There’s a Scientific Reason Why You Make Dumb Decisions On Holiday

You swear you’d never bungee jump, until you went to New Zealand and then suddenly it seemed like not only a great idea, but an absolute must.

You’d never hop on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle at home, and yet you were happy to oblige in Paris, shrugging “carpe diem” as you climbed aboard with reckless abandon and no helmet.

Why is it that when we’re on holidays we turn our backs on our better judgements, throw caution to the wind, and seemingly compromise our more risk-averse characteristics in favour of what will make a good story upon our return home?

It’s like the second the plane leaves the tarmac, we care less about our possessions and our safety as we morph almost instantaneously into care-free ‘holiday’ versions of ourselves. It’s not exactly a bad thing — quite the opposite sometimes — but it does explain why so many people lose their passports on vacation.

Turns out we’re all in the same boat and the general recklessness we feel on holidays is actually a commonality that was recently explored in a study paper called Stupidity in Tourism.

The paper set out upon the “further investigation of the irrational behaviour of tourists and the impacts of circumstances on stupid behaviour”. In the context of tourism, the researchers define stupidity as a person’s “inability to weigh options carefully and to act prudently” or “risk unawareness”.

While a sporadic tattoo or 10am Champagne breakfast has little impact on those around you, stupidity in tourism does become a problem when a traveller makes poor decisions that could affect other tourists, people, animals, organisations, or the destinations they’re in.

Reflecting on their study in an article for The Conversation, the study’s authors Denis Tolkach and Stephen Pratt said that stupidity is usually a result of an excess of one or more of the following: the person believes they know everything; the person believes they can do anything; the person is extremely self-centred; the person believes nothing will harm them; the person’s emotions; the person’s state, ie. whether they are tired or drunk.

As for why this stupidity tends to present on holidays? The authors have a few ideas. “Leisure tourism, by its nature, is a very self-centred and pleasure-seeking activity,” they say in the article.

“In pursuit of trying something new or escaping their daily routine, people may go to places with very different cultures or practices than their own or try things they wouldn’t normally do — such as adventure activities. As a result, individuals can act differently while on holidays.

“There also seem to be fewer social constraints. Tourists may not follow rules and social norms while travelling, because relatives, friends, colleagues, bosses are less likely to find out. Of course, tourists may not be aware of the commonly-accepted rules of where they travelling as well.”

While travel is meant to be enjoyable and the experiences we have on holidays are so enjoyable for the fact they make us feel like free-er, more fun versions of ourselves, when it really comes down to it, tourists have a responsibility to others.

Apparently warning signs and fences do little to deter tourists from going somewhere they shouldn’t or doing something. The authors of the paper say self-awareness is the most effective tool of prevention when it comes to stupidity in tourism.

“[Tourists] need to consider what is likely to happen as a result of their behaviour, how likely is it that things will go wrong, and whether they would do this at home.”

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