The Amazing Race is a TV show which, I think, is not shown on TV in the UK. However, I remember watching the first series of it many years back when living in Boston. Good stuff, it features people who don’t always know where they are headed, running around the place and trying to outwit one another (or themselves) and occasionally having to stop to either roll down a hill dressed as a bubble or piece together some IKEA flat pack – it was a long time ago, my memory is hazy.
Anyhow, I enjoyed the concept and have introduced the element on some of my tours. Not in any full scale sort of way I hasten to add, it seems a little unfair to meet people at the airport in London and give them an envelope with a piece of paper inside which says “Rome airport, ten days from now.” So, what I have done is create a mini-version of the game for interested groups which is played in various cities around Europe. I have done this in about a dozen cities (principally with my good friends from San Diego each Thanksgiving) such as Paris, Vienna, Budapest, London, Florence, Nice, Dublin…..it works anywhere.
Quite simply, students are divided into teams of four or five, often with one adult accompanying each. I prepare a sheet of paper for them and all it has on it is the name of five places. The teams then begin the challenge. What they are looking to do is, firstly, work out where the places are (getting a map often helps with this), then work out the best route and then head off to find them. They can find the sites in any order they like. Typically I attempt to send them to see sites they would not normally see during their regular sightseeing tours (although, occasionally, newly-erected scaffold gets in the way and causes confusion).
It is always interesting to watch the technique used, some teams just get the paper and start running (I am never entirely sure why or where) while others will spend some time plotting a route. They need to get a photo of the whole team at each of the sites and there are often bonus questions in there. For really committed groups I can offer two races in different cities so there are individual winners and a cumulative winner.
I think the competitive aspect is always welcome and there is a further reason beyond just having a couple of hours fun racing around. I am hoping, that by doing this, the groups will get the idea that they really don’t need me (or a guide book) to tell them what to do. They become confident about getting to see places and navigating the city by themselves. I have often done the race as soon as the group arrives in a city so that the following day, during free time, they have a much better idea of where things are. Nothing focuses the mind as much as having to work it out yourself, just walking along behind me can be limiting.
So, I have stolen the idea from a perfectly decent TV show – at least I didn’t watch Survivor when I lived in the US.
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