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By Vanessa Zalik:

Do you find yourself being increasingly jealous of the Amazing Race contestants as you vicariously travel the world through them? Luckily, the company Competitours is giving anyone- sans auditions- the chance to take part in their own European competition. Now, you and a teammate of your choice have the chance to explore Europe while competing against other various teams from across the country. However, this isn’t your typical tour of Europe by any means! Everyone will be participating in a series of quirky activities and challenges for a chance to win $9000 in cash or travel credits. Don’t worry, if you’re hopelessly athletically challenged like me, there’s nothing to be intimidated by. The challenges are meant to level the playing level, allowing anyone, and I mean anyone, the chance to win! The challenges are meant to absorb the culture beyond the typical sights, and involve creativity rather than strength or endurance. Participants are judged based on portable video cams for their originality and- of course- personality!

Having collected over 22.5 million frequent flyer miles, Competitours creator Steve Belkin was inspired by his own travels, including a travel competition called the Global Scavenger Hunt. “It was a total blast, but obviously extremely time consuming and expensive, with the focus being on speed instead of immersion,” Belkin recalls. “I thought I could re-engineer that concept into a more accessible and affordable alternative for those with more modest vacation time and budgets.” With that in mind, the birth of Competitours, and a slow, humming wave of Competitourists emerge on the forefront of travel, with a competitive kick.

So what should you expect from these challenges? Consider it this way: your experience will be a fusion of busy, bright cities and those altogether must-see sites with the seemingly unexpected sites your “package tour” skim over. Think ethnic enclaves, KGB museums, and poison beer recipes. Of course, it wouldn’t be Europe without the historical myths and legends or castles nestled along the river, and let’s face it, that just screams tradition. Clearly, the boundaries here are limitless. For the nature buff, there’s anything from biking through wine country to hiking the Alps. While each trip has unique mystery destinations, it provides a well-rounded and unique itinerary, where any city could be just around the corner. Destinations include any of the 18 major Western and Central European cities and their surrounding areas. The amount of time in each country varies by package; however, on average expect to see 3-5 different countries.

Every day, teams have the options to choose amongst 8-10 challenges. In efforts to win the grand prize, teams will shoot 30-60 second videos illustrating their accomplishments. Competitours list their challenges in these following categories: Convincing, Outgoing, Creative, Original, Whimsical, Physical, Zany and Curious. What do you think: can you convince 15 tourists doing the can-can on the tope of the Eiffel Tower? After visiting a Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, would be able to come up with a 30 second commercial pitching the Viking Ship as an ideal vacation spot for a 21st century family? Who knows what you’ll encounter.

The videos from each challenge will be given points, based on the distance of each challenge, the degree of risk and reward, the time necessary to complete the task, and absorbing the challenge locale. The game sessions will typically last around 8 hours, after which the teams will submit their 30-60 second clips per challenge. Judges focus on substance, not style of editing or any other special effects. Each team customizes their challenges based on their interests. There is a set limit to how many challenges can be done so teams truly savor their experience. Essentially, the format is created so anyone can win, and it will keep you guessing until the very last day.

Since each city and set of challenges is unique, there will not be a uniform set schedule. One day, you might depart one city; arrive to the next location where you would participate in a game session from 12-7:30. Perhaps another day you may begin the game session early, transport to the next city in the afternoon, and enjoy free time upon arrival. Once during each trip, you will encounter three cities in one day, perfect for the adventure seeker hungry for more. A trip escort will reveal the surprise destination, amongst other transportation, health and safety info, the afternoon before along with the current standings. In general, evenings are typically for personal free time. So whether you’re hungry for a local meal, seeking out the nightlife, or just getting to know the other participants, is up to you. However, it gives you an opportunity to get to know your host country even further. The beginning and end location may be different, or it could easily be the same. While it is not impossible to call the airlines and figure out your flight itinerary, you will never know what Competitours has up its’ sleeve. The actual locations are typically disguised and camouflaged. Needless to say, every day, from beginning to end, will be full of surprises!

Competitours offers seven trip dates for 2010, each a 9 day trip costing $2675. The cost includes airfare, double occupancy Standard European lodging, Eurail Pass, Game Administration, 2 days of admissions for group challenges, pre-game and post-game receptions and, of course, the eligibility to win the Grand Prize. However, meals are not included, thus you have the freedom and flexibility to choose where you eat. Additionally, local transportation is separate, allowing you the freedom to explore local areas around $5-$9 per day. Entrance fees for the sites are also excluded, since each team will pick their own customized choice of challenge locales, which averages around $50-$65 per day.

For the competitions, you will be required to bring your own video camera and tapes, along with cell phones configured with Bluetooth and European GDSM, chargers and adapters for European outlets, and Internet related costs. Personal items such as laundry, tipping, nightlife and shopping- not to mention Travelers Insurance- are also excluded. The primary purpose of Competitours is to give you the most “bang for your buck”, so every dollar spent is worth it. However, Steve also adds some additional advice for traveling on a budget. “For food, go at least a quarter mile away from any tourist zone for reasonably priced and high quality meals.”

With that being said, why let others have all the fun? Sure, we’re not all TV stars, but if you’re up for the unknown adventure behind Competitours, it’s safe to say your signing up for one unbelievable, unforgettable experience that tour books are clearly missing out on. So if you’re ready to step outside the box, then why not go for it? After all, Competitours is giving anyone, the opportunity to find out how exciting traveling can be. Besides, who doesn’t like a little competition? Add a dose of Europe, a friend or even Grandma, and one thing is for sure, you’ll have an experience unlike any other. To register for Competitours, visit Competitours.com/register.

Anyone that signs up for a summer Competitours 2010 trip between Feb 15-March 15 and inserts ‘Johnny Jet’ in the promo code section of their Registration page and finishes in first place on their trip (1 in 17 chance), they would not only win our $5500 grand prize, but also 2 BUSINESS CLASS tickets anywhere in the world (value-up to $22,000).

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Team Johnny Jet

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