Common sense has always been a precious commodity in travel. You don’t need stories about tourists plunging off cliffs in their cars or YouTube videos of national park visitors nearly being mauled by wild animals they were trying to pet to be reminded of that uncomfortable fact.
But is common sense as we know it dead? Talk to other travelers and to survival experts, and the troubling answer is: maybe.
The severity of the problem became clear to me when a regular reader of this column, Robert Welch, e-mailed me a photo he took of a hotel door left ajar. Welch, who works in the security department of a large chain hotel in New Orleans, says every night, guests leave 25 to 30 doors ajar, presumably so they can run down the hall or out to dinner without having to remember their key cards. That’s about 6% of all rooms.
“It’s the No. 1 reason why a theft occurred whenever I’ve investigated it,” he says.
Michael Frost, a corporate director for a non-profit organization in Long Island, N.Y., marvels at the number of pricey electronics that guests leave at a resort pool.
They’ll think they’re fine, he says, “because I’m on vacation and not thinking as clearly as I would at home. It’ll be there when I return. Wait a minute, where is my iPad, Kindle, Galaxy or Nook? It was right here. Right on my chair! Call hotel security! What do you mean the resort isn’t responsible for it?”
Heather Heenan, who works for a major airline, says she could “fill a book” with the lack of common sense passengers demonstrate once they enter the airport. “They suddenly don’t know left from right,” she says. “They can’t read a simple sign. They claim they are unable to use a kiosk, even as they hold their iPhone, which is infinitely more complicated.”
Among her favorite passenger questions: Which are the window seats on a diagram of the aircraft? And: Are flatirons and hair driers allowed through security? After all, other hair products, such as gel and hairspray, aren’t.
Richard Lilley, an adventure guide from Charleston, W.Va., keeps a list of common-sense lapses that’s “staggering.” It includes visitors “trying to touch the lethal snakes and plants, standing on the crumbling edge of cliffs, wandering into the jungle and actually trying to feed crocodiles by hand.”
As an advocate for travelers, I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who seem to be completely out of touch with reality. They want a refund for a non-refundable ticket (what part of “non-refundable” don’t you understand?). They want me to retrieve their expired frequent-flier miles (they’ve expired — look it up in the dictionary). Or they want travel insurance to pay a claim for something that isn’t covered by the policy (if it’s not in the policy, it’s not covered).
Experts say common sense is on the verge of extinction among travelers. Creek Stewart, a survival expert and author of Build the Perfect Bug-Out Bag, says it’s not abstract, as in the movie 127 Hours, which is based on Aron Ralston’s story of surviving an accident in Utah, in which he had to amputate his forearm to save his life.