With travel mostly off the agenda in 2020, why not remember a time when vacationing was far simpler? A time when you could accidentally drive your rental car down Rome’s Spanish Steps or drunkenly use your prosthetic leg as an inflight weapon.
The Globe’s annual Travel Hall of Infamy Awards has been charting the finest examples of terrible tourist behaviour since 1985. And while 2020 hasn’t been much of a laughing matter, we’ve dived headfirst into the archive to bring you the greatest hits of the past few decades. Let’s hope we’ll all be back on the road again soon, but until then here’s a reminder of how not to travel.
The Model Behaviour Award
…goes to the Swedish fashion model who, in 2006, waved a bottle of wine and danced wildly on her seat aboard a British Airways London to New York flight. Passengers helped restrain her while staff tied her to the seat. The plane was diverted to Goose Bay, Labrador, where she was arrested, jailed for seven days and hit with a hefty fine. She put the blame squarely on the airline. “They provide you with free alcohol on the plane,” she said. “What do you expect?”
The Entitled Hitchhiker Award
…goes to the 27-year-old French visitor to New Zealand in 2016 who, after exhausting the charms of Punakaiki village (population: 70), tried thumbing a lift southward. After four fruitless days, he began abusing passing motorists, throwing road signs around and stoning the Welcome to Punakaiki sign. “He was lying on the road screaming that New Zealanders were [jerks] and he couldn’t wait to get back to Europe,” one local said. His hoped-for exit was delayed, though, by police charges and a temporary passport confiscation.
The One More Reason Water Shouldn’t Be Free Award
…goes to an American traveller who flew to Brazil in 2004, intending to meet up and spend Carnival with his girlfriend. When a crying infant kept him from sleeping on his flight, he asked an attendant for a glass of water, then poured it over the baby. According to press reports, fellow passengers “nearly lynched” him and applauded when he was arrested on arrival and barred from the country. His reflection later: “I think I overreacted a little.”
The Lion (Almost) Bites Back Award
…goes to the Serengeti National Park visitor who in 2018 was so beguiled by the cuddly big cats outside his tour truck window that he reached out to pet the nearest one. The 400-pound feline didn’t initially react – perhaps not used to having his ears scratched by a potential entrée – but he soon bared his razor-sharp teeth and released a blood-curdling roar. A ranger later told journalists the tourist could have been pulled from the window and eaten in front of his friends, which would have put a bit of a damper on the vacation.
The When in Rome Award
…goes to a 24-year-old Colombian traveller vacationing in Italy in 2007. While most Rome visitors are content to walk down the Eternal City’s iconic 300-year-old Spanish Steps, he drove his hired Toyota Celica from the top to the bottom. Police said he mistook the popular attraction for a road. He was charged with intoxicated driving and damaging the marble landmark.
The Schnozzle Stowaway Award
…goes to a Scottish backpacker who, in 2014, had a strangely blocked nose after returning from her Southeast Asia vacation. Back home, she felt the nasal mass moving. Using tweezers, a nurse later extracted a wriggling 7.5-centimetre leech that had likely been living up there for weeks. Explaining how long it took to discover her parasitic pal, the backpacker said, “Your initial reaction isn’t to start thinking, oh God, there’s obviously a leech in my face.”
The Lust of the Red Hot Lovers Award
…goes to a romantic couple who checked into the Holiday Inn Plaza Hotel in Hull, Que., on Valentine’s Day in 2000. After putting wine on ice and lighting candles in their room, they adjourned to the hotel bar. In their absence a candle tipped over and set the mattress on fire. By the time the smoke cleared, firefighters had ordered all rooms evacuated and two hotel employees were being treated for smoke inhalation.
The Half Legless Award
…goes to the drunken passenger on a Tunisia to Scotland flight in 2014 who was so incensed that her shouty demands for “cigarettes and a parachute” were being ignored that she removed her prosthetic leg and threw it at an attendant. Eventually restrained – after kicking at the crew with her remaining leg and allegedly slapping a nearby child for good measure – the plane was diverted to London Gatwick where police escorted her and her leg from the flight.
The Cat Out of the Bag Award
…goes to the passenger who, in 2008, accidentally took home the wrong suitcase from Dallas-Fort Worth airport. When he opened it to unpack, a live cat jumped out. “I screamed like a little girl,” he said later. Phoning a number on its collar, he reached the miffed moggy’s owners who informed him that the cat had hidden in the bag before one of them left for a flight to Texas. In the meantime, the family had torn out bathroom tiles and part of a cabinet to find the AWOL animal.
The Just Following Directions Award
…goes to an elderly woman who believed she was complying with the instructions on signposts when, in 2004, she returned her rental car to the airport in Boise, Idaho. After driving into the terminal through the automatic doors, she continued past the baggage-claim area and came to a full and complete stop directly in front of the rental counter. No one was injured and no damage was reported.
The Moon’s a Balloon Award
…goes to a 21-year-old Welsh tourist who got too much liquid enjoyment on a 1999 excursion to the South African wine town of Stellenbosch. Returning with friends by bus, he removed his pants and “mooned” passing motorists. But the rear window through which he displayed his bare bottom suddenly gave way, dumping him half-naked onto a busy highway. He was treated in hospital for non-life-threatening injuries and a bad case of wounded pride.
The Old Lady Luck Award
…goes to the superstitious 80-year-old passenger on a 2017 China Southern Airlines flight who did what any nervous traveller hoping for a smooth ride would do while walking across the tarmac to her plane: tossed some coins into the engine for good luck. Maintenance crews scrambled to the scene at Shanghai Pudong International Airport as 150 passengers trudged back to the terminal. The woman later told police she had been “praying for safety.”
The Scent-of-a-Man Award
…goes to an 84-year-old German tourist who, in 1996, travelled around northeast Brazil for 42 days without bathing or changing his clothes. Police were called to Recife airport after an airline refused to fly him home. “He smelled so bad we couldn’t get within more than a few metres of him,” a police officer said. The man was allowed on the aircraft only after taking a shower and buying new clothes.
The Bruised Baubles Award
...goes to the Speedo-clad tourist on Maryland’s Assateague Island beach who, in 2019, ignored multiple warning signs about petting the area’s protected wild horses. A bystander’s video shows the carefree stroller walking among sunbathers before reaching out to pat the well-muscled behind of a handsome feral equine. In a lightning-fast reaction, a sharp hoof is rapidly dispatched into the man’s tender nether regions, sending him sprawling across the sand and ruing the fact he’d forgotten to pack his armour-plated banana hammock.
The Unfitting Behaviour Award
…goes to two Qantas first-class passengers on a 2012 Los Angeles to Melbourne flight. Prior to takeoff, they threw a tantrum when told there were no pyjamas available in their size (XL). Cabin crew offered alternative business-class PJs, but the couple demanded to leave. Offloading their luggage delayed the flight for 30 minutes. Expecting sympathy, the couple ordered the captain to announce the reason for the holdup – triggering a gale of laughter from fellow passengers.
The Reaching Rock Bottom Award
…goes to a 20-year-old hotel guest who startled staff monitoring CCTV screens at a London Premier Inn in 2013 by emerging from a storage cupboard naked with a fire extinguisher hose trailing from his buttocks. After urinating on the carpet and hurling racial abuse at a cleaner who rushed to wrap him in a towel, he urinated again in front of tourists while shouting – presumably to explain his behaviour – “I come from Sheffield in England.” Later fined, he stated he was “truly ashamed of himself.”
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