The Amazing Race 21, Episode 9
Ransdorp (Netherlands) - Barcelona (Spain) - Palma de Mallorca (Spain) - Manacor (Spain) - Campanet (Spain) - Muro (Spain) - Palma de Mallorca (Spain)
The penultimate episode of The Amazing Race 21 began with the racers having to "make their way" from the outskirts of Amsterdam to the Spanish island of Mallorca.
Mallorca is a small island but a major Mediterranean tourist destination, and there are plenty of direct flights from Amsterdam and other major European airports to Palma de Mallorca (airport code "PMI"). But the racers were directed to fly to Barcelona on the coast of mainland Spain, and then take an overnight ferry to Mallorca.
As I've talked about repeatedly in the past, these kinds of choices, especially where they involve different modes of travel (air, rail, road, water, etc.) for different portions of the journey, and transfers between modes at connection points that may not be obvious, are a common challenge and annoyance for real-world travellers. Even the best of the Web-based itinerary finding services I've written about in previous columns on European rail and air travel don't suggest combinations between those modes of travel, or any other multi-modal itineraries.
Some progress toward a service that the racers could have used in trying to figure out how to get from Amsterdam to Mallorca, although not yet anything close to a fully successful implementation, was demonstrated last month at the annual PhoCusWright conference of Internet travel executives. Rome2Rio.com is premised on the obvious truth that most people don't live or start our journeys in airports, and don't want to end our journeys at airports. Rome2Rio.com tries to figure out and suggest routes and connections and compare travel times (although not yet prices) for journeys from where you are to where you want to go, by different means of travel or even combinations of different means, such as driving to an airport, flying from there to another airport, and taking a train from that airport to your final destination.
There is a crying need for a Web service that does exactly this, and somebody who solves this problem adequately and markets their service well is going to get rich. From the testing I've done, feeding it a variety of easy and hard problems in different parts of the world, Rome2Rio.com has not yet come close to solving the problem they've chosen to attack. But it is a site worth trying for the possibility that it might come up with options that you hadn't known to consider. And I hope it improves and prompts other competitors to enter the field of multi-modal route planning.
The most interesting presentation this year at the PhoCusWright conference was by the CEO of Airbnb.com. I didn't agree with everything he said, and I wouldn't recommend renting out your home through Airbnb.com without complying with local zoning, insurance, and other regulations for commercial rental housing, but it was a thought-provoking vision.
Don't get me wrong: I like my neighbors who rent out their back cottage on Airbnb.com. There are, however, good reasons why you can't legally run a transient hotel in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco or many other cities without being licensed as a hotel or B&B and satisfying more stringent building code, safety, inspection, and commercial insurance rules than apply to a private residence. And your neighbors in a rental apartment almost certainly didn't sign their leases with the expectation of having different "tenants" every night in your place next door. If you're an Airbnb.com guest, don't be surprised if the neighbors treat you with annoyance and/or suspicion, or call the building inspector on your landlord.
Airbnb.com wasn't the only "backpacker" travel service in the startup-company beauty pageant at PhoCusWright this year, which also included Airbnb.com competitor (and predecessor) Couchsurfing.com and a hostel booking iPhone app from Wehostels.com. Some of the Americans at PhoCusWright seemed confused, but I think the mainstreaming of backpacker travel within the Internet travel industry reflects the fact that the growing majority of Internet users, and Internet-using travellers, are no longer in the USA but in other countries where independent, backpacker-style international travel is much more mainstream.
The part of the racers' journey by air, from Amsterdam to Barcelona, was a lesson in the changes that have occurred in European airline competition. Not so long ago, the only choices for direct flights on that route would have been KLM and Iberia, the national airlines of the Netherlands and Spain. Instead, the racers ended up on Vueling and Transavia, airlines whose countries of incorporation I suspect few of you could name without recourse to Wikipedia. (Bragging rights to the first of you to post correct answers in the comments.)
On Mallorca, the racers showed the accumulated strains of a month on the road without a rest day. Members of two of the remaining four teams have been suffering from injured ankles, and one of them, Josh, could barely make it through a challenge that required playing tennis against a pitching machine.
Josh's partner Brent is a physician, and the TV producers have doctors on call just off-screen. So perhaps the risk to Josh of continuing despite severe pain was less than it appeared. I wouldn't recommend following his tough-guy example on your own, however, no matter how close you feel you are to the end of your trip or to some long-sought travel goal. I've heard from a surprising number of travellers for whom going through with their plans and not stopping to rest and heal led to permanent physical damage and in some cases chronic pain or other problems that continued long after the trip was over. In the excitement of the moment, it's easy to lose perspective on the appropriate balance of short and long-term risks and benefits.
It goes back, of course, to everything I talked about last week: If you travel slowly, don't plan to do too much in too little time (a mistake almost everyone makes, myself included), and don't pay in advance for non-changeable reservations (or don't make reservations more than a day or two in advance), you can slow down even more or stop for a few days to rest and heal without having to abandon your overall plan. You may have to skip some things you had hoped to see or do, but if your itinerary isn't too rushed in the first place, you can take it easy and still have enough time and strength for the things that are your top priorities.
If you're in the USA, tune in this Sunday for the two-hour finale of this season of the race, starting at the usual hour in your time zone and continuing an hour later than usual.Posted by Edward, 2 December 2012, 23:59