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.
Many complain that the true spirit of the holidays have been corrupted by crass materialism. But there are ways to be less material and incorporate values – family values, social values, environmental values, global values – into your gift giving. Think travel.
The gift of travel is the gift of together, of time, of memory, of experience that is life-changing or life-enhancing, of new perspectives and new awareness – of self, of others, of our place in the world and time itself.
But it is also possible that we can use gift-giving to support or help sustain heritage, culture, environment.
Many of the great museums and institutions of the world offer some of the most interesting, innovative and creative items in their gift shops and you can support their endeavor by shopping online or through catalogs: the Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), the American Museum of Natural History (www.amnh.org), the Art Institute of Chicago (855-301-9612), Smithsonian (Smithsonianmag.com), the Nassau County Museum of Art, which usually have special items oriented around major exhibitions, and you wouldn’t believe the great Harry Potter items you can get at the New-York Historical Society, in conjunction with its “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibit (www.nyhistory.org), to list just a few.
Zoos and aquariums and special attractions are fantastic to shop at, especially for kids: The Palm Beach Zoo (www.palmbeachzoo.org), for example, has eco-friendly items. There are also Adopt-an-Animal programs. The Bronx Zoo has similar programs and an online store (www.bronxzoostore.com). And you don’t have to visit the Kennedy Space Center, to get space-related items (www.thespaceshop.com), though visiting offers incomparable experiences.
Another gift idea is to purchase family memberships in these entities, which gives a sense of “ownership” and encourages multiple visits as well as giving access to benefits.
Just call or go online to your favorite museum, zoo, aquarium, preserve, historic site or attraction and you will likely find a store or various ways to support the organization with your gift.
You can give a donation that preserves the planet and good social purpose, often getting something material in the bargain. In recent years, I have “purchased” an acre for preservation and sent a furry animal and booklet to my niece and nephew through the Nature Conservancy (nature.org/gifts and there is an actual catalog); became a member of the Smithsonian Institution and received not only a subscription to the outstanding Smithsonian Magazine for myself, but a free subscription/membership to give as a gift, not to mention the incredible journeys offered through the Smithsonian (www.smithsonianmag.com); enrolled my loved one as a member of the National Parks Conservation Association so they received a fleece blanket plus the NPCA magazine; made donations on behalf of my loved ones to National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service which earned gifts as well as membership benefits. A gift membership to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, for example, gives access to online guides to bike trails and often some giveaway like a hat (www.railstotrails.org).
You can give a gift that supports important organizations which protect destinations, historic or cultural sites, or the mission of exploration, like National Wildlife Federation (my nieces enjoy their holiday subscriptions to Ranger Rick magazines I’ve gifted them for years, nwf.org). Also on my holiday list: Audubon Society(www.audubon.org), the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org/store), the Wildlife Conservation Society (www.wcs.org); and World Wildlife Fund (wwfus.org).
Many worthy organizations are also supported by purchases: the National Park Foundation, which supports national parks, gets support from Subaru of America through its annual Subaru Share the Love Event, now through January 2; over the past decade, the event has raised over $7 million for national parks. Earthwatch Institute, which offers “civilians” the opportunity to join real scientific research expeditions (earthwatch.org) is supported by purchases made through AmazonSmile (https://smile.amazon.com). When you buy travel insurance through World Nomads, you can make microdonations to support local communities (the site also steers people to responsible travel, https://www.worldnomads.com/make-a-difference/responsible-travel/).
Consider these organizations for support on Giving Tuesday.
Trips That Make a Difference
The very act of traveling benefits communities by spurring an economy that sustains culture, heritage, the environment, community, and forges a mutual understanding that can translate into foreign policy.
But for those who want to go even beyond to improve conditions for people, there is a category of travel, Voluntourism, that organizes travel to a destination to volunteer for good purpose – whether it is participating in scientific research, working to save a species from extinction or save the planet, or helping disadvantaged communities, or rebuilding after some disaster, as in Puerto Rico.
andBeyond has launched philanthropic-focused itineraries in Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa to give guests a first-hand look at its core ethos of caring for the land, wildlife, and people. The activities range from adopting an elephant at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya to participating in local school conservation lessons in Tanzania to visiting the Grootbos Green Futures College in Cape Town, an organization that provides educational training to unemployed young adults in the city (www.andBeyond.com)
Earthwatch Expeditions enable you to join scientists in the field as they research urgent environmental issues, in places that would otherwise be closed to visitors. Expeditions address wildlife and ecosystems, climate change, archaeology and culture, and ocean health, for example, researching lions and their prey in Kenya, rewilding the Scottish Highlands and studying orcas in Iceland. (800-776-0188, 978-461-0081, www.earthwatch.org),
Sierra Club arranges around 90 affordable volunteer trips each year through its Sierra Club Volunteer Vacations to engage in hands-on conservation work like building and maintaining trails, removing invasive plants and assisting on archaeological digs. For example: park maintenance in Hells Canyon, Idaho (with transportation by jet-boat up the Snake River Canyon), forestry service at the New York Botanical Garden (a 50-acre urban old-growth forest) and native-bird habitat restoration on the Big Island of Hawaii (with hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).
Adventure Life, a tour operator, incorporates voluntourism into some of its trips. For example, on its trip to Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano, travelers lend a hand with reforestation efforts, painting interpretive signs and performing trail maintenance; a trip to Costa Rica’s Pacuare Reserve for whitewater rafting also includes two nights with biologists for research at an important nesting ground for leatherback turtles; a cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula enables travelers to take part in citizen science projects aboard the ship (www.adventure-life.com).
Village Experience expanded upon its fair-trade retail shop (which supports local craftsmen) to create an ambitious program that brings travelers into their villages, creating another stream of revenue (www.experiencethevillage.com).
WorldVentures Foundation offers 42 VolunTours in 12 countries — professionally planned and guided trips where volunteers spend time beautifying communities, building infrastructure and brightening the lives of local children – reported that its 2017 programs impacted the lives of more than 50,000 children around the globe with over 50,000 volunteer hours (worldventures.com).
But don’t expect that because you are volunteering your services the trips are cheap, sometimes you pay for the privilege of doing good and your fees help support the mission.
There is a whole category of experiential trips that not only enrich and inspire and make the world a better place, but support important institutions like National Geographic, the Smithsonian (which also offer student and family programs); Outward Bound, Road Scholar, Sierra Club (sierraclub.org), just as examples.
National Geographic is offering up to $1000 off each child under 18 who travels with you on its family-friendly National Geographic-Lindblad expeditions to Alaska and Galapagos (booked by Dec. 31). Through the National Geographic Global Explorers Program, kids and teens learn to develop the skills and curiosity of an explorer while working alongside our certified field instructors -observing the behavior of blue-footed boobies, painting watercolors using glacier ice, or filling a field journal with wildlife sketches of all kinds (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/). Traveling with National Geographic helps further the work of its scientists, explorers, and educators around the world (natgeo.com/giveback).
Often, just showing up is a way of sustaining, revitalizing communities with tourism supplanting obsolete extractive and exploitive economic pursuits. Also, some travel companies donate a portion of their guest fees to local community, in addition to doing their best to purchase locally, hire locals, and help sustain communities. For example:
Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which is part of Boston-based Grand Circle Corporation’s family of travel companies, supports the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation established in 1992 by owners Alan and Harriet Lewis to support communities in which Grand Circle works and travels, including some 300 humanitarian, cultural, and educational endeavors worldwide, among them, 100 schools in 50 countries. The Foundation is an entity of the Lewis Family Foundation, which has pledged or donated more than $169 million since 1981 (www.oattravel.com).
World Bike Relief has partnered with tour operator Tourissimo to present a week-long mountain biking tour in the Apennine Mountains of Italy led by World Champion Rebecca Rusch. Funds raised through this trip will help empower students, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs in rural Zambia and give them access to reliable transportation. Tourissimo is also donating two Buffalo bikes per rider. https://www.tourissimo.travel/appenninica2018.
There is a whole category of “sustainable travel” companies and projects that not only structure their travel programs with social responsibility in mind, but leverage the power of travel and tourism to improve the lives of people and their environment (see sustainabletravel.org).
Travel Gift Card, Registry Programs
Black Friday, Cyber Monday kick off the holiday shopping season. But gifts don’t have to come in a box. You can also gift the experience of travel and all the life-enhancing, even life-changing benefits that travel affords, from creating the opportunities for family bonding, to enriched learning, to broadening perspectives and world-view, to laying the values for social consciousness by seeing other cultures and habitats.
Many travel entities – hotels and resorts, cruiselines, tour companies – have gift card programs – spas (Spafinder.com), ski resorts, cruiselines. Some have registries.
Many of the grandest Historic Hotels of America members – each one distinct, and most often grand, historic and luxurious – offer gift cards – like Wentworth by the Sea, NH; Omni Grove Park Inn, Mission Inn & Spa (the list goes on and on) – just inquire. To see members, visit historichotels.org and its European counterpart, Historic Hotels of Europe, www.historichotelsofeurope.com.
The key here is that if there is a destination, a cruise, a resort you want to “gift” to your loved one, just ask if a program is available. Check on expiration dates and how the gift card can be used.
And how much better to let someone special know you care by gifting them the fulfillment of a fantasy? There are Fantasy Camps for just about every interest. For example: Broadway Fantasy Camp, geared to adults of all ages and levels of experience, immerses you in the world of performing and creating live theatre, working closely with theater pros – veteran stage directors, choreographers, and musical directors – who guide you through the process (www.broadwayfancamp.com, 212-713-0366). Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp, based in Las Vegas, offers a variety of music, as well as Songwriting Fantasy Camp and Vocalist camp (check their site for calendar and events, www.rockcamp.com, 888-762-2263).
And if you are struggling for that special gift for the hard-to-please teen, consider an Outward Bound expedition: Sailing on the rugged and beautiful Maine Coast; Sea kayaking through the Outer Banks; Dog sledding on the frozen Boundary Waters of Minnesota; Mountaineering in the Colorado Rockies, High Sierra or Pacific Northwest; and many more choices to fit students’ interests, schedules and locations. The company makes it easy to purchase a Gift Certificate (outwardbound.org, 866-828-1195).
The holidays are a great time to check off items from that bucket list.
Black Friday, Cyber Monday
The travel industry makes it easy: gift cards and certificates, some offer registries. Many have Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, holiday discounts and sales – just google sites to find them. This is the time to indulge that bucket list or fantasy.
Just a few to recommend:
For example, on Black Friday, Perillo Tours, is offering $500 off per couple ($250 per person) on all 2019 Italy and Hawaii escorted tours. The offer is valid on new bookings only for travel January 1 – December 31, 2019. The 24-hour Black Friday sale is bookable online, via phone or email from 12:01am to 11:59 pm on November 23, 2018 (must use booking code: BlackFri18).
On Cyber Monday, November 26, the Divi & Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusives offering a discount of 50% off hotel stays between April 21 – December 22, 2019. Plus, one lucky winner who books the Cyber Monday deal will be selected to receive their stay free (www.diviaruba.com orwww.tamarijnaruba.com)
Save up to 40% off bookings at the historic The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA. Rates for winter and spring travel start at $99 per night; summer dates start at $179 per night for bookings online on Monday, November 26 and can be booked online at: https://www.redlioninn.com/getaway-deals/.
Glamping Hub, an online booking platform with 35,000 tree houses, tipis, yurts, safari tents, airstreams, cabins – accommodations that are unique and secluded in nature – is participating in its first-ever Cyber Monday sale, adding 20% to each gift card purchased on Monday, Nov. 26. Visit https://glampinghub.com/.
Travel Related Gifts
Still wedded to the idea of a material gift? There are umptium possibilities for the travel-bound, especially where some special-interest or activity that requires special gear or equipment is involved like skiing, biking, hiking is involved.
Cameras are big on the list for travelers, with size and functionality among the key criteria. Some of the new smaller cameras have almost as much functionality as the larger digital SLR, but are compact, light, easily carried and in most cases even have quality video. (For really important trips, good to have a DSLR as well as a smaller, versatile point-and-shoot.) Look for a wide-range digital zoom, ISO range, image stabilization, video capability, battery life, how fast the camera focuses and shoots and WiFi capability).
After consulting with experts at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo, I have a list of cameras for when I don’t want to pack my DSLR that fulfill my criteria – that is, what can I wear around my neck, shoot with one hand while riding a bicycle that gives excellent quality images, image stabilization, decent zoom lens, auto focus, is fast and responsive on/off/shoot, and is reasonably priced. Here’s my list Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS100 (which I use), Panasonic Lumix DMC AZ200, Canon G9X, Canon G7X, Sony RX100V.
Drones and GoPro-style cameras are also popular, as well as new accessories that enhance the photo capability of smartphones.
Consider getting your traveler a waterproof camera for those adventures into the rainforest, snorkeling, whitewater rafting and such; for the astrophotographer, the astronomer, the birder, the survivalist, the underwater photographer, the adrenalin junky.
Take advantage of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday savings deals at major camera stores and online sellers like B&H, www.bandh.com, 212-465-4018, 877-865-9088 and Adorama, www.adorama.com, 800-223-2500.