How many countries are there and what constitutes a visit?

Usually it’s a civil debate. Sometimes just a brief, frank and cordial diplomatic exchange. Although on a few occasions it has gotten downright, dare I say it, territorial, between a few lesser intellects or overly patriotic nationalists. Blood is lost, and sacred drinks are spilled.

How many countries are there anyway?

I remember three such debates in particular: One, a marathon session in a dank and dark pub in Dublin on a rainy afternoon over numerous pints of Guinness. Another took place on a sultry and easygoing evening at the FCC in Phnom Penh. The most memorable one though, occurred though around a remote fire circle somewhere in the fabled Lost World of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana between a handful of well-lubricated fellow travelers from no less than five continents. All the debates start out the same…and then escalate to terra incognito from there: “So mate, how many countries have you been to?

And so, it begins.

It sounds simple enough. And to some it is. Yet for me, this has always been a tough question to answer. One that I’ve grappled with and pondered obsessively since my graduate school days studying the lofty ideals of international relations at the London School of Economics. (Maybe that’s my problem? I am just a pointy headed intellectual!) Whatever…there’s no easy answer—at least one that makes everyone happy.

1911 British Empire Map of the World…a lot has changed.

Why? Because frankly, countries come and go. So the study of nation states demands a certain flexible multidisciplinary approach: tribalism, geography, history, culture and geopolitics all come into play. Remember, it wasn’t until 301CE that San Marino became the first official “country.” Believe it or not, nation-states have not always been—nor will they always be. Personally, I blame the mapmakers for all the subjectivity and disharmony on this issue. That, and the revenge of geography; outsiders drawing those arbitrary boundaries on pieces of old paper—What were they thinking? Either way, it is political geography run amok…the world map is not settled. Remember: East Germany, Czechoslovakia, South Vietnam, East Pakistan, North Yemen, Sikkim, the USSR and Yugoslavia?

I still have stamps from Sikkim.

So, depending on your definition of “country” it could mean different things to different people: according to the United Nations, there are 195 official nation-states (including: Palestine and Vatican City); the International Olympic Committee says the number is 206 (including: Puerto Rico, American Samoa, British Virgin Islands & Hong Kong); while FIFA of World Cup fame has 211 associate-states (including: Taiwan, Gibraltar, Macau, Northern Ireland & Wales); and the International Organization for Standardization (IOS) lists 249 different country codes (including: Antarctica, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Guam & Western Sahara).

But there are more than just dry political constructs to consider, there are living people to consider too.

Think about this for a moment: It is estimated that there were some 600,000 self-governing communities (tribes) in 1500 BCE, and now, after 3500 years of social evolution and a few hundred thousand wars, the ebb and flow of scores of empires, countless rediscoveries, and more than a few national mergers and acquisitions later, we’re down to just 195 nation-states in the United Nations. We know that scores of unrepresented people’s homeland aspirations lay outside our strict nation-state definition; think Tibet, Kurdistan, Uyghurstan, Scotland and Catalonia to name but a few. In fact, just using unique cultures, as defined by languages as a yardstick, linguists and cultural anthropologists contend that there are around 600 distinct ethnic groups with unique “in-use” languages—over 230 separate languages are spoken by at least 2 million people each day—of the 7,102 living languages still in use. (Differing regional dialects reflect the split of most of those 7,100 languages.)

The many languages of Asia alone…

That said, now here’s where it gets hairy for us travelers: The Century Club claims that there are 327 official countries and territories to visit, while the Most Traveled People list 873 such possible unique destinations. Clearly, a broader working definition of “country” must come into play when one is “counting” their visits—as we are seemingly prone to do.

Here’s my take: Somewhere between the seven geographic continents and 600 distinct cultures lies the answer. Aside from sometimes contentious on-the-ground political realities, islands remain the biggest point of disagreement among travelers whenever the debate ensues. The exact number is impossible to count (While the Chinese keep building more!), in fact, of the millions of islands per se, just 11,000 islands have permanent residents. There are over two thousand islands just in the oceans of the world. Do they all count? No, let’s not get silly.

Out of the way and with no good restaurants! 

What about unique non-politically correct (at least today) places, breakaway and proto-states or unique territories and provinces? Examples include: Palestine, Taiwan, Kurdistan, Tibet, Abkhazia, Kashmir, Puerto Rico, Sahrawi, Somaliland and Scotland, among scores of others. Yes, they do count in my book as distinct and unique loosely-defined “countries”—sometimes within other “countries” by choice or not. I am from Ontario, Canada, and I can tell you that Quebec is uniquely different from the rest of Canada.

Finally, what about geographically disconnected (sometimes islands, sometimes exclaves), peripherally aligned to a “country”? Places like Alaska, Hawaii, Zanzibar, Kaliningrad, Northern Cyprus, Cabinda, Gaza, Musandam, Nakchivan, Temburong and Easter Island, to name but a few. Yes, they do count qualify as unique destinations to count as a visit.

So, 193 “countries” is clearly incomplete, 900 places to visit maybe a tad too high and I side closer to the 300 “countries” number, give or take; although islands remain my biggest point of disagreement with the “counters” I run into. To date, The Global Scavenger Hunt has visited 85 such countries.

The Global Scavenger Hunt 85…heading towards 100!

More importantly for us travelers than how many places there are to visit: What counts as an official visit to one of those countries?

Do you count layovers or fuel stops? What about driving or riding on a train through a country without getting out? Do you have to eat a meal there? Spend a night there? Have at least one interaction with a local?

My technical definition of an official “visit” is simple: You are there, two feet on the ground; there is no minimum time required for such a visit. That said, interacting with a local resident and either enjoying a meal or experiencing something is key. Personally, it is quality over quantity for me as I have aged and traveled more and more.

Proving it? Easy: passport stamp (a visa alone does not prove entry), transportation ticket stub, credit card or meal receipt, selfie of the traveler within the territory with some type of local sign or icon. Trust but verify I always say.
 
Just curious, anybody out there been to the world’s newest country?

Written by: William D. Chalmers

© 2000-19 GreatEscape Adventures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Travel Personalities Right for The Global Scavenger Hunt

On a daily basis we get the question: What type of person goes on The Global Scavenger Hunt?

Curiously, interviewers, writers, travel agents and corporate mucky-mucks all want to know what type of personality, archetype or psychological makeup best fits our traveler profile.

It will come as no surprise that our hundreds of travelers have come in many shapes and sizes, of all ages and from all around the world. Mostly we have selected the right travelers for the right adventure—and we know that our annual around the world travel adventure is not for everyone (nor do we want it to be frankly). We have erred on occasion; and more than once over the years, ill-suited travelers took our Blind Date with the World. Although never a total disaster, and no one has ever quit the event in progress; it obviously wasn’t a good fit for them—or us.

That said, we prefer to accent the 98% positive side of the story. So, as we prepare for yet another lap around the world, we thought we’d try to answer that burning question: Who indeed?

We will quickly dismiss from our analysis the “not them” people: apathetics, novice travelers, worry-wart fear-based travelers, personal crisis travelers, endless complainers, social media poseurs and the cruise-only types.

First off, one of my travel-related pet peeves: Please cease and desist with the endless faux debate arguing the difference between traveler and tourist. One is not better than the other; and we are all tourists: AKA “a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.” A traveler is just a tourist “who travels more often or longer than the average” person, plain and simple. Nuff said.

Traveler traits are however another thing and they vary widely. Vacation personalities, travel styles, and interests differ among us all. There is no right way to travel. Travelers inevitably have different goals and expectations. But travel personalities can be categorized, if you’re curious enough and look closely. Here’s our down and dirty breakdown of the ten travel personalities and distinctive traits of people that are attracted to The Global Scavenger Hunt.

Enthusiasts: Are more laid-back low-stress type-B’s: positive, easygoing, adaptable, tolerant, flexible and open to new experiences. Usually cheerful, they are fun and enjoyment motivated; like to belong, go with the flow and are happy to be here. Typically, they are people focused travelers who like to share, play by the rules and are appreciative of their privilege to travel. Whether on an organized trip as a tourist or in a group setting—it’s all good to them.

Adventurers: Indiana Jones-types with good travel literacy. They are confident, curious, novelty seeking, grand escape-oriented, and DIY independent travelers who can easily make their own travel arrangements. They take public transportation when they can because they know that getting there is still half the fun. They love talking about traveling and are typically foodies too. Often spontaneous and last-minute planners, they love the sense of freedom traveling offers them while seeking out the unfamiliar. They wholly embrace the idea of taking A Blind Date with the World. (Many are reformed Buzz Seekers)

Explorers: Are usually intellectual, mechanical travelers; old salts with high travel IQ’s. Ever-curious, sometimes historic-centric (World Heritage Sites are high priorities), it is all about the journey and taking the road less traveled wandering off the beaten path— sometimes aimlessly. Slow and inquisitive travelers, many are members of the Circumnavigators Club.

Thrillionaires: Know the enriching benefits of novel travel experiences because experiential value, while not worthless—is actually priceless. They rightly equate wealth with passport stamps, friends made, and extraordinary experiences had. They are up for anything, anywhere, anytime; with high degrees of the O-Factor: openness. Always on the lookout for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, they possess a strong sense of self-curiosity and embrace change; they are site-doers and are always willing to trust strangers in strange lands. Nothing beats new and glorious first-hand sensory experiences—be they natural beauty or human-made. They understand the positive psychological consequences of having as many lifetime peak experiences as possible. (Borderline Competitive Travelers)

Offbeat & Highbrows: A mixed lot of creative types and urban sophisticates who are perspective-seeking travelers. They seek authenticity and gravitate towards the culturally-oriented aspects of travel: music, the art scene, history, museums and architecture. (Intangible Cultural Heritage destinations figure prominently.) They like the finer things in life. They embrace uniqueness and the unconventional that stimulate them to think in new ways. Vive la difference may be their operating assumption. They are willing to experiment, learn, and allow for serendipity in their quest to find the meaning of life…and their place in it.


Travel Addicts: Just love to travel and take a lot of jaunts; the wanderlust gene (AKA dromomania) is either a system glitch or a highly evolved feature. Travel is key to their lives: they work to travel, they live to travel, they love being on the road. More long-term travelers by nature, they are always eager and excited to go—to get away. Their travel to-do list keeps growing the more they travel. They don’t count countries—they count new friends. Often a loner, and usually with more will than wallet; they are critical and inquisitive travelers, wanders really, with a sense of unlimited possibilities. Like a chameleon, they easily immerse/integrate themselves in whatever culture they are in. (Often Contrarian Travelers too)

Contrarian Travelers: Love to travel but don’t like crowds, high prices or typical tourist destinations. (80 percent of travelers go to the same 20 places) Often carrying two passports, they avoid trends like the plague and go against the grain—zagging when others are zigging: traveling in the shoulder off-seasons (spring and fall); traveling to a region following a monsoon, hurricane, volcano eruption or earthquake; following a one-off terrorist incident whose subsequent media hysteria freezes other travelers; traveling where the dollar exchange rate brings good value, and flying on carriers that just experienced high-profile incidents. Bad news equals good travel prospects. Weather doesn’t matter to them when or where they go, and they usually stay in weird ass hotels. They avoid hot destinations—they probably have already been there—and seek out quirky offbeat adventures surfing their own wave. (Usually Travel Addicts)

Achievement Traveler: Competitive? You betcha. Bucket List-oriented with type-A personalities: hard-working, driven, status-oriented, compulsive organizers, perfectionists, rule benders who like to play games. Masters of the universe. Amazing Race-like trophy hunters and mountain climbers impressed by travel-related achievements and the bragging rights that go with them. They want to be The World’s Greatest Travelers. Usually country collectors, many are members of the Century Club. Been there, done that, what’s next? Borderline jaded travelers, they love talking about their travel war stories—though they aren’t such great listeners. (Older, richer and mellowed Buzz Seekers)

Harmonious Traveler: They are the virtuous serene travelers. Quest oriented, almost pilgrimage-like, they are looking for either: a soul-purifying personal transformation via cathartic spiritual enlightenment, or to make the world a better place with their own altruistic and nurturing brand of personal diplomacy. Travel is therapy. They care a lot, and are: compassionate, attentive, emphatic, responsible, nature-oriented, conscientious and somewhat mystical. There is spirituality in both the people and places they visit; and there is personal growth and healing to be had in their deep connection with our Global Village’s humanity—and it is their mission to discover it. Or, often, they just want to see if another culture is a better fit for them than their own. They subscribe to Gandhi’s travel is the language of peace ethos. (Evolved Enthusiasts)

Buzz Seekers: Passionate, creative, life of the party, event-oriented Hemingway-types. Adrenaline junkies with high-risk = high-reward mindsets, whose high wire activities make them feel more alive. Type-T personalities, who feed off the rush, the sheer audacity of their exciting thrills; and are usually, although by no means exclusively, male. They are travel outlaws who seek danger for danger’s sake. War zones—no problem. Seat of their pants travelers in a constant state of movement, they are gamblers and risk-takers prone to extreme physical activities…with more than a little machismo present. What you might think of as white-knuckle near-death experiences they merely see as just another thrill—another high; just another epic adventure perhaps to reinforce or enhance some perverted sense of themselves.

What travel personality do you see yourself fitting? More importantly, are you ready for a life-changing adventure?

Written by: William D. Chalmers

© 2000-19 GreatEscape Adventures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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20 Must See Art Pieces from Around the World: Oh, The Beauty We’ve Seen

Art lover’s of the world unite!

If you love art, beholding art…experiencing art; nothing is better than seeing it up close and personal. Having visited 85-countries on various editions of The Global Scavenger Hunt–we have seen a lot of art. The Masters, avant-garde, religious art, non-Western, aboriginal and street art. Mere words cannot convey the amazing, odd, moving, peculiar, shocking, transcendent, remarkable, sublime…humanity-inspired works of art we have been privileged to personally experience over the years. There is nothing like seeing the real thing, sometimes in the place it was designed to be seen.

And there is a lot to see…more than what is in any art history textbook that’s for sure. Sure, there’s da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Last Supper, Michelangelo’s David and Sistine Chapel, and Rodin’s The Thinker, all well and good—if not a tad crowded to experience. But know that stuffy European museums are not the only places to experience incredible art; here are a few of some of the exceptional pieces we highly recommend you seeing (before you die–okay I said it!)…Enjoy!


Tree of Life
mosaic – Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos (*)


Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring – Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands (*)


Stone of the Sun
– National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, Mexico (*)


Picasso’s Guernica mural – Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid (*)


The Taj’s inlaid mosaics – Taj Mahal, Agra, India (*)


Windows of Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Caves of the Thousand Buddhas – Dunhuang, Gansu, China


Mephistopheles frescoes – Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila, Bulgaria (*)


Windows of Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey (*)


Rivera‘s The History of Mexico mural – National Palace, Mexico City, Mexico (*)


Klimt’s The Kiss – Belvedere Gallery, Vienna, Austria (*)

Mosaics of Church of the Savior on Spilt Blood – Saint Petersburg, Russia (*)


Madaba Map mosaic – Madaba, Jordan (*)


Zeduan’s Spring Festival on the River – National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (*)


Chagall’s  Opera Garnier ceiling – Paris France (*)


Orlando Towers – Soweto, South Africa (*)


Ajanta cave 17 paintings – Aurangabad, India


Huaca de la Luna
murals – Trujillo, Peru


Windows of La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain (*)


East Side Gallery – Berlin, Germany

…and the list goes on and on of course.

Come with us and see what beauty you will experience…

What are some of your favorite pieces of global art that truly move you?

Written by: William D. Chalmers
© 2000-19 GreatEscape Adventures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Our Responsible Travelers Creed

Is there a right way and a wrong way to travel? Yes!

We live in the era of the Virtuous Traveler. We at The Global Scavenger Hunt (TGSH) believe that traveling in the spirit of humility and curiosity will enhance your journey. To do well in this event—and to travel in general—you will find it necessary to interact with people throughout the world: to trust strangers in strange lands. Their customs may be different and strange, effective communications may be challenging; but make no mistake about it, your destiny will be determined by the kindness those strangers extend to you. So, smile, listen well, be sensitive, go slow and gentle into the night, and accept karma.

In our humble opinion, below is a Responsible Travelers Creed that every traveler ought to abide by. Most of it is commonsense, but since ignorance can do a fair amount of harm, we find that they always bear repeating:

Do no harm. Minimize your impact. Be Green. Pack it in—pack it out. Leave nothing in your wake. Take only pictures and wonderful memories with you. Don’t litter and never leave graffiti—even if it appears to be a custom. Try to save precious water resources as much as possible and conserve energy as well. Minimize your footprint as best you can. Use an eco-sac bag and use reusable water bottles (fill them up after you pass through security at the airport & get them filled at your hotel). Walk and bike as often as you can, and use public transportation as much as possible (an event requirement). Use reef-friendly sunscreens (sans oxybenzone). Enjoy local cuisines (oh yeah!).

Be patient with the people you encounter. They’re not from the “Big City” and it may take them a few moments to digest and adjust to your language. (Think for a moment how you would feel if someone out-of-the-blue started speaking Hindi to you on your hometown street corner asking directions!?) Cultivate the habit of patiently listening and observing; not merely hearing, seeing and quickly reacting. Ask sincere questions—accept honest replies. Be polite. Don’t be glib or provocative.

Remember that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Travel to meet the world openly; relish the differences in both cultures and customs—don’t be a condescending know-it-all imperialist swine. We in the West (most of us) don’t have all the answers to all the world’s problems—we just think we do! Please don’t fall into the West is Best and We’re #1 Syndrome. Have an open mind. Encourage sustainable old ways, and be respectful of local traditions. Others are not inferior—they’re just different.

Do not expect special privileges from others just because you’re a visitor. Wait until you are invited to partake in their personal celebrations and rituals (Imagine if some badly –dressed stranger crashed your daughter’s wedding…or your father’s funeral!). As in your daily life, make no promises to people that you are not certain to honor. (Repeat that sentence!) Doing lunch means doing lunch—not just saying it. Saying you’ll call or write later, or send them a copy of the digital photo you took of them—means that you will really do it. Your word is your bond still reigns supreme in most of the rest of the world. White lies are BIG lies.

Stay on designated paths and within designated areas. Private property laws do exist elsewhere. When visiting sacred and historic sites, take only photographs. Always adhere to posted “no photos/no flash” rules.

Dress appropriately when visiting sacred and/or religious sites. Take off your shoes when appropriate—and please no shorts, caps or tank tops. Women especially, please dress modestly in certain destinations; show respect for their traditions. Men, take your hats off indoors and your sunglasses off when having dialogue with others.

Pack this mindset for your travels: make friends and listen.

Always ask permission from the people you wish to photograph up close or take a selfie with. If you’re in doubt, ask before your shoot. Be sensitive. And for both our male and female travelers: when taking a group photo with indigenous strangers/new-fast friends of the opposite sex, it is not polite to put your hands on their shoulders or touch them—no matter how friendly you think you are being!

Never remove or disturb architectural fragments, natural habitats, stones, critters or foliage—these are always highly inappropriate souvenirs. Think if everybody did that.

Don’t purchase artifacts or artworks that you think or suspect may have been taken from historic or sacred sites; or buy objects from endangered species, corals or rainforests. It is called illegal contraband.

Do some research once you arrive (Usually done before you go we know!). Attempt to educate yourself quickly about language basics. Learn and attempt a few useful phrases like: Hello, please and thank you. Learn about some of the local customs, taboos, art, history, religion…and about the situational politics of the destination you are visiting. Ask questions and listen well—learn.

Never touch animals or birds. And please don’t feed any wild animals. Always give the animals you encounter the right-of-way and retreat if necessary. Never enter any protected areas or scientific research stations unless invited. Be careful taking animal selfies too, don’t join the stupid club. Wildlife is, grrr, wild—be careful! And it is true: if some place allows you to interact with animals that it would normally be dangerous to interact with—those cute animals are most likely sedated. Stay away, don’t encourage this financial exchange.

Remember that many historic and sacred sites are still functioning (living) places of worship for local inhabitants—and not just for tourists to admire and photograph. Show respect.

Please don’t allow your personal electronic techno-gadgets to get between you and the local people you meet. Turn off and unplug—you will experience more. It is okay to get lost and ask for directions. Look at what is live and in front of you—not at the digital photo you just took of it.

Buy and eat local stuff. Support local artists and craftspeople. Spend money so that it stays in the community’s economy. And remember that the bargains you may obtain are only possible because of the low wages that exist there. Happily, pay the Gringo Tax. Don’t quibble over a few cents.

Take a few moments everyday to reflect on your daily experiences to enrich your understanding of the people and things you were lucky to meet and experience.

Obey all local laws. No matter where you are, accept the laws of the land. This means sometimes not drinking alcohol, showing public displays of affection (PDA’s), or even chewing gum. Corruption and bribery is illegal everywhere! It means saying no to illegal drugs. And it always means respecting all traffic laws. You are not special.

Do not encourage “organized” begging. Of course, you can be generous, but try not to encourage (incentivize) kids to be on the streets instead of in school with your noble impulses; or by perpetuating dependency with hand-outs. Attempt to stay clear of orphanage tourism that turns “orphans” into a commodity by asking yourself: “Am I the best person to help out here? Am I properly trained to do this work? Will I really be helping or is this really just for my Facebook page?” (You will know the honest answers.) Encourage self-reliance by supporting registered local charities, and international one’s like: GreatEscape Foundation, Free the Slaves, UNICEF and Save the Children.

You have read the event’s Official Rules & Regulations, but the spirit of this event is to be honest, don’t cheat, lie or fudge your results, don’t rush and have fun. Please live and play within that spirit. Know that Coach John Wooden had it right, when he said that: “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Remember the Golden Rule—and no, not the one about the man who owns the gold rules—the real Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have others treat you. The natural law of reciprocity—you must give to get and you get what you give—also known as karma

Finally, keep in mind that the places we go to are there for the people who live in it, not the people who visit it!

© 2000-19 GreatEscape Adventures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Enjoy the Ride: Long-Haul Survival Tactics

If we extrapolate the Buddha’s lessons to our 21st century travels, we quickly recognize that the state of air travel today neatly fits into his ancient Four Noble Truths: 1) that we crave comfort; 2) that we know no flight will last forever; 3) that karma exists; and 4) that upgrades are closet we can all get to achieving travel Nirvana.

Face it, you are going to be circumnavigating the globe on The Global Scavenger Hunt, and that madcap mystery adventure will entail taking of a few long flights, in addition to those inescapable ocean crossing voyages while trapped in an aluminum canister time-machine transporting you from one beguilingly exotic destinations to another. In the jet age we reside, they are simply unavoidable. And so, we thought it would be helpful to offer some well-honed survival tactics to help make the perceived miserable flights…well, less miserable. We think that they will assist you in mitigating the dreaded economy class syndrome’s side-effects and lower your Travel Misery Index quotients. And so, like the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, we offer our own eight-point plan:

Right View:
It all begins with the proper mindset: See the glass half-full, don’t be a Debbie Downer. If you see your flight as just a big inconvenience—it will be. If you think it will be terrible—it will be. Try to look at it from a different angle: as an adventure, the possibility of meeting new people, reading a book, catching up on your movies, or the fact that it is only temporary (this too shall pass) and it is just a means to your end—getting you to your next great destination.

So, the best way to avoid entering one of Dante’s circles of hell is to be positive, be kind to others, be open…smile more. Accept your situation and practice patience. Expect it to be bad and long—you might be surprised it’s not. Employ a sense of humor. Accept the airline caste system: those that pay for upgrades get comfort, those that don’t, don’t. Noisy babies? Get over it—you were young once. Be tolerant and use your common sense. Anticipate being bored and leave your emotional baggage behind. Accept the time you are in transit—leave your over-inflated ego at home—it is out of your control, you are not the Captain! Be humble.

And remember, your flying is an extraordinary privilege and any complaints about it are really First World problems—get over them.

Right Conduct:
Practice the Golden Rule. Be friendly and have empathy: if you recline your seat, don’t be upset when the person in front of you does the same thing. Pamela is my own Emily Post, but her 1922 book, Etiquette, says it all and still rings true: “Do nothing that can either annoy or offend the sensibilities of others, sums up the principal rules for conduct under all circumstances—whether staying at home or traveling.

Right Effort:
Prepare yourself!

Pre-order a veggie meal if possible. Check with Seat Guru when pre-booking your seat when possible. Some flyers love aisle seats; I am a window guy. I love looking out the window and seeing the earth’s geography unfold, plus, no one will disturb me when/if I fall asleep. Some people don’t like bulkhead seats because they are too near bathrooms and people milling about, some don’t like exit rows seats because the seats don’t recline.

Charge all your power devices. Think about aspirin therapy to help warding off deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). Dress comfortably with loose clothes (no jeans), slip on shoes, maybe hoodies and compression socks. Take out your contact lens before you fly…wear glasses and leave your vanity behind and go as make-up free as possible. Always use the bathroom before boarding.

Right Gear:
Pack yourself a inflight comfort kit. Mine always includes the following:
♦ a charger
♦ an extra layer/wrap
♦ any needed Rx’s
♦ a sleep eye mask
♦ foam earplugs
♦ chap stick/lip balm with SPF
♦ sinus spray
♦ chewing gum/mints
♦ anti-bacterial hand wipes (for hands and surfaces)
♦ Tylenol/Advil
♦ water
♦ a simple lightweight change of clothes—spills happen!
♦ noise reduction headphones and/or ear buds
♦ distractions: nothing like a good book, magazines, games, music & audio books (on my iPhone) or preload movies (on my iPad)
♦ high protein snacks to avoid the low-blood sugar induced flying hangries: dried fruit, almonds, granola bars, trial mix, oranges, cheese & crackers, cookies, chocolate bars, jerky…

♦ Some people swear by inflatable neck pillows to avoid the bobbing head syndrome…but they just don’t work for me, maybe I am part giraffe, I don’t know?

Right Resolve:
One word: Endure!

Once you board, take control of your environment…in the age of space squeeze, secure your space. Create your own little bubble of defensible personal space to gain some measure of cognitive control: 86 all the seat-back magazines and stuff (an extra inch) and make sure your carry-on items aren’t under the seat in front of you—you will need all the leg room possible. I have been known to disappear and cocoon myself for long flights by throwing a blanket over my head. Puff, everything disappears.

Right Flying:
If you wear a watch, after boarding adjust it to your destination’s time and start thinking that time: eat and sleep accordingly—it will help reduce the effects of jet-lag.

Only eat when you are hungry, not whenever unidentified free food you did not order is slopped in front of you. And don’t overeat to keep jet bloat to a minimum. Better yet, eat only carb-rich foods: pastas, whole grain breads and oatmeal to make it easier to cope with jet-lag.

Avoid diuretics like caffeine and alcohol (dehydrating and disruptive of sleep pattern) and drink lots of water and/or electrolyte-rich solutions: juices, Gatorade, decaffeinated green tea.

Expect turbulence…always keep your seat belt fastened, albeit loosely fastened, and visible to flight attendants so they don’t wake you.

To avoid DVT, perform seat isometric exercises every hour or so: flex and stretch your legs to encourage blood flow—especially in your calves, roll your shoulders, wiggle your toes, do foot pumps and leg lifts, make ankle circles. Try seat yoga or walk and stretch on your way to the bathroom.

Using sleep aids? Try natural melatonin, Tylenol PM or Benadryl before upgrading to knock-you-out-hard Ambien. Word to the wise: Don’t take before you are airborne at least 30-minutes, and if you do, make sure you have a window seat to avoid a drug-induced stupor.

Finally, two things make me feel like a million bucks: brushing my teeth often and putting on fresh clean socks. What’s yours?

Right Mindfulness:
Remember Right View…to help keep your blood pressure low take deep breaths. Consider closing your eyes and meditating a little—find a peaceful place.

Right Arrival:
Before final descent, prepare for your arrival—don’t be a travel zombie: visit the bathroom to void, moisturize, freshen-up and brush your teeth. Have all your necessary arrival paperwork completed. Before deplaning, check and re-check to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything: passport √, paperwork √, purse/wallet √ and comfort kit √.

Finally, say good bye and thank you. You have arrived without incident. Amazing isn’t it?

© 2000-18 GreatEscape Adventures Inc., All Rights Reserved

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Good Teammates

Starting to get itchy? We are…

Dusted this off from a Huffington Post (27 March 2013) piece I wrote a few years back and used to send to our travelers…slightly edited and bears repeating.
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“I have found out that there ain’t any surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
 – Mark Twain

As the Event Director of The Global Scavenger Hunt, an annual around the world travel adventure competition, I know good team work when I see it. As a human being who is hooked on traveling, I understand that having the right travel companion can make the world of difference between embarking on a dream adventure, or being caught up in an endless Ground Hog Day-like nightmare.

In the past, I have made it a point to take prospective romantic partners on a trip to test not only their travel chops but our travel compatibility. Because if you can make it on the road dealing with logistic snafus, cultural nuances, language challenges, utilizing your Travel IQ, overcoming jet lag and physical dissimulation, well, you can deal with the more mundane daily issues of life. And I firmly believe that.

I remember one test drive romance to Paris. She preferred haute couture window shopping and Michelin-starred dinning; while I was prone to picnics in the park and hanging with Jim Morrison’s friends in a Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Despite the sparks flying, that one didn’t work out. Then there was the test drive to Jamaica for the annual reggae Sunsplash Festival. She wanted to hang by the pool and order room service; whereas I went windsurfing and listened to live reggae until dawn. That didn’t work either.

Then there was the test drive I took with a woman to the downtrodden developing nation of Myanmar (aka Burma) back in the ‘90s. She didn’t mind getting up pre-dawn to catch the morning Buddhist rituals, spending time in odorous wet markets or taking all manner of 4-legged public transportation to remote off the beaten path locales. We clicked and I have been with her now for 18 years. (She is the world’s greatest follower.)

Needless to say, traveling with a compatible travel mate is important. Our annual travel adventure event takes extraordinary determination, chutzpah, daring, grit, and even some intestinal fortitude to participate — and maybe even win the title of The World’s Greatest Travelers. I firmly believe that we as 21st century members of homo touristicus never feel more alive than when we are overcoming obstacles and personal challenges. And traveling done right is all of that. But there is a limit, because travel clearly takes you outside your comfort zone (your happy box), and how you react to being outside that comfort zone is telling about you — and your potential relationship. It can be the deal breaker.

Traveling with a mate obviously tests your interpersonal skills on a multitude of levels. Not only because it is necessary for travelers to trust strangers in strange lands; but more importantly, because traveling with someone forces you to have a positive and constructive working relationship — whether you are in Topeka or Timbuktu.

Vacation personalities, travel styles, and interests vary among us all. Travelers inevitably have different goals and expectations. Being patient, compassionate and showing empathy towards each other is critical. Who needs any unnecessary reality TV show-like drama? What we have noticed is that strangers do better in our event statistically that established relationship travelers do—maybe because they’re decision making protocols and hierarchy are not set in stone, so they are more open to other ideas?

So, to that end, below are a few of the things that over years I have learned to consider when traveling with a partner around the world to exotic, and sometimes less than optimally functioning, destinations:

  • Are you AM people (larks), or PM people (owls)? How will you overcome those differences?
  • Are you competitiveType Aplanners, or more laid back Type B free-spirits? How will you find a happy functioning balance?
  • Are you people people or a go it alone person? Which of you is best equipped to deal with and be kind to strangers?
  • Are you a three-square meal a day type, or a 24/7 snack-type eater? How will you compromise when energy and blood sugar levels start getting low?
  • Are you left-brained, or right-brained? Can it be managed?
  • Are you a natural leader, or follower? How will you make tough decisions and compromises when you arebothright? Will it be a fair decision?
  • Are you an analytical planner, or a seat-of-the-pants spontaneous and instinctual wanderer type? How will you manage that? Can you manage to be early and on time, or will you always be rushing at the last-minute?
  • Are comfortable silences okay with both of you?
  • How will the other react when one of you just needs some simple non-dramatic alone time?

Some other more practical realities include:

  • Are you a frugal traveler or a nothing-but-the-best type? How will you deal with on-the-road expenses? 50/50 each transaction? Or keep a tab?
  • How will you split duties and create a successful division of labor? Packing, logistics, transactions, safety, currency exchanges, food & water?
  • How do you make a consensus decision when you both have diametrically opposed views?

In the end, traveling should be about fun — but whose version of fun?

“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.“ – Peter Høeg… Indeed!

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Travel Skills: What it takes to WIN?

It is often asked, by competitors, fellow travelers, and the media—just what does it take to be crowned The World’s Greatest Travelers? That is, what does it take to win The Global Scavenger Hunt?

Over the years, we have witnessed countless acts of tenacity and creativity on the part of our intrepid travelers in the name of completing scavenges. We have learned a lot from watching Teams, successfully take our quick three-week lap around the world.

Face it, this travel adventure requires not only taking a huge leap of faith (Think about it: Where are you going?), but overcoming a lot of situational challenges along the way, there are: language barriers and cultural nuances, logistic snafus and jetlag, internal Team dynamics, as well as, the obvious heat of the competition itself–we have hearty international competitors after all. Overcoming these challenges well, will be the difference between just surviving our annual event, and maybe ultimately winning The World’s Greatest Travelers crown.  Frankly, a team’s success is driven by talent and smarts (travel IQ), but more by its interpersonal relationships and solution-oriented sub-culture. After all, our unofficial motto remains: Trusting strangers in strange lands.

That said, based on our personal observations of former participants—winners and losers alike!—we have concluded that whichever Team is to eventually crowned The World’s Greatest Travelers on May 4th at the conclusion of The Global Scavenger Hunt’s 2017 edition, we are sure that they have some, if not all, of the following skill sets:

● the ability to admit that they are hopelessly lost—and then humbly asking for help;
● the cautious use of honest shoe-checks—and always having a temple shoe bag with them;
● knowing how and when to trust those short hairs standing alert on the back of your necks:
● the uncanny knack of never asking locals simple up/down, yes/no types of questions;
● the capacity for promptly identifying and quickly resolving any Team dispute fairly;
● the ability to conduct on-the-fly problem solving in ever-changing contexts;
● the good common sense to start each day early with a good breakfast—even after drinking late;
● a flair for packing quickly, effectively, and very, very lightly;
● the sagacity of asking the appropriate questions—before getting hopelessly lost;
● possessing the time-honored virtues: patience, compassion, stick-to-it-iveness, honesty and fairness;
● the wisdom to say enough is enough and letting go of a quest;
● the luck of the Irish; politeness of a Canadian; skill of a German; and, the chutzpah of an American;
● the wisdom of understanding our unofficial motto of “he who runs cannot walk with dignity”;
● juggling effectively the need for flexibility, organization, scheduling and contingency planning;
● the self-awareness to know when to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the sunset—behind you;
● the gracious capacity and wisdom to listen, really listen, to others while they are talking;
● having the personal resolve it takes to regularly take several deep breaths while counting to ten;
● being a bit of a thrill-seeker and calculated risk-taker, who’s up for any challenge once—big or small;
● the good sense of always having some emergency toilet paper handy;
● knowing that when all else fails, that a few bucks can sometimes facilitate anything;
● the innate gift for willingly grabbing on to serendipitous opportunities when they arise out of the blue;
● the intuitive use of situational awareness to ward off potential pitfalls lying before you;
● knowing that you get out of things what you put into them: truly, nothing ventured, nothing gained;
● the fearlessness of adventurer Indiana Jones;
● the curiosity of Nancy Drew;
● the patience, tolerance, compassion and empathy of the Dali Lama;
● an excellent, timely, and regular utilization of your sense of humor;
● the wisdom to look for, and readily accept, the underlying good in all things and all people; and,
● the capacity to be regularly humbled.
● the ability to loosen up, have fun and not take anything—including themselves—too seriously!

Good luck to all.

Any skills to add? Let me know…Thank you.

© 2000-17 GreatEscape Adventures Inc., All Rights Reserved

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Packing Issues…Who doesn’t have them?

“He who would travel happily must travel lightly.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We at believe that you should always be prepared, like every good Boy/Girl Scout, because you never really know what you might need or when you might need it. Your safety, security and health are our primary concerns.

Our Travelers Packing List has been refined and evolved over the years as a result of being tried and tested annually on our real world adventures. It is not meant to cover every travel situation, but merely serve as a really good guide. It will we firmly believe, enhance your coming around the world adventure. It will help you prevent Packer’s Block from occurring—that irrational inability to intelligently decide what you really need to take—and not take! Obviously, different strokes for different folks, as there is no right way. (Well, actually there is!)

Our advice for you is to pack as simply, smartly and lightly as possible to avoid the equally dreaded Packer’s Stoop—the consequence of carrying too much stuff. Symptoms include: excessive sweating, marriage dissolution, fear of theft, hernias, team squabbles and extreme upper body muscle development. Honestly, a simple roller-bag and a light day-pack will suffice.

You have no doubt read all the advice and heard all the clichés. But lest we forget those sage nuggets, indulge me in paraphrasing it all again for you as we believe that it is really freakin’ important. So, here goes: Some say that how you pack your bags defines your journey and that less stuff equals less worries. Embrace minimalism and enjoy more experiences. If YOU can’t carry it — it shouldn’t go! (Bill’s Travel Rule #1) The lighter your burden, the more pleasant your journey. It makes sense to pack light: security reasons—the less you have the less you can lose; better mobility—easier to move; it’s economical—you don’t have to tip anybody and laundry is cheaper than paying for extra bags; it’s quicker too—you don’t have to wait for your bags anywhere and no-checking issues.

That said, know a couple things are in your favor at the onset: 1) we will be traveling the globe during the months of early spring, so don’t think extreme weather; but cool evenings are likely—layer up! Rain is always a possibility between the Tropics (where we will spend most of our time!); 2) On every trip some heavily-laden travelers will inevitably jettison and ship some unneeded stuff home—you can too!; 3) They do have laundry services at most of our hotels—utilize it!; and finally, 4) Know that the world is full of consumer-friendly stores everywhere these days if perchance you really need something.

Finally, know that you couldn’t possibly take everything that we list—although a few foolish folks have tried—so please be wise in your choices and save money by packing smart and light.

The Global Scavenger Hunt Packing List:

Essential Toiletries (share if possible):
all required prescriptions
allergies? EpiPen, eye drops, decongestants, nasal sprays, antihistamines
eye wear (glasses or contacts)
Vitamins
sun protection (waterproof & SPF 30)
30-50% DEET-based insect repellent
any malaria medication
pain relievers: aspirin/Aleve/Tylenol/ibuprofen
10-day supply of antibiotics
tummy aids: antacid tablets, Imodium, Lomotil, laxatives
mole/second skin
liquid Band-Aid + bandages
antibiotic cream (Neosporin, Bacitracin)
non-drowsy cold medicine
sleeping aids, Melatonin
5-Hour energy drink or chocolate-covered espresso beans
Pedialyte powder packs
tiger balm
lip balm
small nail clippers + tweezers
tooth brush/paste + floss
feminine products
contraceptives (Who’s getting lucky!?)
antiperspirant
moisturizer
razors
nasal moisturizer spray
motion sickness relief
hand sanitizer/towelettes

Useful Stuff to Consider:
sunglasses
re-useable synthetic tote bag 

point n’ shoot digital camera
plug adaptors
USB charger cords
USB rechargeable batteries
mini-LED rechargeable flashlight/headlamp
small waterproof gadget dry bag
extra digital camera chips
lightweight speakers
headphones or ear buds
Swiss Army knife (stowed in checked bag)
note pad w/ pens
faux wedding band
cheap watch
Pashmina (good for Islamic nations + planes)
alarm clock (if not on phone or watch)
extra sealable Zip◊ Lock plastic baggies
insurance details
address list for postcards
small useful gifts for children (balloons, stickers, balls, pens & pencils—no candy!)
team business cards with names & websites
sewing repair kit
crispy $1 bills (for tips, fees and baksheesh)
snacks/energy bars (maybe one for each day)
quick dry travel towel

Flying Comfort Kit (packed in daypack):
refillable water bottle
snacks: nuts/dried fruit/candy/energy bars
warm layer
portable media player/iPad or mini-laptop
downloaded music, movies & books
noise reduction headphones or ear buds
reading material
sleep eye mask, ear plugs + neck pillow
lip balm + moisturizer
tooth brush
tissue + hand wipes
chewing gum/mints
playing cards
small towel/washcloth
4-visa photos
optional change of clothes (top + pants)

Items for Women:
1 – outer shell waterproof/windbreaker jacket
1 – hat (floppy or cap)
1 – warm dark sweater or fleece pullover
1 – walking casual shoes/sneakers/flip-flops
5 – socks (dress & athletic)
5 – underwear/bras
1 – sleep clothes
1/2 – sarongs or casual skirts, LBD
2 – lightweight casual pants (khaki’s/travel)
1 – bathing suit
1/2 – shorts
3 – T-shirts, polos
5 – long and short-sleeve blouses
1 – belt (double as money belt optional)
1 – scarf or bandanna

Items for Men:
1 – outer shell waterproof/windbreaker jacket
1 – hat (floppy or cap)
1 – warm dark sweater or fleece pullover
1 – walking casual shoes/sneakers/flip-flops
5 – socks (dress & athletic)
5 – underwear
1 – sleep clothes
2 – lightweight casual pants (khaki’s/travel)
1 – bathing suit (double as casual shorts)
1/2 – shorts
3 – T-shirts, polos
5 – long and short-sleeve shirts
1 – belt (double as money belt optional)
1 – scarf or bandanna

That said…forget half the above!

The Global Scavenger Hunt Packing Tips

Bill’s Packing Rules of Thumb:
> The single biggest travel mistake? Overpacking!
> Old adage: Pack half the stuff—bring twice the money!
> Resist the urge to pack more “just in case“—they’re called stores!
> Take nothing you can’t bear losing.
> It is true that, there’s no bad weather, only bad gear! Buy quality stuff.
> Stick to a twin color (darkish) scheme for versatility and layers.
> Split a few necessities 50/50 with your teammate’s bag—if lost you’re still okay.
> Think about stuff you can share.
> Take old socks + underwear—throw away!
> Roll up your clothes—don’t fold them.
> The Holy Grail of Packing? The judicious use of large Ziploc bags. Trust me!
> Put daily pills/Rx’s in 2″x2″ pill bags.
> Tuck socks, underwear or longish doodads into your shoes.
> Take care of your feet: comfortable, not stylish shoes—and break in before you go!
> Wrap your heavy items in the middle and bottom of bag.
> Take a digital photo of bag just in case!
> Think no-wrinkle, UPF protection lightweight microfiber-blend clothes.
> Buy shirts + pants with zippers for extra security.
> One word about the unpredictability of weather and clothes: layers!
> Use scented dryer sheets in your bag—it keeps clothes smelling fresh and clean.
> Take items that are utilitarian dual-use.
> Use transparent silicone travel-size bottles.
> Always pack airplane snacks to maintain blood sugar.
> Have a copy of medical and eyeglass Rx’s. > KISS—keep it simple stupid!

Pre-Departure Check List:

> valid passport with 5-empty pages + 6 months validity.
> 4-passport photos for VOA
> Any Mandatory immunization certificate!
> Full trip supply of recommended Rx’s
> emergency contacts
> travel insurance
> cold hard cash ($20 bills)
> set up WhatsApp + Skype connections
>
credit cards & ATM Cards (Maybe let them know you will be traveling.)
> scans + copies of all docs and then e-mail to yourself too
> all immunizations booster updated: tetanus & polio, typhoid series, Hep-A, Gama globulin, etc
> antimalarial prophylaxis (Malarone)

Travel Gear (Suggestions):
> main roller bag—20 kilo max!
> TSA-approved luggage locks
> a daypack/shoulder bag
> money belt/security pouch (optional)
> extra present/tchotchke bag (optional)

Stuff You Probably Won’t Need:
> jewelry
> Travelers Checks, really!? ATM’s!
> guidebooks (verboten!)
> umbrella
> gloves
> an International Driver’s License
> blow dryer (hotels have them)
> iron—three words: wrinkle-free clothes
> language phrase book + currency converter
> Please leave camouflage military-style clothes at home!
> Your vanity! No one cares what you look like…just be the real you!

What Travelers Most Often Forget?
that they are married!?
their manners
personal hygiene items
power cords (converters + outlet adaptors)
back-up vision (glasses, contacts, sunglasses)
enough Rx’s
ear plugs + headphones
an extra layer (sweater or sweatshirt)
bathing suit

Things to Do Before you leave Home:
> change voicemail
> STOP all home deliveries + mail
> unplug computer after you back up!
> put a few house lights on timer switches
> arrange pet care and/or gardening care?
> prepay necessary bills
> do the dishes, take the trash out—yucky!
> Please leave your expectations at home!
> Leave all loved ones on great emotional terms.
> Unplug and let go…

© 2000-16 GreatEscape Adventures Inc., All Rights Reserved

 

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Who Are The World’s Greatest Travelers?

Who Are The World’s Greatest Travelers? Good question…great question.

Until the 20th century arrived, the answer to the question was easy. There is a long heritage of great travelers, real and imagined, from Odysseus, Sinbad, Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Zheng Ho to Ibn Battuta. The Vikings were pretty good travelers say the sagas.

The word “circumnavigator” didn’t even enter the lexicon until 1625, and prior to that the concept itself was unthinkable. But then the illusive became the benchmark of great travelers for centuries. Magellan’s mates Enrique of Malacca and Juan Elcano were arguably the first to do it, followed heroically by: Drake, Loyola, Cavendish, van Noort, Dampier (who did it three times and was fictionalized in Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” and Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels“), then Shelvocke, Anson, Cook, Jeanne Bare (the first woman to do it), Darwin, Slocum and Abiel Abbot Low- — who did it in just 89 days.

When you think about it, it was only 141 years ago that Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days was published, raising the bar when Phileas Fogg and his sidekick Passepartout, employed rail, steamship, horseback, balloon and foot, among other modes. By then, traveling the world became all about speed. Who could do it fastest? Then it was Nellie Bly who did it in 75 days, and George Francis Train who did it in 60. By the time aeroplane arrived on the scene, the record for circumnavigating the globe stood at 39 days.

But of course planes changed everything. In 1933, Wiley Post flew around the world in under eight days. By 1941 Pan American Airways (aka Pan Am) had scheduled “round-the-world” commercial service. Anyone could go around the world now and fast. Hey, Yuri Garagin did it in about 90 minutes! People have now walked, biked, hitchhiked, ballooned, any other mode of transportation you could think, to become famous, and infamous, great travelers.

The winners of the cast, scripted, stunt and drama-induced reality TV show The Amazing Race? Not likely. Is it Gunther Holtorf, a 75-year old German who has driven more than 800,000 kilometers around the world to over 170 “nations” the last few decades? Is it Graham Hughes, a 34-year-old British man who traveled 160,000 miles over 1,426 days and visited more than 200 “countries” — without using a plane? What about Dave Kunst who walked around the world? Or the uber-nouveau riche Internet tycoon Charles Veley, who has claimed to have visited over 829 “countries”? Maybe it’s Michael Palin, who has done a fair amount of fun traveling around the world north, south, east and west, in conjunction with his BBC shows? I know personally, in 1989 when my partner Andy Valvur and I won the around the world race on public transportation called the HumanRACE and pocketed some prize money, some writers called us the world’s greatest travelers and then in 2002, National Geographic Traveler magazine erroneously dubbed me the “world’s greatest travelers” in a profile. It seems that anyone with enough resources can do something that attracts the media spotlight.

Obviously, they are all great travelers just because they have survived, endured and had good press agents. They all must have serious travel skills to do what they have done, along with an elevated Travel IQ. But who are The World’s Greatest Travelers?

I submit to you that today, in the era of the Super Bowl, World Cup and the Olympics, that The World’s Greatest Travelers are the winners of the very real around the world travel adventure competition known as The Global Scavenger Hunt. The annual event which is designed to answer the question by testing the travel mettle, acumen and savvy of willing international travelers in an open-to-all who enter travel competition — travelers from over 60 nations have applied! The competition pits traveler against traveler, as they not only circumnavigate the globe, but also visit 10-secret countries (no prior preparation or intelligence is possible) while performing a series of real-life site-doing scavenges that tests their Travel IQ, situational awareness, and ultimately, their true travel bona fides. Good travelers prevail mano-a-mano, as the cream rises to the top. These competitors — who all pay the same entry fee to participate — must quickly adapt to new environments (urban, rural, developed, undeveloped, Western, Eastern, Muslim, Hindu, island, city-state, etc.), overcome language barriers and cultural differences, the jetlag of circling the globe, the inevitable logistic snafus when limited to public transportation, surviving the 23-day marathon-like event, team dynamics (having a great travel mate is critical), and the ever-present heat of competition. Only after surviving all that, and flourishing, are The World’s Greatest Travelers crowned.

And so to answer the question I posed; today, just days before the start of the 2017 edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt, the reigning title holders of The World’s Greatest Travelers™ crown are: five-time winners and 2016 defending champions Zoe & Rainey (Lawyers without Borders) will be jostling for the title over the next three weeks  as they all travel between San Francisco to New York City  — the long way.

You can follow the event with regular dispatches from the road, as well as on the event’s official blog site here at PostCards, along with Facebook and Twitter too. Enjoy the ride and stay tuned to find out who will be crowned The World’s Greatest Travelers™ for 2017. Do you think you have what it takes? A lot of people think they do…but soon the rubber hits the pavement! 

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Bad Things Do Happen to Good People

With apologies to all the Debbie’s out there, this is a Debbie Downer piece.

Indulge me in a quick rant before I begin…

If you are one of those precious travelers that are incapable of getting over the incomprehensible whims of baggage handlers, seemingly ridiculousness of various airport lines, less than honest taxi cab drivers and the vagaries of hotel guest policies…the unpredictability of weather, the humbling predictability of human herd behavior, opportunistic pickpockets and the inevitability of food borne illnesses. Or, if you are unlikely to be able to cope when your flight is willy-nilly diverted to Saskatchewan for safety, security or mechanical reasons…or when your precious mini-adventure is derailed by a union strike, or if you get impatiently nasty when your meal is delayed for whatever reason…you should probably just stay home! Because, as the bumper sticker says: Shit Happens.  A lot of shit. The world is messy because we humans are essentially unpredictable creatures that is combined with the fact that the travel gods work in mysterious ways.

So assume the worst and the inevitability of it all: you might lose your passport; your plane will be late; they will lose your luggage; you will get lost; you will get ripped off by a taxi driver; there won’t be enough time between flights; your credit card/ATM will not work everywhere; you will get the runs; you will sit nearby a screaming baby with an ear infection on that oceanic flight; it will rain.

Now, if you are granted the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. If you accept that it is not personal—that it is never personal. You will be okay. But if you do take it personal, please—and know that I speak for everyone traveling around the world with you—we really hope you get over it, and yourself, quickly!

Phew…Thank you for listening.

I don’t want to alarm anybody with Bad Things Do Happen to Good People negativity by telling you that life is frail and precarious, and that the world is not a 100% safe secure and healthy place. There is poverty, sickness and disease; natural disasters strike with great consistency; one-off terrorist events and official and unofficial acts of violence occur; planes do occasionally go missing; random acts of violence and crimes of opportunity occur too, and terrible accidents sadly do happen with great regularity. Needless to say, but we have to, there is an Assumption of Risk in everything we do as human beings.

ISIS, Car Accidents and Mosquitoes, oh my…

But, most travelers are also a realist—not easily swayed by irrational conspiracies or the continuous barrage of unpleasantness spewing out of our 24-hour cable news outlets. We do recognize that unforeseen Black Swan-type events can and do occur (aka rare events with high impacts). But that those force majeure events are extremely rare and usually acts of gods or madmen. None of which keep me awake at night traveling because I know that statistically speaking, traveling is 40 times safer than staying at home!

Travelers should however have real concerns about their safety, security and health.

Safety First; we have all heard that mantra throughout our lives and it should remain your fundamental and conscious modus operandi. Never take your safety for granted. Always be prepared and don’t be an oblivious traveler—pay attention.

Travelers are not worried about flying commercial; fact is, flying has never-ever been safer. Three little words will help you understand air travel in the 21st century: “arrived without incident” and that occurs more than 103,000 times daily—with over nine million airline passengers—every day 365 days a year! Flying is in fact safer than walking. The 2015 airline accident rate was one incident per 3.1 million flights. To stay truly safe: keep your seat belt fastened while flying at all times.

But just as we do not worry about our flight safety, our travels on the ground consume us. This concern does keep me up at night. Be extra careful driving in cars, buses and trucks, and please stay off motorcycles; as the statistical probability of you being involved in a motor vehicle accident is extremely high and driving in foreign destinations remains the number one killer of all travelers.

How the 800 American Travelers Who Die Unnatural Deaths Annually Die:
#1 – car accidents (225 a year!)
#2 – homicides
#3 – suicides
#4 – drownings
#5 – motorcycle accidents
#6 – water craft accidents
#7 – drug-related accidents
#8 – train accidents
#9 – natural disasters
#10 – skiing accidents

Your travel safety has to depend on more than that glib rejoinder: Good brakes, good horn, good luck! Savvy travelers must be proactive in their transportation safety by: checking the tires and the general condition of your vehicle—before they get in; pick a driver that cares (not looking too tired, is maybe older (and wiser?), has kids and family to care for, and has not been drinking); and request that drivers slow down when you feel unsafe. And driving at night without headlights on to save gas is never acceptable!

Travel security matters too. But anyone one who knows positive great travelers, knows that they usually do not subscribe to the world is going to hell in a hand basket narrative espoused by cable news broadcasts nightly. The Mean World Syndrome is a myth. The fact is, the world is actually more peaceful, less violent and a safer place to travel in than ever before! We actually travel in a 96% conflict-free world; and can significantly increase their security odds even more by avoiding: Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, Yemen, Darfur/Sudan, Eastern Ukraine, the Occupied Territories and Syria. (Ironically, Chicago was the most dangerous destination on my 2015 itinerary!)

First the proverbial elephant in the room: We are not usually worried about terrorism. Again, the facts speak for themselves and they are that it is a negligible to low threat for any of us traveling on a random schedule in random places around the world. The chance of being involved in a terrorist incident is about one in 5 million. And just because you are impacted by a terrorist incident does not mean you will be a victim of one—add another one out of 20 million to those odds. Now, if you think of yourself as that special or feel really so (un)lucky—please let us know, as we’ll let you buy us a few lottery tickets along the way! But seriously, needless to say, bad things can and do happen—and will happen while we travel. And everyone should know, that no matter how much security surrounds us, that there is no real way to stop anyone who has a death wish from killing themselves and taking out as many innocents as possible. (See the article I wrote about visiting Paris after the 2015 attack on Huffington Post.)

I am reminded here what an infamous old gambler once told me when he was teaching me everything I needed to know about gambling and odds: “Bill, if the odds on whatever it might be are 10 to one, you’ll see it this week. If it’s 100 to one, you won’t see it this week, but you will see it this year. If it’s 1,000 to one, you won’t see it this year, but you will probably see it, once! Anything more than that—10,000 to one, 100,000 to one—you’re never going to see. It may happen, but you most likely will never see it happen.” Sage advice; yet the only reason we see these 100,000-to-one events is because the media shows it to us—over and over again.

Nonetheless, know that savvy single travelers, we usually have several things working in our favor that help keep us out of harm’s way: 1) we are not going to visit any of the hot and dangerous zones of the world; 2) we have no known predictable travel route, internationally or locally, for anyone to plot or plan against; 3) we don’t travel with any visible Western corporate logos and signs; 4) we don’t even really travel as a group and for the most part travel only in one’s and two’s; 5) we are all seasoned travelers with well-honed situational awareness and evolved sets of safety radar; and finally, 6) we all know how to blend in (leave your expensive jewelry, sports jerseys, gold chains, and loud provocative or camouflage military garb at home) locally and to trust our keen bullshit detectors (aka gut instincts) and those little hairs on the back of our necks.

The prospects of opportunistic crime occurring is far greater than any threat of terrorism. Hang on to your daypacks and cameras—keep them zipped up too. Loop your daypacks around a chair leg when you are sitting (ladies have known this for years). Watch out for ID theft when going online on public Wi-Fi connections. Watch out for credit card scams when someone takes your card and copies it. Be vigilant of over-the-shoulder ATM lurkers trying to steal your PIN. Keep your money in several secure places. Always look alive, in charge and not confused—be a lion not a lamb. And avoid PDA’s—public displays of affluence.

There are too numerous to mention here on-the-road scams conducted by con-artists and economic opportunists alike trying to extract stuff from you a rich western tourist: tea ceremonies, gold ring scams, fake cabbie charges, camera hostage takers, double bump extractions, disruption thefts, friendly assaults by: touts, cabbies and hawkers, the slow count, copying credit cards, over the shoulder ATM bandits, pretend policeman, ketchup or pigeon poop scams, old money or counterfeiter money passes, and precious gem sellers.

(Just a quick point of personal privilege: look for the better angels in people—trust people, give them the benefit of the doubt—because people are essentially good everywhere. We want you to think about this: since we started our annual around the world world travel adventure event, we have circled the globe 12 times with hundreds of travelers visiting over 65 unique countries that required of them to have dozens of one-on-one encounters (trusting strangers in strange lands) a day with complete strangers. To date, knock on wood, not one bad encounter yet! Please take this to heart.)

Now we have covered security and safety matters, what about keeping travelers healthy while we travel the globe.

We are always concerned about your well-being and we could encounter three different classifications of potential health concerns: merely annoying ones (jetlag, traveler’s diarrhea and mosquitos), actually painful ones (sunburn and food poisoning), and finally medically serious concerns (accidents and violence).

As we have covered the latter, let’s deal with the former two.

Jetlag can be easily dealt with by staying away from alcohol and caffeine, eating right and trying to quickly adapt to your new time zones. It usually takes one day to remedy one hour of jetlag. Know that we do our best to ameliorate jetlag when planning our around the world adventure. Needless to say you should always try to eat right and drink plenty of fluids throughout the event—it does help. As does having a well-placed sugary snack hidden in your daypack that can quickly help reduce those low blood sugar blues and screaming meanies.

You also need to accept the fact that at some point somewhere, mostly through no fault of your own, that up 40-50% of us will succumb to some form of traveler’s diarrhea (aka Delhi Belly, Pharaoh’s Revenge, Montezuma’s Revenge, Rangoon Ruins, etcetera). It is a combination of: water, diet, spicy foods, being discombobulated, and not washing our hands perfectly. So, always bring items that will ease your way through these times. But you should also know the difference between amoebic dysentery and bacillary dysentery; the latter is transmitted through parasite-contaminated food or water and is the more severe of the two. Whereas bacillary dysentery, results from running into a bacteria and usually runs its course naturally in a few days or with the help of regime of Cipro-like antibiotics. My family has taken a drug vaccine called Dukoral for about a decade and no one has gotten ill. (Results may vary.)

Mosquitos really piss me off. Those little buggers, I hate them. The females of the 3,500 species kill as many as three million people a year due to: malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis, yellow fever, West Nile virus, chikungunya and now Zika. They suck! But here’s how to cope: be aware of peak dawn and dusk times; wear 25%+ DEET bug spray and reapply it often; mosquitos like dark clothes—wear light-colors, long-sleeved tucked-in shirts, long pants tucked into socks with shoes and hats; and if you feel odd a couple weeks after returning from a trip, seek out a doctor and explain where you have been. (BTW: malarial prophylaxis will protect you from malaria, but not all the other mosquito-borne diseases—always use DEET.)

Sun overexposure is easy to remedy, both sunburn and heat stroke: always wear UV protection clothes with long sleeves and pants, always use sunblock SPF30+, wear a hat and sunglasses, seek out the shade as often as possible and stay hydrated with plenty of electrolytes.

Avoiding food poisoning is a bit trickier (like winning an unwanted lottery jackpot) but something we all have gotten good at gaming over the years: wash your hands often, especially before your eat; eat only hot foods; keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods; avoid buffet lines; eat probiotic dietary supplements; make sure bottle seals aren’t broken on water you buy (I just drink a lot of beer!); eat at busy street food stalls; avoid ice cream; choose your fish and shellfish choices carefully; eat small portions when in doubt; and of course: either boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it!

Here are a few other cautionary woes to be aware of:
blisters;
clear air turbulence;
unknown rashes;
falling coconuts;
wildlife bites,;
vicious rip tide currents:
nasty jellyfish attacks:
STD’s:
flash floods:
patriotic barroom fights:
…and smashing your head into something hard trying to find the bathroom of your strange hotel room (ditto toes)!

Bear in mind the so-called Golden Hour (you have one hour to save yourself and get help in the event of an accident); STOPStop, Think, Observe + Plan; don’t wait for help to arrive or count on anyone to help you; don’t be in denial but be proactive because your emergency probably can’t wait and you need to help yourself within that Golden Hour to preserve your own life. Maintain a positive can-do attitude. Remember the truism: Good things take time; bad things happen quickly.

FYI: Psychologists reveal that in a time of crisis three types of personalities reveal themselves: 75% of those in a crisis will be reflexively overwhelmed by events, stunned and paralyzed with fear (they will not react); another 10-15% will immediately exhibit inappropriate and outright unhelpful behavior (crying, screaming and manic confusion); and finally, maybe just 10-20% of people in a crisis will actually be calm and thoughtful and be able to think clearly. Act quickly and effectively and keep your buddy and yourself alive. Good luck!

Finally, let’s listen to the smart words of wisdom of your mom and net this all out: drink plenty of fluids, sleep well, eat right, always wear a condom, wear sunscreen, wear DEET bug spray, wear your seat belt, wash your hands often, don’t get drunk, don’t wear expensive jewelry, use the safe, look both ways before you cross the street and don’t piss anyone off. Ask any actuary and tell my mom she’s wrong?

Key Travel Safety Tips:
Use the Buddy System and look out for each other. Have a memorable pre-arranged password that indicates ALERT to each other!
Blend in with your clothes and attitudes—don’t be a stereotype.
Carry a clean color copy of your passport or have it scanned on your phone or camera.
Have a mutually agreed upon meeting place if you get separated.
Inform someone where you are going, what your itinerary is and the time you expect to return.
Always have a business card or matchbook from your hotel in your pocket.
Don’t carry too much stuff with you that you can’t manage to have free hands.
When lost, read maps off the street sitting in a park or in shop or café.
Crime usually depends on opportunity—don’t give them an opportunity.
Would-be thieves want money and stuff, they don’t usually want to harm you—let them have it.
Keep your safety radar, bullshit detector and situational awareness indicators on 24/7.
It is usually smarter to have a taxi called for you than waving one down on the street.
Never, ever, drink too much in public places.
Wash your hands often.
Always have water with you.

Be smart and have fun wherever you travel too!

By William D. Chalmers – Copyright 2000-2016, GEA, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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