Here's to you, the boneheads, the scoundrels, the I'm-going-to-act-however-I-please-no-matter-how-it-affects-other-people travellers. We've compiled the year's weirdest tales in travel for Globe Travel's 29th Annual Hall of Infamy Awards.
The Making His Mark Award
… goes to a Chinese schoolboy who was so moved by his visit to the Luxor Temple that he scratched, "Ding Jinhao was here," in Chinese characters onto a wall lined with 3,500-year-old hieroglyphics. Subsequent visitors from his home country spotted the scrawl and posted photos and outraged comments online, triggering an e-search for the naughty defacer. When he was traced to China's Jiangsu Province, his chagrined parents quickly issued a national apology. No word from the boy himself, who may have lost his Weibo access for more than a week as punishment.
The Leaving on a High Note Award
… goes to the female passenger on an American Airlines service from Los Angeles to New York who insisted on warbling Whitney Houston songs at the top of her lungs. Fellow passengers were left fondly recalling those flights where babies scream their heads off while the plane was diverted to Kansas City to deal with what authorities later called a "very unruly passenger." Restrained and cuffed by an onboard air marshal, the karaoke queen was escorted through the airport by two grim-faced officers – whilst belting out her hackle-raising rendition of I Will Always Love You.
The Worst Use of a Fire Extinguisher Award
… goes to 20-year-old Joseph Small, who startled hotel staff monitoring CCTV screens at the Premier Inn near London's Leicester Square 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 Bangladeshi staffer who rushed to wrap him in a towel, he urinated in front of tourists while shouting – presumably to explain his behaviour – "I come from Sheffield in England." Courts later gave him a curfew and a fine, and he stated he was "truly ashamed of himself."
The Duly Restrained Passenger Award
… goes to the drunken first-class flyer on a LOT Polish Airlines flight to Toronto from Warsaw who, in a rage at being denied more booze, attempted to storm the cockpit and strangle the crew. Desperate for assistance to subdue the man, an attendant approached the plane's largest passenger, only to find that he was an off-duty police officer and a goalie with Justice Hockey Canada, and that the rest of his 17-member team – all cops – was also on board. The officers took control of the situation and restrained the man in a seat, averting an emergency landing.
The Morning After Award
… goes to a fuzzy-headed Italian tourist at this year's Munich Oktoberfest who spent a burptastic night chugging Bavaria's finest liquid asset – then awoke the next day completely oblivious to where he'd parked his Volkswagen Golf. The hapless 40-year-old spent hours trundling the tramlines looking for his ride, later pinning flyers around the city and offering a $390 reward for its recovery. After five weeks and three return trips from his South Tyrol home, he got lucky: A local spotted the vehicle. The Italian was reunited with his wheels, no doubt triggering a night of partying and a possible long walk home.
The Rapper of the Year Award
… goes to the Air India pilot who posted a YouTube video of himself in uniform "singing" a self-penned ditty that, for some reason, did not go down well with his employers. The expletive-heavy tune has been viewed more than 225,000 times online and includes lyrics such as: "It's been more than five months since I haven't got paid" and "The news is everywhere, the airline is in a mess." Describing the video as "immature," Air India said it was investigating. The pilot, meanwhile, is mulling an album and a possible tour.
The Ignore the Velvet Rope Award
… goes to a group of young Russian photographers who waited until closing time at Giza's Great Pyramid – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – then scaled its 137-metre stepped exterior to the summit. But they were not just taking cheeky selfies. Instead, the unconventional Egyptologists shot some breathtaking panoramas of the desert-fringed district, including the dusk-lit Sphinx and several surrounding pyramids. Now, Egypt's government officially banned pyramid climbing in the 1980s – but the stealthy climbers probably knew that already.
The Creative Use of Gourds Award
… goes to an airline passenger arrested at Montreal's Trudeau International Airport when two kilograms of drugs were found stuffed in some pumpkins in her luggage. The substance was believed to be cocaine, but since the offence took place around Halloween an even more addictive substance – sugar – was not immediately ruled out. The International Alliance of Drug Mules (an organization I just made up) has since criticized the woman for not diverting attention by dressing as a sexy witch or naughty nurse.
The Cereal Traveller Award
… goes to cornflake-loving Brit, Mick Hobday, who told London's Daily Mail that his main motivation for spending $64,000 to travel to 63 countries in 10 years was to sample his favourite cereal in as many international varieties as possible. The 33-year-old flake muncher, who claims to have scoffed 4,000 bowls of brekkie goodness around the globe, says he likes to buy the local brands and take photos of himself eating them in situ. His favourite breakfast spots include Turkey, Egypt and Germany – which is fair enough since there's obviously nothing else to do in those little-known places.
The Maple Leaf Award for Travel Excellence
… goes to Justin Bieber, Canada's favourite export (i.e. we don't want him back). The bouffant-haired Biebs hogged tabloid headlines wherever his spoiled entourage landed this year. Not content with allegedly urinating in buckets in public or smuggling his pet monkey into Germany, the uber-brat attempted a spot of oh-so-rebellious graffiti tagging on walls from Brazil to Australia. In the latter, his Gold Coast hotel gushed about the impromptu art bestowed on them – while the local mayor said he would be immediately supplying the popster with a graffiti removal kit.
The It Wasn't Me Award
… goes to a U.S. tourist at Florence's Museo dell'Opera del Duomo who took a closer look at the museum's priceless 14th-century Vergine e all'Angelo Annunciatore statue. The unnamed American was reportedly attempting to measure the figure's little finger when it broke off. Museum head Timothy Verdun accepted his apology, but felt it necessary to remind visitors: "The fundamental rules for visiting a museum have been forgotten – that is, 'do not touch the works.'"
The Get A Room Award
… goes to the "former vintner and salon technician" on an Allegiant Air flight to Las Vegas who felt inspired to share their love with fellow flyers. Or, as they later pleaded guilty to in court: exposing themselves and engaging in oral sex and "other acts" in full view of appalled passengers. An attendant persuaded the amorous couple to cool off during the drinks service, after which they reportedly indulged in an encore. According to Oregon's Mail Tribune newspaper, one passenger complained: "This is not the sex education I wanted to give my teenage sons."
The Girls Aren't Everything Award
… goes to 19-year-old Joe Stuttle, a British backpacker who left his bike, passport and personal belongings at a notorious Tasmanian suicide spot – then headed off to party with some young women he'd just met. When he returned the next morning, everything was gone but – handily – a large contingent of police officers was nearby. Reporting his missing possessions, the teen discovered the authorities were just about to begin a large-scale ground search for him. Stuttle's parents later told the Daily Mirror: "Anyone who knows Joe will not be in the least bit surprised by this story – we certainly weren't."
The You Think You're So Clever Award
… goes to U.S. TV producer Elan Gale, who kept the Twittersphere engrossed with a live blow-by-blow account of his battle with Diane, a fellow passenger on his Thanksgiving flight who was rude to attendants and everyone around her. Their spat swiftly escalated – he sent a note telling her to eat a part of his anatomy and she later slapped him – while thousands giddily retweeted everything as it unfolded. Several days later, Gale – who accrued 150,000 Twitter followers during the argument – admitted he had made the whole thing up. In a rare show of social media unity, the entire Internet curled its lip and called him a jerk.
The Traveller's Revenge Award
… goes to Steph Strayer, a passenger travelling on a train from Philadelphia who endured two hours of noisy cellphone chatter from a group of men bragging loudly about fooling their "stupid wives" over their multiple affairs. Bored with the blowhards, Strayer snapped a photo of one of them and posted it on Facebook along with a caption that started, "If this is your husband … " and went on to describe his swaggering boasts. She asked followers to repost, and the image was eventually viewed by 183,000 people. No word on whether one of them was the wife in question, waiting for the lothario at the next stop.
The Heavy Sleeper Award
… goes to drowsy United Express passenger Tom Wagner. When the first part of his two-leg trip to California ended as scheduled in Houston – where Wagner was due to change planes – he was soundly snoozing in his seat. As passengers and crew disembarked, no one thought to rouse Wagner and he later awoke alone in a silent and dark airplane that now had its doors locked. Wagner called his incredulous girlfriend on his cellphone, the airline was alerted and he was found 30 minutes later. Apologizing for the inconvenience and offering minimal compensation, United Express refused to comment on whether flight attendants would be issued with new glasses from now on.
The What's Your Real Name Award
… goes to Sydney-based Peter Hook, a senior communications executive at Accor hotels, who posted critical TripAdvisor reviews of other hotels under a pseudonym. He wrote about an InterContinental "which was stuck in a time warp and rather expensive" and a Hyatt where "the very ordinary bar food, high prices and ordinary service didn't match the music or the light show." But he was not always damning. He loved one property where "staff were fantastic and friendly" and another where "it was noticeable that families from the adjacent Hilton and Sheraton hotels were sneaking in to use the pool." Coincidentally, these glowing commentaries were for Accor properties. When his handiwork was discovered, Hook stood by his "reasonable" appraisals. TripAdvisor said: "All reviews posted by this member are being removed pending investigation."
The Just a Little Bit Farther Award
… goes to Wang Shun Xue, who was determined to get the perfect photo on his trip to Zambia's spectacular Victoria Falls. Snapping away happily, the camera-loving visitor was so focused on the task at hand he did not notice how close he was to the edge of one of the world's largest waterfalls – until he fell in. Spokesman John Zulu later told the AFP news agency that he was "lucky" to drop only 15 metres: The falls plunge 108 metres at their deepest point. Sustaining just a few bruises when landing on some rocks, the 45-year-old had a quick medical then continued with his trip, presumably keeping one eye on his feet until safely back home.
The I Will Not Steal Award
… goes to the booze-addled wedding guest at Sacramento's Citizen Hotel who removed a tasteful portrait of a woman riding a cigar from a washroom wall and slipped it into his bag before heading for the exit. Unfortunately for the thief, hotel manager Barent Larkin caught the whole thing on CCTV, used Google and LinkedIn to track him down and then phoned him up. "He sounded legitimately upset about what he did," Larkin told CBS Sacramento. The police later retrieved the artwork, while the snatcher agreed to Larkin's demand that he hand-write lines of the following statement: "I will not get drunk at a wedding and go steal the naked picture of a woman on a cigar over the urinal in the Citizen Hotel."
The Baggage Handlers with Baggage Award
… goes to luggage luggers at Australia's Perth Airport, who allegedly used bag stickers to form the words "I am gay" on a Jetstar passenger's red suitcase. The man was shocked when his case rolled off the conveyor belt first with the unexpected commentary appended in large white letters. Married with two children, he confirmed the bizarre story to Australia's Fairfax Media, adding that, while he had put the incident down to "idle hands," he did not want anyone fired over the sticker-based heckle. Jetstar, meanwhile, promised a "thorough investigation."