During my nine-day “Painted Canyons” tour of Utah’s parks, I refrained from accumulating national park stamps and souvenirs. Instead, I collected travel stories, some current and others dating back many years.
Since we were with a bus group, I shared my experience while on a previous bus tour to Washington D.C. A pair of arrogant elderly women kept changing seat name tags so they got to sit in front all the time. Finally, the tour guide told them if they didn’t stop, she’d insist they leave the tour.
Our Painted Canyons tour guide told an amazing story about a friend who worked at a Las Vegas casino during the pandemic shutdown. Las Vegas has many nicknames, including the city of lights and, similar to New York, it’s often called the city that never sleeps. When authorities ordered the casino which had operated day and night to close, the staff didn’t know how to lock the doors.
Several of my traveling companions’ stories sent shivers down my spine. While traveling from Spain to Morocco, a woman’s tour guide warned the group that their passports could be stolen. The guide said he was heading to the bar for a drink, but would return in a few minutes and collect them for safety reasons. Ten minutes later, a man with a clipboard arrived, introduced himself, and asked the group to line up. They did. The man studied his clipboard and began collecting passports. The tour guide arrived and called out, “What are you doing? This is a thief.” The tour guide could only shake his head in disbelief. If the guide had arrived a few minutes later, the thief would have gotten away with their passports. He would have changed the photos and sold the documents on the black market.
Similarly, a taxi driver took a couple to a theatre in Greece and charged $10. On the return trip, he wanted to charge $20. When questioned, the driver asked the couple, “Do you want to get back or not?” They paid the higher fee.
I shared another experience my husband and I had while touring Norway. When we approached the Russian border, our tour guide told us to make sure we didn’t cross over. One woman, wanting the “perfect picture” did. It resulted in heavy fines, and she missed the tour since she was detained in Russia.
I talked to a married couple who visited Lenin’s tomb and his statue in Russia’s Red Square years ago. At that time, tourists coming close to the statue needed to keep their arms raised to make sure they didn’t damage it. The wife’s arms became tired and she lowered them. A soldier immediately appeared, aiming his machine gun at her. She lifted her arms again.
I also heard heartwarming stories including one about a family who was finishing lunch and enjoying a smoke in a London pub in the1980s. An elderly man approached them and inhaled deeply. “Is that Virginia tobacco?” he asked. They nodded. “I haven’t had Virginia tobacco since WW11.” The family gave him several cigarettes. When it came time to pay the bill, he had bought their lunch.
A couple touring Egypt learned that the children loved receiving pens and hard candy, so they stocked up before their trip. Once there, they gave one boy a piece of hard candy. He didn’t know to take the outer wrapping off. They gave another child a pen, and he soon brought all of his friends. Two police officers noticed and stormed toward them.
The couple shrank back worried they were about to be arrested. “You’re Americans?” one officer barked.
“Yes, sir,” the couple replied.
“You’re giving out pens?” the other officer demanded.
“Well,” he said, “we’d each like one, too.”
The story that got the biggest chuckle took place in Italy. A woman had brought laundry detergent and had washed out her husband’s and her clothes in their hotel room. She’d also brought a string as a clothesline, but it turned out there already was one alongside the shower. Trying to save time, she washed and rinsed the clothes while taking a shower herself. She was hanging the wrung clothes on the line when harsh male voices sounded in the main room. The door bust open and Italian men stormed into the bathroom. Similar to Janet Leigh in “Psycho,” she began screaming. She didn’t know Italian, but she saw that two men had her husband pinned down on the bed.
She kept screaming. Finally, an interpreter entered and explained that the cord the woman hung laundry on actually was an emergency cord and that the men had secured her husband, thinking he was harming her.
Collect souvenirs? Personally, I’d much rather collect stories.