Traveling Etiquette For Dummies

4 Jul


I’ve got some articles that I wrote a couple of years ago from my travel writing class that I just dug up on the old hard drive, and thought I’d share them. Some are kind of stupid, and some are a little bit entertaining. Either way, it’s cool to see the progression in writing and the change in the style. Here’s an article called “Traveling Etiquette For Dummies,” a bit of a sophomoric look at group travel. Enjoy.

Often times people will come up to me and ask, “Jon, can you give me some tips on traveling?” My initial response will usually be, “Who are you and why are you talking to me?” but after a minute or two I agree to dish out the advice. In my life I’ve learned some important things, and I’d like to share a few of them with you. Today’s lesson is on etiquette while traveling abroad with a group. There are many things that the common traveler can do that would anger others in a group while traveling, whether it be arriving late for a bus, waking up an entire hotel in a drunken stupor, or just plain old exhibiting youthful ignorance to the elderly travelers. Now I know what you may be thinking: “I’ve traveled in groups before and I have no idea what you’re talking about. There were never any problems.” Well, you sir, are an idiot. Sorry, I kid, I kid. But seriously, listen to me, my innocent reader, and I will teach you how to not disrupt the peace while on vacation with strangers.

I recently traveled to Sicily for spring break with a travel writing and photojournalism class. Spring break—a time when weary students head home to rest, catch up on a good book, and help the community. Wait, no that’s not right. Let me try that again. Spring break—a time when students head to exotic locations to learn about travel journalism and drink enough alcohol to kill a baby rhino. As a student myself, I felt comfortable with the other kids on the trip. I knew we would be able to bond on at least some level, and if not we would let the wine take care of it. A night of wine drinking can make closer friends than a half of a semester of classes can, as was proven by the second night on the island. The older couples that went along with us were wonderful, and I can’t say enough about them. That is to say, I know nothing about them. They stuck to their side of the bus, and we stuck to ours. We got along well enough, and I’d like to think that we didn’t scare them too much.

I didn’t want to scare anyone on this trip. I just wanted to learn how to do some writing, take some photos, and see the beauty that is Italy. Now, while I don’t think I alone ever angered or bothered the adults, there were some times that certain characters I’ve been known to associate with in Sicily may have done so. Let me introduce you to some of these characters. First we have Chaz, a loveable teddy bear of a man with a rough beard and a heart of gold. Chaz likes to say what’s on his mind, but he does so without intentionally trying to hurt anyone. Next we have Chaz’s roommate, Justin. Justin likes wine and long walks on the beach. Well, that’s a half truth, but who’s keeping track? Lastly we have Marissa, a saucy Italiana who speaks fluent Italian. Anyone else that is mentioned is just as important, but they are only in here as supporting roles.

So, now we can get to the juicy stuff that those fat-cats over at the journalism department don’t want you to know about. Our first incident takes place early in the morning in Céfalu. Everyone was ready to go on the bus, except for two: Chaz and Justin were no where to be found. I had banged on their door for a few minutes, praying something would stir from the other side, but nothing happened. Rick, our photography professor and trip organizer, had one rule—do not be late for the bus. I knew there would be dire consequences. I returned to the bus and told everyone I had no idea where they were, but that wasn’t entirely true. Only hours before we had all been in their room, drinking wine, talking, laughing. We had spent a long time in the basement of the hotel at the Blu Bar, dancing and having fun. Later, we decided an after-party until about 2 a.m. was a good idea. I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone was too drunk to wake up. Somewhere in the back of my head I was sure they were still passed out on their beds, completely immovable. Rosa, our tour guide, called their room and told them politely to get outside immediately or the bus was leaving.

Finally Rick decided we’d waited long enough, and ordered our bus driver, Mario, to start driving. Moving as slowly as the bus would allow, we headed out, all looking back at the hotel trying to see them. All hope was gone. But wait! Running out of the front doors, confused and disoriented, were Chaz and Justin. A scream went in the air to stop the bus. They hobbled up the steps and wheezed heart-felt apologies into the microphone. Their punishment: to wear watches featuring the donkey from the movie Shrek the entire day, no matter where we went. Those watches came to be known as the “ass-watches”. A fitting consequence considering the situation.

While I’m sure most of the kids on the bus were just glad that the guys had made it, I can’t help but think the adults were more concerned with the fact that they were being held up. You have to remember, the older couples paid just as much as we did and didn’t want to miss out on seeing things because of hung-over students. It was our trip, but it was also theirs. They knew we would be drinking. After all, it was spring break. Still, there had to be limits, and this was learned the hard way.

So to recap, drinking wine can be fun, but you have to keep it in check. Make sure to always have at least two alarm clocks set, and if you think you might sleep in a little, set it early. Also, if you tend to black out drunk, at least pass out on the bus so when you wake up you are already where you need to be. Got it? Good.

Our next incident came on our first night in Taormina. The night started innocently enough, sharing bottles of wine at the hotel and going over some writing. Around 10 p.m. we headed into town to check out the local watering hole and mingle with the common folk. We found ourselves a great little pub called Red Bastoni. Apparently that name has something to do with tarot or Magic the Gathering, but that wasn’t what concerned us. Good beer and a good atmosphere was what drew us in and kept us coming back every night. That, and the fact that one of the bartenders looked like Johnny Depp, so of course the ladies had to stay for a while. The greatest thing about this bar? The liter beers. I commented to Justin how badly I wanted my mug, so he told me to just hide mine when I was done and we’d come back for it later. It was fool-proof.

We met many people there, and Marissa was talking with a man who was friends with the owner of the bar. Marissa and her new friend spoke for several hours in Italian, breaking the record for most hand gestures used. After many hours of consuming, it was time to leave. With a gentle March rain cooling us on the walk back, we laughed and yelled, probably waking up the neighbors. I had my mug, but Justin had forgotten his, so he ran back to grab it. I don’t know if it was the fact that we had just stolen the mugs, or the fact that Justin ran down the street yelling happily, “I got it! I got it!” or the man we came to know yelling “Ladro!” which means thief in Italian, but something seemed wrong about this. Eh, I’ll deal with it in the morning, I thought.

When we got back to the hotel we began post-gaming. This means we opened another bottle of wine and began belligerently yelling. Justin and Marissa were sitting outside and we were taking multiple pictures of them, yelling and laughing. We were completely oblivious and loving life, and nothing could stop us. Then it happened. From a few floors up on some balcony out of sight, an old woman began yelling in broken Italian-English at us. What she said cannot be repeated, but it went something along the lines of “Please shut up, I am trying to get sleep. Thank you.” Suddenly reality became real. It dawned on us that we had just woken up the entire hotel, and we knew this was a very bad thing. The party was over. We went to bed and knew we’d have to face the consequences in the morning.

As expected, everyone looked at us like we were a bunch of lewd alcoholics. For some reason though, Chaz and Justin became the patsies, and took the blame for everyone else’s actions. They were late once before and now everything else that went wrong would be related to them somehow. Still, we were all guilty. I felt bad leaving my friends in the trenches taking grenades, but I was glad I wasn’t being chewed out. Now that we’d woken up the adults, I felt like there was no chance of forgiveness. We’d done the ultimate no-no. You do not, I repeat, DO NOT, mess with people’s sleep, especially when they are old and wake up early.

So, to recap again, when traveling in a group, do not risk the security of everyone by stealing liter glasses from the bar you continue to go back to night after night. If you do choose to steal from said bar, do not run through the streets yelling that “you have it.” If you go back to the hotel to drink more, for the courtesy of everyone else, don’t wake up the old lady, who then wakes everyone else up. It’s just rude. I hope these stories and tips have helped you out. I just wish someone had told me this stuff before I went abroad, but hey, if you wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs. Good luck abroad, and remember, if you ever get in a sticky situation, just pretend you don’t understand what they’re saying.

-March, 2006

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