And we travelers are very competitive. We're all capable Indiana Joneses and would-be Magellans... and who hasn't sat watching The Amazing Race saying, "I could do that?" (More on TAR later).
We all know the story: An English gentlemen bets £20,000 in 1872 that he can travel around the world in 80 days -- he does it too! And so begins competitive travel.
Although fictitious, Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days" character Phileas Fogg, lives in all travelers. We all want to test ourselves, challenge ourselves in creative and novel ways, while constantly assessing and fine-tuning our travel skills. Of course status among our fellow travelers and bragging rights aren't bad outcomes either.
Every traveler I know, be they armchair wannabes, neophytes, blog writers, media personalities or travel industry professionals, all believe that they have it wired and know the best way to travel. It may be a genetic defect we members of homo touristicus share -- the "we're the best gene"!?
So, it got me to thinking: What is the best way to challenge, judge, reward and acknowledge great travelers?
Clearly, there are a lot of travel skills that one can acquire over time with the right experiences: Doing things on the cheap, overcoming language barriers, managing cultural nuances, situational awareness, confidently dealing with ever-changing logistics, diplomatically tackling the dysfunctional personalities of travel mates, and tempering the elation, quickly followed by fatigue, of being on the road for an extended period in a constant state of unknown.
And traveling does make you confront daily living issues head on. In fact, neuroscientists tell us that we humans really never feel more alive than when we are overcoming challenges laid before us. Seems to me that testing our acquired travel knowledge, what I call Travel IQ, is something many travelers would really like to do. Competitive travel is indeed a great allure.
But how can we test these skills in an organized fashion -- fairly, objectively and openly?
After the fictitious Verne character captured imaginations and become an international best seller, the intrepid Nellie Bly actually beat Fogg's fictitious record by circumnavigating the globe in just 72 days. In 1908, they held the New York to Paris around the world automobile race (aka Blake Edwards's The Great Race movie).
Today, we have one-day urban safaris, corporate team-building treasure hunts, around the world sailing races, polar expeditions, rickshaw rallies, triathlons and ultra-marathons. (There is a subspecies amongst us that actually attempt to run a marathon on each continent -- Antarctica is the slippery one!) And then there is, of course, Jeopardy's geography and travel-related questions.
There have been all types of travel-related competitions: In 1972, the Whitbread Round the World Race (aka Volvo Ocean Race) sailing race began. We have the elite Seven Summit (and 8000ers) Clubs for adrenaline junkies who have climbed the world's highest mountains. (Recently a nine-year-old boy climbed one!) There are surfers who travel the seven seas trying to one up rivals looking to bag the biggest wave. There's the unofficial Adventure Grand Slam, achieved by visiting the North and South poles along with climbing the world's 14 different 8000 meter peaks. For a few years, there was the Raid Gauloises endurance adventure race (RIP: 1989-2003) and the Eco-Challenge (RIP: 1995-2002).
But again: What about real life travel competitions? Is it even possible to test someone's Travel IQ in a competition against other great travelers?
There exist a few benchmark travel-related competitions per se (mostly for cocktail hour bragging rights), that include: the Circumnavigators Club, founded in 1902, for folks that have circled the globe in one trip. There's the self-proclaimed "most traveled people" category of folks who have supposedly stepped foot in more places than anyone else. And there is even a club for tourists who have visited at least 100 countries (aka the Century Club who somehow count 321 "countries") -- and yes airports and toes do count.
Finally, yes, there have been -- and are -- a few Travel Olympics-type events that you can test your international travel savvy against other fellow travelers mano-a-mano.
In 1989, there was a one-off race around the world on public transport called the HumanRace (full disclosure my partner and I won that event in 17 days). Of course, since the turn of the century we have had CBS's reality TV show The Amazing Race to enjoy -- the ultimate reality game show with cash and prizes for those carefully cast participants who are lucky enough to complete an array of prearranged stunts. (It is fun, but is it real? I think not).
To my knowledge, there is only one real life around the world travel adventure event that annually crowns "The World's Greatest Travelers" following a 23-day circumnavigation of the globe through 10 secret countries, it is called The Global Scavenger Hunt. The event celebrates its 10th anniversary this spring with a pair of Canadian travelers (who defeated the 2012 champions from New Zealand) set to defend their title.
Who's up for some competitive travel in 2014? Do you have it in you?