Sawasdee: Welcome to Thailand folks!
We ended the Myanmar leg this morning after all the teams conducted their peer review interviews en route to Bangkok from Yangon. Frankly, we had some rule infractions to deal with. Nothing that would disqualify any team, but infractions that were addressed and penalty points subtracted from half the teams. There were concierge use issues, excessive teaming up issues, flying issues, taxi-use issues and not spending the required time at scavenges issues. All the teams affected where explained their infractions and accepted their penalties in good spirits. It was a learning leg for many.
And after the leg we have a shake up on the 2012 Global Scavenger Hunt leader board, with the defending title holders of The World's Greatest Travelers charging ahead and taking first place on the leg and now are in first place over all. In second place were the Sydney Sisters, Fiona and Katrina -- who are now in second place overall also, and the show prize for the Myanmar leg went to Team 2 Steps Ahead. Now in third overall for the event are Saskia and Andrew, the events previous leaders who placed a leisurely fourth place in Myanamar.
Onward we turn the page and enter a new leg.
Today is a day of transition in the 8th annual around the world travel adventure competition. We are neither here nor there yet, but hovering in a place in between -- also known affectionately as a layover!
And so we currently find ourselves with three legs behind us after a difficult Myanmar leg and six legs along with two action-packed weeks laying before us on what has been called a Magical Mystery Tour-like travel marathon.
lay•over \ 'lā-, ō-vәr \ noun (1873) - STOPOVER n (1885): a period spent by a passenger at an intermediate point in waiting for a transportation connection; a brief halt in a journey caused by scheduling in the course of a journey; a short stop in a long journey, especially one between airplane flights; free time between flights spent in an airport hub -- and to be avoided like the plague.
And, to that end, we have sent our teams out on a rather easy (par 1) leg here in Bangkok, Thailand, that we affectionately call: The Six Hour Layover Challenge.
What is involved in the Layover Challenge? Well, just this:
- Do you stay at the airport and hang trapped like a tourist in transit in a mall-like terminal? No, you don't...
- Do you find a floor, a quiet corner, or maybe an uncomfortable bench and attempt to catch a few zzzz's. No, you don't...
- Do you zone-out with jet lag talking with other travelers drinking beers while watching CNN? No, you don't...
- Do you get indulge in some expensive treatments at the airport spa? No, you don't...
- Do you go to the airport fitness area or prayer room and work on your cardio, abs or spirituality? No, you don't...
- Do you hang out in an airline premium lounge with other frequent flyer mileage junkies playing computer solitaire, travel scrabble, answer your e-mail or post a new Facebook photo? No, you don't...
- Do you eat some notoriously bad generic airport food? No, you don't...
- Do you go shopping guilt presents at the duty-free? No, you don't...
What you do is escape the airport and embrace a window of opportunity to see and do as much as possible. You attempt to maximize your exposure to an indigenous culture -- albeit briefly -- and embark on a mini-excursion. You attempt to engage with a real human beings, to stretch your legs and mind in an exotic location. You try your darnest to have a good time, take a hit-and-run, the-clock-is-ticking, no-time-to-waste whirlwind tour.
Because you won't turn into a pumpkin -- which in this case would mean you would be missing your flight! So, efficiency matters and you need to know when to walk away, to forget the mass tourism spots and under no conditions miss your flight!
Some would say that the Layover Challenge is the biggest test of someone's travel IQ -- what I would call their fluid situational intelligence.
So we will see how our teams react to it after their four day difficult Myanmar leg. Should be easy right?
- Utilize three different modes of public transportation including at least one boat ride. What three? Prove it.
- Eat some local cuisine along the Chao Phraya River. Prove it.
- Visit one of these three wats: Arun, Pho or Phra Kaew. Prove it.
- Visit at least one traditional Thai talad. Which one did you visit? Prove it.
- Indulge yourself with either a foot or traditional Thai massage. Prove it.
- Approach and survey three young locals and ask them what "chue-len" means, and what theirs is. Prove it.
Think about it, in America we are asked to report to the airport three full hours before an international departure to deal with the friction at the airport in the post-9/11 era. Here, teams will need to know how to efficiently deal with, what I refer to as the vagaries of the airport boogaloo: dealing with check-in, departure taxes, immigration control, security lines and other airport bottlenecks.
A simple task really ... well, we will see?
The Elephant, the Rooster and the Ostrich...
We have been asked a lot of questions since we started this grand adventure event a week ago in San Francisco, and here are the three topics that seem to come up a lot in discussions about The Global Scavenger Hunt.
Obviously, the five-ton polka-dotted elephant in the room is: "Wow, this is an incredible travel adventure you got going here, but geez it sounds an awful like that reality TV show 'The Amazing Race?'"
True enough; people over the last decade have noted some significant similarities and differences between CBS's long-running, award winning "Amazing Race" television show and The Global Scavenger Hunt. We've heard applicants talk at length about the show during the interview process; about teams getting kicked off, about all the insane stunts, about teams being cast for dramatic purposes, about all the backstabbing that goes on and the always escalating drama. Frankly, we have nothing bad to say about any show that informs mainstream Americans to the wonders of international travel. (They probably have a whole floor of snappy white-shoe corporate attorney-types waiting for a negative sound bite from us too?!) We've even seen a few promo ads while watching our DVRed "60 Minutes" telecasts.
That said, we can only revisit the facts: The Global Scavenger Hunt was hatched in the spring of 1999, went website live in August 2000 and started garnering media attention on October 1, 2000. Whereas the reality TV show we are so compared to, was filmed March 8, 2001 and aired on September 5, 2001. We created The Global Scavenger Hunt to be an open-to-all international travel adventure competition that annually crowns "The World's Greatest Travelers" that also does some global good with its charitable activities -- not for ratings and ad revenues. No sour grapes, just the facts.
The next question we get a lot is: "Great competition, but why haven't any 'celebrity travel personalities' entered The Global Scavenger Hunt?"
Well, roosters are interesting critters -- they make a lot of noise and get noticed, but actually do very little. We have indeed had "famous travelers" contact us about participating in our little annual around the world travel adventure competition. Seems, they want us to pay them to enter our event because of all the publicity that they will surely attract! "Don't you know who I am!" is a familiar refrain. No thanks, we're doing fine we tell them. They don't seem to follow through after that...
We have also found that some so-called "travel experts" with a following are really great at giving domestic tourism advice, like: how to speed through TSA security lines at Dallas-Fort Worth airport (DFW) or at talking about how to get cheap flights to Cancun for Spring break, and how to score a suite at the latest greatest new hot hotel in Hawaii -- but that their real-life travel experience flounders a tad when you mention the possibility of visiting places like India, Morocco or Oman!
On the flip side, we get a lot of very passionate bloggers wanting to join our event, but sadly have more will than wallet and enterprise. They are great at finding the latest rave in Goa and will tell you all the ins and outs of traveling for a month through Southeast Asia for $1.50 -- those aren't travelers, they are ascetics! -- but can't seem to muster committing to getting themselves to the starting line, despite the certainty of their victory!
Or, what we find out is that these celebrity travel personalities worry a lot about not performing well under real life conditions, and that it would not look too good for their professional careers if they didn't finish well -- as in win our event. True enough, traveling without the benefit of a safety net (aka without a producer, two cameramen and a local fixer in tow) can be a daunting proposition. (This is also why we haven't gotten too many travel agents join us -- fam trips are all prepackaged for them.) And that is exactly why our competition is so great -- there is no safety net for our participants; it is A Blind Date with the World and they are all up against worthy and great real international travelers.
Finally, the last question we hear is: "This is so great, why haven't we heard of The Global Scavenger Hunt before?"
That brings us to the ostriches in the story -- the travel media. As mentioned earlier, we started garnering media attention to our "fresh, novel and interesting travel adventure" event over a decade ago. Since then, we have received a tremendous amount of editorial coverage from the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Washington Post to Time and National Geographic Traveler magazines, from the Times of India, Bangkok Post and South China Morning Post to the New Zealand Herald and the Scotland Sunday Mail, and from FOX-TV and PBS to CTV and ABC-TV. In all we've showed up in over 500 international media outlets. (Thank you all!)
But, and this is a BIG but: The bright spotlight of the media only shines on new "fresh, novel and interesting" items. Once an editor or writer has done something on you, from a two-line notice to a 1,000 word interview, you are basically done no matter how popular you are among readers and viewers, unless you pay-to-play -- as in by ads. And we don't.
We have been all about building our street creed and travel competition reputation; positive word of mouth and those that are real travelers do know about us. Whether the travel media cover us, well, that depends what side of the bed they woke up on any given day. Objectively speaking, there is just no rhyme or reason why sometimes they cover us one year and then not again or 10 years later -- and we have asked too!
By the way, did I mention that after conducting their Layover Challenge that we are off to Sri Lanka? Stay tuned for that exotic leg in our next dispatches from abroad.