Why do people go wild when they travel?

The girl in Amsterdam had never tried magic mushrooms before. I knew this, because she had been slurring at me for most of the night: "I've never tried magic mushrooms before." 

But tonight was clearly her night, and she planned to do it properly. That's why she ran off to find a coffee shop that sold them. That's why when the guy behind the counter told her to just eat a few of them she ignored him and monstered the entire box. 

That's why about an hour later she was throwing up on my shirt as I tried to drag her out of the coffee shop and get her some help. And that's why she has no memory of the time she went crazy on magic mushrooms during a night in Amsterdam. 

The girl probably wouldn't have done it at home, but Amsterdam tends to do that to people. I don't know whether they save up their crazy for the Dutch wonderland or the city just brings it out in them, but I've seen plenty of people do things they wouldn't normally do when they get to the 'Dam. 

Sex shows. I've been to a lot of sex shows. As a former employee of a European tour company, it was my job to escort the passengers to a sex show each time we stayed in Amsterdam. 

There's always a bit of audience participation in these shows, and it's usually the quiet ones who take you by surprise with their willingness to get involved.

I saw a very meek and mild American guy practically run onto the stage for the privilege of lying on the floor with his shirt off and having a naked girl write "BAD BOY" on his chest with a texta that wasn't being held in her hand. 

That quiet American guy didn't shower for days. 

But that's the thing about travel, and it's not just confined to Amsterdam: people do things they wouldn't normally do. They take chances when they travel, they let their hair down, they go wild. Maybe they're emboldened by the anonymity, or maybe they've just chosen now, on this trip, to do all of the things they've always wanted to do. Whatever it is, they go nuts. 


A few weeks ago there was a video released of a tourist in the Spanish party resort of Magaluf, performing certain acts on men in a nightclub in order to get a few free drinks. It was shocking, sure – but not so shocking for people who have been on the road for a while and seen how other travellers behave. 

The village of Vang Vieng in Laos used to be a haven for Westerners who wanted to do silly things. Getting drunk and swinging off ropes into a river isn't the smartest thing to do, but plenty of us did it there during the years of tubing. 

I saw an employee initiation ceremony there once that involved a whole lot of probably late-teen kids having an entire bottle of Lao whiskey poured down their throats. I've seen people leap into murky water right near signs that say "do not jump – people have died here" just for the hell of it. 

There's almost a feeling of invincibility when you travel, that nothing can touch you, that the normal rules of good sense and gravity don't apply once you've been stamped out of Australia. Do whatever you want! You'll be fine. 

People ride on the roofs of buses because it's fun, and nothing will go wrong. Probably. They take rides in dodgy boats, because what choice do you have? They hang out of train doorways, they cling to the back of taxis. They do all these things that they wouldn't do at home because overseas you can, and you want to, so you do. 

They take crazy risks. There's this guy I know – let's call him Ken Brownwater – who bought marijuana in Malawi. From a stranger. And it came wrapped in leaves from a corn cob. And it was a huge amount. 

The wisdom of this purchase is not questionable, but non-existant. Who wants to tangle with the Malawian justice system just for the chance to smoke a bit of weed? But this Ken guy did it, and plenty of people he was travelling did it. And people still do it. 

You take risks when you travel. But you also let yourself go, like that girl in the nightclub in Magaluf. 

Want to witness tourists gone wild? Try working for a European tour company for a while. I heard of drunken passengers who managed to have a threesome in a tent. 

I witnessed what would infamously be known among one group of passengers as "glowstick night", an evening on a tour in Croatia when pretty much everyone on the tour hooked up with… Pretty much everyone on the tour. (The role of the glowsticks will have to remain a mystery.) 

People go crazy when they travel. It's what's so great and at once so bad about the whole experience. My only advice if you're going to do it is: look after yourself. And don't eat a whole box of mushrooms. 

Have you seen people go wild when they travel? Have you done something overseas that you wouldn't normally do at home? 

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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