Alcohol and travel: Drunk travellers giving drinkers a bad name

Drunk people do some stupid things. That's not a newsflash. And drunk people, when they're travelling, do some extremely stupid things. 

Like the Australian guy who stole a minivan in Hong Kong and took it on a drunken joy ride for a few hours (and was then arrested). Or the American who got boozed and broke into a crocodile enclosure in Mexico (and got bitten, oddly enough – then arrested). Or the six British tourists who got lagered up in Rome and decided to go for a nude swim in a fountain (and were also arrested).

This procession of embarrassing drunken incidents hasn't happened over the course of a few decades, or even years – these have been in the last couple of months. Boozed travellers have been making fools of themselves, both legally and outside of the law, for as long as you care to remember, and they don't show any signs of slowing down. Or passing out.

This is a problem, obviously, but for more reasons than you might think. It's bad for the locals of the countries these drunkards are visiting. It's bad for the countries they represent. But all these boozy buffoons are also giving the rest of us drink-loving travellers a bad name.

See, I like to drink. Especially when I'm travelling. I like a glass of wine with dinner and a shot of vodka with lunch. I like a dram of whisky in the evening and a pint of bitter for breakfast. I don't like all of these things on the same day – it just depends on which country I happen to be visiting.

I like drinking for the taste, I like drinking for the social niceties, and I like drinking for the cultural rituals. I like the way Russians have to make a toast, any old toast, before they'll neck their vodka. I like the way English people treat their local pub as a communal living room. I like the way Koreans believe it's bad luck to pour your own drink, and good luck to pour someone else's.    

Mostly, however, I like the way that travellers and strangers seem to be able to bond so easily with the local population of just about any country in the world when there's alcohol involved. I buy you a drink, you buy me a drink, and we're friends. 

And, like the vast majority of travellers, I do all of this without getting arrested or making a nuisance of myself.

It's not particularly PC to say it, but I've had some of the best times of my travelling life while I've been drinking. I've made lifelong friendships in Scotland while drinking. I've spent joyous nights trying to learn the tango in Buenos Aires while drinking. I've sat around a campfire in Zimbabwe and traded stories while drinking.


It's unfortunate that so many people associate the act of boozing overseas with the idiots that take things too far, the ones who dance nude in fountains and break into crocodile enclosures. That, for me, isn't what drinking while you're travelling is all about. 

Drinking overseas, done properly, is about all of those spectacular wineries, the Napa Valleys and Mendozas and Bordeauxs of the world. It's about those whisky distilleries in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. It's about schnapps tastings with gruff Germans. It's about cozy pubs in Ireland. It's about apres-ski in Colorado. It's about pre-dinner negronis in Rome. It's about the look on my face when someone tries to make me drink tequila, or raki, or palinka, or chartreuse, or any of those local spirits that I can't stand but attempt to battle my way through just to make friends.  

It might not be 100 per cent healthy, all this drinking – but hey, neither are hamburgers. And there's far more cultural value in having a few drinks when you travel than having a few hamburgers. 

You'll meet people. You'll be given a window into their lives, their culture. You'll find that previously stuffy or unfriendly people tend to loosen up when they've got a drink in their hands. 

You can sip wine and eat tapas in Seville. You can nurse a sunset caipirinha​ on a beach in Brazil. You can drink beer with ice cubes in a dodgy backstreet of Bangkok. You can swill whisky in a bar in Tokyo that only has space for four people.

You can make friends and have the time of your life and wake up the next morning with a hangover that you'll convince yourself was definitely worth it. And you can do all of this without making a national disgrace out of yourself. Give it a try some time.

See also: Australia - the land of the idiot

See also: The dumb questions travellers ask on tour