The predictability of the human being
// Heather Welsh

The Lone Traveler leans his dry elbows on the counter, edging closer and closer towards me with every word he breathes in my direction. It is almost as though he believes his behaviour will somehow result in friendship with staff at the hostel. “Hey guys, who wants to join me on the pub crawl later?” he practically shouted to my suddenly subdued co-workers.

This is typical behavior for this “breed” of traveler – and unfortunately, it is all too easy to typecast the guests who check-in and out of the hostel where I work.

Annoying or funny, self-obsessed or extravagant: characters can encompass so many different traits that become apparent even upon a first meeting. Instead of identifying which traits make people different, it is actually most fascinating to realize which traits make people alike. It is so fascinating, in fact, that I find myself categorizing guests all day long.

“People watching” is defined on Wikipedia as “the act of observing people and their interactions, usually without their knowledge.” I often wonder what makes people act the way they do, and people watching can be a way to try and figure this out. It comes perfectly naturally to me to categorize people whilst working, and although I know they’re not life changing observations, it can provide hours of endless entertainment given the right circumstances.

The Lone Traveler is a very specific category of hostel guest - this isn’t just any person traveling alone. This person makes sure that you know they are alone, and won’t leave you alone. One morning, a Loan Traveler hovered around the front lobby in the hostel pretending to look at posters and leaflets, feigning interest in the pieces of literature for close to half an hour. He waited for the opportune moment, and all of a sudden he swiftly turned and pounced. A million questions had come over him all at once!

“So where exactly have you been on this street, and when was it you went? Were you there last night because I thought I saw you?” and “When I was in Thailand, I had some really good tea from this street market, it was called ‘cha-yen’ or something I think, are there any good places around here that sell tea like that?”

Endless questions followed by immeasurable amounts of sucking up. If you show any interest in their plans – BAM – you’re their new best friend. Back from his little trip to Whistler, one Lone Traveler didn’t realize his friendship with the staff was heavily one-sided. Angry at a staff member for not remembering his name, he began to rant loudly in the lobby: “I go away for a few days and you’ve all forgotten me already, I mean, I’m an Asian Australian, you can’t get many of those can you? I remember your names! I feel rejected!”

Moderately to extremely socially inept, this traveler doesn’t understand what it means to be ignored – regardless of how blunt you get. So when a lull in other guests’ needs arises, he’s there, leaning over the counter, again, trying to talk about some boxing ring he went to last night while simultaneously showing off his bruised knuckles like it’s earning him massive cred with all the staff.

The Lone Traveler desperately wants to be part of the staff “crew”. Sitting on his laptop on the sofas in the lobby, peering over the top of it to see what we are up to (yup, still just doing our jobs), he then proceeds to use Skype with no headphones, so everyone in the area gets to hear about his amazing trip to Kits beach where he met some “total babes” and got “free whiskey” from some crazy guy with an afro. It’s a wonder the Lone Traveler gets any sight seeing done at all, what with all the time he spends talking about the things he’s supposedly done. (That is, unless they go on the tours organized for them. And then guess what – the tour guide is their new best friend). Put simply, it is clear that there’s a reason they are traveling alone.

In contrast, there is the other species of lone traveler - “Mr. or Mrs. Organized”. He or she is so confident in their own ability as an independent adventurer that they certainly don’t need your help. One morning Mrs. Organized came to complain to me about the breakfast,

asking, “Why is it only set up at 7.30am? I was up and ready to go at 7am and I had my whole day planned, and we have this whale watching trip to get to but first Mike and I were going to go for a jog and really it’s just put us out of sync for the day!” She then decided to put in a request for a special early breakfast - just for her and her husband. I mean, I know the saying goes the early bird catches the worm, but this is ridiculous. Mr. Organized has whipped out his fancy document pouch complete with confirmation numbers for things that I never knew existed, on more than one occasion. He knows (or thinks he knows) more than the locals about Vancouver, and carries a carefully word-processed itinerary at all times. A vacation is about routine, productivity and completion, is it not?

This character can easily crossover with the keen “Active Traveler” – up at the crack of dawn, this guest brings skis and a bike and intends to use them both. One Active Traveler saw that I had a tiny cut on my finger and pulled his first aid kit from the depths of his Mary Poppins backpack, before asking if he could store his walking poles with me for the day. “I’m sure you’ll need them in downtown Vancouver,” a colleague replied. The Active Traveler will ask for the location of the nearest Mountain Equipment Co-op – he is a member from last time he visited, he shrieks excitedly. On the way out, he asks, “Do you know anyone interested in buying a portable kayak?” No, I didn’t know they existed either. Maybe the MEC sells them, found next to the collapsible helicopter.

You’ve probably met people who fit into these categories – and you can tell this is what they’d be like as a traveler, simply from the way they act completing day-to-day tasks like taking the bus and buying groceries. The Lone Traveler is pretty harmless if you know how to put your foot down when he/she start to pester, or if you are not travelling alone yourself. And Mrs. Organized will be out of the door for the day before you have even returned from a night out exploring local watering holes. These kinds of people are what make traveling, or working in the service industry, interesting. And now, when I see “Mrs. Organized” walk through the door, I’m positively gleaming with excitement. In just a few short minutes, I get to find out if my predictions about her are correct.

// Heather Welsh

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