unique travel experiences

Month: September 2015 (page 1 of 2)

5 tips on winning travel competitions

There are those people who seem to win lots of “stuff” and those – like you – who never do. I fell into the latter category until I won 8 travel competition prizes over a relatively short period of time ranging from …

The crew of my private jet

The best competition win to date! My own private jet

So the 5 tips?

1. Play the [small] numbers game.
A competition at a closed event or conference gives you a much higher chance of winning, especially if it involves actually doing “something” rather than just dropping your business card into a goldfish bowl.

2. Take photos that will capture the judges’ imagination.
Ok – not so easy but one competition I won was based on an outside display in a square in Central London. I used the reflection in my sunglasses but made sure the company’s brand appeared as readable by mirroring the image too.

RBM Noor Photo Competition Winner

RBM Noor Photo Competition Winner

Or if it involves taking photos of a city’s landmarks take a picture from high up/low down/through something else … anything that [probably] has never been done before!

To win a weekend break in Newcastle I took a photo of the famous “winking bridge” from another bridge, but also with three other bridges in the foreground too.

Newcastle Photo Competition Winner

Newcastle Photo Competition Winner

3. Somehow mention/advertise the sponsor’s product
To win the private jet I had to come up with a fact about Sweden. Instead of obvious facts about ABBA, IKEA, blondes or Volvo cars my entry was simply “The @Sweden Twitter account is given to a different member of the population each month”. So nothing amazing but a fact that was possibly chosen as it helped promote another part of their social media campaign when my winning answer was announced.

British Airways Tweet

The British Airways Tweet that confirmed it all!

4. Enter tedious competitions
Persist in entering Twitter/Instagram competitions that you get bored of after a few minutes and want to leave. If others are thinking the same and giving up then your chance of winning automatially increases.

I just entered a Twitter competition where half the instructions were cut off on my iPhone screen, and it culminated in following a long link on an Instagram post that wasn’t clickable!! Very annoying but persevere and you enter where 10 others give up!

5. Enter the competitions with more complicated entry requirements
For the 10 day Cailfornia trip I had to create a “Round the World” travel adventure in 6 tweets or less. Now that took some effort and I later found out my “witty” entry was just one of 9 received!

So in summary “you’ve got to be in it to win it!” but be a bit more tactical to increase your chances of winning. Ideally choose competitions at closed events where there’s some effort involved as that will reduce the number of entrants. Create a compelling photo or video as ultimately that’s what they’ll be judging. Friends Jen Lowthrop and Virginia Stuart-Taylor won DoubleTree Hilton 3 week adventures by creating short video clips … now that involves a lot of effort … something I wouldn’t bother entering … but they did … and they won! Also a lot of companies out there are still experimenting with social media to find out what works and what doesn’t and that can be to your advantage! 😉

Check out Jen Lowthrop’s thoughts on winning competitions too

Can you do a gap year in your mid 30s?

Yes, yes you can! Maybe you you went straight from A-levels to University and from University straight into a full time job, while your friends unable to get a graduate job went off to have the time of their lives backpacking around SE Asia, working at the Sydney 2000 Olympics or canoeing in Nepal … like my friends did. And then one year working turns into two, two years into five, and before you know it, into ten! … but then you get made redundant! Yay! This happened to me back in 2009. I was delighted! Although I have to caveat this my saying I had no wife, kids, pets or mortgage so it made things a lot easier.

Backpacking when you were 23 “may” have been better than when you were 33, but then that’s better than doing it when you’re 43 … although I’d go at that age too. And actually at 33 you’ll appreciate it more as you’ve been working hard for the last 10 years and won’t just see it as a continuation of school/university fun times.

Meeting people never a problem

Meeting people is never a problem

My 6 month rite of passage was the typical China > SE Asia > Australia > New Zealand route and the groups of people I encountered fell broadly into 4 categories:

  • The majority were 25-26 year olds who’d been working for 3-4 years, realised that work isn’t “all that,” but had managed to put some funds together
  • Next up were the post A-level and post degree “gap year” backpackers.
  • That left the reduncancy beneficiaries like me in their mid 30s in the obvious minority
  • Finally there were the late 40s/early 50s “hippies” who’d happily been travelling for the last 20 years or so

And how was it travelling “solo”? Well as it happened I travelled with my friend Rob (Hornbower Travels) around China for 4 weeks before he headed off home allowing me to ease into things nice and gently. A short flight from Hong Kong to Hanoi and an excursion up to Sapa lead to me befriending a Spanish girl and a lad from England at which point I realised that travelling solo can be pretty darn good as you meet many more people that way. No offense Rob! 😉

Wanderlust Chloe has a great post on travelling solo

… and a thorough assessment by thegrownupgapyear

Travelling with a friend helps to start with

Travelling with a friend helps to start with. Rob and I in Hong Kong

After just 1 week in and around Hanoi culminatring with a boat trip around Halong Bay, I fell in with 4 girls from Sweden and some lads fom Middlesborough and ended up travelling with them more or less for the next 5 months.

So yes go do it! It was a great experience, it will open your eyes to the world and 6 months is just 6 months after all anyway. Although when your longest holidays have only ever been for 2 weeks, then getting 2 months into your trip and realising that  you’re not even halfway is a lovely feeling.

Travelling is really a great leveller and when you’re all in the same fake Havaianas flip flops, all wearing the same Vang Vieng ‘In the tubing’ vests, all staying in the same basic hostels, all reading the same Lonley Planet guide books then age, profession and background really don’t come into it at all!

The obligatory In the tubing Vang Vieng vest

The obligatory ‘In the tubing’ Vang Vieng vest

What’s coasteering all about?

Coasteering? Well it’s a little bit like gorge scrambling and in turn a little bit like canyoning (known as canyoneering in the U.S.). With these activities you swim across pools, clamber up and around waterfalls and then periodically jump back in. Coasteering is pretty similar – it just happens along the coast, with a bit of swimming in the sea, traversing along rock faces, climbing up cliff edges and then jumping back in too! The latter being the adrenaline inducing bit.

A group shot on our way back from the big jumps

A group shot on our way back from one of the big jumps

Out coasteering session was with ‘Adelong Outdoors‘, an outdoor experience company based near Torquay. Our setting the idyllic Anstey’s Cove and the base of the infamous Sanctuary Wall climbing site. This geopark providing the ideal combination of rocks, gullies and caves for our coasteering exploits.

On the day we were greeted by Charlie and Alex who swiftly kitted us out in wetsuits, helmets and buoyancy aids. Gloves were an optional extra for those of us with soft office hands. All we had to bring along was a pair of tatty shorts (to go over the top of their wetsuits), some swimwear (to go underneath), a towel, plus a pair of trainers to wear in the sea. I opted for running trainers with a bit of grip on the bottom over a pair of non-grippy Converse.

Coasteering - Rock Traversing

Coasteering – a bit of rock traversing to get us warmed up!

Our group consisted of an 11 man strong stag do so we all knew we had to “save face” and not wuss out of any of the jumps. After a training belly flop dive of approximately 1ft, and a rocky traverse above, the first jump was set at a height of just 4m, high enough to get you thinking but nothing compared to what what was to come.

Coasteering - not very insync jumping

Not as insync as we’d hoped

A couple of hours of entertainment followed with the coup de grâce being a 9m high jump towards the far end of the bay. Now that’s 1m less than the platform Tom Daley dives off in his Speedos, and we were decked out in wetsuits and helmets. But when you’re on a craggy rock edge that high up, having to make sure you take a big stride out to clear the rock face jutting out a few metres below you, the “support” of the guys already in the water looking up doesn’t do anything to calm you down. Now this sort of height is sufficient to give you a funny sensation in your stomach as it tries to stay where it is as you fall through it.

A deadly serious pose during the big 9m Jump

A deadly serious pose during the big 9m Jump

One of our instructors had a waterproof camera to capture our “epic” leaps, and both were calming and very professional giving clear instructions on which direction to jump when perched on the cliff edge (to avoid the odd submerged rock). I later found out that Alex is an ex-Royal Marine Commando so presumably he’d jumped from higher, in the dark, in the cold, in fall combats, wearing a heavy rucksack, so maybe we weren’t that brave after all!

A lovely silhouetted jump

A lovely silhouetted jump

Top Tips?

  1. Try to look out into the distance when you’re about to jump in, rather than down as otherwise you’ll realise how high up you are.
  2. Don’t dilly-dally at the edge, land vertically and don’t look down at the last second as otherwise you’ll get a 20mph slap to the face.
  3. Try not to be that last person to jump as otherwise you’ll have the rest of your group smugly looking up at you.
  4. Grippy trainers.
  5. Remember that Tom Daley dives in head first, and from higher up, and just in Speedos so what can go wrong 🙂
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