10 dumb things I've done while travelling

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First published 4th November, 2010

Travelling is a liberating experience. Whatever worries or headaches you may have disappear (or more likely are postponed) as you walk through the departure gate and you're free to throw yourself at a brand new environment bereft of identity and free from any restraint. This freedom can be just as exhilarating as it can be intoxicating. Here's ten that fall into the latter.


Because you're overseas you should get drunk as much as possible

Run over by a car in London, stabbed in London, bottled on Ko Phi Phi and nearly impaled by a fence in Sapa — they're the ones I'll own up to — all go hand in hand with drinking too much. Way too much. Just because beer is a tenth of the price of at home, doesn't mean you should drink ten times as much.

The roads are soft in Asia

In case you didn't know, bitumen in Asia is much softer than in the west. That is why it is not necessary to wear a motorbike helmet, nor long pants, not a shirt or shoes. Really you should just motorbike in your speedos or bikini. That way you'll be guaranteed to have the best gravel rash scars to show off. Falling off a motorbike in Phayao when you're not wearing a helmet really really really hurts. Really.

Yes, this man is an idiot

If you get on enough boats that look like they'll sink, one will

Being on a boat that is sinking may sound like fodder for great stories, and to an extent it is, but at the time it isn't so cool. How far can you really swim? Fully clothed? How far can you swim while trying to hold a bag above your head? How far can you swim holding a camera and a bag above your head? Believe me it will be a shorter distance than you think. If you get in an overloaded boat, being driven by a local who is obviously drunk and stoned, to navigate even a short distance in dangerous seas, from, say for example Ko Bulon Lae to the Thai coast, you deserve to end up in the water.

It's perfectly ok to ride a motorbike while drunk

This sort of ties in with the first point. But if you ride a motorbike while drunk in Bali, you'll most likely have an accident and even if you're lucky enough to not harm anyone else, you'll at least injure yourself (and even if you don't manage that, expect a veritable bollocking from your significant other).

Always argue with police officers, especially in Asia

The best way to prove you are smarter than the average police officer is to argue with them. They'll respect you more. Especially if you call them stupid and corrupt. Double especially in Cambodia. By the time they're finished with you you'll be hoping they're corrupt just so you can get the hell out of there.

Drugs are cool

Just because it's cool to grow pot in Canberra doesn't mean it's cool to smoke pot in Asia. Sure in some places you can get away with it, but the Vietnamese Embassy in Vientiane, Laos is not one of those places. If you get caught, expect a best case scenario of having to pay a lot of money — maybe just stay in Canberra.

Travel insurance is for punks

Real travellers don't need travel insurance. It is a waste of money. Real travellers are totally self aware. Anyway, the travel insurance companies never pay out. Tell yourself that when you're on a beach in Cabo San Lucas left with nothing but a camping stove, a sleeping bag and the Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Always take the cheapest airline

When we hit the bottom of the drop and the oxygen masks tumbled out amid a frenzied environment of flying dutyfree booze and cigarettes, the SwissAir flight from Bangkok to Singapore seemed to be really worth the extra $8 that I'd saved by grabbing a Biman DC-10. I still can't look at a Biman jet without cringing.

Always argue with customs officers

As with the police point above, be sure to be as obnoxious as you can manage. This is especially helpful when travelling from Canada to the US — say on a flight from Toronto Montreal to Boston. They'll be especially responsive if you look like you've just run out of Death Valley, are wearing bright purple tie dye pants and have a six inch beard. The cavity search will forever be a travel memory you can treasure.

It is the principle

It doesn't matter that you've spent the last thirty minutes beating down the rickshaw driver in Jaipur over what is effectively five cents. It is the principle dammit. Stand your ground. Who does that guy think he is? You must get everything for a local price, even though you are not, well, a local.

Take a breath

Travel is fabulous — life changing for many. But without wanting to sound like your Mum, please stay in control and treat others with the respect you expect yourself.

P.S. Nearly all of the above happened years and years ago ... I'm much more sensible now ... really.


About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton and he spends most of his time in Bali, Indonesia.


Read 11 comment(s)

  • Some very good points! It never ceases to amaze me how we throw common sense out the window when away from home. Am I guilty of it? Well... I did question my sanity as I toured through Vietnam on the back of a motorbike wearing little in the way of protection - shorts, flip fops and a T-shirt will do very little when it comes to the crunch. At least I wore a helmet.

    PS... Nice make-up job! She is an artist in the making!

    Posted by Lisa on 5th November, 2010

  • Really enjoyed the article and laughed a lot. I recognize some of your ordeals.

    Posted by Arne Kuilman on 5th November, 2010

  • I've done my fair share of stupid things abroad. Lesson learned I guess.

    Posted by Michael on 5th November, 2010

  • haha just saw this threw twitter and read them all. Made me laugh, I am sure many have of the items on the list.

    Posted by SHABL on 5th November, 2010

  • wow, great stuff, I honestly felt like i was back there doing every single one of those mistakes over again.

    Maybe this video will make you feel the same, im sure it will :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3Iu2OXdYjU

    Posted by backpackmaniac on 6th November, 2010

  • This is the best thing i've ever read on Travelfish.

    Posted by christay2009 on 6th November, 2010

  • I wonder what happens if ou fart during a cavity search?

    Posted by Rufus on 8th November, 2010

  • I'm sure taking that moto from Sen Monorom to Ban Lung should be in there somewhere. I seem to remember you complaining at length about the tenderness of your arse.

    Posted by dongphuvieng on 8th November, 2010

  • Glorious list. Might add:

    Locals have no clue!

    Posted by BangkokDan on 9th November, 2010

  • sounds like each of these could be its own written tale! (please?) ;)

    Posted by andylarke on 4th December, 2010

  • Would love to hear more about the laos drug story and the sinking ship!

    Posted by Marcus on 5th August, 2011

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