Safety in Numbers
// Heather Welsh

I was seated comfortably at the front desk, sipping my morning coffee, when I heard a coach-load of people pull up at the front of the hostel. Deep, gruff voices and a soccer ball came drifting through the open door. Fifteen people under one reservation: one look at that booking, and I knew it had to be that breed of traveler. The “Party People on Tour” had arrived for their big weekend of fun in Vancity.

The first “Partier” that walked through the door had a pungent smell seeping from his body, created by the unpleasant aroma of stale cigarettes, beer, and way too much aftershave. “All right guys, we’re here! Where’s the party at, then?” His bleached blonde hair was finely manicured into even spikes. “I thought this hostel had a bar?”

The friends that streamed through the door behind him looked up to the leader of the pack and followed suit, with equally inane questions all related to being macho, drinking, and getting laid.

Spotting large groups of friends traveling together like a pack of wolves has become a common sight across the world, usually because they disturb, provoke, or thoroughly amuse those who cross their paths. A prime spot to catch a glimpse of these creatures is in any major city around the world. They tend to congregate for Stag and Hen nights in the seedier parts of Europe, or, on this side of the world, in Las Vegas.

The reason that more and more people are deciding to travel together in big groups may be partly explained by some of the theories published by psychologists. These studies have looked into the effects of people working together in larger groups and consequently gaining direct power. For example, Sigmund Freud's Crowd Behavior Theory points out that people who are in a crowd act differently than people who are thinking individually. The theory suggests the minds of the group merge to form a way of thinking, and thus, each member's enthusiasm is increased. This links to the peer pressure that happens in groups of friends day-to-day, which can be seen in soap operas and reality television on a regular basis, and probably is happening on this campus right this second.

Working the late shift one evening, I had the opportunity to witness another group displaying the classic traits of “Party People on Tour.” I had to close our rooftop patio for the night and, what do you know: lucky for me, the party tour group had taken over the whole area, with legs slumped over chair legs, beer cans crushed into small pyramids on the floor, and take-out pizza boxes strewn like tinsel through the potted shrubs.

That particular evening it was my job to move ten of these hedonists off the roof without getting anyone angry, avoiding fights at all costs, and delivering the guys and girls out of the hostel before any of the other guests could complain. I tried to play it cool, going with the whole, “I just work here, I don’t make the rules” schtick, and it seemed to be working, probably because I was pretending to join the group and take on their point of view (i.e. against authority). So, after a bit of persuasion, I finally got a load of them into the elevator and sent them on their merry way to The Cambie, promising girls, guys, and cheap pitchers of beer in abundance.

After spending time in an intimate space with the partying lads and lasses, it struck me that this breed of traveler likely wouldn’t be very identifiable if they were on their own. One group of “Party people on Tour” that stayed at the hostel came and bombarded me with questions, five of them staring me down all at once and demanding answers.

Now, when five of them come up to talk to you at once, false eyelashes fluttering, bronzed boobs in your face, and a whiff of Intimately Beckham burning off the back of your eyelids, it’s hard to tell them that no, they can’t book out the shared bathroom just for themselves and no, they can’t get a reduced rate because there are, like, twenty of them. However, get one of them alone, and they stop making those demands.

Their peers aren’t there to back them up, and it’s your word against theirs. A theory of Gustave Le Bon states that crowds foster anonymity, and this backs up the idea that people feel there are limited or no consequences for their actions if they are working as a group. Somehow, the blame is spread and so, if one person from a group of travelers steals some food from another guest in the hostel, all of them can take the blame and save one’s humiliation.

Many theorists have also studied the “herd mentality” and its effect on society. From Sigmund Freud’s theories relating to “crowd psychology”, Carl Jung’s writings on the “collective unconscious” and Gustave Le Bon’s research on “the popular mind,” all of these theories go some way to explaining group mentality. However, there’s nothing quite like watching it happen right before your eyes.

Yes, I judge groups of travelers with little or no knowledge of what they are like as individuals, in the way most of us do with people we don’t really know. People-watching is entertaining - so let’s just say that most of the time, it’s harmless fun that helps to pass the time.

// Heather Welsh

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