Udon Thani - Thailand

2016 New Year’s Travel Resolutions

Happy New Year Everybody –

We are back (Paris was wonderful!) and eager to begin the countdown for the greatest show on earth, the 2016 edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt!

Thought we would start with some well-meaning resolutions…

2016 Travel Resolutions for the New Year

2016…a clean slate.

2015 was annus horribilis—a really bad year! Yet optimism reins.

It is called the January Effect—off with the old and on with the new—where we are overly optimistic and full of wishful thinking about the coming New Year.

Every year we make resolutions. Every year most of us break them as they usually have a shelf life of 4-6 weeks among the strongest willed amongst us; 4-6 days for the rest of us.

Yet travelers are a different breed; we usually follow through with our resolutions. Even when we have more will than wallet, we figure out a way to wherever it is we really want to go. No false hope here.

So, thinking in that vein, I polled a gaggle of great travel buddies last week, and assembled the following 2016 Travel Resolutions that would make us all better travelers:

We resolve to…:
● …be a better global ambassador exhibiting the true spirit of America—not what is on TV.
● …take any and all vacation time we’ve earned…and steal whatever extra days off we can.
● …walk more.
● …go someplace new in 2016, instead of returning to the old tried and true go-to vacation destinations.
● …stop saying you’ve done a country, knowing deep down that we could never really know a country unless we lived there.
● …consciously unplug for longer and longer stretches when we travel.
● …make our politicians see travel as a right, not a luxury; so we can rest, recharge, rejuvenate and reignite our passions being more creative, loyal and productive employees.
● …be more in the moment and love where we are…not where else we could go or be.
● …take authentic, challenging and participatory adventures; less like the reality show, The Amazing Race, and more like the real-life event The Global Scavenger Hunt.
● …to not do last minute guilt souvenir shopping at the airport on the way home.
● …take better pictures—but not so many that we forget to see what is in front of us.
● …not to read (or write) any more travel top 10 or 8 or 7 or 3…lists.
● …say yes instead of maybe and allow for serendipity.
● …to give back by donating more of our time and energy to those in need.
● …challenge ourselves more when we travel.
● …buy quality travel gear and take less of it.
● …learn something new in each place we go about the culture, language, cuisine, politics, history and religion.
● …see our home environments in the context of an out-of-towner and experience our own environment in a fresh way.
● …get out of our comfort zone daily saying “yes” to unknown adventures.
● …turn strangers in strange lands into our friends.
● …be more patient this year.
● …put our money where our mouths are (and beliefs too!) by not patronizing travel services that, well, patronize us. Saying, “No” and, “That’s not right,” are mighty powerful words that many in the travel industry need to hear — a lot more often!
● …not let technology get in the way of us meeting fellow travelers and indigenous people when traveling.
● …leave our expectations hidden and deep in the back of a closet at home alone, by traveling fearlessly without preconceived ideas or prospects.
● …integrate travel more into our lives, as we have with a good diet, exercising regularly and sleeping right. Travel is good for us in so many ways, be it physically, mentally and spiritually.
● …not flaunt our travel exploits and long-winded adventure stories to others — nor to shamelessly show off our travel selfies.
● …be more patient dealing with the trials and tribulations of traveling — be they TSA lines, surly customer service airline reps, over-packed tardy flights, noisy hotel rooms, boorish fellow travelers or screaming babies.
● …stop whining and kvetching about travels minor inconveniences—it is an amazing privilege.

Happy New Year and happy trails in 2016!

(Reprinted from Huffington Post, 31 December 2015)

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Funeral at Lalibela - Ethiopia

Seven Amazing Sites You’ve Probably Never Heard Of?

Serving as the Event Director for over a decade of the annual world travel championship, the around the world travel adventure competition known as The Global Scavenger Hunt, I am regularly asked what my favorite spot in the world is?

I get the curiosity behind the question, but I loathe it nonetheless; how do you pick one out of so many? The Grand Canyon at dawn, no Venice at sunset, no Santorini…do you feel my pain?

Anyway, as you know, I believe that we live in the Golden Age of Travel. Travel has never has it been safer, cheaper or easier–I am not talking flying domestic here!. You can literary be anywhere in the world your heart desires in 24-hours. Anywhere! Today, so-called off-the-beaten path mythical destinations inevitably turn into hot spots. Then faded glories.

But there are still some not so hidden gems awaiting the curious traveler. Here is the latest edition of my collection of Seven Amazing Sites You’ve Maybe Never Heard Of…that you should consider seeing soon:

The Prambanan temple complex on Java in Indonesia. A 9th-century Hindu complex that is almost 50 meters high. Amazing. A 2011 scavenge.

The Rila monastery (aka Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila) of Bulgaria. Not so much for the important 10th century Eastern Orthodox monastery itself, but check out the transcendent frescos hidden inside. A treat. A 2008 scavenge.

The Banaue Rice Terraces on the island of Luzon, Philippines. Picture a tranquil and tropical area the size of Los Angeles amazingly carved with verdant terraced rice paddies. And it is 2,000 years old to boot. Extraordinary. A 2010 scavenge.

Herrenchiemsee Palace located in Germany in the middle an island on Lake Chiemsee. The Bavaria mad King (of Neuschwanstein Castle  fame) Ludwig’s ode to French King Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles. A surprising site. A 2005 scavenge.

Bagan Plains is an ancient Burmese area built between the 9th and 13th-centuries that features over 10,000 temples, pagodas and shrines in an arid plain along the Irrawaddy River of less than 40 square miles. Over 2,000 are still viewable. Simply breathtaking. A 2012 scavenge.

Borobudur is another monument on Java in Indonesia. A stone-made 9th-century Buddhist temple with over 2,500 story-telling reliefs and 500 Buddha statues. It is reputed to be the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Wonderful. A 2011 scavenge.

The Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland area located mostly in Brazil–also in Bolivia and Paraguay. It may be the most diverse biological area of the world with 3,500+ plant species, 1,000+ birds species, 400+ fish species, and 300+ mammals. Awe-inspiring. A future scavenge?

So, What is my favorite spot in the world? It continues to be simply known as Bob’s dock. Destination? I am not telling…

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The Beds I Have Slept In

I remember the first time—I stayed in a hotel. I was eight and my dad sent me on a mission to find ice. I have been in love with hotels ever since. I even once slept with Paris Hilton—Who hasn’t, right?–no not that Paris Hilton, the real Paris Hilton Hotel.

Indeed, I have always had a soft spot for hotels. And the grand hotel lobbies of the world too because they were a place where anything could happen and where you could meet someone who could change your financial and romantic destiny. The fact that I haven’t had to buy shampoo or shower gel in decades is also a plus.

Recently, I conducted a rough, down and dirty count of the hotels I have stayed in over the years; looking through my various hotel stationary, matches and travel sticker collections, old credit card bills and a few decades worth of monthly calendars. I was astounded to find that I have slept on average, more than 80 nights a year in hotels and that means thousands of different hotels over the years—good ones, bad ones and really ugly ones too.

I have stayed in capsule hotels, concept hotels, hostels and penthouse suites, ice hotels, haunted hotels, theme room hotels, cave hotels, prison hotels, historic hotels, plane hotels, tree house hotels, resort hotels, dock hotels, halaal hotels, tent hotels, clothing optional hotels and even love hotels—not the same thing! I have stayed in hotels that had been foreclosed on (the manager was trying to earn a few extra bucks), and hotels that would be more aptly renamed Hotel Insomniac and the Bates Motel.

Over the last decade, serving as the Event Director for the annual world travel championships, known as The Global Scavenger Hunt, it has become my job to find fun, interesting and comfortable hotels for our traveling competitors to stay in while they travel around the world. The hotel is not the main event for those participating–the secret destination is.

That said, finding their homes-away-from-home, I am always thinking temporary oasis, not resort destination. Our hotels serve a utilitarian purpose: as a way to better facilitate their daily experiences—outside the hotel. We want our participants to be out and about 14-16 hours a day site-doing; yet know at the end of that busy day that they have a safe, comfortable and convenient refuge to lay their weary memory and experience-filled heads.

The things I love about hotels are: personal wake-up calls, plush robes, room service, pools (for midnight swims), city views, heated-towels, comfortable beds, conversation-filled bars, balconies, and the sense of theater in grand hotel lobbies.

The things I miss about hotels today are: hotel stationary, wake up calls from an actual person, vibrating beds (Oh, come on you do to!), big brass room keys, windows that actually open, hotels that give you a pair of white gloves to read the morning paper with and lobby shoe shines.

The things I dislike most about hotels are: bean-counting revenue managers, inadequate water pressure, Wi-Fi charges, intrusive housekeeping staffs, bathroom phones, inconvenient power supplies, bedspreads, resort fees, portage fees, mystery stains and Guest Behaving Badly (BTW: There is a GBB list–the no-fly list for hotels!).

Some hotels simply try too hard but that is better than the ones that don’t try at all; while some get it just right—the Borg Hotel in Reykjavik, the Boathouse in Phuket, and the Regent Taipei, to name a few.

Some hotels are guilty as (over)charged of being bloated, ego-stroking, self-satisfied establishments living on their perceived celebrity—when in fact their fifteen minutes ended long ago.

Some hotels are too ostentatious to the point of making you feel uncomfortable, while some brands are so bland and homogeneous that you’d think you were in Cleveland while staying in Borneo. And some of the newer boutique brands are just too painfully self-consciously hip.

Here are a dozen hotels across six continents that I have really enjoyed recently—and you would too:

Electra Palace (Athens)

Heritage Suites Hotel (Siem Reap)

Komaneka at Bisma (Bali)

Governor’s Residence (Yangon)

Hotel Monasterio (Cusco)

Vancouver Shangri La Hotel

The Bangkok Oriental

Mena House Hotel (Egypt)

Palais Jamai (Fez)

Oberoi Rajvilas (Jaipur)

San Francisco Palace Hotel

The Thief Hotel (Oslo)

Why do you like hotels and what are some of your favorite global places to rest your head?
By William D. Chalmers – Copyright 2000-2016, GEA, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

(Reprinted from Huffington Post October 2014)

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A Travel Addict’s Index to Higher Highs

“When you travel often, you will be addicted to it forever.” — Henry Miller

Gateway drugs push you on to higher highs. Could the same be said for travel addiction?

My name is William Chalmers and I am a travel addict. There, I said it!

I fondly recall the lazy lake-side cottage vacations of my youth. We all remember our first time! I can distinctly evoke family road trips — Cedar Point, Gettysburg, Washington D.C., Williamsburg, and Ocean City, Maryland. It was a mild buzz. My first plane ride from Los Angeles to Detroit was utterly thrilling. I wanted more. I vaguely recall Spring Break holidays in Florida and Mexico — utterly intoxicating. (Sorry.) Then cross-country buddy road trips.

My taste for adventure grew. My first international adventure to Southeast Asia was the coup de graĉe… the travel bug was now firmly coursing through my veins. I was hooked. And the feeling of traveling to exotic faraway destinations only heightened my senses and consciousness. I was alive, engaged and absorbed. It was utterly exhilarating and I wanted more. A lot more.

Recently, I got to wondering about that gateway drug reference and narcotic feeling as it pertains to travel. Many of us suffer from the affliction wanderlust, which describes a “craving to travel.” But how does one contract an obsession and how does one go about feeding that habit?

Like foodies, there are tell-tale signs you are a travel addict: you talk about your next distant fix while you are already in an exotic destination; you book another trip as soon as you return from one; your Bucket List keeps getting longer instead of shorter; you only date international airlines flight attendants (Okay maybe just me?); you visibly shake at the sight of a map; you always carry your passport — even at home; your Skype contacts list looks like the UN’s phone book; your idea of art on your walls is thumb-tacking postcards; you can give tourists directions in places you are actually visiting; and finally, you know you are a travel addict when you accept the need for an intervention — as long as rehab on another continent is the first-step!

Everyone is different when it comes to their drugs of choice — be it tea, coffee, tobacco yoga, marathons, tequila, love, marijuana or chocolate — so too in travel. Over the holidays I began sharing that question along with my own point of view with scores of other passionate fellow travelers. And I think I now have a good sense of how fellow travelers get hooked, deal with their dependencies and alleviate their constant cravings.

The results I have assembled below are rather subjective, but extremely interesting and thought-provoking. As a novel way to present these data points — it is a work in progress to be sure, but one that presents as a simple barometer of sorts that for the first time presents an escalating ladder of travel experiences illustrating the progression of types of trips, travels and adventurous experiences. From humble beginnings in origin, you can see how quickly the journey travelers undergo quickly climbs them up the travel addiction ladder in order to achieve higher and higher travel experiences.

I readily admit it is a work in progress. I know that unique personal experiences or specific destinations are both unquantifiable and endless in nature. And no doubt, jaded travelers, over-intellectualizing critics and sanctimonious pooh-poohers, will all make the usual arguments, complaining that: roughing it is all that matters; that trips are different than personal journeys; that tourists are different than travelers; that travelers are different than wanderers; that you have to spend X amount of time to truly know the authenticity of a place; that there is a right and wrong way to travel; and that unless you are risking your life you aren’t taking a truly daring adventure; whatever… bring it on!

Let’s call this a budding thought experiment that I front and center stipulate immediately that travel is indeed a highly personal endeavor and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to it.

That said, on a scale of 0-to-10 (10 being really elusively high!), what all travel junkies want to know — how can I get my next travel high?

The Traveler’s Addiction Index 2.0
(Bold designates significant gateway travel addiction thresholds):

.1 – Armchair traveler watching TV travel & food shows
.2 – Reading newspaper travel sections weekly
.3 – A quick trip to neighboring Colorado to, well, you know…
.4 – Two-week family summer vacation
.5 – Taking a student spring break trip
.7 – Visiting Disneyland, Las Vegas, Branson or Orlando
1.0 – Subscribing to a travel-related magazine
2.0 – Taking a cross-country/multi-state road trip
2.2 – Visiting Canada
2.4 – Visiting Mexico
2.5 – Taking a weekend cruise
3.0 – Reading a famous travel memoir
3.5 – Obtaining your first passport (with the intent to use it)
3.6 – Buying a guidebook (with the dream of using it)
3.7 – Taking an extended international cruise
3.8 – Attending an overseas conference/convention
4.0 – Studying a semester abroad
4.1 – Taking a travel agent FAM trip
4.2 – Taking an exotic honeymoon
4.3 – Visiting a Club Med/all-inclusive-type resort
4.4 – Being a business road warrior (domestic)
4.5 – Taking a Medical Tourism excursion
4.6 – Applying for The Amazing Race
5.0 – Visiting a non-English speaking country
5.5 – Backpacking through Europe
5.6 – Doing the classic London, Paris, Rome trip
5.7 – Being a business road warrior (international)
6.0 – Obtaining a visa for a foreign nation
6.7 – Taking a Gap year traveling
6.8 – Becoming a paid travel writer (not a travel blogger)
6.9 – Competing in The Amazing Race
7.0 – Having lived in more than 2 countries
7.5 – Having visited more than 4 continents
7.7 – Seen these Seven Wonders: Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Great Wall, Pyramids of Giza, Petra, Tikal.
8.0 – Visiting India
8.1 – Attended these Global Happenings: Rio Carnival, Winter Olympics, Summer Olympics, World Cup, Holi, Burning Man, Fiesta de San Fermin.
8.2 – Seen these Natural Wonders: Himalayas, Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef, Iguazu Falls, Victoria Falls, Mt. Fuji, Amazon.
9.0 – Circumnavigating the globe in one trip
9.3 – Taking an extended around the world (RTW) trip
9.4 – Reaching the 50+ countries threshold
9.5 – Reaching the 100+ countries threshold
9.6 – Competing in The Global Scavenger Hunt annual travel adventure competition
9.7 – Being considered one of The World’s Greatest Travelers
9.8 – Travel rapture
9.9 – Travel nirvana
10.0 – Hmmm?

So, where are you at on the travel addict’s ladder?

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

(Reprinted from Huffington Post January 2014)

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Foreign Affairs

There’s conventional sex, make-up sex, rock star sex and travel sex! There is no doubt travelers have sex appeal and that wanting to travel more is called wanderlust.

Forget Kissinger’s quote about power — travel is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Face it, foreigners are exotic, different, mysterious. We are all curious about other cultures fetishes, taboos and practices between the sheets: How are Italians, really? Are the French what they claim? What about Jamaicans, Japanese, Hindus, Muslim, Israelis, Africans and Latinos. And what about those Swedes?

We all really want to know. It is a big part of traveling to want to personally understand other cultures, intimately. It is text book social identity theory and anthropology101 pursuing forbidden fruits.

Consensual sexual relations while on the road, within an existing relationship or in a budding new one, makes for great sex. Be it on a typical summer vacation, a quick weekend getaway, a Swingers Cruise, joining the Mile High Club, at a LGBT-friendly destination, Club Med fantasy vacations, during a Hen Party (or a Cougar Cruise) or Stag Weekend and Mancation. While traveling, we lose our inhibitions and act as not so innocents abroad as changes in latitudes create exciting changes in attitudes.

The vacation sex equation is simple: sense of freedom + exciting environment + exotic locals + sun/sea + feeling relaxed + mysterious new partner/uninhibited familiar partner + the privacy of hotel rooms + alcohol = great travel sex!

Welcome to the Hotel Casanova. Isn’t the very nature of what travel is about, fulfilling fantasies of sort? Travel flings rock. Vacation sex rules. And occasionally, those language barriers and gaping cultural differences are broken down when carnal knowledge leads to a deeper anthropological appreciation of each other.

In my capacity as the Event Director (aka the Ringmaster) of the annual around the world travel adventure, The Global Scavenger Hunt, I can tell you that sex on the road happens…a lot! Among our great travelers we have had our fair share of: casual hook ups, travel buddies with benefits, erotic date nights, x-rated skinny dipping, marriage proposals, hotel romps, prowling late night stray wolfs, poolside seductions, hotel room key exchanges, illicit rendezvous, early morning walks of shame, and even ‘happy ending’ collections — don’t ask!

What does uninhibited, no-strings-attached travel sex abroad sound like: “But, I have a boyfriend? Oh well, I’m on vacation!” “I’ve just got to sleep with that hot Italian guy! When will I ever be here again?” “Did I really just sleep with that girl? Oh well, I’m traveling!” Most of all, travel sex mostly means a lot of kissing and no telling.

There is definitely something about traveling and sex that seems inevitable — like trains and tunnels taking us to the erogenous zones of sultry tropical environs. And we all know How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Travel sex is indeed the Big O of adventures.

I have a good friend with their own version of the Century Club — collecting international lovers instead of passport stamps. Another wants to join the elusive 7-7 Society — seven liaisons on seven continents… although Antarctica remains a cool mistress to obtain. A great lady traveler I know has her own erotic World Heritage Sitecheck list if you know what I mean: Machu Picchu, check; Grand Canyon, check; St Peters Cathedral, check! I even have a postcard from a Don Juan-like friend simply saying: “Can’t come home yet…I still have condoms!” Indeed, different strokes for different folks and foreign conquests abound with everyone trying to capture a new flag.

And who am I to judge. There was a period of time where I only dated Pan Am (RIP) flight attendants — and the stories are all true; spent sultry all-nighters on Ibiza; windsurfed the sex-fueled beaches of Greece for way too long; prowled the sordid red light districts of Amsterdam, Bangkok, Hamburg and Tokyo’s Kabukico; attended Rio’s infamous bump n’ grind clothing optional Carnaval — Sodom and Gomorrah had nothing on the Cariocas; and for a while I even suffered a serious bout of IWD — Icelandic Woman’s Disease.

So, in my best Carrie Bradshaw Sex in the City impression, it got me thinking: Is sex on the road: A) inevitable, B) better, C) copious, or D) manageable? After all, What Happens in Vegas…or Jamaica, or Bali, or Paris…Stays in Vegas, right?

Well, for sure we North Americans are trained at a young age to equate travel with sex. Think first kisses at summer camps; those infamous rites of passage known as those sex-fueled Spring Breaks — where cocoa butter, beer and bikinis turn young adults into hedonistic heathens. And don’t forget those Canadian snow birds headed south on their annual migrations in search of sand, suds and sex.

So, as an author, I did a little research (objectively I might add), and I found a few surveys about sex on the road. In a word — we really like it!

The travel sex facts are:

96 percent of travelers search for adventurous travel partners;

88 percent of Americans are likely to be intimate on vacation;

77 percent of travelers with a significant other reported a good sex life;

72 percent of the couples said travel inspires romance;

64 percent say sex is better on the road;

55 percent of singles believe that traveling makes a potential mate more attractive;

and almost 50 percent of singles have had a holiday romance.

So, there you have it. Is travel sex, vacation sex or holiday flings really all they are chalked up to be? I want to know because I am thinking of a new highly participatory culturally-oriented scavenge for our 2016 travel adventure event.

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

(Reprinted from Huffington Post December 2013)

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The Golden Age of Travel?

I am going to go out on a limb here and make a provocative counter-intuitive statement: That now is the best time in the history of mankind to travel. We are in what many in the future, and certainly those who traveled before us–no matter how nostalgic they may be, might refer to as the Golden Age of Travel.

Consider these five facts:

First off, believe it or not, the world has never been safer to travel. Fact is, the world is actually a more peaceful, less violent and safe place to travel in than ever before, despite what you hear nightly on cable news shows about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Currently there are no two nation-states at war with each other. Frankly, as a student of international relations, that is unprecedented. Sure there are a few pockets of resistance out there, a handful of violence-prone areas still too hot to visit, like: Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, Darfur/Sudan, and Syria recently. That’s  just six localities out of almost 200 U.N.-member nation-states. You could say that we have a 97% conflict-free zone to travel within. I’ll take those odds anytime. Sure, you could maybe add a few more low-intensity conflicts it might be best to avoid too, like: Chicago, the Gaza Strip, and downtown Cairo. For good or bad—and this traveling author see’s the glass decidedly half-full—the world is being pacified with the multiple effects of: expanding democracy, United Nations programs, increased literacy, globalization, social media, urbanization and secularization. They are all having a positive effect on reducing violence in the world. And this is really good news for travelers.

So forget the crap you hear nightly, those fear-mongering sensationalistic news reports only feed the insidious Mean World Syndrome. When I wear my hat of Event Director for The Global Scavenger Hunt’s annual around the world travel adventure competition, I have no problem finding safe places to visit—and neither should you.

Second: sure getting there may no longer be half the fun, but getting there today has never, ever, been safer. Flying today has never been safer; in fact, last year was the safest ever in aviation history. Three little words will help you understand air travel in the 21st century: arrived without incident—and it occurs almost 93,000 times a day! Think about that.

Third: I know we Americans like to complain—and we should about our domestic flight service (Shame on them!) because it truly is dreadful compared to international service—but one thing we have forgotten among all the relative discomforts and hassles of air travel today, is that it’s almost always better than the alternative. A century ago, ocean-crossing mortality rates could be as high as 50%; cross country train travel takes 3-days; and don’t even ask about buses. But today, we can step onto a jetliner anywhere and in a matter of hours step off that same airplane across the country, across the oceans and halfway around the world. Getting here to there has simply never been easier. And you get there at a relatively reasonable cost, (flights are 12% cheaper today than in 2000), without smokers polluting your lungs (remember smoking sections, WTF!?), with amazing seatback entertainment features (okay, on international flights not domestic ones), and last but not least, experiencing less air-turbulence than ever. Airports have never offered more consumer choices, and for the select few, airline travel lounges have never been nicer offering amazing creature comforts and amenities.

It is indeed the Golden Age of Travel.

Next we should fully understand, although we take it for granted, that connectivity and speed have rendered the world extremely small. The so-called “death of distance” has arrived making far-flung remote destinations more and more accessible than ever before. The fact is, you can be anywhere in the world you desire within 24-hours (aka my 24-Hour Rule).

Of course the jet-age of the 1960’s absolutely revolutionized travel as we know, and the continued growth of low-cost regional airlines around the world this last decade, has amplified it by pairing up more destinations than ever. There has been an almost 40% increase in city-to-city connectivity in the last decade and today over 37,000 city pairs are connected by commercial passenger flights into almost 1,300 international airports. That means that you can go anywhere and get anywhere within 24-hours. From here in Los Angeles, in 12-13 hours you can be in Moscow or Tierra del Fuego…in 14-16 hours you can be in Delhi, Sydney or Hong Kong….in16-18 hours you can be in Dubai, Singapore or Easter Island…and in 18-20 hours in Johannesburg. The furthest away from Los Angeles I can travel to is Mauritius—and you can get there on two flights via Paris and a croissant—and be there in exactly 24 hours and 30 minutes.

Finally, our amazing technological and communication advances that have interconnected everyone and everything have radically and irrevocably altered our relationship with travel. Advances have allowed us to have instant access to relevant travel information anywhere, anytime, 24/7; from knowing the weather and currency exchange rates, to flight status and seating options, and hotel availability, transportation options and reserving a table.

Think about it, we don’t have to take guidebooks with us anymore, and with the numerous social media sites available, we can directly communicate with knowledgeable locals. Aren’t we all more informed and confident travelers these days as a result of these remarkable advances? Don’t we all have a lot more choices? We have online booking, ticketless travel, at-home electronic check-ins and seat assignments. seamless financing with ATM’s and credit cards, instant free communications with Skype and Wi-Fi smart phone use; and of course the use of digital cameras to make us better at capturing and sharing our memories.

So, I submit to you that this is the Golden Age of Travel, depending on your personal needs, whims and aspirations, you can literally be doing anything your heart desires anywhere in the world you want to go in 24-hours. From urban exploration and nature adventures to scuba diving, skiing, fishing, trekking, safari, visit great art museums, indulging in great cuisines, or just visiting family & friends—the world is truly your oyster. You really need just three things to travel anywhere these days: time, resources and desire.

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

(Reprinted from Huffington Post 8 Oct 2013)

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Travel 3.0

This past weekend I spoke at the Bay Area Travel & Adventure Show. They had an A-List of interesting travel speakers including Rick Steves, Patricia Schultz of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” fame, and Brat Pack-era actor-cum-traveler Andrew McCarthy. All great travel promoters.

My topic was “Taking a Global Adventure:  The Do’s and Don’ts of Taking that Once-in-a-lifetime Around the World Adventure.” The good folks who organize these events around the country thought that I might know a thing or two about the topic as an avid traveler of three decades and due to my position serving as Event Director of the little annual around the world travel adventure competition known as The Global Scavenger Hunt. And of course they were right, as a passionate travel evangelist, I do have a few thoughts on the topic.

What really got my juices flowing however was interacting with literally hundreds of fellow travelers attending the weekend show. It seems apparent to me that discerning travelers have a pent up appetite for glorious travel adventures that go beyond the norm. They have a thirst to do something unique and a deep hunger to add meaning to whatever it is they end up doing.

Then it dawned on me, we members of Homo touristicus (aka traveling man) have evolved over the years and entered a new generation of traveling, a Third Generation that I dubbed Travel 3.0. (The Travel Adventure Show took place in the heart of Silicon Valley so the label seemed apropos!)

The First Generation of Homo touristicus happened when travelers began moving to and fro because they had to; due to trade, to attend family ceremonies, as war refugees, and yes escaping earlier eras of climate change!

The Second Generation of travelers evolved as incomes began to rise and when people started to travel because they could afford to. Their travels were mostly centered on fun and consumption; think Greek spas, the Grand Tours of Europe, the sight-seeing road trips of the 1960’s & 70’s, taking cruises, and Las Vegas weekends.

Talking with fellow travelers at the show, it seems to me that travelers have out grown and become weary of this empty conspicuous consumption, and have evolved into travelers that manifests itself within what we could call the hyper-tourism industry. I think author and adventurer, Robert Young Pelton, offered this rather insightful observation that might ring true: “The more civilized a society is, the more outrageous their adventures.” Indeed, many of us have succumbed to this approach to travel, whose stages include:

Experience Junkies who move toward the Been there, Done that, What’s next? Syndrome of list travel. Many of us pass through this period innocently enough as novice travelers. We gain status and a reputation among family, friends, and other would-be travelers, as we temple-hop, bar-hop, culture-hop, happening-hop, and country-hop our way around the world. We always seem to be in the right place at the right time; from Mardis Gras to the Running of the Bulls, from hanging in Beach-like off-the-beaten-path hidden gems to wherever the latest solar eclipse might be occurring. We’re there.

Adrenaline Junkies are also found among this modern Second Generation genus of traveler. Again, we all know the type, and many of us pass through it at some point in our lives—usually when we are either too young to know better or fighting off a nasty bout of mid-life crisis. Adrenaline junkies usually seek out testosterone-induced and wholly fabricated dangers just to feel alive or gain street-cred among other like-minded travelers by visiting hot zones or war-torn regions; or are out climbing, surfing, boarding, hiking, or running the remotest, highest, fastest, deepest, craziest destinations of the world. It is all about them and their ego-gratification; and where they actually travel to seems secondary. (Maybe we should call it Post-Travel Tourism?)

Finally you have the Country Counters among us whose lone goal seems to be nothing more than checking off boxes on a list. As billionaires keep accumulating obscenely unspendable sums in order to keep track of who’s who in their small world pecking order—so do Country Counters! Can we really call a toe-touching moment at an airport of one of the lesser Papua New Guinea islands a country you really visited? Is it really important to be the first person to visit South Sudan—for two hours?

Again, for the most part—and yes I personally know many wonderful and exceptional travelers who fit these travel-types today yet have somehow transcended these rather vulgar and vacuous definitions—the fact is that for all these travel approach types, the actual travel per se doesn’t really matter to them; for they could just as easily accomplish their great feats in Cleveland, Sacramento or Phoenix. (Not that there is anything particularly wrong with Cleveland, Sacramento or Phoenix!)

As we all know, human ambition always requires new frontiers, what if’s and challenges; and by the early 21st century it seems to me that discerning travelers have evolved into a new way of traveling—the Third Generation of travelers and Travel 3.0.

Travel 3.0 can be simply summed up in three words: authentic, challenging and participatory! What does that mean?

It means that instead of being sequestered in comfortable digs at resort hotels and tour buses away from the local and indigenous people you are visiting, that the Travel 3.0 raison d’être is to actually get you out of your comfort zone and engage in authentic, challenging and participatory travel experiences. Your traveling experience becomes all about finding the heart of a destination and having more intimate one-on-one encounters. It means aiming for a real cultural immersion. It also means attempting to feel more alive and connected with fellow human beings. It means traveling independently while testing both your strengths and weaknesses. About actively participating, about doing. Fundamentally, Travel 3.0 it is about learning and growing empathy and understanding about the world in which we live and travel! It demands that you trade your relaxation breaks for mind-expanding breaks.

On the flip side, it also means avoiding buying into those one-size fits-all travel experiences and pre-packaged tour-like products that leave nothing to chance. Travel 3.0 is radically different. It is about allowing serendipity in. It means that instead of just passively sight-seeing, that travel becomes more hands-on in highly participatory site-doing experiences. It calls on travelers to make good use of their own travel savvy, situational awareness and cumulative Travel IQ, to overcome the kismet of the moment—be they logistic challenges, language barriers or cultural differences—while being outside their safe comfort zones and autopilot default assumptions transcending your own limitations in extraordinary environments. In essence this all occurs by meeting people and turning strangers into friends. Trusting strangers in strange lands is a good motto for Travel 3.0 and maybe making friends in exotic destinations ought to be everyone’s new travel metric, instead of country counting or fueling adrenaline fixes?

I have personally witnessed the evolution towards the Travel 3.0 attitude over the last decade while serving as the Event Director of The Global Scavenger Hunt. We noticed that travelers participating in our adventure seemed more alive, engaged, positive and creative…especially when they were in what could obviously be called the flow, Maslow’s zone, or what we know as that peak mental state that occurs when travelers personal experiences are amplified. Maybe we could call it a type of travel rapture? It occurs with a feeling of being truly alive, running on all cylinders and being in the moment fully connected and fulfilled. It seemed to me that the magic of travel occurs when you immerse yourself wholly and freely into highly participatory, authentic and challenging experiences. In fact we have found that our travel adventure seemed to have turned into a full-contact sport somewhere along the way, but more of the mind and soul than of the body. Hence Travel 3.0.

Again I believe that travelers approaching the Travel 3.0 attitude could be really just unconsciously attempting to regain authenticity in their travels in the Age of Reality TV…which we know is rather inauthentic. You could call it a rebellion, a backlash maybe, but I think the essence of it is just that travelers are simply trying to get REAL and are looking for: Rewarding experiences, Enriching experiences, Adventurous experiences and Learning experiences.

How do we go about finding and taking REAL adventures? Here’s what I think:

First you have to work at avoiding or letting the Guidebook Personality Disorder overtake you. That means going to the same hotels, same cafes, same bars and restaurants, same shops and tourist sites and do the same activities as everyone else who’s read the guidebook that you read. You have to trade certainty for serendipity. It means getting away from the one-size-fits-all corporate travel approach of canned inauthentic experiences and developing what is known as your O-Factoropenness to new experience. It means confidently getting off-the-beaten path and finding and trying new pleasing destinations beyond the never-ending fashionable “latest, hottest it” places hyped in travel porn magazines or by Mad Men-like PR marketers. (Which are really one and the same!) You need to know that experience trumps destinations. And it means that you the traveler need to leave your expectations at home…alone unpacked and locked in a dark closet.That means that engagement matters more than comfort. It also means not setting yourself up for disappointment but rather setting yourself up for whatever happens.

Travel 3.0 also means that you should follow The Way of the Contrarian Traveler in knowing that travel is NOT just recreational escapism, fun-in-the-sun hedonism, gambling, duty-free shopping and acquiring more Frequent Flyer miles. You need to become an independent and thoughtful traveler—a conscious traveler. You need to lose your fear of the unknown and be willing to get lost visiting unlikely and maybe even unhip destinations. You need to be willing to zag when the conventional wisdom of the herd are zigging. It means taking calculated and reasonable personal risks knowing that the reward dynamic and emotional payoffs will be far greater and richer for you. Finally, you need to understand that no matter how bad the experience or destination, that every destination is worth at least one visit—even if it’s just to know that you never need to go back!

That
age-old adage that “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone!” seems true enough, and the Travel 3.0 approach might just be the newest incarnation of Homo touristicus. And as Mark Twain said wisely long ago, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones you did do!”…so Just do it! There are NO excuses.

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

(Reprinted from Huffington Post – 20 October 2013)

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A Dirty Dozen Travel Pet Peeves

People like to complain. It is one of our natural predispositions. Studies would suggest that we Americans complain more than others because either: a) we don’t know how lucky we really are so stop whining, or b) we feel we’re entitled to something more — you pick.

We travelers are no different. Although we may be more PC about it and a tad more tolerant of the vicissitudes of travel that are out of our control (and part of our common shared human condition), we still grumble, cap and whine about the things we really hate about traveling.

Over the years, we have conducted anonymous exit debriefings to the hundreds of travelers who have just finished participating in our annual around the world travel adventure competition The Global Scavenger Hunt, about what really bugged them traveling during their latest circumnavigation. Now I have to stipulate that these are all truly great travel savvy folks, so the usual travel pet peeves like: loud talkers, barefoot passengers, crying babies, armrest elbowers, chatty seatmates, reclining passengers, overhead luggage hogs and TSA lines seldom appear on their forms. But after a decade of such travel events, here are the dirty dozen pet peeves from those frequent flyer travelers:

1. Experiencing travelers at airports, on flights, at hotels or restaurants who think they are “special” and the rest of the world should simply comply to their every wish. (Nobody in the world but you! Really! I think we all run into theses “Don’t you know who I am?” types.

2. Being made to feel nervous and like a terrorist when we arrive home to the U.S. after a trip.  (Clearly the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) folks need to learn to smile more…and maybe charm school lessons wouldn’t hurt.)

3. When we check into a hotel at 1:15am all bleary-eyed after a trans-continental flight we are told that check out time is 11am. (WTF? When we rent a room for day–give us an honest 24-hour day!)

4. Fellow guests who can’t close their hotel room door without slamming it. (I think we can all agree that a little common (and quiet) courtesy would make the world a better place to sleep in.)

5. I hate when I spend $200+ for a hotel room in a place where the water is unsafe for anyone to drink (i.e.: West Virginia, India and China), and have no complimentary water in my room.

6. Travelers, both women and men, who wear too much perfume and cologne on a plane. (Sure it beats BO–but not by much. Non-scent deodorant is the sure cure.)

7. Watching travelers quickly look at the digital photos (aka chimping) immediately after taking them. (Spoiler Alert: All cameras have delete options for later use.)

8. Seeing travelers use their Smartphone’s for local information instead of having face-to-face experiences with locals.

9. The endless blaring of those annoying security announcements at U.S. airports about not leaving your bags unattended and reporting any suspicious activities. (Really! 9/11 over a decade ago, we get it already–it is so 1984ish.)

10. All those ATM fees for accessing my money while traveling: service fees, international ATM fees, currency conversion surcharges all on top of foreign exchange fees. (The rich get richer…)

11. Fellow travelers who expect everyone to speak English and don’t even try. (Imagine for a moment that you are walking down your home town street when someone walks up to you with a map and starts talking rapidly at you in Mandarin or Hindi or Arabic. Think about it…)

12. Stampeding passengers who after a flight lands (sometimes barely at that) subscribe to the standard hurry up and wait motto by trying to be the first off. (Relax folks, it took a while to load, it will take a while to unload too!)

What are your travel pet peeves? Please no baby-bashing–we were all kids once!

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

(Reprinted from Huffington Post Feb 20, 2014)

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Too Connected When You Travel?

Admittedly, I am a lucky guy; I get paid to travel the world. As an author, (I am always researching!) but more so as the Event Director for the around the world travel adventure The Global Scavenger Hunt. I am seemingly always on the move, and I notice things.

One awful trend I have watched evolve is the rise of a virtual wall of technology. And the unintended consequences of this techno barrier separates not only travelers from each other, but travelers from the main reasons why we travel in the first place — to immerse ourselves in other cultures and to trust strangers in strange lands.

Let me explain further.

What I have witnessed, be it at hostels, rustic eco-lodges, resorts, chic boutique or upscale 5-star hotels alike, is travelers not so much traveling, but alone immersing themselves in a self-imposed social media e-bubble. Call it the Wi-Fi Lobby.

Decades ago, the grand lobbies of the world’s glamorous hotels were wild scenes–some would say romantic–where fellow travelers from around the world coming and going mingled together. Everyone talked to each other and exchanged ideas, suggestions and winks. You made fast friends and met future mates too…travel and otherwise.

Nowadays, travelers are still hanging in lobbies in far flung destinations, but instead of mingling they cocoon themselves off: Instagraming and Tweeting followers, Skyping or FaceTiming their friends and updating Facebook. In effect, they are maintaining existing cyber space relationships at the expense of kindling real-life new ones. We have traded face-to-face social interaction with remote social networks. The magic of travel dissipates.

Sadly, this e-bubble doesn’t just occur in the lobbies of hotels and hostels around the world. It occurs more frequently now during our travel and explore times too. With Smartphone’s in hand and earbuds firmly inserted, travelers today are living in a post-tourist world where they are only physically there and decidedly not mingling or immersing themselves (asking directions, learning about the destination, listening to indigenous sounds, talking with locals). The immediacy of technology is affecting the travel experience.

Make no mistake, I am no Luddite. The communication and technological advances of the last decade have been nothing short of marvelous and revelatory. Yet, when that technology builds walls between people, instead of breaking them down, it becomes an issue.

We have become dependent on travel apps to tell us what to see and do, where to stay and what to eat and how to get there–rather than actually exploring and discovering those things on our own. There is noticeably less personal interaction. There is a TMI overload (over 17,000+ travel apps…and growing) that leads to an overwhelming type of traveler paralysis. Oddly, the same group that eschews guidebook orthodoxy doesn’t have a problem crowdsourcing information.

It seems that information comfort (or at least the perception of knowing something) has replaced good old fashion DIY independent traveling. Yet real discovery occurs only when you venture outside your comfort zones–exploring terra incognito.

It is hard to get lost when your Smartphone’s GPS won’t let you. It is hard to allow absence make the heart grow fonder when you are connected 24/7. Can’t read the menu? There’s an app for that. Why leave home if you are not going to open yourself up to new tastes, new ideas and new people?

Indeed, the certainty travel apps and our personal electronic devices offer us has replaced sweet serendipity. The essence of traveling.

From where I sit today (in a cafe in Laos) it looks like it will only get worse; with GPS tracking algorithm-based systems like Google Glass and so-called augmented reality (AR) travel apps coming on line offering travelers omnipresent connectivity–a never-ending stream of “vital” information answering your every travel-related question. Indeed they will anticipate your needs. Is remote control tourist next?

So, what to do?

A growing backlash is brewing (aka off the grid vacationing), like the Slow Food Movement of the 80’s backlash against fast foods. It will address the paradox of our era: the more we are connected 24/7, the more we desperately want to unplug. Indeed, we do need to unplug (or at least shut the damn things off for a while and stow them) when traveling, to enjoy the moment and the serendipity of travel.

We will see. What say you?

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

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10 Politically Incorrect Travel Hacks

People tell me the craziest things. I guess I seem a sympathetic listener? They divulge their best travel tips to me at travel and adventure trade shows across the country, international travel markets, at book signings, and I hear them from fellow travel writers and arm-chair travelers alike. Most are wholly unsolicited. And most of these chestnuts I have of course heard before. Originality is sadly rare in this field. Everyone wants to reinvent the wheel every few editorial cycles it seems.

As the Event Director of the annual world travel championship, The Global Scavenger Hunt, I get to see great travelers in action every year while they interact with the world first hand as they circle the globe over 23-days of the competition. They each have to use their own skill sets, innate travel savvy, chutzpah, and acquired Travel IQ to overcome the challenges we lay before them on a daily basis if they have any hope of winning and being crowned The World’s Greatest Travelers.

Over the last decade, I have noticed that each and every participant comes with their own sure-fire set of tried and true travel tips. But how they compete and how they finish in the event reveals to us whether or not their methods are as tried and true as they believe them to be. And trust me when I tell you that everyone has their own set of travel beliefs.

Of course we all know the commonsense ones, like: Don’t eat where you sleep. Don’t wear shorts riding an elephant. Don’t talk-back to customs or immigration officials. And never present yourself at a car rental desk after a few drinks on the plane. Duh, right?

But here are the ten worst politically incorrect travel hacks that I have personally ever heard over the years presented in David Letterman Top Ten List style for your enjoyment:

10. “If you’re going to buy drugs on the road, buy them from a Westerner not a local!” Okay, but my guess is that you might be being cast in the new reality-television series Locked Up Abroad!

9. “You know Bill, counterfeit hundreds are everywhere. When I get one I either spend it on a hooker, tip really big, or buy something worth $10 to get $90 back.” I see, musical currency.

8. “I always drink and then refill the vodka and gin mini-bar bottles with water, every time!” That explains my water-downed drink last night.

7. “I always get a room at a full hotel or table at a busy restaurant because I flash a $100 bill noticeably in the face of a desk manager or maître di…then when I get what I want, I just smile, say thank you and shove the bill back in my pocket.” And you admit this in public you lousy jerk!

6. “Whenever I can’t find an available hotel room I just head to the Red Light district and make an arrangement with a local sex worker—they always have a room. I don’t have to have sex.” Right, you’ll just play cards; maybe strip poker.

5. “I never pay my mini-bar bill! At checkout I simply say that I did not consume it. I blame it on them: an inadvertent keystroke entry, a restocking issue, maybe the maid drank it or the restocking boy.” Beware: I heard this from a traveling salesman (aka road warrior).

4. “Years ago I used to sew any contraband I didn’t want customs to know about in my kids jackets—they never check kids!” Nice helicopter parenting here—to get them out of jail!

3. “Once I was running late for a flight and couldn’t find a parking space, so I just left the car at the terminal departure curb. Yes, it got towed away, but it was cheaper than missing my flight.” A smart business calculation if I ever heard.

2. “Whenever I check a bag I always pack a starters pistol in it. Hasn’t been mishandled.” Remind me to never fly with you!

1. “When I travel I don’t make eye contact and never talk to strangers, you can’t trust anybody traveling.” WTF!? If you can’t trust strangers in strange lands why travel? But, the avoiding eye contact works really well jaywalking in Manhattan. I am just saying…

So, what are the worst pieces of travel advice you ever heard?

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

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