Many people dream of travelling the world, but most cannot do it right now - it's something they plan to do when they have saved enough money, or the kids have grown up, or the mortgage is paid off. But if you're not content to wait that long, what can you do to get the globe-trotting experience right now? Well, why not send something else in your place and follow its adventures online? That's an option made available by the people behind ToyVoyagers.com: their members have been sending stuffed toys on global adventures since 2005. The website tracks 'ToyVoyagers' - travelling toys whose adventures are blogged on the website in the form of photos and written updates. The site has developed into a vibrant community with members from around the globe hosting, swapping and releasing ToyVoyagers to help them to travel the world.
To get started all you need is a stuffed toy, a camera, Internet access and a bit of imagination. You register your toy on the website and it becomes an official ToyVoyager – it gets a unique ID number, a profile page and a travelogue, on which its adventures will be recorded. When you create the profile, you also set Life Missions – goals that your ToyVoyager would like to achieve during its lifetime. Members often base these on the type of toy being used (for example, a rabbit might aim to be pulled from a magician's hat in a show), others set missions representing things that they would like to accomplish themselves. Below are some life missions in use by ToyVoyagers on the website:
- Sample food from every continent in the world
- Go hang-gliding in the Pyrenees
- Witness the Aurora Borealis
- Be photographed with Des Lynam1
Once your ToyVoyager is registered, what happens next is up to you – you can:
- Take it around with you and update its travelogue yourself
- Release it into the wild for somebody to find at random
- Pass it on to somebody you know
- Ask other site members to 'host' it, and then post your ToyVoyager directly to them
One way of helping your ToyVoyager travel is by appealing for hosts via the website's forum. Potential hosts then add their names and the resulting list of members becomes your ToyVoyager's travel itinerary. You can also ask for help with completing specific Life Missions - for instance a member from London might offer to help your ToyVoyager to complete a mission to visit Buckingham Palace. As each person writes journal entries for your ToyVoyager, the travelog gradually builds into an online diary of its adventures. Anybody can create their own ToyVoyager - the website is free to use.
The idea of travelling toys is nothing new; the stories of the world-famous Paddington Bear date back as far as 1956 and today a travelling toy is commonplace in primary school classes, accompanying children on their holidays. However, ToyVoyagers founders Isobel and Neil say their moment of inspiration for the website came after watching the film Amélie. The central character, Amélie, discovers a secret tin hidden in a flat years previously by a young boy. She then sets about tracking down the boy (now grown up), to reunite him with his childhood treasures. A combination of chance, goodwill and determination means that something that was previously 'lost' finds its way back to its original owner. Isobel says:
We loved this idea, but were not sure whether we could reproduce it in real life. Would somebody really take on this kind of mission if they happened to discover something similar? We wanted to find out for ourselves but needed a way to make people want to get involved.
An answer seemed to come later when the film makes reference to the classic 'Travelling Gnome' prank - a garden gnome is 'stolen' and sent travelling around the world. The gnome sends holiday photos back to his perplexed owner, before finally returning home. Putting the two concepts together, Isobel and Neil decided to use stuffed toys as the travelling objects, to give them character and allow them to travel in their own right. Messages would be attached to the toys to encourage their finders to write updates about their journeys.
They created the website as a tracking system and attached identification labels to one hundred toys, releasing them into the wild over several weekends in late 2005 / early 2006. They were delighted with the response - not only did people finding the toys visit the website, some of the ToyVoyagers were treated to truly epic journeys.
A wild release involves leaving the ToyVoyager sitting somewhere for someone to find at random, which means its travels are left entirely to chance. When someone finds it, they read the ToyVoyager's travel tag, which shows its unique ID number along with a short message directing the person to the ToyVoyagers website. Once there they will be able to write an update on its travelogue and upload photos of its adventures. The wild release concept is also found on other websites, most notably BookCrossing, whose members leave books in public places, to be picked up and read by others.
The most successful 'wild release' ToyVoyager to date has travelled more than 55,000 miles after being originally set free on the walls of Norwich Castle. Inevitably, some ToyVoyagers that are released do not have their travelogs updated immediately and seem to disappear. But apparently you shouldn't give up hope if this happens - according to the website a ToyVoyager is never 'lost' it is just 'travelling'. As long as it has its ID number attached, there is still a chance that it will resurface again in the future. So far the longest time between a ToyVoyager release and subsequent travelogue update is about one and-a-half years.
ToyVoyagers have now visited more than 115 countries and have been photographed at most of the world's major landmarks, racking up more than five million miles between them. They have travelled the Inca Trail in Peru, scaled the mighty Kilimanjaro, marvelled at the Taj Mahal, plunged the depths of the Grand Canyon, gazed at Paris from the Eiffel Tower and stood at the edge of Icelandic glaciers, to name but a few of their achievements.
So if your travel plans are on hold, why not try sending a ToyVoyager out there instead? They're going places - even if you won't be for a while.