The newest revamp of European backpacking

A fusion of competition, mystery and travel, Competitours adds a new twist to touring Europe and, potentially, the rest of the world.According to the Competitours’ Web site, National Geographic Traveler calls it “The Amazing Race for regular people.””This is basically your vacation as a travel contest,” president and creator of Competitours Steve Belkin said. “You and your partner will join a group of teams, [but] you won’t know where you’re going ‘til you get there.”According to the Competitours Web site, all “destinations [throughout the trip] will be a secret, revealed with just a suspenseful half-day’s notice. Teams will make snap decisions about customizing their own daily challenge itineraries.”Each day, “you get a menu of different [competition] itineraries to choose from,” Belkin said.Finally, the winning team gets “a travel spree to any of 115 Starwood™ hotels spanning 51 exotic and intriguing countries,” according to the Competitours Web site.While it is compared to “The Amazing Race” by National Geographic Traveler, Belkin believes this experience to be quite different.”Instead of eating worms [on The Amazing Race], we’ll ask you to convince a twentieth century family why they should take a cruise on an ancient Viking ship,” Belkin said.”It is about how creative you can be and letting your personality shine through.”Kent Wien, an American Airlines pilot and soon-to-be participant in the first trial of Competitours, said he and his wife are huge fans of “The Amazing Race” and that he liked the unknown portion of the vacation.As a pilot, Wien is a frequent traveler. “I went to Paris 17 times last year,” he said.When asked why he did not decide to tour Europe on his own, Wien said, “typically you get over there [Europe] and you don’t really know what to do.” In addition to the luxury of guidance given by Competitours, Wien said that he is participating in the competition to write about it in his blog, Cockpit Chronicles, on www.gadling.com. He found out about Competitours because “Steve Belkin offered [Competitours] to [www.gadling.com] to write about,” Wien said.Caroline McCabe, an avid traveler and another soon-to-be participant, said that she also found out about Competitours through a different travel blog, www.flyertalk.com.”The whole concept of being in and amongst the people is a much more rewarding way to travel,” McCabe said.”I have been to more than 40 countries [and] I believe in travel as one of the most valuable educations that anybody can receive,” she said.McCabe said that the prices are incredibly reasonable for all that is provided with the trip. On the Competitours Web site, prices are listed as $2,950 for the two-week trip and $1,995 for the eight-day trip.”If we had this conversation a year ago, I would say this is definitely geared toward college students because it is a totally new niche experience to travel to Europe,” Belkin said. “But with what’s gone on in the economy, we have tried to broaden the appeal to people other than college students.”Concerning college student involvement, Belkin said “that the college market makes a lot of sense because kids like freedom, they like to compete, they like to travel.””That sounds like fun, but I just don’t have the money for something like that,” UVM sophomore David Swift said.Concerning payment for Competitours, “three days after the trip is over, the credit card company will charge your card,” instead of before the trip, Belkin said.Even in this economic climate, McCabe said she is excited for “the adventure and the competition.”