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What watching ‘Race Across the World’ taught me about travelling

We are living in the golden age of travel- at least we were before the Covid-19 pandemic completely overturned the travel industry as we know it. With seemingly endless lockdowns and infuriating travel bans grounding us until further notice, exploring the world has become impossible. However, various travel-related TV shows, filmed pre-Covid, have certainly helped fuel my wanderlust.

For me, the BBC production Race Across the World, really stands out as a remarkable portrayal of travelling. The reality-competition show exposes expedition at its core and follows five pairs who compete to quite literally race across the world in the hopes of winning a £20,000 prize. In Season 1, the contestants race from London to Singapore and then from Mexico City to Ushuaia, Argentina – the Southern most city in the world, in Season 2. However, these journeys are not as easy as it may initially sound.

The show aims to reveal how, due to technological advancements and our dependence on airplanes, modern travelling has become extremely straightforward. The race therefore prohibits flying as a form of transport and teams are given a limited budget, equivalent to the price of the airfare, which must last for their 50+ days of tireless travelling. Electronic devices, such as phones and credit cards, are also banned and replaced by a simple world map, GPS and travel guide featuring local job adverts.

Race Across the World also demonstrates the benefits of stripping away the habitual elements of travel and its extreme backpacking style has really opened my eyes to the fascinating experiences that can arise through such simple travelling. There are countless things to love about the show but the following are some of the key lessons which can be taken away from it.

 Innovative Travel Strategies

There are quite a few strategic ideas which can be learnt from watching Race Across the World. The core challenge, as we see throughout, is the task of balancing a limited budget with efficient travel routes, often forcing contestants to make quick decisions under pressure. Although it is easy to judge choices made from the comfort of your living room, the key lesson is that diligent planning is essential. The teams who took an extra 20 minutes to carefully plan their route or budget for the day, ended up doing much better overall.

These successful teams also employed savvy tricks which go beyond simply skipping meals or working jobs for extra cash. For instance, getting transport overnight saves valuable money on a room, offering to work on public transport can provide free tickets, avoiding expensive countries when route planning can save money and going to big cities can be beneficial in offering more transport options. Having watched the contestants deal with these struggles, I have learnt the importance of organisation, perseverance and critical thinking. Season 2 contestant Dom admitted: “It is very easy to criticise decisions we made now, but hindsight is a beautiful thing. At the time, we were doing our best.”

I confess to having moments of extreme jealousy when watching some of the amazing activities the contestants get to experience

Realistic Ups and Downs of Travelling

The show flawlessly exposes the inevitable highs and lows of travelling. Unlike the seemingly blissful holidays which we often see posted about on social media, the reality is that travelling can be extremely testing at times. Problems like getting severely lost, struggling to find somewhere to stay, battling impossible language barriers, being stuck on an endless coach journey, having severe arguments with your travel partner or even getting ill can completely derail plans and cause unwanted stress. In Season 2, siblings Dom and Lizzie face their fair share of unexpected surprises; being forced to suddenly evacuate Ecuador due to a state of emergency and later spend a day in hospital due to a sudden illness, making them a frustrating 30 hours behind the other contestants. These examples, although far from ideal, remind us that travel should be an adventure full of unpredictability. It is normal for some days to feel far from a relaxing getaway – for every great moment that happens, there will be a low point! But the tough moments only make the joyful ones even better and I confess to having moments of extreme jealousy when watching some of the amazing activities the contestants get to experience.

Relationships

One of my favourite themes throughout the show is its recognition of the intense power that travelling has on relationships. Being one of the most intimate activities you can undertake, travelling can make or break bonds like no other and create situations that you would simply never have at home. Although each pair in the show has a very different relation (there are best friends, father and son, married couples, siblings etc) they are all unified by the fact that they want to restore their relationship. Race Across the World beautifully reflects the joys of teamwork and making memories together and reminds us how travelling is, without a doubt, the best cure for strengthening connections. Throughout the series, we see all the relationships evolve as the individuals gain a newfound understanding and love for their travel partner – most notably in the bond between the earlier mentioned siblings Lizzie and Dom in Season 2. Having drifted apart since childhood, they begin the trip as virtually strangers who only see each other three times a year. However, despite their parents warnings that they would struggle and have constant arguments, the two gradually grow to understand each other and end the trip with a genuine friendship – even admitting that they would love to do the same again all over again. Travelling completely rebuilds their relationship and gives them a newfound confidence. This positive message of the show is nothing short of inspiring.

A final lesson I learnt from Race Across the World, and quite frankly shouldn’t have to be reminded of, is that people are overwhelmingly kind

Kindness of strangers

A final lesson I learnt from Race Across the World, and quite frankly shouldn’t have to be reminded of, is that people are overwhelmingly kind. There is a disheartening stereotype that strangers abroad often view travellers as easy targets to rip off or rob, but I promise that this is the absolute minority. Instead, as we see throughout the show, strangers often surpass all expectations and demonstrate exceptional kindness. This proves how, if you open your heart to locals, they will nearly always return your compassion and willingly go out of their way to accommodate you. Generous offers such as free lifts, meals, accommodation and even invitations to events are given and genuine friendships are made in the process. The show proves the endless benefits of making an effort to interact with locals and it saddens me how few travellers today go out of their way to do so. The rewards of experiencing new cultures, improving your global awareness and making intercultural connections are unmatched and it is refreshing to see a reality show truly restore one’s faith in humanity.

Evidently, Race Across the World is a very special show which I think gives the most accurate and impressive portrayal of travelling at its core. These lessons, combined with the videography of stunning landscapes and vibrant cities, have absolutely inspired me to try the unique form of travelling it advocates and I would encourage all students in particular to also consider it – when it is safe to do so again. Backpacking is a really exciting (and cost effective) way of seeing the world and, like many keen travellers, I look forward to the day we are given the green light to start exploring the world again.

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