There’s a certain condition; a state of mind that occurs when someone is travelling out of their comfort zone. This could be in their own country or abroad, on a day trip or a longer holiday. When someone loses all their common sense and practical abilities. I like to call it the ‘The Tourist Brain‘.
I can see why it happens – you’ve been hard at it all year, slaving away at work or being a parent and you deserve this. Yes you do.
A former colleague of mine working on check-in swears that peoples’ common sense is sucked out of them the minute they walk through the airport’s doors, but I believe it happens even earlier than that.
We’ve all seen them: driving the wrong way round the car park; stuttering the name of their destination to the check-in clerk; appearing baffled when being asked for boarding passes and “not your passports yet, thank you madam”; looking blank when security ask them to take their laptops “OUT OF YOUR BAG, sir”; ignoring requests to switch off phones, raise seat backs or keep seatbelts on; or wandering around tourist attractions and art galleries trying to stroke the paint on priceless works of art.
We’ve all been there
But we’ve also all been there. Patting down our handbags or back pockets twenty times in twenty minutes to check the presence of our passports – even though just twenty-one minutes ago you carefully put it in there yourself. You could be the most organised person on the planet at work but the minute your personal documentation directly equates to you having a good time and any mistakes threaten to rob you of that (and your hard-earned cash), it becomes, well, personal.
I’ve worked at tourist information centres, museums, tourist attractions, airports, travel agents and tour operators so I’ve encountered tourist brain-adopters at every level of society and every degree of intellect. So what happens to us when we engage tourist brain?
- We switch out of work or domestic mode and on to holiday mode. The same sort of thing happens when it’s acceptable to have a pint at the airport at 8am – the “it doesn’t matter, we’re on HOLIDAY!” mentality.
- There’s a disruption to our normal routine and none of us feel quite in control, or are 100% certain what the procedures are – no matter how many times we’ve done it before.
- We put our trust in people who are going to look after us, making us relax with less reason to plan/organise/worry. The airport check-in & security staff telling you what you can & can’t have in your bags and taking away forbidden items (even though by now you should know this). The introduction meeting from your holiday rep, or your check-in staff at the hotel who know where everything is. Or how about the attraction tour guide who gives you rules and knows the ins & outs of the building? We’re virtually babysat, conveyor-belt style.
- Despite this, we’re not actually very good at being told what to do and quite often switch off – either because it’s too much hard work (we’re on HOLIDAY!) or because you’re a savvy traveller and you don’t need advice
- We forget the routine security measures we take at home – closing windows, double checking doors are locked, zipping up our handbags and not leaving our wallets under the sunbed while we’re sinking a pina colada. Okay, so this doesn’t happen at home but you wouldn’t leave your wallet on the bar.
- Alcohol + sun + not needing to think = more than a few lost brain cells.
I’d love to finish off this post with some remedies or ways to avoid this. However, I’ve come to realise that the tourist brain is the earth’s great equaliser – you may think you’re a worldly-wise, seasoned traveller, but when we step foot out of our homes to go on holiday, we’re all on a pretty level playing field…
What are your experiences?
Here are just a couple of examples from my years of travelling. I’d love to hear your experiences, so send me your comments below:
- Outside The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, Dallas, we witnessed two girls taking a photo of the ‘X’ in the road, symbolising where JFK was fatally shot. What’s wrong with that, you might well ask – it’s an historic site? They were standing IN the road which also happened to be a major slip road to a major highway and were seconds away from getting fatally flattened.
- While working at a museum, part of my introductory spiel was strictly telling groups of visitors that they mustn’t touch the old wood panelled walls, as the oils in their hands can degrade the finish over the years. Halfway into my sentence I could see them start to glaze over and the second they were ‘let loose’ on the museum, what’s the first thing they did? Stroked the flippin’ wood, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the smoothness and finish.
- A ‘friend’ was traversing airport security with a yummy home-made cake for her colleagues. When her bag was swiped by a very stern security lady, she enquired “Oops, I have a cake in there, is that not allowed?”. Grumpy security lady replied “No, it’s the giant bread knife in the cake tin that did it”. It can happen to the best of us…