From stag do to 'shag do'
One-quarter of the million or so Brits who go on a pre-wedding knees-up abroad will end up in trouble - but these fun-filled shindigs are still an essential travel ritual, says the BBC presenter Simon Reeve
I was laughing so violently that I feared I would pull a muscle in my chest - later I would require sedation with glasses of medicinal beer. The man in the tiny, fluorescent green mankini was trying to help me free the canoe from the river bank, but all we both succeeded in doing was sinking up to our thighs into the quicksand-like mud. We redoubled our efforts as the rain began to pelt down, heaving at the stuck craft, until with a mighty whoosh we both... fell face first into the sludge.
Stag weekends - bastions of bizarre behaviour and travel japes
Quicksand? Mankinis? Where was I? On a stag weekend, of course, that bastion of bizarre behaviour and jolly travel japes, and the man in the Borat outfit was a close friend just a few weeks from marriage.
Astonishingly, some 70% of British pre-wedding parties are now held abroad - taking around one million Brits on foreign stag and hen weekends a year. Responding to a series of embarrassing recent incidents of Brits being bad on holiday, the Foreign Office has warned staggers and henners on a trip to avoid risqué fancy dress and rowdy behaviour if they want to avoid a black eye or a stay in a foreign jail. Cinema seems also to have sensed the mood with the recent release of Hangover Part II, set in Bangkok, in which the plot revolves around the consequences of a drunken bachelor party gone terribly wrong.
Personally, despite their undoubted potential pitfalls, I love stag do's. Bachelor parties have taken me to Blackpool, out on the town in London, to Ibiza, Paris, Italy, Slough, Latvia and through the Welsh orders in the unwieldy canoe on the River Wye. But they not only can make you well-travelled; they also seem to be an essential way of blowing off stream before marriage and the social straitjacket of small children.
Pranks are part of every stag and hen break - but they can lead to trouble
Hairy male bonding
They might feel a bit like an enforced ritual, but they can also be a chance for some enormous fun with a group of mates. Stag breaks, in particular, are one of the few opportunities for hairy male bonding in an age when we emasculated modern blokes have been encouraged to become weepy, nappy-changing new men.
The key to having a good time on a stag or hen bash, as with any kind of travel, is a bit of advance planning. In my 20s, I went on a few disappointing stags that involved a lot of milling around and being turned away from God-awful nightclubs in the early hours of the morning.
By my 30s friends were wising up to the need for preparation, particularly if we were going abroad. Guidebooks were bought, restaurants booked and guest lists arranged at nightclubs that didn't have vomit or sawdust on the floor. It was a huge relief.
But crazy mistakes still occur; it seems to go with the stag and hen territory. On one recent reported weekend jaunt abroad with the lads, several staggers booked flights to the wrong city. I almost missed my own stag do a few years ago because a muppet minicab driver seemed to conclude that Stansted airport was somewhere in central London. Fortunately, a kindly soul at the airport opened a sliding wall to reveal the VIP security check, letting a couple of friends and me zip through to catch our flight with seconds to spare.
Eventually 15 of us made it to Barcelona, ate, drank and partied in Pacha and collapsed on a beach in the sunshine. It was a hilarious riot, even when we all went paintballing for the first time and I discovered that peacenik friends could resemble murderous psychos. Generally we behaved, ahem, impeccably, but I have it on good authority that not all British stag groups do the same.
Three of the group on a recent stag weekend to Spain my friend attended didn't even make it on to the train to the airport because they were so drunk; the groom and best man did get to the airport but themselves became so insensible there they missed the flight. Fortunately my friend and two other blokes who actually went to Majorca were welcomed like brothers into another stag group by men they had never met. But the newly augmented troupe still suffered three arrests and four stitches.
Are hen parties, like this one in Barcelona, as rowdy as men's?
I have, of course, little experience of hen weekends. But friends and my wife claim girls can behave almost as badly as boys, with tales from the frontline of flashing, snogging and the sort of rowdy behaviour expected when teenagers first discover cider.
One in four stag and hen groups abroad, according to estimates, will run into some sort of trouble, including lost passports and stolen purses. Thousands of Brits are also arrested for fighting locals and each other, insulting behaviour or defacing local monuments.
So, is there anything that can stop Brits of both sexes behaving so badly on foreign stag and hen holidays? Friends report a new trend of single men and women travelling together as mixed hen and stag parties. The presence of ladies discourages the boys from dropping their pants or peeing in the fountains, and yet everyone can still rave and party as a happy gang. And there is always the chance that singles might come back as couples. They are being called, perhaps appropriately, shag weekends.
Stuart McClymont - Getty
The trend for mixed stag and hen do's could lead to yet more of them
Author and TV presenter Simon Reeve has visited around 100 countries and the BBC TV series Equator, Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer. He is currently filming a major new series travelling around the Indian Ocean.
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