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The Amazing Race 1, Episode 6 (17 October 2001)

Gabes (Tunisia) - Tunis (Tunisia) - Rome (Italy) - Bologna (Italy) - Castelfranco Emilia (Italy) - Sant’Agata (Italy)

“Now I know why foreigners hate American tourists!” — Nancy on “The Amazing Race”

Okay, why am I late with this week’s column on “The Amazing Race” on CBS-TV?

I had it all worked out, you see, but it didn’t work out:

I was in Utah for the week, speaking at study abroad fairs at Utah State U. and the U. of Utah. (Notwithstanding the National Guardsmen outside the Starbucks in the airport, loaded rifles at the ready, the communities of the Wasatch Front are as welcoming, and as beautiful, as ever. And notwithstanding the typical last-minute pre-Olympic road and streetcar construction everywhere I went, Salt Lake City appears likely to be ready for the 2002 Winter Olympics on time.)

As is my habit wherever I go, I arranged accommodations through Hostelling International. I looked forward to watching “The Amazing Race” with the other hostelers, and sharing perspectives on the show from travellers in the middle of real trips around the world.

But fear of travel to the USA is so pervasive abroad since September 11th that almost all the hostelers were from the USA, instead of the normal crowd of overseas visitors. (Spread the word to your friends in other countries: with fewer travellers, it’s a great time to visit the USA, with shorter lines at attractions and bargains everywhere on hotels. And not all Americans — not even very many Americans — are xenophobic and racist toward foreign visitors.) As a a result, the TV in the hostel was tuned to the baseball playoffs — not something that would interest the normal audience of hostelers visiting the USA. I had to wait until I got home to watch “The Amazing Race” on tape.

I didn’t miss too much; at any rate, no one was eliminated this episode. But several things that happened this week exemplified important lessons we can all learn from for our travels:

  • Patience pays.

    Patience is the budget traveller’s best friend. The more time you have, and the more slowly you can travel, the less your trip will cost. The average American traveling overseas budgets US$60 per person per day on the road, but the average American traveling overseas for six months or more budgets slightly less than half that, US$28/person/day.

    What may be less obvious to inexperienced travellers is that being patient is often a faster and more efficient, as well as cheaper, way to get what you want, or to get where you want to be.

    In this episode, for example, the first major choice the racers faced was how to get from Tunis to Rome when the only direct flight was being delayed by a scheduled three-hour strike in Rome.

    All the teams but one raced to get on the first available flights to somewhere, anywhere. Margarita and Frank flew to London (further from Rome than they were in Tunis), then with equal impatience rushed on to Geneva when they couldn’t get a direct flight from London to Rome. Instead of waiting for three hours in Tunis, they spent the whole night in Geneva. Three of the teams (the three straight white couples, who seemed to have formed a clique, as travellers often do, leaving the gay couple and the two African-American couples on their own) rushed to Lyon, then to Milan, and then took an overnight train to Rome. Of the teams that rushed to get out of Tunis as quickly as possible, only Bill and Joe (“Team Guido”), who connected through Zurich, managed to get to Rome the same evening. The first to arrive in Rome, not surprisingly, were Karyn and Lenny, who left Tunis last because they waited three hours for the direct flight to Rome.

    (In the event, none of this much mattered to the order of finish. Lenny and Karyn arrived at 7 p.m., and the last teams at 9 a.m. the next morning, but the clues to what to do next were at monuments in Rome that didn’t open until 9:30 or 10 a.m.)

  • Trust is more effective than self-reliance.

    The decisive task once again in this episode involved road navigation, this time in minicars through the narrow streets of European villages rather than in jeeps through the North African desert. Once again, the most effective strategy was to get help from locals, rather than trying to rely on one’s own map reading skills. The first to finish, Frank, was the only one to realize that even if he had to do his own driving, he could still hire a taxi to lead the way.

Despite having arrived in Rome first, Karyn and Lenny finished last as a result of “production difficulties” beyond their control. CBS doesn’t show or tell us what these difficulties were, but I presume that they relate to the unseen but ever-present cameraperson accompanying each pair of racers. (The TV crews are the reason there’s never room for two of the pairs of racers to share a taxi — each team always needs to allow room for at least one extra person.) Even if you’re not being filmed for prime-time TV, it’s a reminder of how often having a camera — valuable, theft-prone, fragile, distracting, and disruptive of normal conversations and interactions with other people — can get in the way of other aspects of your trip. We may all want to star in our own slide or videotape shows when we get home, but there are still strong reasons to consider leaving the cameras behind, and bringing home your memories in your mind rather than on film or tape.

Next stop for “The Amazing Race”: India. Stay tuned!


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