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Smoking - The Great Travel Leveller?

WORLDWIDE | Wednesday, 15 August 2012 | Views [4478] | Comments [4]

As many who have travelled from Australia to South America can attest, it is not the easiest or most luxurious of flights. So having just landed in bustling Buenos Aries; negotiated the Argentine version of a customs process, followed by collecting luggage that looked rather less together than it was at departure; my mind sprung instantly to head for the nearest exit for a 'stress reliever'.

Luckily for those who smoke – many other nations do not seem to be too precious as to where you indulge your habit – suffice to say there were no “designated smoking areas” to contend with (here’s looking at you, Seattle).  Imagine then, my horror to discover the only roadblock between me and sweet relief was an element as old as time itself. 

You see – my aforementioned broken luggage had dispensed some liquid over several items – the most crucial to me at this point being a box of hotel matches.  Having not used my Spanish in more than a few years – I was forced to do what many a traveller before me had done, and call on the kindness of a stranger using only a smile and some crude, though universally recognised, hand signals.

As it turned out – this fellow I accosted to produce fire for me happened to be a driver of a shuttle bus whose shift had just ended. Being that his home was close enough to where we were heading - a ride was arranged. A few painfully ambiguous sentences and a handful of pesos later – we were on our way out of BA airport having avoided the chaos and queues that I marred my previous visits.  My travelling companion remarked to me how lucky we had been that:

  • My bag had been damaged forcing me to speak to this stranger; and
  • I was smoking

It was this curious perspective, which lead this nomad to pose a poignant, albeit unconventional question:

Are there benefits to being a smoking traveller?

Countless interactions, introductions, and interludes have, through the ages of travel, been sparked by those five little words: “Do you have a light?”. It has the power to turn strangers into buddies in an instant.  

Shortened life expectancy notwithstanding, there is something inherently uniting by partaking in any joint activity with strangers – and to this end the act of smoking lends itself to be particularly socially conducive. It may be a diminishing trend, but it is one that’s universally acknowledged.

Modern societies are moving toward having designated areas that do/do not allow smoking – which further identifies and concentrates birds of a feather.  The request for a match or cigarette from a stranger is usually accompanied by some brief polite chit-chat by way of repaying the kindness – and it is through these that the social foundations are very quickly laid, which is especially comforting while travelling around solo. 

This is not, of course, exclusive to smoking.  Shared passions for a sports team, a religion, or music are all more than an equal rival to the humble Marlboro light. The benefit afforded to the smoker is that the common ground is established directly and up front – without the need for the usual probing questions to establish whether we may end up being buddies for a few hours because we both support ‘United’, or are both secretly in love with Leonard Cohen.

As humans – we are by nature timid little creatures.  The idea of conversing with somebody we don’t know is not everyone’s idea of comfort, let alone if it be in a foreign place or tongue.  Having something to instantly identify yourself with another is somewhat comforting, allowing easier passage for further social interaction.

Whether there are some genuine benefits to smoking; or if these thoughts are merely the musings of an addict grappling with his own behaviour, is up to you to decide.  The only practical lesson for you to take, dear reader, is when packing for your next sojourn – be sure to separate you flammables from your liquids and gels.

About the Author

David Couri is a darling of literary-minded college students & hot-tempered chef.  Barred from returning to cuba by Fidel Castro, he has refined a unique brand of travel that can only be described as 'angry'. A singer-songwriter known for his cerebral compositions, he plies his trade at the dive bars of Sydney's inner west to the slinky saloons of Texas. 

Have you made mates or avoided sticky situations by smoking on your travels? Share your tale...

Tags: smoking, tabacco, travel



Yeah the smokers be cooler. Or at least know the pain of needing a light!

I recommend less bold in the body text please. It detracts from the article when overused. Try only a very few select phrases. Callout quotes are often used to good effect in this way.

  Bobby bob Mar 27, 2013 4:53 PM


From one who detests smoking, your article brought a smile to the dial. But its sad that anyone needs an ice-breaker to start a conversation with someone when on the road. I find a simple 'do you speak English' is an easier option and I won't ruin my health in doing so. The smog of most capital cities around the world will do it for you. Anyway, a well written piece of work.

  fartandbelch Jul 21, 2013 7:14 AM


It is a human right to breath clean air. Those of us who are on disability due to respiratory conditions and allergies to fragrance, chemical inhalants and secondhand smoke (uninvited trespass into our breathing zones) are glad to hear designated smoking areas are being created to accommodate the disabled persons human rights and prevent others from getting sick. Please keep us abreast on global developments. Thanks! Schmoozequeen on Facebook -- global ethic vegan world traveller.

  Olga Aug 26, 2013 12:55 AM


Another thought here is that when you need a second to gather your bearings, having a quick smoke is one of the most unobtrusive ways I know of to do it. Standing around looking confused makes you look like a target, but standing around having a smoke makes you look completely at home!

  Stephen Jan 24, 2014 6:14 PM

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