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Enjoying the luxury of the unknown, with travel and adventure at the core

Remember our past articles (here and here) about Competitours, the company that redefines your notion of luxury travel with the focus not on well-known creature comforts but instead on the intriguing idea of the luxury of the unknown? Competitours is a 7 day/10 team travel competition that is best described as ‘The Amazing Race for normal people’ meets ‘Blind Date With Europe’. We caught up with Sue Bodtke who, together with her husband, has been on a trip with Competitours to get first-hand insights into exactly what a Competitours experience is like. Our interview with Sue was no holds barred – she was free to express herself as openly she wished. Read on to learn more about her and her husband’s experiences. Who are you and what made you choose Competitours?
My husband and I love to travel, and we love new adventures; we rarely return to a place we’ve already visited but instead go somewhere new. We also enjoy the show “The Amazing Race”. We are lucky enough to have been to Europe many times and were looking for something new. We actually had already booked a trip to Portugal with air, hotel, general plans for what we would when we stumbled across a small blurb in the Wall Street Journal. It described this chance for a different kind of vacation – one we had little control over, is in Europe, it promised to be full of unknown challenges and experiences. The idea of giving control of the planning part of a trip was intriguing to us, plus knowing there will be escapades that would be a surprise made it even more interesting. And, there was room for one more couple! We loved the anticipation of this trip and spent a lot of time talking about it, mentally preparing for what might happen and generally getting excited about this holiday full of who-knew-what. I think we talked more about preparing for this trip than we have in any of the other holidays we have taken.
Where did you visit?
Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Andorra, Switzerland.
What were the other people on the trip like?
All were like-minded people – open to flexibility, ready for new adventures and challenges and just generally fun to be around.
What were the challenges put before you like?
Steve [Belkin – President/MC/Evil Genius] was really thoughtful about the challenges. No one ever felt like they had to do anything and could sit it out if that’s what they wanted. And, he made the scoring so that it was based on non-physical features. For example, guessing how long it took to do a challenge was what impacted your ranking, not if you completed it first. The fun part was trying to figure out what the next day’s events would be. We would look at available transportation and guess what was in Steve’s mind. Everyday, he had one or more challenges for us and we didn’t know what they were often until we pulled into the parking lot.
Luxury is different things to different people. Whilst a trip with Competitours might not be considered as "traditional luxury", would you say that it was a luxury experience nonetheless?
I would not call this a luxury trip. Accommodations were comfortable and adequate. No issues. [the trip website clearly notes that lodging is 3/4 star and that pricing is invested in the challenge activities while ‘teams are awake’]
What was the highlight of your trip?
Wow, what a tough question because many of the events were memorable. Dining in the dark was enlightening (LOL). The challenge was to have a meal in a room without ANY light, completely dark, served by visually impaired wait staff. The challenge was to identify the components of what we ate. So interesting, to have to go by feel, smell and taste and not have the visual input to identify food. Loved it. Another highlight was the via ferrata. OMG, it was beautiful to be on the ferrata, completely and safely clipped in, over the Mediterranean Sea, climbing a rock. It was physically and emotionally challenging but gorgeous at the same time. Callier chocolate making was another really fun class. Never thought we could make this kind of beautiful creation ourselves, from chocolate. The alpine slide was another adventure that was memorable. Beautiful, long, peaceful, would do it again and again and again. Another event I will never forget was a personal one. I dislocated my shoulder in the “air experience”. This challenge was in a chamber simulating sky diving and I whacked my arm on the wall, dislocating my shoulder. I got to experience first-hand the medical care in Denmark. They took fantastic care of me, very competent and looked puzzled when asked about how we needed to pay for it. Never did get a bill and my shoulder is fine now.
What would you say to others who are thinking about booking a trip with Competitours?
If you are willing to do something when you have no idea what experiences will greet you tomorrow, go for it. Trust Steve – he puts together a really fun trip and mixes it up, so this year’s challenges will not be replicated. It will be a mystery, full of fun and unexpected experiences.
So… there you have it. Are YOU up for the Competitours challenge? Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Competitours, but the interview was conducted by us, independently of the company. We have made a couple of additions to the text (marked by square brackets) for the sake of clarity but Sue’s answers to my questions are her own and have not otherwise been edited in any way.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Sue raises a major issue for all travellers – to return or not to return?

    On the one hand the world is a very big place and it seems such a waste of time and money to return to somewhere you’ve already been.

    But you don’t get to see everything on your first visit and sometimes things go against you. When I visited Agra the pool in front of the Taj Mahal was empty for cleaning, in Berlin the Brandenburg Gate was covered for restoration.

    I can’t understand people who go back to the same resort year after year but I wouldn’t ever say don’t go back.


    1. Hi Steve – I can relate to this from a recent trip. I went to Moscow for the first time recently for an assignment with the Moscow government and Red Square was closed for Victory Day for the whole of my visit. At least it gives me an excuse to re-visit another time.

      As for Competitours trips, I think I’m right in saying that no two trips are the same so returning on a trip with them would not mean seeing the same things. The other Steve (Steve Belkin from Competitours) can probably shed more light on this.

    2. Hi Steve-

      I have operated trips for 10 years and every year is a customized itinerary. Once in a great while, we might include 1-2 challenges from the last year or two simply because the activity was so well received by the teams participating.

      But part of the fun for me as the owner is the thrill of always hunting for news nooks and crannies, as Europe has so many hidden gems.

      In fact, we specifically stay away from the stereotype destinations like London, Psris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam. At least half of our destinations each trip, none of our teams have ever even heard of!!!!!

  2. Nice interview, Paul! I think there’s great potential for more interviews. I’m sure there a lot of people out there, amongst your readers, who have had some incredible travel experiences. Some great, some terrible! Perhaps other companies would like to get travelers to share their experiences?

    1. Thanks, Brian… it might be something we consider doing more. It certainly allows readers to see a company’s offering in a slightly different light.

  3. Agree about the interviews. So many travel brochures and websites are produced by professional agencies who’ve never even been to the places. Although they gloss over the problems, cockroaches and illness, they don’t always emphasise the high spots. They have to be careful with the Trade Descriptions Act. So, yes, I’d like more interviews.

  4. The point about money being invested in activities for when you are awake is a good one. Too often I’ve spent big bucks up front on luxury hotel accommodation and then had very little budget left to spend once I get to the destination. If I’ve had a busy day I’ll sleep well regardless of how many million threads the Egyptian Cotton sheets racks up.

  5. I found the piece about dining in the dark very thought-provoking. Speaking for myself, for so much of the time I’m on auto-pilot and it is as if my senses are on a dimmer.

    Often when I eat I do it mechanically. Sometimes I go to a great restaurant and what with the ambience, talking to friends and the wine I lose focus on the food. I could tell you what I had eaten but not what it was like.

    Being in the dark would heighten your senses of smell and taste, They would work so much harder to compensate for the loss of sight. Really this is on the slow travel theme, slowing down and making much more of what we have.

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