Baker’s Dozen Travel Photo Tips

Taking good photos on a great trip isn’t as easy as it looks; but it’s also not as hard as it seems either. Good photos rarely just happen—but they can occur more often if you know a few tips. It just takes a little pre-trip preparation and some eyes-wide-open situational awareness on the go.

We want you to take home some amazing pictures to match the transformative travel experiences you’ll have over the coming 23-days circling the globe. We know that capturing some of the eye-dazzling sights and scenes that simply defy words, will help you extend your memories of those experiences. Yet on the other hand, we don’t want picture taking to get in the way of your experiences, or the people you will meet along the way, and so, being fluent and comfortable taking those photos is important.

Over the years, we have been lucky enough to have some of our travel photos published in scores of international outlets; and our philosophy on travel photography is simple: that a little prep goes a long way. That said, below are a handful of tried and true photo tips that we’ve acquired over the years from both fellow travelers and professional photographers alike that have helped us take better pictures—one’s that verge on professional quality. Some, you already know but worth remembering their relevance; while some are new, that you should absorb before you go. Old or new, make no mistake, they will help you better capture your coming memories of a lifetime.

Here are eleven simple tips to help you take better travel photos:

1. Before you go: Know your camera, learn its options; read the manual, know manual mode. Give your trusty camera a tune-up too: clean the lens, reset dates, set picture size, replenish your batteries, and get a larger memory chip because it is always better to set your digital camera on the higher size and finest quality; because it’s easier to make them smaller—not bigger.

2. Before you go: Briefly familiarize yourself with a few basic photographic techniques/concepts, like: the rule of thirds; leading lines; balance; eye-lines; triangles; horizons; single points; frame within a frame; and depth…then go out and break all those rules. Consider taking an hour to take photos testing your newfound techniques…practice makes perfect.

3. Before you go
: Look at your photos from a previous trip and study your worst pictures—they are your best teachers. Think of what you could have done to take better photos. File those critical thoughts away.

4. While traveling: Charge/recharge your batteries every night, and download/upload photos each day to prevent loss due to chip corruption or camera loss.

5. While traveling
: Be more self-aware; we don’t want taking selfies to get in the way of experiencing it: live it, don’t just capture it. And practically, the easiest way to extend your camera’s battery power is to turn off your viewing screen and to stop chimpinglooking at your playback like a trained monkey, going, “Oo-Oo-Ooo” Experience the present moment in front of you—not your camera’s memory of it! Try hard to counteract this impulse, you will have plenty of time to relive them later

6. Light matters, a lot! The best time (ambient light) for taking photos is just before and after dawn and dusk. Those couple hours are known as the photographic Golden Hour (brilliant & bolder hues); these transitionary periods are always the most interesting times of day as well as the best time because the must-see sights are usually not very busy. Markets look more colorful. Nature is alive. Religious rituals take place. Ordinary people’s day are either just beginning or ending. High, noon-day sun plays havoc on photos. (Always have your subjects facing the sun during daylight hours unless you like dark silhouettes?! Shade can be your friend; but remember that flashes at close range do work in the sun and helps to counter sun and shadows.) Remember that if you see glare in the viewfinder—it will be in the picture; so, use your hand near the lens to shield the sun/glare. Also remember that when taking pictures if you must decide between over-exposing or under-exposing a photo…chose the former, because it is always easier to tone down the light—much harder to add light later. BTW: Sunsets aren’t that interesting—it’s true. We see them—every day—and they mostly all look the same; much better to be counter-intuitive and turn around to see what interesting subjects the light that sunset is casting on.

7. Zoom in with your feet, not your lens. Get as close as you can to your subject/object…now get one-step closer…fill the frame. Get the details of a place instead of always taking wide angle shots by looking small rather than large; angle out clutter in your background by moving three feet left or right. Point is, Zoom in with your feet.

8. Make ordinary photos extraordinary by finding creative alternative unconventional vantage points. Don’t be lazy: walk, kneel, or climb to get a closer and better angle. Once you pick a central subject/object, build a good picture around it before you click it. Think about your framed picture: Is there anything here I don’t want in my photo? What is around the edges—do you want it in the photo? A blur of light? A sign? Litter? A thumb? Remember a picture is worth a 1,000-words. What are you trying to say taking this photo? Happiness, beauty, speed, a color? Look for scene juxtapositions that reveal contrasts: old/new, sacred/profane, big/small, geographic transitions. BTW: Vertical photos are good too!

9. To avoid shutter lag, always lock your focus before you snap. It is the difference between blurred and missed photos, and clear timely photos. Pressing your shutter release button halfway down, not only focuses but automatically picks an exposure setting too.

10. Most posed photographs suck. We know you went to Machu Picchu; we don’t need to see several photos of you there posing for an execution. Better to capture the feeling of spontaneity, of movement, of candid in-the-moment shots versus staged poses. Keep your subjects busy and look for fun shots, action shots, the weird and wacky; you know, the ones that are always much more interesting. And pet peeve: Don’t automatically encourage your subjects to smile: Allow them to be shy or pensive or curious, themselves.

11. Photographers need to have ethics. Always ask permission to take a close up of someone; and always adhere to the posted “no photos,” and/or “no flash” rules. If you’re ever in doubt about taking pictures, ask before you shoot. Two things make for better people pictures: 1) Make friends first and you practically invite great photos—never pass up on this opportunity to make new friends; and 2) Ask for their e-mail/text so that you can send them a copy. It’s just plain polite.

12. Finally, taking short videos with your camera can be fun too, when you follow a few rules of thumb: Avoid herky-jerky unnecessary zooming and panning (it is really annoying); try to pick your zoom levels before pressing record and then keeping them constant during your shoot. When scanning, keep each scene going for about 3-5 seconds, never longer than about 10 seconds. Shoot different angles and distances…there are three basic shots: Wide Shot, a Mid Shot and a Close Up. Always keep your camera as steady as possible—try not to walk too much while shooting… or talk too much either! Always shoot more than you need; you can always delete footage, but you cannot take more after you’re gone. And remember, good video is about action and reaction, try to have both in each shot. Finally, we are big proponents of 1-minute video takes—as you will soon find out.

Have fun and enjoy your around the world photos.

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

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Reducing Your Travel Environmental Impact

We have all heard that old eco-friendly travel truism: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”

No matter our noble intentions, the fact is that travel, all types of travel, leave a big footprint.

How big? Well, one recent 2018 comprehensive study of the travel & tourism industries impact (including not just air travel, but hotel usage, eating out, renting cars, group tours, cruise ships, and even souvenir purchases) showed that it was responsible for 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Sadly, it was three times what was thought. And that impact is even bigger per person, when you consider the fact that as little as three percent of the entire global population flew in 2017. (FYI: At most, only about 18 percent of us have ever flown in an airplane!) That means that just three percent of us contribute eight percent of all climate chaos-inducing emissions annually.

There is no doubt that the human activity of travel, be it for business, pleasure or family obligation, adversely effects the environment. None. It is an inconvenient truth. That said, it is an unintended consequence of development, and it is a wealth problem. Collectively, being wealthier is good (we live longer, lead healthier lives, are better educated, have fewer kids, enjoy more enriching experiences, and live more peacefully), BUT, as more people become wealthier, more people are traveling than ever before…and it will continue to grow: there were 4.3 billion global air passengers in 2018—and every year since 2009 has been a new record-breaker. (Can you say over-tourism!)

We have chosen to travel, not only because of the obvious hedonistic aspects of travel, but because we acknowledge the true benefits of travel include, among other things: living longer; being healthier; raised global and collective consciousness; human interactions; never-ending learning; peaceful coexistence; and broader-based economic development (one in ten jobs in developing countries depend on the travel & tourism sector); and finally the social, economic and conservation benefits travel brings. Clearly, the meaning of our lives is undertaking new experiences; meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. This is our calculus, our cost-benefit analysis—our choice.

Our lives are full of lifestyle choices, one’s that directly impact the environment: Yes, travel does seriously affect the environment, it is viably the sixth, or seventh, most detrimental lifestyle choice we make after: 1) having children; 2) using a car (let alone more than one); 3) our diet (being a non-vegetarian); 4) the types of energy we use (fossil fuels vs. renewables); 5) our use of plastics; 6) the size of our homes; and 7) flying. Obviously, it is sexier to debate capricious travelers than to change our entire lifestyles and daily habits. The moral of the story is that climate heroes without carbon footprints don’t exist. No one makes perfect life choices all the time, but we can make positive choices.

Okay, so what is to be done? How can we minimize our carbon footprint while still electing to enjoy the enriching benefits of travel?

We at The Global Scavenger Hunt™ have always had a code of conduct—things we suggest our participants do while traveling that maybe help mitigate some of the negative effects that result from our desire for adventure and travel.

But first, here’s what we do in putting together our annual around the world travel adventure: 1) we attempt to stay at properties that operate on a low or neutral carbon impact philosophy and support sustainable hospitality; 2) we attempt to take as many long-haul flights as possible, as many direct nonstop flights as possible, thus reducing our CO2 footprint per passenger per mile; 3) we attempt to use mass transit as much as possible; 4) we attempt to eat and drink as locally as possible; and finally, 5) we attempt to educate you our travelers to make wiser and more responsible choices while traveling. Specifically, we recommend:

That you travel with the philosophy of doing no harm. Being conscious of your actions: minimizing your footprint as best you can. Think GREEN. Pack it in—pack it out. Leave nothing in your wake. Don’t litter and never leave graffiti—even if it appears to be a custom.

We encourage you to walk and bike as often as possible.

We encourage you to use public transportation (buses, trains, subways, etc) as much as possible; not employ private car hires.

We encourage you to enjoy local cuisines and beverages.

We encourage you to use reef-friendly sunscreens, sans oxybenzone.

We encourage you to use reusable eco-sac bags (that we provide).

We encourage you to use reusable water bottles—filling them up after you pass through security at the airport & getting them filled at your hotel (that we provide).

We encourage you to buy goods in recyclable glass bottles or aluminum cans versus single-use plastic bottles.

We encourage you to use less precious water: to take shorter showers, to reuse your towels.

We encourage you to shut off the air conditioning of your rooms when not occupying them.

We encourage you to purchase and consume locally made products/brands.

We encourage you to do your best and think GREEN.

Finally, we are often asked about corporate greenwashing, and the purchase of carbon offsets. Well, obviously, corporations are notorious for greenwashing their activities, but we do our best to weed them out. Admittedly, we are not 100% successful in that endeavor. The jury is still out on the carbon offsets idea: offsets do not actually reduce emissions—they just assuage our guilt; in many cases they do contribute to alternative solutions, but too often they are just schemes, new for-profit charades; and the premise that you can pay for your environmental sins rubs many the wrong way, akin to making a donation to SPCA so you can keep hitting Fido.

Thanks for reading. (Please don’t print this to save paper!)

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

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16th Annual 2019 Travelers GO/no-GO List

Where to go? Where not to go? That is the question for travelers in 2019.

The year-end dust has settled: We have seen all the “best places, must see’s and top destinations” for 2019 lists, talked with a few fellow travel writers and so-called travel experts, and compiled our facts.

There is good news and bad news for travelers in 2019. The good news is that despite media ramblings to the contrary, the world is actually a really safe place to travel; in fact, it is a 94% conflict-free zone. The bad news is that there are more travelers than ever before (over 1.4 billion) going to all those great destinations. Over-tourism remains the inconvenient elephant in the room—we are all loving the planet to death.

Serious travelers want authentic, exciting and participatory adventures—so it does not matter where it is, and thus our options are endless.

First, the bad news: a few destinations you might want to voluntarily avoid aside from the middle seat on a long-haul trans-continental flight, here are our 2019 Travelers noGO List.

Like misbehaved school kids, getting put on a No-Go-List (Billy Chalmers you are a planetarium No-Go)…these nation-state outcasts fall on the bad side of the terrorism/failed state nexus, filled with: conflict entrepreneurs, malnutrition, cholera, human smuggling, the re-emergence of slavery, corrupt regimes, and the growing ranks of a “gun class” wreaking havoc on already divisive, fragmented and desperate places. Our Hobbesian hellholes include:

The large geographic war zones of: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. The smoldering growing lawlessness of: South Sudan, Libya, Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia and Cameroon. And the increasingly depressing zones of Myanmar’s Rakhine State and Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk areas. Personally, I’d stay away from Saudi Arabia—you could lose your head; and have I mentioned that Caracas, Venezuela is the toughest town I have ever visited!

Now, knowing where not to go is only six percent of the equation, from the other 94% of the world here is our annual Go-List. Certainly “hidden gems” do exist, and second and third tier destinations, that are for the most part, off the well-beaten tourist track, are worth a visit. As contrarian travelers, I would choose: the Dalmatian Coast instead of Cinque Terre, Malta instead of Southern Spain, Apulia instead of Tuscany, Cork instead of Dublin, Viet Nam instead of Thailand, Sri Lanka instead of India, and Porto instead of Lisbon.

Bucket lists vary, but here would be my 2019 Go-List:

Corsica – An intriguing mountainous French-inhabited Mediterranean island full of charm, great food and adventure—from rugged peaks to salacious beaches. Rent a car and just drive from one colorful market to the next, from one historic citadel to the next, from one magnificent beach to the next. In this outdoor lover’s playground, the next one is always good.

Luang Prabang, Laos – An amazing little colonial town bursting with energy, history and adventure to be had: golden Buddhist temples, French-colonial architecture, hiking trails, elephant sanctuaries, Mekong River cruises.

The Global Scavenger Hunt – It has been called the Burning Man of travel adventure and is becoming for travelers-in-the-know, a cult-like institution celebrating their 15th edition in 2019. It’s like taking A Blind Date with the World, a real-life around the world Amazing Race-like competition; and it offers philanthropic opportunities. Where’s the bad? The 2019 edition of the annual three-week travel adventure event is scheduled for April 12-May 4, 2019. (

Valletta, Malta – I have been bullish on Malta since a 2004 Go-List. An exciting mix of Sicily, Cyprus, Marseilles and Tunis, this historic city on this amazing island is an exotic departure from the traditional popular Mediterranean hot spots. With only about 350,000 citizens, this little big port city makes for an enticing place to visit. Maybe the new Paris of the 20s, Bali of the 70’s, or new Prague circa 1990? Just saying…maybe 2019 is the year!

Ladakh – Forget busy Nepal and independent-traveler limiting Bhutan, the Kashmir-Jammu Himalayan region of Ladakh is the place to visit from June to September. See the Tibetan Buddhist culture of Leh, the monasteries that dot the area’s lakes and high-altitude deserts and traverse some of the world’s highest and most thrilling road passes. Whether you tent, trek and truck, the remoteness of the entire area—lakes, valley and mountains are stunning. Meditate and enjoy the chang (beer)—I did!

Also high on our list for 2019 are nearby: Karakorum, Mongolia, Uzbekistan’s ancient Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, and Tbilisi, Georgia too. Hints? Maybe, maybe not!

Solar Eclipse – Become a certified Eclipse Chaser and on 2 July 2019 head to South America for a total eclipse. With weather permitting, from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Cordoba and Buenos Aires, Argentina, you will have a great view—but don’t look to closely!

Honorable Mentions on our 2019 Go List include: ever intriguing Jordan; the Maldives—which deserves a visit while it is still above water; and Bolivia from Lake Titicaca to Salar de Uyuni.

Go to one, go to all…I will be on the magical mystery adventure The Global Scavenger Hunt this spring for 23-days.

You?…Where are you traveling to in 2019?

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

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Our 2019 Travel Resolutions

A clean slate, January 1st. Onward and upward. Soaring with the eagles.

One can only hope, right?

Every year we make resolutions and hope that our latent optimistic tendencies will be elevated by the goodwill of the so-called January Effect—that somehow our aspirations and dreams become reality.

One can only hope, right?

In that vein, I came up with my 2018 Travel Resolutions that might help make us all (oaky, me) be better travelers; and so, I resolve to be a better traveler by:
…prioritizing experiences over stuff; memories over expenses; and new friends over miles.
●…taking less Oblications (obligatory visits to family) and more real vacations. Selfish I know, but we all need it.
● …unplug more often and not let technology get in the way of interacting with locals.
● …take more authentic, challenging and participatory adventures like the real-life event The Global Scavenger Hunt.
●…spend less time at global Starbucks researching the Latte Index and more time in neighborhood cafes.
●…spend less time in my hotel lobby and more site-doing.
●…spend more time in places but less money in them…acting more like a local.
●…to miss at least one flight in 2019 because I am obviously spending too much time in airports-cum-malls.
●…to lower my bloated expectations by reducing my meticulous destination planning.
●…to not try to one-up other travelers when they are telling their favorite travel stories.
●…to avoid trendy hot popular destinations for the ones I really want to visit.
●…to embrace the transportation truism: the cheaper the ride, the friendlier the people.
● …to walk more wherever I go.
● …take better pictures—but not so many that I forget to see what is in front of me.
●…to do something new for the first time every day when I travel.
●…to learn how to cook a dish from every country I visit in 2019.
● …to be more patient dealing with the trials and tribulations of traveling.
● …to stop whining and kvetching about traveling—it is an amazing privilege.
● …to do one thing a day that scares me!

What are your 2019 travel resolutions?

Happy New Year and happy trails in 2019!

Tomorrow we will list our 2019 GoTo Destinations…

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

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Anyone Up for a Drink?

I used to pride myself decades ago that I could order a beer and get kissed in any language in any country…I can still order a beer anywhere. Even in a dry country. Today, I consider myself a cultured drinker.

Ain’t nothing like it…

Frankly, I could write a book about drinking abroad—a long book. (It’d be called “A Drunkalogue of Inebriated Travel.” Maybe not…) Please don’t judge me with this admission, but I do enjoy a good l’heure du cocktail, a cold beer and experiencing novel adult beverages around the world. Humans are just so ingenious and imaginative, we can make mind-altering substances out of just about anything when mania or melancholy moves us. I have indeed been lucky to have had both the opportunity to experience many of them, and an even stronger liver to have survived.

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder…

It is said, that as many people drink to remember as to forget; whereas I drink to experience the scenery: the local scene, indigenous people celebrating life, transcendental sunsets, rooftop city views, history, passionate conversations, and so much more. And make no mistake, alcohol has magical socializing powers that can give your soul an enema; allowing for equal parts honesty, humor and therapeutic breakthroughs.

Lily (Yolo Go Now! 2017) contemplating her dubious good fortune in Belgium. 

When I think of 17 Global Scavenger Hunt’s to over 80 countries, I also think of all the chapters in that drinking book: Irish Pubs, Tapa Bars, German Beer Halls, Sports Bars, Hostess Clubs, Wine Cellar Bars, Karaoke Bars, Hotel Lounge Bars, Wine Regions of the World, Alehouses, Sandy Beach Bars, Islamic Permit Rooms, Legendary Bars, Russian Rumochnayas, Nightclubs, Live Music Joints, Taverns, Neighborhood Dive Bars, Japanese Izakayas, Cigar Bars, Brewery Tours, Rooftop Bars, Paris Cafés, The Ultimate Pub Crawl, Old Fashion Saloons, Alcohol Festivals of the World, High Concept Bars, Bourbon Street Fun, AA No-Go Zones, Rooftop/Sky bars, Best Bar Eats, Nostalgia Bars, Global Cocktail Scavenges, Bartender Roulette…we humans really like to drink and there’s simply too much to consider.

An Institute of Higher Consciousness…

Okay then…let’s cut to the chase and talk a little about drinking. Of course my lists are all subjective (I welcome your input), there are obviously no right or wrong’s here. That said…

Bottoms Up Wendy (T3, 2016)…

My Drinking Pet Peeves:
-serving fruit in a beer
-air-boozers who drink from wheels up to touch down
-drinkers that turn into Mr. Hyde
-any alcohol with snakes or worms in the bottle
-minibar rip-offs
-bar nibbles that cost a bloody fortune (I’m talking to you Italy!)
-loud drunks (especially patriotic ones)
-flavored craft beers
-any adult beverage served with a straw
-snobby drinkers who can’t be satisfied
-distilled liquors that actually taste like blind…
-people who order me shots I won’t drink. I am not 18, I don’t suffer peer pressure.
-never been a fan of Molotov cocktails!

Long Gone’s (2017) Geoff about to…

My Drinking Observations:
It’s true, it is always 5 o’clock somewhere.
The first sip of a cold beer is utterly sublime.
My sweet spot is between the 2nd and 3rd vodka martini. (But how to stay there is the paradox?)
People drink too much on vacation…it leads to Holiday Heart Syndrome.
A drinkers Infidelity Index rises with each additional round.
It seems beer and wine are the best social lubricants, whereas distilled drinks are best for ruminating alone.
Champagne makes everyone indulging silly.
I prefer soulful fun music over being surrounded by blaring TV monitors.
It’s best to have one glass of water per drink—other than beer of course.
Smartphones have significantly reduced the number of barroom disagreements.
Bartenders are usually not as smart or as insightful as they appear.
Tip: Always carry a piece of paper with your name on it. You never know

Frozen Polish Love Juice…

Great Drinking Cities:
Los Angeles
New York
New Orleans

A San Francisco Special…

Great International Bars I’ve Had Fun In:
High Five, Tokyo
Floreria Atlantico, Buenos Aires
Barchef, Toronto
28 Hongkong Street, Singapore
Gordon’s Wine Bar, London
El Floridita, Havana
Africa House Bar, Zanzibar
FCC, Phnom Penh
Rick’s café, Negril
King’s Head, Islington
Hofbräuhaus, Munich
The Rex, Ho Chi Minh City

My Favorite Beers of the World: (I prefer draught over bottle)
Leffe – Belgium
Guinness – Ireland
Weihenstephaner Vitus – Germany
Pilsner Urquell – Czech
Asahi Dry – Japan
Tiger Beer – Singapore
Bernard – Czech
Kronenbourg 1664 – France
San Miguel – Philippines
Dos Equis XX – Mexico
Molson Canadian – Canada
A Few of my Favorite Things…Belgium Edition. 

A Few of My Favorite Beverages:
A cold Tiger draught beer with salted-nuts in the hot afternoon sun.
A Bombay Sapphire gin n’ tonic after a long day watching an African sunset—sans cucumber please!
An extra extra dry Chopin vodka martini up with a twist before dinner.
A pint of Guinness on a moody rainy Euro-afternoon.
A super Tuscan vin rouge with a charcuterie plate with family and friends.
A mid-afternoon dulce de leche espresso after a museum stroll.
Cold Otokoyama Junmai sake with a sushi lunch.
Flights of Spanish riojas with flights of Spanish tapas.
A bag of sweet Thai iced tea with street food.
A crisp bottle of pinot grigio and some seafood seaside.
Shots of chilled Russian vodka with spoons of caviar.
A true chocolat chaud and croissant in a Paris café.
A tart caipirinha at a beachside kioscos overlooking Rio harbor.
Liquid Candy…and, Perfection and Grace.

Cheers! Prost! Salute! Kanpai! Na Zdorovie! Santé! Fa Sahetek! Skoal! Cin-cin! Ganbei! L’chaim! Bottoms up!

What do you love about drinking while traveling?

Written by: William D. Chalmers

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

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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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$50,000 Winner Take All!

Hey Y’all –

We are upping the stakes…the 2019 edition of our little 15th annual around the world travel adventure competition will have a winner-take-all $50,000 cash prize attached to the title of The World’s Greatest Travelers™. $50,000 US dollars*
We are also changing the game a little, well, a lot actually too…still a 23-day circumnavigation of the globe, still A Blind Date with the World™ to 10 secret destinations, and still a highly authentic, participatory and challenging cultural immersion…but we’re changing a few things. You’ll see…change is good.

So, the question is: Who’s game?

Entry spots still limited…and *prize money based on 15 competing teams. Let’s make it happen!


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Home at last, home at last…

Tuesday, 7 May 2018 – USA, California, Home, Office…

Heading back from Miami to SFO, where the whole 2018 event started weeks ago on April 13–23-days, 11-countries and over 43,000 kilometers (27,000 miles) ago–I was struck with awe while flying over the country peering out the window like a little kid. The Florida everglades, storm clouds brewing on the horizon, the bayous of Louisiana, the plains of Texas, glorious Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, the snow-capped Sierras and the multi-colored salt pans of the San Francisco Bay…then the drive home across the Golden Gate bridge into the still green valley’s of wine country.

And for those that know me, I am not a little kid; but, some might wrongly suggest, a jaded veteran traveler of the world for decades now. I have done a lot and probably seen even more. But I am not jaded, and that awe-factor hit me; I am still enthralled with travel–the destinations, the people, the colors, the food, the cultures, the conversations, the sights and smells; and yes, even the getting there still impresses me. I still love to look out the window of a 747 slipping the surely bounds of earth. And I say this because before the adventure started, I was quietly questioning myself, wondering to myself, if I had maybe hit the travel wall? Was I maybe done with it all? Well, I am not…

And so our 14th event comes to a close and I must sum it all up in short pithy prose…and those that know me, know that is not easy.

Hmmm…bullet trains and dumplings in Taiwan; smiles and the Taj in India; ceremonial dancing and Lucy visits in Ethiopia; the roar of lions on African safari; zip-trekking across Victoria Falls; steaks, Malbec and tango in Buenos Aires; dawn beach walks and the wineries of Uruguay; playing with seals and exploring ruins in Peru; the everglades and South Beach glamour of Miami. Three weeks around the world; nine new event countries (the 14-year old event is now sitting pretty at 85 countries visited thank you very much); and hundreds of new global acquaintances made along the way. Our cups runneth over, again.

It was an ambitious trip…9,000 more kilometers flown than ever before. We had to go east to go west, south to go north. Visiting Southern Africa like we did in Zimbabwe and Zambia put us in a deep hole…but we maneuvered west to South America. Not as easy as it looked. For me, these events are always a combination of herding cats and taming lions, putting out fires and orchestrating the band. (Maybe that’s why my nickname has become the Ringmaster?) But this was a good year–they all aren’t.

There were no: cheaters, drama queens, inflated egos, bouts of malaria, acts of terrorism, liars, overly competitive teams, infectious diseases, May Day riots to circumnavigate, drunkards to contend with, cliques to infiltrate, hotel potatoes to mollify, intolerable heat waves, lost phones, wayward luggage, blowhards or Debbie-downers to counteract. The right team won. No one got too sick. Everyone genuinely liked each other–and traveled with each other from time to time. We had a good time; each of us did, I know it! We only heard grumblings about a few early flights and plastic water bottles soon overwhelming our world. That was it… All our destinations were fun. Our travel was seamless, our hotels grand, our adventures too numerous to mention. (At least right now!) Our collective memory banks full once more. We did it, again.

So, thank you all for traveling with us; both Pamela and I appreciate you taking such an amazing leap of faith with us and allowing us to show you our version of the world–that very few ever get to experience. We think it is special. And thank everyone else who followed our 2018 adventure online and via social media, we appreciate you too. But honestly, instead of sitting on the sidelines watching and pressing the like button, wouldn’t you really rather join the fun? Come…choose adventure, get out of your comfort zones and experience our world.

Life is all too short my fellow friends, enjoy it while you can.

And this point was brought home all too real for me on Sunday when I hit the tarmac in SFO. I received a sad e-mail informing me that one of our own, two-time participant (2013 & 2014) Gerry Obrecht of BC, Canada (The Ogopogos) had died after a short bout from cancer the night before. He died on the same day, five years after he and his son Phil were crowned the 2013 winners of the event and The World’s Greatest Travelers. Gerry was a kind, funny and gentle man, who lived life to the fullest and it showed: when competing; when traveling; when making practical jokes; when grinning and bearing the trials and tribulations of traveling as we do; when tying the shoelaces together of a sleeping hungover fool on our bus; when beating us, continually, at cribbage; and when generously retelling travel war stories over a cocktail in some exotic bar in an equally far-flung destination. Gerry was a gentleman and a champion. Gerry was a member of our tribe…and we will miss him. Till we meet again my friend, when the round is on you.
To that, all I can do is repeat myself: life is short–spend your time and money while you can…eat the cake, kiss the girl, and travel more!

Our dates are already set for 2019: April 12 – May 4, 2019! Let’s do it again

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