Our story begins with an American girl on a yearlong exchange in Santiago de Chile. Let's call her Jane. Similar to many students who embark on a cross-cultural exchanges, Jane wasted no time checking out the local Santiago bar scene. Soon her Facebook page was covered with dark and blurry drunken bar pictures; photographic evidence of her constant drunken debauchery. Heck, I even participated in some of the shenanigans.
Then came the harsh reality check.
Jane's brother had decided to come visit her for two weeks. The day that he landed, Jane and her Brazilian friend were determined to show him the ropes, which included taking him out to the bar. What happened prior and during their epic night is unknown, but by the time our mutual friend, Pablo, found Jane at 2 a.m. he described her as a hot mess. In Santiago, it was not uncommon to meet mutual friends at the local drinking hole and as Pablo greeted Jane he instantly noticed that she could barely stand and was slurring profusely. She disappeared into the crowd only to reappear once again, this time without her jacket. She didn't remember where her jacket was and started to ask Pablo if he had seen her brother or friend. Frustrated, she once again disappeared in the crowd. She resurfaced one last time outside the club; Pablo was enjoying one last smoke before heading home when he noticed something strange. Jane, sans coat, was being lead towards a car by three strange men. Jane stumbled continuously as the men walked hurriedly to their car. At times it almost seemed as if her feet dangled just inches above the ground as the men lead away. Thankfully, Pablo sprang into action. He ran towards the group, spun Jane around and asked her if she knew these men. Dazed and confused, she rotated her head around to look at her assailants, only to conclude (in a rather shocked manner) that she, in fact, didn't know them.
The men laughed off her comment, while muttering that they were just taking her home. Skeptically of their “good intentions” our friend started leading her away quickly before the men could react. The subsequent 10 minute walk home with a barely cohesive drunk girl was, according to him, pure agony. As Jane had lost her jacket, Pablo offered her his suit jacket, asking her not to sully it. His pleading was in vain as 5 minutes into the walk home, she stopped abruptly to wipe her running nose on the sleeve only to trip on a branch and land in the mud. The whole journey home consisted of her tripping over items, random bouts of sobs and a slurred one-sided conversation. But in the end, Jane arrived home alive.
Two weeks after this eventful night, Pablo and I unexpectedly ran into Jane and her brother. I had previously never heard the story but noticed that our unanticipated meeting brought a wave of awkwardness, followed by a curt polite conversation before Jane made up excuse that made us go our separate ways. It was then that my friend told me the whole story only to add that Jane had never contacted him after the event to thank him. In fact, new drunken Facebook pictures started to appear on Jane's wall mere days after the event. To me it seemed as if Jane wanted to erase the whole event from her memory, without learning the lesson behind it. Even now, nine months later, I wonder: did she learn anything for this experience?
Many of us are quite similar to Jane. When traveling abroad, we can't quite resist the temptation of participating in the local drinking culture. We try the local drinks (terremotto or pisco sour anyone?) and dance until the sun comes up. But with each alcoholic drink, travelers are more likely to make obvious drunken rookie mistakes that can land them in hot water. Jane is not the exception; she is the rule. Many of the robbery, assault and mugging stories I heard when I was in South America were a result of a hard night of partying. The most horrific story was of a girl who was visiting Salta, Argentina. She was raped by the taxi driver when she decided to take a taxi back to the hostel at 4 a.m. in the morning by herself.
But, before you start cancelling your travel plans or swearing off liquor forever, take a moment to reflect on these next tips on finding a balance so that you can have a fun tipsy night out without putting yourself in danger.
Tips for Partying and Staying Safe while Traveling
Location, location, location
In 2012, I lived on the island of Bocas del Toro for three months and worked as a divemaster at one of the local dive shops. Our lifestyle was pretty hardcore; work during the day and party all night (preferably at the bar with the $1 tequila shots). I never had any problems walking home at night primarily because it was a small island where everyone knew each other. The only time someone was robbed was when individuals would drunkenly fall asleep outside. In the morning, they would wake up without their wallet, watch or phone. But, other than petty theft, the area was pretty safe. Fast-forward to my party experience in Bellavista, the party neighbourhood of Santiago, where flaites would be waiting outside the club for drunken gringos to stumble down the wrong street. It was not uncommon to hear horror stories where gringos were robbed or even severely beaten up by a gang of thieves waiting in dark alleyways. Travelers looking to get tipsy should know their surroundings and assess the risk. After this assessment, travelers should mold their behavior and alcoholic consumption to correspond with the locale: safe = more alcohol or unsafe = less alcohol. Simple.
The bond of trust
In Canada (and the U.S.) there is an unwritten rule: if a friend gets too drunk or sloppy than he or she will be taken care of by his or her friends. This rule is especially true on birthdays whereas the boy or girl gets obliterated with birthday shots only to be physically carried home at the end of the night whilst being force fed greasy bar food and litres upon litres of water. While your friends may begrudgingly carry your arse home at the end of the night back in Canada, don't expect anyone to do the same that when your abroad.
Now let's imagine that you are staying at a hostel and are preparing to go to a club with a couple of girls that you met that morning. It's your last night in the city and after pre-drinking, you are off to the club where you notice that one of the girls isn't holding back on the tequila shots. She becomes intoxicated, unruly and restless; she disappears for long periods of time and comes back drunker and drunker. So what happens to the girl? It depends entirely on the people with whom she is with; Jane's brother and friend, for example, refused to take on the drunk babysitter role, leaving her to fend for herself. Drinking to the point where you lose complete control means that you are literally putting your life in someone else's hands. Whether it's a friend, a family member or someone you've just met, these travelers are probably unwilling to forgo their night out so that they can take care of you. In the end it's not worth the risk.
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor
Different countries have different types of drinks that can wreak havoc on an unsuspecting victim. In Chile, an infamous bar in the centre of Santiago, called La Piojera, serves a Chilean favorite called a Terremotto (earthquake). The drink is filled with cheap white wine, grenadine and a scoop of pineapple ice-cream; the sweetness of the ice cream masks the destructive properties of the drink. It's not called an earthquake for nothing; after one terremotto, you'll definitely feel the earth move beneath your feet.
If you are unfamiliar with the drink than take your time to see how your body reacts to the alcohol. Just because you can't taste the alcohol, doesn't mean that there isn't any inside your cup! Remember to pace yourself; I've seen so many different travelers gulping down their drinks or double fisting (holding a drink in each hand) as if the bartender had just announced that it was last call. This is exactly how you lose control. Understand your limits and in the end don't surpass those limits. Lastly, never accept drinks from strangers or leave your drink unattended. If you are unsure if the drink is safe or if it tastes funny, than leave it!
When Pablo recounted his story, he shared with me that he was incredibly frustrated with Jane while they were walking home. In reality, he was happy to help but her loud conversation with herself and random bouts of crying meant that they became potential targets for a gang of thieves. Thieves seek out the weak and since alcohol slows reaction time and leads to poor judgement, a drunk loud person who can't walk straight is the perfect victim. Petty theft, like losing a phone, will most likely happen in the club but the more heinous crimes, like violent muggings, will happen on your journey home. Never EVER go home alone (whether by taxi or walk); instead plan ahead.
Before even heading out to the bar, figure out when and where you are going and your transportation options, especially if you are unfamiliar with the city. If you are catching public transport home, then make sure you know when the last service runs. For example, in Chile the subway closes at 11 p.m. and the all-night buses are quite sketchy. Therefore, the best option was to call a cab company that would pick us up at the nightclub. Always trust your instincts; never use taxis, buses or any form of transportation if they are overcrowded or look unsafe.
The point is balance; have fun and stay safe. Hearing Jane's story, hit close to home; fortunately for me I've always had individuals who (albeit begrudgingly) helped me out of my sticky messes. But as I think back to all my close calls, I have come to realize that the risk was not worth the pay-off. The idea is not to give up drinking entirely, but to educate yourself about your situation so that you can make an informed decision. In the end, is that 4th or 5th shot really worth the risk? You decide.
Have you run in to any bad experiences while partying abroad?
A self-proclaimed travel fanatic, Yvonne Ivanescu has embarked on a number of unforgettable adventures across the globe. In 2012 Yvonne launched Under the Yew Tree, a website about travel, green living, food and fashion in South America. She will also be launching her own travel safety book in 2014. For more South American travel tips and safety tips, visit Under the Yew Tree or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
This is an ongoing series that will be running until the end of 2013 called, Learning to Travel Safely in the New Year. Yvonne is our travel safety guru and you can ask her anything your hearts desire. We’re very excited to have Yvonne join the team for a bit. Her Lessons Learned from being Mugged Abroad created quite the discussion here at ThePlanetD. Read more safety tips by Yvonne at Travel Safer with Personal Safety Items, Lessons Learned from being Mugged Abroad, Common Travel Theft Scams and How to Avoid Them, How to Blend in, Tips to Avoid Looking and Acting like a Tourist
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