Posts Tagged ‘local knowledge’

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

‘The Lunatic Express’ by Carl Hoffman, An Encouraging Read for Local Travelites

This article originally appeared on the Local Travel Movement.  See the article here.  August, 2010.
The article was reposted on The Travel Word. See the article here.  September, 2010.
The article was reposted on Travel Off the Radar. See the article here.  November, 2010.

If local travel means putting oneself in the shoes of a local, then travel writer Carl Hoffman has earned status as an expert local travelite with a compelling story to tell. In his latest book, The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes, Hoffman relays his round-the-world jaunt aboard the rickety and rusty human conveyances that represent how the global majority transports itself. His trip utilises everything from airlines in Cuba and railways in Africa to ferries in Indonesia and long rides through the United States via Greyhound bus, logging more than 50,000 miles in total.

The Lunatic Express book cover

Hoffman was first attracted to local transport in all of its harrowing forms through the media’s coverage of various transportation disasters. Each chapter therefore begins with a journalistic excerpt about a fateful incident on some form of public transit. Exploring these anecdotes and researching statistics about injuries and deaths, Hoffman charts his course aboard the world’s worst transportation systems. His goal is not sensationalism or stuntman’s bravado. Rather, he aims to contrast the luxury of leisure tourism with the harsh journeys of the global poor for whom travel is simply a means of getting from point A to point B.

“I gradually began to realize,” he writes, “that the big numbers of today’s tourism industry obscured a parallel reality, excluded a whole river of people on the move. Excluded, in fact, most of the world’s travelers.”

Each segment of the trip is its own complete story, but common threads weave this journey together. Dualisms and paradoxes emerge. Hoffman begins by comparing affluent travel with public mass transit. Transportation reflects the security, comfort and regulation of affluent societies versus the danger, overcrowding and lack of controls in the less developed world. As he traverses South America on its notorious bus system, Hoffman writes “I was starting to trust the efficiency of this whole ad-hoc, unregulated system.”

One regularly recurring theme is the lack of personal space aboard the majority of mass transit. In the economics of third world transportation, “speed and maximum capacity are of the essence.” Hoffman rides matatus, the minibuses in Kenya that pull people aboard until they reach the absolute limit. He rides trains in Mumbai where the crushing pressure of the crowds becomes fatal. In an interview about the book, Hoffman reflects that the trip was a re-evaluation of what affluence means. “I’ve always sort of thought of it as objects, as things. Traveling as I did for five months, I decided that it really had nothing to do with things. It was all about space. In places like Indonesia, you’re with 3,000 people and no personal space whatsoever.” Spaces that are private and quiet and clean occur to him as a “luxury that is profound.”

Hoffman – who lives in Washington, DC – travels as the locals do but is an obvious outsider. At times the language barriers and cultural divides between himself and his fellow passengers overwhelm him. He spends pages in isolation, retreating into himself. Yet the best moments of the book are the ones where he is able to break through the cultural boundaries in order to connect with locals. On a packed ferry in Indonesia, he achieves this sort of communion: “The more I shed my American reserves, phobias, disgusts, the more they embraced me. In the weeks ahead I would accelerate what had started gradually over the miles. I would do whatever my fellow travelers and hosts did. If they drank the tap water of Mumbai and Kolkata and Bangladesh, so would I. If they bought tea from street-corner vendors, so would I. If they ate with their fingers, even if I was given utensils, I ate with my fingers. Doing so prompted an outpouring of generosity and curiosity that never ceased to amaze me. It opened the door, made people take me in. That I shared their food, their discomfort, their danger, fascinated them and validated them in a powerful way.”

This passage, like the book as a whole, beautifully illustrates the ideas of the Local Travel Movement. Hoffman continually chooses authenticity and connection with locals over the beckoning camaraderie of other foreigners. He plunges directly into the dense humanity along his route and discovers what life is like for the majority of the world’s people on the move. Turn here for encouragement as a local travelite or a reality check for one who complains on an air-conditioned flight.


11 2010