5 Unique Unethical Ways to Travel

March 22, 2016

We’ve all done some unscrupulous acts during our travels. From complaining to the flight attendant about ridiculous things on our first airplane trip to ranting about our initial impressions (and stereotypes) on the ground in a foreign culture, travel has the ability to bring out the worst in some people as easily as it brings out the best in others… sometimes, they’re the same people. Because we’re often seen as only temporary visitors, we like to think we exist in a state of quantum uncertainty when it comes to laws and societal standards; they apply to us, but if we choose to ignore them, there aren’t too many consequences… with some rather big exceptions.

I’ve come across quite a few stories of travelers being less than moral when it comes to getting from A to B.

1. Sleeping on the Train, Japan

This rule varies country to country, but I would say the majority of them do NOT bother to check tickets prior to entering the train, long-distance or local. For example, if you ride the Caltrain from San Francisco to San Jose, no one checks your ticket at entry or exit; rather, ticket agents occasionally wait until the cars approach a high-traffic stop like Palo Alto and then ask for proof of payment. However, there is a possibility no one will check your ticket at all, and this has lead some to try and avoid train employees by hiding in the bathroom, walking in front of them until they reach the next stop, or just pretending to sleep and hoping no one will bother to wake them.

In San Francisco, I doubt this method would work; SFMTA ticket agents are among some of the most entitled and arrogant workers in the city, second only to mall cops, and will likely just jostle you until it’s impossible to pretend you aren’t awake. But in Japan, or other foreign countries, it’s a bit of a balancing act in the mind of the ticket agent…

Should I bother to wake him? He probably doesn’t even speak the language anyway, and I don’t want to draw attention to him by speaking English. I don’t want to deal with this. I’ll just let him sleep.

I’ve seen ticket takers ignore sleeping passengers plenty of times on the shinkansen, especially for early morning departures: in this case, the desire to be considerate outweighs the obligation of doing one’s job properly. So while it’s highly unethical and illegal, one might be able to ride the Nozomi all the way from Hakata to Tokyo with nothing but the 120 yen platform ticket if you’re comfortable keeping your eyes closed for five hours.

2. Accessing the First Class Ticket Lounge, Beijing

First class and exclusive club lounges can make a miserable stopover in an airport a pleasant diversion, with their open bar, buffets, free wifi, and, most importantly, the absence of that never ending stream of announcements terminals across the globe seem to love.

If you want to take advantage of these perks but don’t want to pay thousands of dollars for a first-class ticket whenever you fly, you could always do what a Chinese man did: book a ticket with Eastern China Airline, go to the airport, gain entrance to the lounge, stock up on food, and then request that the ticket be rebooked at no additional charge for the next day. He did this for a year.

Unlike the first example, there was nothing illegal about what this man did: in fact, you might say he’s pretty clever for exploiting an airline’s rebooking policy to get first-class food.

3. Becoming a Stowaway, United States

“Stowaway” is such a dated term I bet most of us tend to conjure images of teenage boys hiding in the holds of ships in the 1800s rather than anyone able to bypass airport security and gate agents to get access to a commercial aircraft. How is that even possible now?

Yet, that is precisely what Marilyn Jean Hartman has done on multiple occasions, attempting to fly to Honolulu. Naturally, the TSA isn’t too forthcoming in revealing exactly how an elderly woman made it past two security points without a ticket, but now we know it’s still possible.

4. Complaining to get what you want, Everywhere

First off, I’ll say: this is the worst approach to traveling. If you’re a complainer (and I have include myself among you from time to time), I hate you and I wish you’d go away forever. That having been said, those who are persistent and effective at complaining to those in authority sometimes get results… not because others feel like they’re entitled if something is amiss, but rather they just don’t want to hear another vitriolic word out of these sweaty complainers’ mouths and will do anything to make them go away.

For those traveling, what can this mean? An upgrade to first class if your coach seat doesn’t recline all the way (like you can notice the difference). Meal vouchers at the airport because the TSA broke your grandmother’s antique key ring. Possibly an extra night in a hotel after your room was next to one with a crying baby.

Just be aware you’re no better than the idiot who pulls a dead cockroach out of his or her pocket to get a free meal at a restaurant.

5. Pretending you’re the only one there, South Korea


HT to Ask a Korean

There’s honestly not much more to say after seeing that picture. Those are foreigners in South Korea, sitting on the floor in the middle of a crowded subway car, drinking beer and playing cards. Although this is arrogance at its peak, it’s hardly the first time expats have behaved as though foreign countries were their playgrounds: British tourists seem to have a knack for getting naked at UNESCO sites.

The right way to ride the Seoul Subway:

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