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The Amazing Race 1, Episode 7 (24 October 2001)

Sant’Agata (Italy) - Ferrara (Italy) - Delhi (India) - Agra, Uttar Pradesh (India)

“This is going to take a toll on us as a team.”

Does Karyn’s comment after she and Lenny were eliminated from “The Amazing Race” sound familiar? Travel is, indeed, romantic. But traveling together can both make and break relationships. Whether or not you’re in a race, few choices will affect the nature and quality of your travel experience more than your choice of traveling companion(s). 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 companion(s) than are dissatisfied with their choices of destination(s).

Here are some tips to reduce the likelihood that your relationship with your travel companion(s) will end up as stressed as Karyn and Lenny’s:

  1. Take a Test Drive.

    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 for travel together. It’ll be well worth the expense if it spares you a disastrous long trip with someone incompatible.

  2. Make sure you agree on more than just a destination.

    A common mistake is to get together with 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 cities, one in the villages, and one in the mountains.

    Write down where you want to go, what you want to see or do, and your goals and priorities for the trip. Do this separately, and then get together and compare your lists. Each describe to the others a typical day or two on the road, and compare your visions.

    Do this even if you plan to travel with a spouse or lover: don’t take for granted that being in love means that you’ll want to travel the same way. 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. Conversely, 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 once when 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.

  3. Don’t think you have to spend all your time as a single unit, even if you set out and come home together.

    Many travellers spend more of their time with their travel partner than they would ever otherwise spend with anyone, including a spouse or lover. You might even want to plan to take breaks from each other’s company, whether for an hour, a day, or a week at a time. (The contestants on “The Amazing Race” had no chance to do this, which is one reason relationships like Lenny and Karyn’s got so strained.)

    If you aren’t comfortable traveling alone, there will be other travellers who feel likewise. Impromptu groups come together for anything from a day’s sightseeing excursion to a month’s trek or overland journey. Some travellers who leave home and return alone spend most of their days in the company of other travellers. Hostels, guest houses, and cafes everywhere have bulletin boards for “companion(s) wanted” and “ride(s) to share” notices. When you both are already on the road, it’s a lot easier to figure out whether you have similar styles and will get along than if you try to choose a travel partner before your departure.

What about the rest of the contestants on “The Amazing Race”? What separated the other teams this week, and what can we learn from it?

Once again, getting directions from local people was crucial to the order of finish, since almost all the teams had ended up on the same flight to India. “They’re stupid. They don’t know,” said Emily when none of the people in the crowd around their taxi in downtown Delhi knew how to get to a specific hotel in another city, Agra, more than 100 miles away. Most people aren’t stupid. A more reasonable inference, if nobody nearby had any idea where the hotel was, would have been that it was probably far away. Bill and Joe (“Team Guido”), wisely decided to head straight on to Agra, assuming (correctly, it turned out) that once they got to the right city it would get easier to find the specific hotel. They finished second, behind only Margarita and Frank (who had gotten the “Fast Forward” pass that allowed them to skip most of the tasks along the way in both Italy and India).

Perhaps the most significant decision for the teams other than Frank and Margarita was an opportunity that they all missed. When they found out there were no direct flights from Italy to New Delhi (the airport is in New Delhi, although their first checkpoint was in Old Delhi), they all made their way to the next direct flight from Europe to New Delhi, via Copenhagen. But depending on which day of the week it was, connections were available via Dubai, Kuwait, Amman, and/or Moscow that were 400-600 miles shorter and, more importantly, arrived in New Delhi at least 2 hours earlier. Here in the race, as often in real travel situations, Eurocentric assumptions and world views proved costly. Any team that considered connection points other than in Europe, and went South and East (rather than Northwest from Italy to Copenhagen) to get to a destination South and East, would have gained a significant edge on all the others. Moral of this story? The best and fastest route isn’t necessarily the most obvious one, and might be by way of somewhere we would never have otherwise considered going (not that there’s anything wrong with a stopover in Moscow, Dubai, Amman, or even Kuwait). It’s typical that getting to the places you want to go on a trip around the world involves passing through places you’d never even considered, but that sometimes end up being (for that very reason) pleasant surprises.

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