Another day, another set of travel shenanigans on social media.
oday, it’s a viral TikTok in which a man offers up a “travel hack,” and films himself buying snacks from a hotel front desk. He gives his room number for the charges, then walks away and explains, ostensibly out of earshot of the employee, that he’s given a different room number than the room he’s actually registered in.
Of course, the more accurate word for that is theft, and a number of commenters on TikTok and the media outlets that shared the video noted that. Some commenters also noted that the previous videos shared on the TikTok were clearly parodies. The “hotel hack” video has over seven million views, while the previous record was 25,000 for that account.
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The account’s bio line now reads, “I do not condone stealing. This was a joke.” The problem with parody, however, is that it has to be clear it’s parody—the premise has to be just ludicrous enough that a reasonable person would understand the author isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
In 1729, Jonathan Swift (who is generally regarded as one of the English literary canon’s finest satirists) deadpanned that the best solution for poverty in Ireland was to fatten starving children to be sold as food. It caused a sensation back then, of course, but the sensation also brought attention to the social issue at the heart of Swift’s complaints (it’s also made clear later in the text that the entire work, A Modest Proposal, is satire).
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It’s unclear in this TikTok, today, exactly what the videographer is attempting to lampoon. Perhaps it’s travel influencer culture—suggesting that many of the “travel hacks” have in fact been widely known for years, exist in an ethical gray area, or are in fact outright theft.
It may be just another part of the new canon of questionable travel ethics, like “begpacking,” where travelers will show up in a destination without enough funds to continue their trip, and will busk or outright beg for donations to continue their journey. In another alternate reality, a Dutch woman tricked her social media followers into believing she was on a monthlong journey through Southeast Asia, when she was really housebound in Amsterdam, posting photoshopped pictures of herself, later revealing the trickery was part of a school project on how social media can be used to distort reality.
The rise of user-generated content online has generally made the internet less trustworthy writ large. The New York Times recently reported on Amazon’s self-publishing services allowing knock-off travel guides poorly written by artificial intelligence to flood the market at a fraction of the price of exhaustively researched, trusted travel guides by major travel media brands (ahem, like us).
So, what is an actual hotel hack, that doesn’t raise internet hackles and isn’t unethical? A good starting point is this viral post from a Twitter user who uses the clips on the bottom of a hotel room hangar to fasten the two sides of the blackout curtains shut. It’s a harmless, useful solution to the relatively minor problem of a pair of hotel curtains not completely blocking out all the exterior light.
Other crafty hotel room hacks include turning a bathroom sink into a makeshift refrigerator with a bag of ice, hanging clothes up in the bathroom and running the shower to steam out the wrinkles, or requesting a toothbrush or razor from the hotel brands that supply them free upon request.
In the meantime, consider sources when looking for travel information online. Content that is designed to attract attention isn’t necessarily true, and the intention of the author isn’t necessarily ethical or benevolent—the objective is to get attention. Carefully consider sources, and when in doubt, lean instead on the pair of hacks that have served travelers well for millennia: gut instinct, and common sense.
Note: This article has been updated to correct the name of Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal.’