Episode 4 of the Amazing Race opened up with the first-place team setting off in the wee hours of the morning in search of their next clue at Stockholm’s City Hall Tower. When the first few teams found the structure they noted it was closed so they asked a passer-by what time it opened. “10 A.M.,” was the reply. So they all headed off smugly to a nearby hotel to catch a few more hours of shut-eye.
Interestingly enough, the teams that began the race later actually went to the City Tower entrance and looked for a sign that listed the hours of operation. Lo and behold, they found out that the tower really opened up at 7 A.M. So they returned at 6:59 A.M. and got a three-hour jump on the leaders.
Hence the moral of the story — never rely on second hand information when you can get first-hand information yourself. This applies in the Amazing Race as well as in real-life accessible travel.
For example, I once took another travel writer on a tour of San Francisco. She was penning a guide book and she wanted to include information about the wheelchair-accessibility of the top attractions. I was thrilled she was including this information so I was happy to lend a hand.
For whatever reason she really wanted to go to the Japanese Tea Gardens, one of the most inaccessible tourist attractions in the city. I told her it was not wheelchair-accessible but she would not listen to me. At the entrance she balked at actually having to pay to get in, so she just asked the attendant if the Tea Gardens were wheelchair-accessible. He said yes and that was the end of that. She reported them as “wheelchair-accessible” in her book.
Unfortunately all the information in her book was gathered in this (lazy) manner and many readers were misled. I expect there were more than a few spoiled vacations as the result of the misinformation she published.
So what’s a traveler to do?
First off whenever you read an article about accessible travel, make sure the author actually visited the site. Sad to say, but I know a lot of folks who just rewrite press releases and never investigate access on their own. First-hand experience is essential in this field. Don’t settle for less.
Second, it wouldn’t hurt to fact check a few things on your own. Never rely blindly on what you read. Always call and confirm the information on your own. Guide books and magazines are a great starting point, but with access changing at a such a rapid pace, it’s best to call to confirm things for yourself.
And finally if something just doesn’t seem right, don’t be afraid to question your source. After all, it’s your vacation on the line.
Of course the Amazing Race is not real life, but merely a television reality show crafted to mimic real life situations. Although misinformation can be troublesome to Amazing Race competitors, it can be devastating to travelers who rely on access modification to buildings, transportation and public spaces. Don’t let a lazy journalist ruin your vacation plans! Always ask questions.