism, done right, helps sustain the very
environment, culture and heritage by providing economic sustenance, so
indigenous people can continue to live and work in their native lands, so there
is money for maintenance and upkeep of monuments, wildlife refuges and nature
preserves. Ironically, some game preserves justify selling hunting permits to
sustain the animals. And often, travelers are not in a position to know whether
the elephants or camels they ride are “gentle” because they have been
conditioned with cruel means.
“I’m shocked how people (Americans) don’t care – until problem is right on them,” an irate Mark Lakin, Co-Founder, Epic Road, said at the New York Times Travel Show panel, ”Sustainable and Socially Conscious Travel: Tips, Advice and Travel Experiences.”
“Think about what drew
you to a place – sustainability is defined as preservation of that asset –
whatever it is that you want to see, you want your kids to see, you are
choosing to make that asset live. I’m surprised more aren’t concerned about
“Travel is not a right,
travel is a privilege – if you are among those people privileged to travel, you
have obligation to preserve [what it is you are traveling to see],” said Bret Love, Co-Founder, Green Global Travel. “Are you going to exploit or empower? We practice
ecotourism – responsible travel to natural places – eco doesn’t stand for economy,
which is exploitive, it stands for ecology.
“Our purpose for being
is to teach people how to travel more responsibly, sustainably to preserve not
just the natural but the cultural – languages, music, dance – all the things
that make a cultural destination unique. If we are not preserving, they won’t
survive. The reason this is important is that if we don’t spend money
responsibly when we travel, we risk losing all the things that make the places
“There are two terms fairly loosely used: responsible travel and sustainable travel,” said James Currie,Wilderness Safaris Brand Ambassador. “Responsible travel has now become a word that you have to embrace sustainability to be responsible – yes can travel with a sustainable outfitter – someone who is taking care of the environment, who builds lodges in a sustainable way, but it is up to us travelers to act responsibly – to respect local cultures, communities, distances you go to see animals.
“I genuinely believe that responsible travel is a better form of travel, and once people experience it, you won’t want to travel any other way.”
New York Times travel and lifestyle writer, Shivani Vora,
who moderated the panel, Sustainable and Socially Conscious Travel: Tips,
Advice and Travel Experiences, at the New York times Travel Show, raised the issue that “so many
of us stay in hotels, what does it mean to choose a sustainable hotel?
“There is such a thing as greenwashing – towels, hire locals – that actually saves money,” said Currie. “True sustainability goes so much further. When considering a sustainable hotel in fragile environments (like safari lodges), consider: Is that hotel built in a sustainable manner? Where we operate in the wilderness areas of Africa, you can literally pick our lodges up and there will be little sign of ever having been– there is no concrete foundation, everything is on elevated boardwalks, canvas-style tents, yet you still don’t sacrifice luxury. What are those hotels on the ground doing to have sustainable effect – animals, conservation, local communities? What are you doing for local communities, how are they benefiting from the tourism dollars going to the hotel, what conservation projects are they supporting? We’ve been operating 35 years – 35 ears of “traveling with purpose” – we pioneered ecotourism in Africa before the word existed.
“We use life changing journeys to help preserve and restore the wild places of Africa. Wilderness safaris connect with nature, make a difference. We were the first with passion, courage to pioneer sustainable ecotourism as we know it today. We adopted the African schema as a logo, a symbol of pristine and fragile eco systems. We were the first to reintroduce previously extinct species (rhino), to do ground-breaking reforestation in Rwanda habitat for gorillas.
“For us, it’s not just
about big game on the savannah – thanks to 35 years of experience, we are able
to offer guests authentic, intimate wildlife encounters – 2 million hectares of
pristine wilderness areas in seven countries, 40 camps and lodges that
epitomize our ideal.
“Conservation is also
about people. “Our journeys change lives” not just those of guests, but of the
staff and thousands of people who live in these communities.”
Among the programs that Wilderness
Safaris offers is Youth of Africa, an eco-mentor program, where young people
access and can appreciate their heritage and become the conservation leaders of
the future. “We change lives now and into the future; our journeys change
lives. We make a political impact.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask the important
questions when you travel in Africa,” Currie said. “If they don’t have something tangible in writing,
a really good environmental policy, you are booking the wrong hotel or operator.
Bret Love, Co-Founder, Green Global Travel advised, “Certification programs to look for – some are more efficient than others – LEED building certification (if the hotel was built in sustainable fashion, but not if operated sustainable, or community initiatives). The epitome is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (gstcouncil.org), which devises criteria by which tour operators and hotels are judged. But you have to pay to play and small mom and pop operators may not be able to afford certification. Another is Earthcheck (earthcheck.org) which has patented software and systems that have set a benchmark for sustainability reporting for the travel and tourism industry and is used 70 countries. Another is Green Globe and Rainforest Alliance.
it boils down to reviewing blogs, authoritative sites like New York Times, what
people say. Look for active engagements with the community.
“We work with international
expeditions, leading tours to Peruvian Amazon for years – go to local schools
in Iquitos where have conservation education program for kids, who train to become
guides and trackers; go to river villages to see water treatment plants they
created for villages, sidewalks so don’t have to watch for poisonous snakes –
use money from tourism for schools, infrastructure.”
In Kenya, Gamewatchers
Safaris & Camps have a connection to Masai. The company pioneered Masai
conservancies, just outside Masai Mara where there is more wildlife because the
animals are more protected. The local communities own the land which Gamewatchers
lease, 90% of the employees are from the Masai and the company pays out $500,000,
divided among 1000 local Masai families that own the property. So, look where
money goes to community.
“Why it should matter to you is not just benevolence,” said Lakin. “In the Maldives people love those romantic over-water bungalows built on coral reefs. But if you use heavy machinery to build them, you kill the reef. Why should you care? Because when you dive off from your bungalow to the reef, it’s dead.
“The person who comes
and serves breakfast. If the wilderness lodge has gone out of its way to build a
school to educate that waiter’s child, he will be happy to have the job, and it will be
reflected in how he treats the guest.
“Stop seeking ‘ecotourism’ for ecotourism. You are all curious nomads, seeking out the next great adventure.
If you want adventure to be great, think
about how every person, place and thing was treated and hopefully the label of ‘ecotourism’
will go away and it will just be about good business practice.”
Even hotels in urban
destinations can reflect sustainable practices and responsible tourism.
“Consider not just how the
building was built, but what extra things the hotel does for the local
community, visitor experience,” Love said. “Does it have its own rooftop garden
where they grow produce used in the restaurant? Does it have a rainwater catchment
system so they are not using public water, or a gray water recycling system to
irrigate, efficient lighting. Does it make the lowest impact it can make?”
The easiest telltale
says Lakin, “Do the plastic test: if you walk into the room and you only see
plastic; how many little bottles, pens, cups? “
“Whether a hotel is in Africa or a city, there are tangible examples of what a difference we can make, Currie says. “We had plastic bottles at our lodges until 2012, when we started a five-year plan to reduce plastic in lodges. In five years, we reduced plastic waste by 88%. We also put in reverse osmosis and recycle wastewater for vegetable gardens.
The amount of electricity
using solar can save is 5000 carbon tons, equivalent to 600 flights between
London and Johannesburg. Ask hotels what they are doing to reduce their carbon
“If you travel and see a
company not managing sustainably, speak up. As consumers, you have power,” says
Love. “We spoke up in the Amazon, where operators were using plastic water
bottles which they had to have shipped in and then deal with it afterward. We
said, Why not just put a water filter system on the boat, give guests a water
bottle with your logo that they can fill up, then you don’t have to deal with
shipping. You can make these changes.”
“Sustainability is a
ripple effect,” says Currie. “It starts with the traveler making a difference,
which makes a difference for the hotel, which has immense power with suppliers.
At Wilderness Safaris, we noticed that a lot of food that was coming in
cellophane-wrapped. We put pressure on suppliers to stop wrapping the food in
But even companies that
want to be sustainable, may not know all things they need to do – companies that
offer animal interactions, like elephant rides in Thailand, camel rides in
Egypt, posing with a tiger, swimming with dolphins or encountering sharks in a
Love points to companies
that offer a chance to ride an elephant. “We had to educate them that this is
not truly sustainable – if you want to use these words and avoid greenwashing –
dedicate yourself to educating yourself. Consumers should educate – at website,
stories about cases.
“I swam with dolphins
before the documentary, ‘The Cove’ came out. No one knew in 2007 about dolphins
in captivity – swimming with dolphins was considered ecotourism. The same with
riding an elephant and walking with lions. Elephants which are trained to pose
for photos or give rides, are put through an extremely brutal training process,
designed to break the animal’s spirit and make it a slave to human overseers. If
you wouldn’t want something done to a human why would you allow it to be done to
one of most precious and beautiful animals in the world?
about what is behind these things- people see Tiger Temple in Thailand where
you can pose with a tiger (which may be shut down). But it has been proven that
the tiger has been drugged, that’s why it’s so placid – but people don’t know.
If you are touching an animal, posing with selfie, riding an animal that’s not
meant to be ridden, probably there is some hurtful process to condition the
animal. People don’t know. But if what you are doing is changing the natural behavior of
the animal, don’t do it.
Even snorkelers can be
unwitting killers of the coral, by wearing sunscreen containing oxybenzone, which is toxic to the living
“If on safari, game rangers or guides too
close to wildlife that puts you at risk, but if something happens, the animal
would be shot,” Currie says. “Guides must respect a comfortable distance, and
keep park vehicles so they always have an escape route. If you see the guide
getting too close, say something. It’s
about your safety but the animal’s safety also. At Ngorongoro Crater there are
off road tracks all over because of irresponsible guides.
“The vast majority of
animal interactions are not acceptable,” says Lakin. “One of the quickest ways
to figure if interacting with captive animal is acceptable, is whether the
animal is being bred.
In contrast, you can
support organizations that rescue orphans and reintroduce them to the wild.
Lakin points to the David
Shelbrick Wildlife Trust, which rescues orphan elephants whose mothers have
been killed by poachers. They have developed a synthetic milk formula that
mimics elephant milk. They may spend 5-7 years rearing the baby elephant before
reintroducing them into a herd, but allows visitors, who make a donation, to
visit the baby elephants. Elephants have lived on earth for over 55 million
years, but in just the last 100, we have lost 92% of elephants to habitat loss
Epic Road supports the David
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DWST) which rescues, rehabilitates and reintroduces
the orphaned elephants, providing travelers who symbolically “adopt” an
elephant with a $50 donation, an opportunity to have a private visit.
“The experience is just
better when it is responsible,” Lakin says.
“Wherever you go, try to
engage with local community, food, culture, history, art, dance, everything
that makes unique – don’t just be an observer but a participant – learn the language,
learn to cook a dish, sing a song. In the Peruvian Amazon, we taught kids to do
the hokey-pokey, in middle of Amazon! You will feel feelings you won’t get from
all-inclusive resort, or a cruise. Just engage and be part of the world,
embrace the world, that’s what makes travel real, connect across boundaries,
understand we are all more alike than dissimilar.
Overtourism – literally loving
cherished places to death – is another problem inadvertently raised by
ecotourists who believe they are supporting and sustaining environments and
cultures. But there are ways to mitigate the adverse impact: time the visit to
the off-season and less popular times when a destination is not being overrun.
Even better, seek out alternatives.
find joy in finding the 2, 3rd or 10th version
of that place and not being with so many people,” says Lakin. “That’s not
to say Taj Mahal or Victoria Falls are not
spectacular but there is something to be said for visiting less trafficked.”
“There is no problem
with going to Machu Picchu, which is doing things to limit tourists,” says
Love. “But traveler should research and go in off season or shoulder. Machu Picchu
is great but there is a whole sacred valley with amazing ancient ruins just as
cool. Don’t neglect to see other things – in Czech Republic, Prague was crazy,
way too many tourists, but every place outside Prague was great. You don’t want
to contribute to mass tourism, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit, just
avoid peak times.”