WHEN I was a young and innocent backpacker, I once made a travelling faux pas that resulted in me getting stoned. Not the spaced-out, Monster Munch-scoffing kind that, ahem, some backpackers might experience. No, I had actual stones thrown at me in the street for bringing great shame to my people.
It was Christmas 1995 and I’d just spent a blissful few weeks partying in Goa, living my best life in cut-off Levi’s and tie-dye vests (don’t judge me). After a carefree time swilling beer and swinging in hammocks in liberal Anjuna Beach, I began my proper Indian travels and headed to Hampi, an ancient rock village in Karnataka, stopping off for a night in a remote town to break up the journey.
As I walked down the dusty main road towards the hotel, I felt the humid air chill as all eyes landed on me. Suddenly, a stone flew past, just missing my arm, then another, which hit the back of my leg. I was also hissed at, spat at and finally blanked by the hotel staff when I tried to book a room. In my naive youth I’d made the ultimate mistake and travelled in my backpacker beach uniform of shorts and a tight T-shirt, forgetting the local custom to dress conservatively and in turn causing great offence to the poor townsfolk.
Thoroughly ashamed, I learned a lifelong lesson that day and have been a more considerate traveller ever since. Such is my fear of offending again, I’ll always conduct extensive research prior to any trip in order to abide by local customs and rules, from flinging a cardigan over my head to enter the Blue Mosque in Istanbul to wrapping myself in a black cotton sheet to enter a mosque in Penang. Even on a recent visit to the Middle East, despite the punishing desert heat I wore thick trousers, long-sleeved shirts, an overcoat and an impressive hat, even on the beach, rather than risk causing offence.
So I was surprised to see that breaking unknown laws is quite far down a recently released list of Brits’ biggest travel fears. According to a survey conducted by airport transfer company Taxi2Airport.com, a British traveller’s number one fear is the safety or cleanliness of their accommodation, a worry affecting some 14 per cent of travellers.
When I think of some of the fleapits I’ve stayed in over the years, with their armies of cockroaches, bed bugs and mouldy bathrooms, I can understand the concern. Though when it comes to the more trivial end of quibbles, I’m much more fearful about a lack of decent wi-fi, which has caused me many a sleepless night (and the odd missed deadline) over the years — a worry that affects just nine per cent of travellers.
Losing luggage and passports, eating unfamiliar food, terrorism and natural disasters all, perhaps unsurprisingly, feature high on the list. My top three fears? Those aforementioned cultural faux pas, marauding lions (probably only relevant in very specific places) and taxi drivers bringing up Brexit. Now, that’s horror right there.