Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Amazing Race 22, Episode 1

Los Angeles, CA (USA) - Papeete (French Polynesia) - Bora Bora (French Polynesia)

The Amazing Race 22 got off to a rocky start, but one that confronted the cast of the reality-TV show with an issue that’s common for real travellers: What do you do when travel isn’t fun?

A first, the racers were excited to be sent to a beach on the “tropical paradise” of Bora Bora island near Tahiti.

But reality set in after several hours in the mid-day sun, with one member of each team having to kick over row after row of sandcastles to look for buried clues — and then rebuild each sandcastle that didn’t conceal a clue.

In an unusual development for The Amazing Race, three teams simultaneously gave up on continuing to search for the clue, and took a four-hour penalty.

Some of the suffering was self-inflicted: None of the racers even had broad-brimmed hats (you might not have room for a rigid “cowboy hat” or sombrero in your suitcase, but a cloth cricket hat or the like takes up very little space in your luggage) or loose long clothes (much cooler than a bathing suit) to protect themselves from the sun.

And the decision to take the penalty may not have been a wise choice in the race.

In the real world, however, it’s the sort of decision too few travellers make when they should.

Someone who took a trip to an island of upscale resorts in the South Pacific on their vacation can’t expect much sympathy if, when they get home, they complain that it was hot on the beach. But more often than returning travellers might care to admit, tourists face similar choices to those of the racers this week: If your trip turns out to be no fun, what do you do? Do you go home? Go someplace else or do something else? Or do you go on with your planned trip, even if it has turned out to be an ordeal to be endured rather than enjoyed?

At the start of a trip, some travellers give up too quickly, and write off the place they’ve come to visit before they have given it a fair chance. Jet lag, culture shock, red tape (never judge a country by its border guards!) and transportation and other logistical hassles can all play a role.

The commodification of travel also bears a share of the blame: If you think of a trip as something you buy, rather than as something you experience, it’s almost certain to fall disappointingly short of the initial expectations created by advertising.

Later on, though, too many travellers insist on following through with plans that aren’t working out. These travellers may think of themselves as “troupers”. But too often, their unhappiness (with or without whining) spoils the experience for both fellow travellers and their hosts.

Pride plays a role: It’s embarrassing to come home from a trip and admit that you didn’t like it. Coming home early or abandoning your plans may feel like a sign of failure, or of lack of self-knowledge in failing to anticipate what the destination would be like, or what you would want to do once you got there.

It shouldn’t be seen like this. Most people don’t really know which distant and different places they will enjoy, or what they will want to do, until they arrive. When I ask people, at the end of a trip around the world, which destinations they most enjoyed, it’s common for them to mention places that weren’t at the top of their list of priorities. Sometimes their favorite places are ones they hadn’t planned to visit at all.

For example, one of the high points of my last trip around the world was Sana’a, Yemen, where we had only planned to change planes (reluctantly, for want of any better connections between warring Ethiopia and Eritrea) without leaving the airport.

Other places that friends have recommended highly have left me cold. Sometimes finding out that, “This place isn’t for me,” and why, is one of the valuable lessons of travel.

So you shouldn’t be afraid to move on, or come home early, if you’ve given a place a fair chance and it turns out not to be the place for you.

Money also plays more of a role than it should. If you’ve paid in advance for nonrefundable travel arrangements, those are sunk costs that shouldn’t influence subsequent decisions. Continuing an unhappy journey because “it’s paid for” is merely throwing more time (which you could use to do something else instead) after the money you’ve already spent and can’t get back.

Of course there are times when, like a passenger on a roller coaster, you are committed to the rest of the ride once it’s begun — even if it makes you sick to your stomach. It can be hard to get home if you leave a cruise at a port on a remote island, or to abandon a jeep safari in the wilderness. But these are the exceptions. On most tours, you can get off the bus if you decide you’d rather be on your own until your scheduled onward or return flight.

The value of time also pressures people to follow through with travel plans that aren’t working out. If your vacation is short, and Plan A is a bust, there may not be time to organize anything else, or get to any place else, that might make for a more satisfying Plan B.

On a longer trip, if China proves less interesting or more problematic than you expected, you can spend more time in India instead. Or vice versa. On my last trip around the world, my companion and I had budgeted roughly two months for travel in China. When that didn’t work out (for reasons I won’t go into here, and which don’t change my opinion of China as a much easier and more affordable destination than most foreigners expect) it took us several days to rethink our plans and make arrangements to spend that time in Australia instead. If we had been planning to spend only a week in China, that wouldn’t have been feasible within our remaining time.

The bottom line: Places you expect to dislike might prove to be fascinating and/or fun (see Sana’a, above). Don’t write any destination off without giving it a fair chance. But if you’ve tried it, and still don’t like it or find it worthwhile, be willing to move on early or change your plans.

And once you’ve made up your mind, just do it. The worst choices of all are to carry on with your tour while constantly complaining, or to spend all your (precious) vacation time worrying about whether you ought to go home, go on, or do something else.

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 17 February 2013, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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