Tuesday, 27 September 2005
The Amazing Race 8 (Family Edition), Episode 1
New York, NY (USA) - Washington Crossing Historic Park, PA (USA) - Philadelphia, PA (USA) - Mount Joy, PA (USA) - Lancaster, PA (USA)
Clearly things will be a bit different in the "Family Edition" of "The Amazing Race".
There was a nod to the first season ( just released today on DVD ) in the form of a cameo appearance by viewer favorites Drew and Kevin as hot dog vendors handing out clues to the current cast of racers on 91st street in Manhattan.
But it's not yet clear how much else "The Amazing Race 8" will have in common with previous seasons.
That's not because it's the "Family Edition", with teams of four family members, many including children, rather than pairs of adults with a wider range of relationships but a narrower spread of ages. " Far more families with children than most people would imagine take a trip around the world.
No, the difference is that, if advance indications are correct, this season will stay much closer to home.
There's nothing wrong with exploring one's own country, or with following in the footsteps of Simon and Garfunkel ("counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike - they've all gone to look for America") rather than the footsteps of world travellers.
But it's a different trip, as I suspect we'll see in the coming weeks . "The ultimate family adventure", as host Phil Keoghan described this season of the race, is a trip around the world, not just a trip across the country.
As a Red Sox fan, my sentimental favorites start off, of course, as the Aiello family from Massachusetts, all four of whom burst into a spontaneous chant of Yankees suck! Yankees suck! at their first sight of the House That Ruth Built (the source of one of my own most treasured travel souvenirs ) as they drive through New York.
I have driven a small car (not a truck like the racers) in Manhattan. It's a longer story than I have room for here, involving having a thief run off with one of my bags in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, on the last leg of my first trip around the world, and having to return by car the next day to retrieve the contents, almost all of which were found abandoned in the trash. (The only thing I never got back was a souvenir from India. I suspect the thieves mistook the price tag in Rupees for its value in U.S. dollars.) But it's hard to imagine that it was a desire for "reality", rather than payments for the product placement, that prompted the TV producers to make the racers drive giant "sport utility vehicles" (what sport? and what utility?) in a place where they are so inappropriate and so inconvenient to maneuver and park. Or would have been, if the TV producers hadn't blocked off parking spaces for them in SoHo.
The more realistic task assigned the teams is a stop at an outdoor sports and travel gear store -- which shall remain nameless to avoid giving them the publicity they hoped to buy with their product placement, although I will say that it was not the REI consumer cooperative.
I'm an REI member, and I've often found myself at one of the REI stores the day before my departure on a big trip.
The racers had already chosen and packed their bags, and certain types of travel accessories, such as most electronic devices, as forbidden in the race. Some of the items on the shopping list they were given, such as large tents, were more appropriate for car camping than for travel by mass transportation.
Still, they picked up some useful items (if they didn't already have them), and it's a good opportunity to think about a shopping list. If race rules weren't an issue, and I hadn't already packed my bags, what might I have been looking to buy at the start of my trip? Here are some of the larger items -- other than luggage itself -- that might be near the top of my list:
- LED headlamps like the racers were required to get are one of the most useful recent innovations in travel gadgets, freeing your hands, putting the light in better position for almost any task, and lasting many times longer on a set of batteries than traditional incandescent flashlights. A few teams had them in early seasons of "The Amazing race", and by last season almost all the teams had them.
- The racers had to get sleeping bags to use in their tents in a city park in Philadelphia. They probably hadn't brought sleeping bags, and most travellers don't think of bringing them unless they plan to camp. But I sometimes bring an ultralight sleeping bag, even to the tropics, if I have room. Places that are extremely hot in the daytime can get surprisingly cold at night at high altitudes and/or in the desert. And a sleeping bag can come in handy on overly air-conditioned buses, trains, or hotel rooms; when there is no bedding or no clean bedding; or as a spare pillow.
- The most important travel accessory to buy at a store like this, but that wasn't on the racers' shopping list, was a water purifier. This model developed by the USA military for field use in Afghanistan is the one that should have been being distributed as widely as possible to those people along the Gulf Coast without access to potable public water supplies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. So it might be -- indeed, should be -- in short supply elsewhere. And the racers generally stay in luxury hotels and resorts at the "pit stops", even when they're in the Third World. But anyone travelling to places where tap water isn't universally available and safe to drink should bring one of these with them.
- The racers set a terrible example by carrying their most important documents, the race clues, in the place they are most likely to be stolen (or would be if they weren't always accompanied by a television camera and sound crew to deter pickpockets and muggers): conspicuous brightly-labelled external waist pouches issued apparently, by the show's producers. Do yourself a favor and get some sort of money belt or document and passport holder that fits entirely and invisibly under your clothes. Never go into it in public, and carry a "dummy" wallet with a plausible amount of local currency and some low value, easily-replaced or expired cards and ID (a laminated library card, some frequent flyer cards, maybe your previous expired drivers license or other ID) to satisfy a thief or mugger. I've had my pocket picked and my dummy wallet stolen, and recently I had an especially brazen snatch-thief try to tear the zippered "security" pocket, with its contents, off my pants while I was walking down the street. (They failed, but could easily have succeeded.) I've never heard of someone having a money belt or similar document cache stolen from under their clothes, or being searched thoroughly enough to find it after handing over a plausible dummy wallet.
- While you are thinking about theft protection, get locks for every compartment of your luggage, both for when you check it or leave it in "left-luggage" storage, and for when it is on your back with the openings out of your sight and reach. I prefer small combination locks, so I don't have to worry about keys. Airlines in the USA try to discourage travellers from locking their bags, but locks on luggage are the norm in most of the world.