Travel Contest Offers The Chance To Check Off Your Bucket List In One Fell Swoop

Everyone has a travel bucket list. Mine includes going on safari in Kenya, scuba diving in the Maldives and watching the championship game at the World Cup.

Now imagine if you had the chance to check off your bucket list in one fell swoop. That’s what global travel resource My Destination is promising with its new Biggest, Baddest Bucket List contest.

In partnership with Viator, Travelex and Hotels.com, My Destination will send one winner on a round-the-world journey to six continents in six months, with expenses paid up to $50,000. The winner will also receive $50,000 cash upon his or her return.

However, it won’t just be hostels and Heinekens. The winner will also have to write blog posts, take photos and film short videos on their journey, for publication on the My Destination website.

To enter, prospective journeymen must tackle two challenges:

  • Write a 200- to 500-word blog post about your best travel experience, with three accompanying photographs.
  • Produce an original three-minute video showing the sights and sounds of a destination that you love. Points for creativity.

Once your submission is in, you’ll have to rally your friends and family to vote on your entry. The five entries with the most public support, along with five selected by My Destination, will make a “Top 10” shortlist. Those 10 entries will then be put to a public vote, and the top three will be interviewed and evaluated by the My Destination co-founders, travel blogger Norman the Nomad and Ben Southall, winner of Tourism Queensland’s “Best Job In The World” contest.

If it sounds like a ploy to generate social media buzz for a new travel company … well, it is. But it’s also an opportunity to dip your toes into the wonderful world of travel writing, as well as a chance to go on what sounds like the trip of a lifetime. Deadline for entries is March 31.

[Photo Credit: My Destination]

ReviewerCard: Scam Or Social Clout Indicator?

reviewercardThe Los Angeles Times published a rather scathing column yesterday about a new product called ReviewerCard that lets “select” bloggers and frequent reviewers on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp flash what appears to be a business or credit card to demonstrate their clout to hotels, restaurants and travel purveyors.

The problem? This company, run by Brad Newman, an individual with no real connection to the travel industry, gives out this “ReviewerCard” to anyone they deem fit, and encourages these so-called reviewers to use the card to obtain travel discounts, freebies and other incentives. Of course, if they don’t … the implicit threat is that they will write a bad review.

Newman defended himself to the Times, stating. “I’m going to review them anyway… so why not let them know in advance? It’s not hurting anyone.”

As a journalist legitimately trained in the art of inspecting and reviewing restaurants and hotels (complete with detailed, 100+ page checklists and inspection metrics), this appalling card is an indicator to us of everything that is wrong with “bloggers” and “reviewers” today.

But before we impose our own judgement on you, readers, we’d like to open this up for comments and questions. Do you think ReviewerCard is a good idea? Does it make businesses more aware of influential people who are apt to write a review about their service, or does it encourage an entitlement mentality and more biased reviews than already exist in the marketplace.

We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment, below.

Ibn Battuta: The Greatest Adventure Traveler Of All Time

Ibn Battuta, adventure traveler, Tangier
This humble little building in a back alley of Tangier is the final resting place of the greatest traveler in history.

Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier in 1304. In 1325 he left to go on the Hajj and ended up visiting not only Mecca, but crisscrossing much of the Middle East and sailing far down the east coast of Africa. Then he headed east, passing through central and Southern Asia and making it as far as Beijing before coming back and taking a jaunt through much of western Africa.

While I’m not too keen on citing Wikipedia as a source, it does have some detailed maps of Ibn Battuta’s journeys. In all, he traveled an estimated 75,000 miles, three times as much as Marco Polo, but is far less known in the West because Marco Polo was European and Ibn Battuta was Arab. So it goes.

Reading his accounts shows you that travel hasn’t really changed all that much: loneliness, illness, hospitality and fascinating sights were the hallmarks of adventure travel then as they are now. He had only made it as far as Tunis when he first became aware of the crushing loneliness travel can bring. He was with a group of fellow pilgrims who all had friends in the city. When they arrived everyone was greeted except poor Ibn Battuta. He started to cry and one of his fellow pilgrims took pity on him and talked with him to cheer him up. Again and again in his accounts, he talks about the hospitality and kindness he found on the road.

Later he visited Alexandria and was perhaps the last writer to describe the famous lighthouse, one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was already in bad shape when he first saw it, and when he saw it again in 1349 it had crumbled into total ruin.

Of course he had some troubles along the way. He mentions getting sick numerous times and was lucky not to catch the Black Death that was raging through the Middle East at the time. In Egypt he had a run-in with some hyenas that rummaged through his bags and stole his supply of dates! In Niger he had a more serious incident. He went down to the river to relieve himself and a local had to save him from a crocodile.Like any good traveler, Ibn Battuta was intensely curious and loved to see the sights. His description of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is especially moving for me, because it was that building that first turned me on to Islamic architecture. He also describes the Ummayed Mosque in Damascus as the “most magnificent mosque in the world.” I’d have to agree.

In the Maldives he learned to love coconuts (which he said “resembles a man’s head”) and lived on them during his year-and-a-half stay. Ibn Battuta understood some important things about travel: go slow and try the local food.

Ibn Battuta’s enthusiasm for travel is apparent even 700 years later. He talks of his amazement at seeing a meteorite, has the balls to ask the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III to assign him a tour guide to show him Constantinople, and is shocked to see the Muslim women of Mali walking around naked.

There was no way I was going to visit Tangier and not pay my respects at the grave of one of my heroes, so one afternoon we headed out into the labyrinthine alleyways of the Old City. We finally found the tomb at the intersection of three lanes. There was a little historic marker on the outside, but otherwise nothing to mark the burial place of Tangier’s most famous native son.

This is typical in Muslim cultures. Most graves don’t even have an epitaph, and it takes someone pretty famous to have an identifiable tomb. Inside a caretaker was chanting in Arabic. He greeted us cordially and then went back to chanting.

As you can see from the photo below, there’s not much inside except the tomb draped with a carpet and some nice tiles on the interior. If my expression looks a little pained it’s because as we were taking photos, the caretaker let out a loud and quite toxic fart. It ruined the atmosphere of the place – literally.

Considering the dangers and hardships Ibn Battuta went through on his journeys, it was a small price to pay to see the tomb of the greatest traveler who ever lived.

Don’t miss our other articles about Tangier!

[Top photo by Sean McLachlan. Bottom photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]
Ibn Battuta, adventure traveler, Tangier

Book Review: Lonely Planet’s ‘Better Than Fiction’

What is travel writing? Is the genre defined by its commitment to true-to-life recounting of the people, places and cultures we have experienced and lessons to be drawn from them? Or is travel writing something more malleable, simply a style of writing, true or not, that utilizes places and people as vehicles for a good story? The tension between these two competing definitions is at the heart of the new travel-themed anthology, “Better Than Fiction” by Lonely Planet.

“Better Than Fiction” is a collection of short travel-themed works by some of the world’s top literary fiction writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Isabel Allende and Alexander McCall Smith. Edited by Gadling’s own Features Editor, Don George, each of the 32 included short stories plays with this notion of “truth in travel writing,” bringing to bear the storytelling skills of veteran fiction writers to the world of non-fiction travel writing. Each of the varied works relates a true-to-life story from the author’s personal wanderings around the globe, all told with the writers’ rich storytelling skills intact.

For anyone who considers themselves a voracious consumer of travel writing, “Better Than Fiction” will make for a refreshing and illuminating read. In each of the short stories there’s a richness of character and crispness to the dialogue that makes them feel like excerpted chapters from a novel. Considering the growing glut of “Top 10” and “destination tip” travel journalism that exists online, it’s easy to forget the best travel writing works because it’s good storytelling, not merely a laundry list of destination facts and to-do’s. Great travel storytelling, like the work showcased in “Better Than Fiction,” reminds us that ultimately discovering the truth about the places we visit involves more than just restating the facts.

VIDEO: TEDx Talk On Travel Writing And Global Change

“Travel writers are obligated to meet people, to ask questions, to pay attention,” writer, editor and Gadling contributor Lavinia Spalding told the audience at TEDxParkCity earlier this year. “With that comes a heightened sense of awareness and observation, and some great rewards. On top of a great story, you gain a much richer experience.”

Her talk, titled “Travel Writing and Global Change,” explored the use of travel writing as a tool for sharing stories and inspiring action. And you don’t necessarily need to be a travel writer by trade to take part, she says. “It’s never been easier to write down our stories and find people to read them,” Spalding says. “I strongly believe that everyone here can write a story that makes someone care.”

Spalding issued a challenge to the audience, which we now issue to you. The next time you go somewhere, bring a journal, write a story about someone you meet and share it, whether it’s in an email to friends, in a contest at your local newspaper or even just on Facebook. Who knows? It might just spark a movement.

“There are seven billion people in the world and each one has a story,” Spalding concluded her talk. “I hope that the next time you travel you’ll listen to one, and then I hope you’ll tell it.”