“Tonight we will be sleeping in…” Ari Charlestein, owner and “Evil Genius” for the competition-based tour company Competitours, begins to tell a group full of people who are all hanging from the edges of their seats.
“Actually, no, let’s make this a challenge,” he says. “Every team needs to WhatsApp me in the next 90 seconds where they think we’re sleeping tonight. If you get the answer within 100 miles, you’ll get ten points.”
The teams, each a group of two, huddle together, trying to come up with the strategy behind the madness that is a Competitours itinerary. I look at my teammate. “Well, if we need to be in Brussels in six days, and we are currently in Austria, there’s no way we’re not cutting through Germany,” I say to her.
“Maybe Munich?” she responds, as we sit on said moving bus from Salzburg.
We agree, it’s got to be within 100 miles of Munich.
“Okay, time’s up!” Charlestein shouts. “Tonight we will be sleeping in…Halbturn, Austria,” he says with a smirk.
A whopping 298 miles from Munich, and in the opposite direction of where we believed we were headed, my teammate and I did not get the points that day.
The points are accumulated over the 10-day course of a Competitours trip. When teams sign up to embark on one of these “mystery trips,” they are given minimal information: where they are starting, where the trip is ending, and how many days total in length the trip is (typically 10, but it can vary). The only other bits of information given at booking are that there will be “challenges” along the journey where the winning team will get points, and, in the end, the team with the most points wins a cash prize. Anyone on a trip should consider travel insurance and be prepared to sign a life waiver, but don’t expect anything too physically demanding when it comes to these challenges. Instead, think of things like learning how to make Belgian waffles with no instructions, nailing the technique to yodeling in the Austrian Alps, and maybe playing laser tag in World War II bunkers in the Netherlands.
Competitours challenges are akin to an improv show, where the same itinerary is never repeated, and anything goes. If your team is struggling to keep up with points, don’t worry; the scoring system is set up so that it’s anyone’s game, and, typically, 85 percent of the teams are still in the running for the cash prize on the final day of the trip.
If you’re a fan of the The Amazing Race, some bells are probably going off in your head about the similarities. While it does indeed draw inspiration from the The Amazing Race, it’s more like the The Amazing Race for everyday people. The cash prize is not $1 million (or anywhere close to it), and though it is full of mini challenges, there is no actual racing involved. All travel to and from destinations is done together and wake-up calls are always the same, but the overall vibe and spirit of a Competitours trip is much more friendly and upbeat and less, well, competitive.
Or, as Charlestein puts it: “At Competitours, we are all about brains, not brawn, and we much prefer to focus on the revelry over the rivalry.”
These wild and whimsical trips typically cost in the $4000 to $4500 range. This price includes all challenges, accommodation, most breakfasts, and transportation throughout the duration of the trip. The price does not include lunch, dinner, bar tabs, or flights (though you will know where you’re starting and ending so you can plan accordingly). About two months prior to the departure, the “Evil Genius” (aka your group’s tour leader) will send you a packing list of what to bring on your trip. This might include some obvious things like a swimsuit and a light jacket, but it also might include some head-scratchers, like 15 rubber bands, two sharpies, and a pair of gardening gloves.
In the past, Competitours trips solely took place in Europe. This winter, the company is hosting a journey that starts in San Jose, Costa Rica and ends in Guatemala City, Guatemala. And, hey, if international travel isn’t your thing, the company is holding its first USA-based trip next summer.
It’s one thing to take the backseat by letting your friend or partner do all of the planning. It’s another thing entirely to show up and have no idea what you’re in for. If you’re a real “yes” person, and you want an adventure of a lifetime, a Competitours trip is calling.