Travel misdemeanors are committed on every flight and during every hotel stay, and even the most honest and restrained travelers have probably committed some minor offense at one time or another. Case in point: A survey by Hipmunk found that fully 60 percent of travelers admitted to nicking food from the hotel breakfast.
The survey includes some less familiar sins — a question about eating “non-FDA-approved foods, like certain French cheeses” seems stripped from a comedy routine — but otherwise many of us will recognize ourselves and fellow travelers alike in confessions of getting up when the seatbelt sign is on, swiping a hotel towel, plundering the cleaning staff cart and under-reporting the number of guests when making a hotel reservation.
Even if we’re not among the worst offenders, all of us are likely a bit guilty of behaving badly from time to time in our own travels. Here is a small sample of stories shared by my own friends and family that prove that “travelers behaving badly” stories never really land that far from home.
Please Don’t Touch in the Museum
A few years back, I met a friend from the West Coast for a prowl around New York City, including a stop at the Museum of Modern Art, which includes many famous paintings on permanent display. We went up to the fifth floor to see Monet’s “Water Lilies,” which as you may know can be an overwhelming experience when viewed in person. My friend stood well back from the painting, then got closer, and closer, and closer, until he was inches from the painting. A security guard was watching (as was I), but surely thought (as did I), “Nah, this guy isn’t going to touch it” … and then the two of us watched as up came his hand, as if in slow motion, and he put a finger right on the painting.
When the security guard blasted over to him, my friend was so surprised and apologetic that the guard just left it at a brief scolding, and we scurried off.
A Connecticut surgeon visiting Florence was not so lucky, however, as a similar (albeit more damaging) mistake resulted in an arrest when the man broke a finger off a centuries-old statue.
A Chinese teenager made headlines a few years back by scratching out “Ding Jinhao was here” on an artifact at the Luxor Temple in Egypt. Scandal ensued, and his parents made a public apology.
Modesty Is the Best Policy
A couple of decades back, a family member was a caretaker at a spectacular lighthouse hostel in California. The lighthouse had a two-person hot tub overlooking the ocean, with a sign reminding guests that, despite the au naturel location, bathing suits were required. Each night lighthouse staff would venture into the area and crash around a bit to telegraph their presence — lest things got a little too hot in the tub.
Disrobing in a semi-public hot tub seems mild in comparison to the apparently longtime tourist fad for getting naked at Machu Picchu, which resulted in arrests and the establishment of new rules in Peru.
If you are considering joining this club, you might want to ask yourself first if you want your name in the news describing a new public nudity law. There are plenty of places it is accepted and even encouraged for people to appear in the buff; ancient ruins and the hot tub fellow guests are going to use right after you don’t have to be among those. Please — keep your pants on.
Booze and Travel Can Be a Bad Mix
A close friend was traveling on a very early New Year’s morning flight, having celebrated a bit the night before — always a dangerous combination. She navigated her way through the airport and the boarding process without any trouble, but soon after take-off, just as the seatbelt signs were turned off, she wasn’t feeling well and got up to go to the restroom.
Her next memory is a view under the seats of her fellow passengers from her new vantage point of lying face down in the aisle, surrounded by flight attendants.
“I think I got a little motion sickness,” she told the flight attendants looking down at her.
“Yes, that must be it, dear,” one attendant said diplomatically. They helped her back to her seat, where she gratefully slept it off.
A survey conducted by Triposo found that 60 percent of respondents had partaken in some sort of misbehavior fueled by alcohol. It’s not hard to imagine why the docket of “travelers behaving badly” naturally includes a lot of folks who imbibed a bit (or a lot) too much; people do a lot of things when intoxicated that they wouldn’t even think about when sober.
As Ernest Hemingway (no stranger to either travel or alcohol) said, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
To compile a list of travelers behaving badly under the influence would require its own website, but sometimes the outcome is all too appropriate — like the guy who passed out on a luggage belt and traveled around the airport like a lost bag.
Air Travelers Behaving Badly
When you are out in the world, whether messing up priceless artwork, running around with no clothes or getting inebriated, other people can usually turn away to go live the rest of their lives without you and your antics.
This isn’t possible on a plane. All those other people are trapped in a small canister with you until the pilot tells them they can leave. If there is one place to be on your best behavior, this is it.
It’s not always that easy.
A family in my neighborhood had three children at fairly wide intervals, resulting in the household having a teenager, a middle schooler and a preschooler all at the same time. As a result, the preschooler was exposed to some things that not all preschoolers might be — including the television program “Family Guy.”
If you were to click rapidly past the show, you could easily think it was a kid’s cartoon, but if you watch it for any interval, you realize it is anything but. The teenager in this family liked the show and sneaked in views while the preschooler absorbed it all.
Fast forward to the next family trip, when the preschooler is parroting the worst of “Family Guy,” blaring “SHUT UP, YOU @#$%&” over and over while boarding the plane. The harried parents are trying to get three kids and all their carry-ons onto the plane as quickly as possible so one of them can sit next to the little one and explain why it is inappropriate to repeat stuff he saw on television. Oof.
How to know where to draw the line between making yourself comfortable on a plane and becoming a nuisance? For me, it comes down to common courtesy — like not reclining your seat unless everyone is sleeping, not bothering seatmates with unwanted small talk and keeping your stuff within the bounds of your own armrests.
Let’s face it, if you end up like this guy — who was duct taped to his own seat after an out-of-control rampage — you probably went too far.
And Yes, I Was “That Guy” Myself
On an overseas trip a few years ago, I figured out shortly after checking my bags that I did not have my passport. I had been dropped off by my family, so called on my cell phone to let them know; since we had arrived at the airport pretty early, there was a slim chance they could get home and back before the flight took off. Long story short, by the time I got to the gate, the airplane doors had already been closed, and baggage handling staffers were standing outside the door bemoaning the fact that they were going to have to unload the whole plane to get my bags off.
As I came running up, they knew immediately that I was that guy, and they sent me sprinting down the boarding ramp. Everyone else on the plane was seated and buckled in, and got a really good look at the guy who had held up the plane — me. Talk about stink eye.
Despite the glares, I do take solace that I wasn’t among these 21 absurdly inconsiderate airline passengers — yeesh!
Which travel sins have you committed?