Archive for the ‘Travel writing’Category

The Dos And Don’ts Of Voluntourism

This article first appeared in Gadling. To read the original post, click here. August, 2012.

voluntourism--courtesy-of-world-uniteIn Juarez, Mexico, a group of American university students build houses. In Quito, Ecuador, medical professionals spend two weeks correcting cataracts – pro bono. In Kenya, handfuls of Hollywood stars try “making a difference” at orphanages. At the same time, these volunteers are having a travel experience. They stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and try to bond with locals. They are volunteer traveler hybrids known as voluntourists. Can they really see the world and save it too?

A rising tide of do-good travelers

“Voluntourism,” writes David Clemmons, founder of, “is the conscious, seamlessly-integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination with the traditional elements of travel and tourism – arts, culture, geography, history and recreation – while in the destination.”

To keep reading the original post, click here.


08 2012

How to Organize a Citywide Scavenger Hunt

This article first appeared in Matador. To see the original article, click here. November, 2010
It was reposted on To see it, click here.
November, 2010
It was reposted on Worldwide Wanderings. To see it, click here.
November, 2010
It also appeared on Travel Matters. To see it, click here. November, 2010
It also appeared on Jumping Anaconda. To see it, click here. November, 2010

These are innovative times for fun lovers. Web technology and social media mean we can invent hybrid fun that is both participatory and spectator-worthy, spontaneous yet deliberate, intimately social and yet large in scale. Remember the first ever flash mob, which took place in Manhattan in 2003? Or when Jakob Lodwick, founder of Vimeo, coined the term lip dubbing in 2006?

Last summer my best friend came to visit me in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. I wanted to pay tribute somehow to the city’s beautiful historical downtown, and to give my friend a tour of the city more memorable than a sight-seeing trip with tour guide headphones. So I organized a citywide scavenger hunt: experiential, real-life fun, that utilized the web to make it happen.

Citywide Scavenger Hunt, Palma de Mallorca 2010

Here’s how you can organize your own:

1. Form a committee

Start hyping the idea amongst your friends and see who gets the most enthused, and form an executive committee of two or three people with good synergy. This will help you generate creative ideas, and you can divide up the planning based on your strengths.

2. Plan ahead

Call an executive meeting and plan ahead. First up, decide when the event will take place. Pick a date at least one month down the road, because nothing citywide is going to happen in ten days time. Keep the event duration between four and six hours; weekends are best.

Then pick a start and end point for your scavenger hunt. Start at a central, well-known public place where people can congregate, such as a park or plaza. End somewhere people can linger and mingle after the event. Perhaps somewhere you can set up a barbecue or bonfire, or your favorite rooftop terrace or bar.

3. Visualize the details

The committee needs to imagine exactly how they want the scavenger hunt to play out. What will be the ideal number of participants? Will there be a list of written clues, a series of photo clues, or a treasure map, and do the clues follow an order? Will teams be self-selected or assigned? What are the rules, and how will you prevent cheating and declare winners? Will there be a prize? If needs be, set up an ethics committee to hammer out the details.

4. Make the clues

This is the most creative part of the event planning, but can also be the most time consuming. Tap into trivia and history about the city to test people’s local knowledge. Play on your city’s landmarks and points of interest as well as its lesser-known underground. Use a multimedia of clues in written, photo, and verbal form.

We made a photo collage of sites around the city. Teams had to identify them, go there, and recreate the picture in as accurate and yet creative a way as possible.

Assume participants will have digital cameras to evidence their findings, and think in images about what they should find. Don’t get carried away: between 10 and 20 clues that can be reached without a car in one afternoon.

5. Milk social media

Use online communities and social networks to publicise the event. Facebook and CouchSurfing are the obvious places to start. Adjust the privacy settings based on how big and how public you want the event to be. I say inclusiveness is a part of 21st century fun, so the more the merrier.

Make administration easier by opening a gmail account for people to officially sign up through, so they can confirm their attendance, and you can anticipate your turnout more accurately. Post a series of quick, informative messages and send a reminder or two as the event draws near.

6. Cover your costs

A good citywide event requires not just an investment of your time, but possibly some money too – especially if you want to offer a prize, advertise the event, and print clue materials. Event planning is a real art, and a profit-minded person could no doubt think of a business model for citywide scavenger hunts, but it will be more enjoyable if you do it just for fun.

That said, there are ways to offset the small costs you may incur. Feature your favorite local business as one of the clues. Tell them in advance you’ll be directing traffic to their place, and ask if they’ll donate a prize in exchange. Or, make it a pool: participants pay an entry fee or place a small bet, which is then pooled as the prize for the winners, minus your admin costs.

7. Have fun and make it a party

Make a scene! Notify the press about the event and try to make local headlines. Add details to the scavenger hunt that will stimulate creativity and spontaneity.

Surprise participants with props and costumes they will need to use. We had clues of different difficulty, and awarded extra points for humor, improvisation and use of props, as well as for precision.

Make sure the event ends with time and a space for debriefing. People will want to share and compare notes about what they just did.

8. Declare some winners and follow up

If your participants submit their clue findings as photos, then you may need to upload them. And if you’ve created an elaborate points system, the judging process may take some time too. Ideally this will happen at the party directly after the event. But, if you’d rather relax and enjoy the gathering, save the task for later and declare the winners online.

Upload each team’s photo findings in an album on Picasa using the gmail account you created for the event, and share the albums in a gallery for everyone who took part. If you haven’t yet judged the results, you could award points in the caption fields.

Go back to the social networks where you publicized the event, and post links to the gallery. People love it, and this link might well be the biggest prize of all – but one shared by everyone!

Seriously – what did people do for fun in the pre-digital age?


11 2010