Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Amazing Race 24, Episode 2

Guangzhou (China)

This season of The Amazing Race has an All-Star cast of racers on their second or third reality-TV trip around the world. So we expected to see the lessons of travel experience on display.

At the starting line, however, one member of the cast failed the final medical check by the physician who (along with a psychiatrist) accompanies the production team. Rather than replace both members of the two-person team, the TV producers allowed the other member of the team to race -- with an unexpected substitute partner from another team from a different previous season of the race who had apparently been waiting "on standby" in case of such a possibility.

Not surprisingly, this "shotgun marriage" pair was eliminated this week, after only two legs of the race, providing an object lesson in the importance of knowing your travel companion(s).

Because Mallory and Mark had never met before the starting gun of the race, they lacked an intuitive or habit-formed understanding of how they would divide the tasks or double-check each other's work. After struggling to load a motorized kiddie-car along with their own luggage onto their taxi, as part of one of the race challenges, they drove away leaving one of their backpacks behind on the sidewalk. Each of them thought the other knew where the backpack was and had put it in the cab.

Then they wasted time arguing about what to do. They hadn't discussed or agreed in advance on what they would do in such a contingency, and each had a different instinct: Mark wanted to go back to look for his pack, while Mallory wanted him to go on without it.

Guangzhou and the other cities of the Pearl River Delta have reputations as the highest-crime regions of China. But Mark's backpack was still sitting in the street, untouched, when they got back perhaps an hour later, for whatever that says (not much -- the presence of TV cameras may have had a deterrent effect) about the risk of property crime against tourists.

Another data point on safety: All the taxis in which we saw the racers riding had heavy, closely-spaced steel bars separating the passengers from the driver. I found it disconcerting the first time I got into such a taxi in nearby Shenzhen. It felt like getting into the back of a police prisoner transport vehicle, or a dog-catcher's van. And what were the drivers so afraid of? Robbers or carjackers with clubs or knives, presumably. By comparison, many taxis in U.S. cities have bullet-resistant plexiglass partitions to protect the drivers against pistol-wielding robbers or carjackers. The metal-cage barriers reflect the fact that street thieves in even high-crime Chinese cities are unlikely to be armed with firearms. Defenses are clues to threat models, which in turn are clues to the patterns (or perceived patterns) of likely attacks.

The choice Mallory and Mark faced isn't as obvious as it might seem. To her credit, Mallory had made sure that both partners' passports and medications were with them, not in their luggage. In some previous seasons of The Amazing Race, teams have been penalized by having to hand over their packs and money and continue the race with only their passports and the clothes on their backs. All of the teams have accommodations and food provided by the TV producers at each 12-hour "pit stop", airline tickets paid for by the camera and sound crew accompanying each pair of racers, and a cash allowance handed out at the start of each leg to use for taxis, bus and train tickets, or whatever. There's often enough excess in the allowance to buy a few clothes. There are often shops (albeit overpriced ones) within the premises of the pit-stop hotel or resort, or opportunities to buy things while waiting for trains, planes, or buses or for opening hours of challenge sites.

Every real-world traveller will eventually face a choice like this. You are on the way to the airport, train station, bus depot, or ferry terminal when you realize that you have left something behind. How important is it? ("How much money is it worth?" and "How hard will it be to replace?" are separate questions.) How certain are you of where you left it, and how likely is it still to be there? How much time and money is it likely to cost if you miss your intended plane, train, bus, or boat and have to change your tickets and wait for the next available departure?

Or your luggage (or some of its contents) gets lost, stolen, falls in the road and gets run over by a truck, or simply goes missing. It might turn up tomorrow, next week, or never. I once had a bag of my clothes come loose and fall out of the back of a pickup truck at night on a steep, unlit jeep track during a camping trip in Texas. A National Park ranger found my bag, perhaps soon afterward, but then it was misaddressed, cast aside, and forgotten. Several years later, another park ranger found my bag again in an "unused" storage building that was being demolished, and mailed it to me in California!

What are the most essential items you would need, but couldn't count on being able to replace locally? Do you have them on your person or in your handbag, rather than in any luggage from which you might conceivably be separated? If you arrive at your destination, but some of your luggage doesn't, would you go on without it or cut your trip short and go home? How long would you wait around to see if it turns up?

Do you know if your travelling companion(s) would make the same choices?

Most "lost" airline luggage is only temporarily misplaced or misrouted, and turns up a day or two later, but it can take up to a week. You can travel without most of your luggage, but would you want to do so? And are you prepared to do so? Tracy Johnston's Shooting the Boh is a hair-raising account of a wilderness whitewater rafting trip in Borneo on which the author had to make do with borrowed clothing and equipment because her delayed airline luggage didn't arrive in time. If it doesn't convince you to plan flights arriving at the staging point of a tour or cruise at least a full day in advance, I don't know what will. My partner once made do for four days, while a mis-routed bag made a grand tour of Southeast Asia before it caught up with us, with only what she had in in her purse -- but that included toiletries, medications, and a spare pair of underpants.

Some teams took less time to make decisions, such as which partner would do each challenge, because they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and/or had discussed and agreed, before the race started, on what they would do in likely contingencies.

Real-world travellers can plan and prepare for joint decision-making. Here's what I recommend in The Practical Nomad: How To Travel Around The World:

My impression is that too few people think carefully enough about their choice of traveling companions. Whatever the reason, it's certainly the case that more people are dissatisfied, after the fact, with their choices of companions (including, for some, the choice of whether to travel alone) than are dissatisfied with their choices of destinations.

Before you commit yourself to a long or complicated trip together, try to take a short "shakedown" trip, at least a weekend getaway, to get a feel for each other and how you will travel together. It'll be well worth the expense if it spares you a disastrous long trip with someone incompatible -- or a lost friendship.

Make sure you agree not just on where you want to go but on what you want to do there, and why. One of the most common mistakes in travel planning is to get together with a group of people who want to go to "the same place," and not to realize until you get off the plane that one of you wants to spend time on the beach, one in the shops, one in the temples, one in the museums, one in the cafes, one in the villages, one in the mountains, and one in the brothels. That may be possible, but if you are going to split up immediately on arrival there isn't much point in going out of your way to travel together in the first place.

Make a list of where you want to go, what you want to see or do there, and what your goals and priorities are for the trip. Do this separately, without consulting each other, and then compare your lists.

Because reasons for going places or seeing things vary so much, and because it's often the small details of daily traveling life that cause the most friction, it's especially important not just to list destinations or sights of interest. Get together with everyone with whom you are considering traveling, and have each one of you describe to the others, in as much detail as possible, what they envision a typical day or two on the road would be like: what you will do, where you will stay, where you will eat, how you will get around, how you will make decisions, etc. As you listen to your prospective traveling companion(s), try to actually visualize the trip described, and to compare it with your own vision of the trip you expect to take.

These predeparture exercises are no less necessary if you plan to travel with a spouse or lover. Travel can place severe stress on a relationship, in ways different than love, marriage, or living together. Don't take for granted that someone you love and/or can live with happily is someone with whom you'll want to travel, or that someone you fall in love with on the road, and with whom you love traveling, is someone you'll love to settle down with or live with at home. People who set out in couples should leave themselves open to the possibility that they might split up along the way, and that even if they do, they might want to be together again once they get back home. Travel can bring out behavioral traits and aspects of people's personalities that aren't visible, or don't cause problems, at other times. Don't take for granted that you know your lover's tastes in travel if you haven't traveled together before.

The real problem wasn't that Mallory wanted to go on without Mark's bag, or send a taxi driver to look for it, while Mark wanted to go back for his bag. The problem was that, as Mark said later, they hadn't yet established a basis for trust in each other, hadn't discussed contingency plans, and hadn't agreed on a way to resolve disputes.

Rather than take time to make a joint decision, Mallory immediately started trying to get a taxi driver to go get Mark's bag and bring it back. By the time Mallory gave up trying to get any of the nearby drivers to understand what she wanted (it probably would have been possible with pantomime and pictures and lines drawn on a map, but Mallory only tried to communicate in spoken English words), it was too late for Mallory and Mark to go back for the bag themselves without being eliminated.

So far as I can recall, no team has ever been eliminated from The Amazing Race because they took too much time to consider their options. Many teams have been eliminated as a result of hasty mistakes and bad snap judgements that cost them more time later on. When you are in a hurry or on a deadline, you can't afford mistakes. That means, as Mark recognized, that when time is of the essence, you need to slow down and take extra care with critical decisions. Run for your train, or for the finish line of the race, but only after taking a minute to confirm and agree (unless you have decided in advance which one of you will make the decision in such a case) that you are running in the right direction.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 2 March 2014, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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