Sometimes, the hardest thing about travelling is other travellers…

Who you’re with can make or break a trip. Everyone knows that. You choose your travelling partner carefully and you respect them, just as you expect them to respect you, if you have any self respect, that is.

What makes travel harder are those travellers you don’t choose to travel with, yet end up in the company of, forced to listen to their drivel until your ears bleed. Take these more-irritating-than-a-sand-fly’s-bite ‘characters’ I’ve met so far (names and locations changed to protect (invariably thick-skinned) identities…

‘Ned Bin’, the constant talker of crap
Most people reminisce about touring Bolivia’s salt flats as a highlight of their trip. I remember it for Ned’s endless stream of ridiculous opinions. I quote:

  • To Craig, while discussing music: “All of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs were written by Art Garfunkel. It’s true. I heard him in an interview. He gets really upset when some people credit them to Paul Simon.” (Wrong wrong wrong! Paul Simon wrote most of their songs.)
  • Excerpt from one of many (rather one-way) conversations in our jeep:
    Ned: “George Bush was actually a good president. He really helped out with sending aid to Africa.”
    Me: “I heard that a lot of his aid tied the recipients to contracts with American firms, or put local farmers out of business because the incoming aid was sometimes more concerned with reducing surpluses in the United States rather than giving what was actually needed.”
    Ned: “I think you should do more research before you talk about things you don’t know about.”

The funniest thing is, Ned very rarely knew what he was talking about and he was never quiet. I actually took to timing his silences; in three days of sharing a jeep with Ned for at least 6 hours each day, the longest he kept his spouting-crap trap shut was 20 minutes. I kid you not. I have never been so grateful for my iPod.

‘Gabriel Gotcha’, the manipulative action man
Another case of being stuck in a too-confined space with a larger-than-life character, I encountered Gabe on a five-day confined traverse from Colombia to Panama.

Gabe was one of those men who excel at everything: skiing, snowboarding (and he had plenty of injury stories to prove his daring), dancing, choreography, scuba diving, coaching football, languages and, he had no doubt that if he ever wanted to quit his real job (which, incidentally, he was the top of his class in), teaching. The truth is, and I hate to admit, he was actually very good at most of these things. He just wasn’t shy of telling everyone…again, again, and again.

What Gabe was really good at, by his admission, was directing. Five days on a boat without an unattached female to impress is tough for men like Gabe. In the absence of impressionable women they need projects to occupy their egos. Gabe took it one stage further: he needed everyone on the boat involved in his project, whether we liked it or not.

This particular project was to film a spoof of Incredibad’s ‘I’m on a boat’. Everyone was scripted a part, including me and I hate this kind of thing. If I had been asked I wouldn’t have minded – I’d have just said no and got on with reading my book on deck and admiring deserted Caribbean islands. It was only when Gabe asked me to move to the other side of the boat so I wouldn’t be in the background of a scene being filmed inside the cabin that it got to me. I swam to the nearby island with my book, and spent the day reading on a deserted beach and swimming in a blue-green-aquamarine sea.

At this point Gabe realised I wasn’t into starring in music videos and got someone else to stand in for me. How sensitive of him.

The bit that really irritated me, though, was when Gabe wrapped up filming with: “Well done guys, that was really good. Sorry for being so bossy but sometimes that’s the only way to get things done.” Apologetic and diplomatic only when he got his own way.

Like everything else in Gabe’s life, the video was really rather good. But that’s not the point.

‘Jane Upman’, who always does it better
Jane thrived on making people jealous of her. She got to me because I truly was jealous of her, or, more accurately of one experience she had.

We met in a hostel. I told her I’d love to go a steamy local milonga to tango, but I didn’t know how to go about it. Later, we met in a free tango class offered by the hostel and giggled through it together. Afterwards I had a drink in the bar and watched her sneak out with the Argentine she had been dancing with.

The next day, as I prepared to check out of the hostel and had some urgent emailing to do, Jane flopped down and proceeded to tell me about her “amazing” night in a milonga, dancing until 4am; it was the best thing she’d done, ever. I didn’t encourage her to tell me all the details as I switched between packing, writing and trying not to listen, but she kept on talking, her drone-tone getting more and more insistent as she tried to provoke a response. Anyone else (apart from others mentioned in this blog) would have shut up.

I was left seething with jealousy, which, of course, was exactly what she wanted.

Kylie and Emma, the “You’ll love it” girls
Few kinds of people irritate me more than the kind who tell you, within two minutes of meeting you, exactly what you will and won’t “love” as you travel to places they’ve already visited.

I mean, what do they know about me? How can they possibly guess what I love when they’ve known me for two minutes and, I might add, not asked me anything about myself during this time apart from, “Where have you been?” and “Where are you going?”

Kylie and Emma were too-cool-for-you travellers. They had been everywhere (in Central America) and spent much of their time in “really dodgy places, no other gringos went there”. They asked questions about where I had been only so they could assess who was the more hardcore traveller, and where I was going only so they could tell me where to go for the best experiences.

So I didn’t have to listen to them drone on, I gave them my guidebook and asked them to just note down any places they recommended. Travelling up through Panama and Costa Rica I saw they had marked a number of places and tours listed in Lonely Planet’s ‘Central America on a shoestring’. Let’s take Rocking J’s in Costa Rica as an example. The girls raved about it. LP lists it thus:

“The style is ghetto-cool, with basic bunkrooms as well as an immense tent village and hammock hut with ‘Refugee Camp’ written all over them. Folks love Rocking J’s. Maybe it’s the homemade ice cream, graffiti-style mosaics or the lively bar, with arguably the best social scene (for foreigners) in town.”

Not only is Rocking J’s about as far from off the beaten track as backpacker hostels get, it’s exactly the kind of hostel I strive to avoid. If they’d asked any questions about me they would have learnt that. Instead, they just wanted to show off about how well travelled they were (in their opinion).

Simone, the no-shame photographer
Picture the scene: my chosen travelling partner, Craig, asked a smiley man wearing a turban if he could take his picture. The man said yes, but asked Craig to wait for him to fix his turban – he wanted to look good for the photo. While Craig waited, and the man re-wound his turban Simone stalked over and, without asking, took close-up portraits of the man as he dressed his head, much to the man’s surprised disappointment.

Simone was proud of the fact that she never paid for a portrait photo. She also never asked permission to take a photo, obliviously sticking her long lens into taken-aback faces. She made me ashamed to be a tourist. Ashamed to be a Brit. And a woman.

Fellow traveller’s, a little more sensitivity, please…
The single factor unifying of all these travellers is that they forced themselves, their opinions and/or their actions on me and/or others. I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to know. I certainly gave no encouragement.

What these people have in common is the failure to realise that different travellers have different interests. Not every traveller wants to get pissed and pull every night. Not every traveller is proud of spending as little money as possible. Not everyone is willing to offend local people for the sake of a good photograph. And sometimes, reticence in travel boasting doesn’t indicate inexperience but a humbleness that some others would do well to learn from.

Having got all of that out of my system, I’d like to give extra special thanks to the folks I met at Hostel Lao, on the Inca Trail, in Parque Nacional Lauca, on the trek to Ciudad Perdida, in the Pantanal, on the boat to Panama and on the Imaginative Traveller tour of Rajasthan for being so damn tolerable!

And the guy who just struck up a conversation with me in the hostel – you’re lovely too! Most travellers are. It’s just the arrogant few that made this blog entry possible. And for that, begrudgingly, I suppose I thank you too.

One Response to “Sometimes, the hardest thing about travelling is other travellers…”
  1. Catherine says:

    insightful and v funny!

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