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Blind Dating the World

William Chalmers, the creator of the Global Scavenger Hunt, on how he challenges the travel IQ of its contestants.

Written by Shantanu David |
Updated: May 2, 2014 2:24:55 am
William Chalmers on a Mekong ferry; in Kyoto. William Chalmers on a Mekong ferry; in Kyoto.

It was 1989 and future writer, philanthropist and professional traveller William (Bill) D Chalmers was competing in a race around the world using only public transport. “We won that race in 17 days and it was an incredible experience. Since then I wanted to create my own race and travel around the world, something I started working towards in 1999 and which was realised in 2002,” says Chalmers. What emerged was the Global Scavenger Hunt. The participants of its 10th edition (from countries all over the world) made a pit stop in Delhi last week, at the Leela Palace.

The annual event takes 15 two-member teams on a 23-day tour around the world, usually stopping in 10 countries where they compete in “scavenger hunts” to win the title of the World’s Best Travellers. Potential scavengers have to apply online and are put through a rigorous screening process via e-mail, phone and Skype to qualify; there are usually around 500 applicants for the 30 berths every year. Since the concept entails “a blind date with the world”, competitors aren’t told which countries they’ll be visiting till they begin their journey. The scavenger events are various activities that have to be completed in different places on the itinerary and documented through pictures, videos or souvenirs, with each task worth a certain number of points.

There are an average of 700 scavenges in an expedition, all of which Chalmers has completed himself in his travels around the globe. He has also assigned different points based on their difficulty. “The idea is to overwhelm the participants with so many challenges that they should know that they can’t possibly do them all and instead have to strategically decide on the ones that they can accomplish,” says Chalmers, and this is where one’s “travel IQ” comes into play. Activities in the Indian leg this year (the event has visited India twice previously in 2009 and 2011) included walking inside a celestial clock in the Capital, attending an early morning yoga session in Lodhi Gardens and getting locals to pose with you in front of the Taj Mahal.

Chalmers has always enjoyed what he likes to call an “international perspective”, growing up with another country across his yard (even if it was the United States, Chalmers was raised on a farm inside the Canadian border). Whether it was collecting postcards and foreign stamps as a child or watching Indiana Jones movies as a teenager, he loved the idea of exploring the world and has written a few books on the subject. He was also named The World’s Best Traveller by National Geographic Channel in 2002 “I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to see as much of the world as I have. When people ask me for travel anecdotes I can’t isolate one single incident; they’re all flashes. That’s also why, when asked, I always say my favourite country is the last one I visited,” he says.

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