Chacma baboon
Photo: Toye/Shutterstock

8 Lessons Travelers Can Learn From Baboons

Student Work
by Isabelle Martin Jul 3, 2014

PEOPLE WHO COLLECT MONKEY SHIT for a living do more than just rake in the cash. They also get a front-row seat to some great lessons on social etiquette — like watching a soap opera where everyone is covered in hair. Here are some tips I picked up during my time as a hamadryas baboon genetics researcher in Awash National Park, Ethiopia.

1. Modesty is for prudes.

Baboons have zero fucks to give when it comes to body image. Lady baboons sport flaming red estrous swellings that look like exploding whoopee cushions, and male baboons prance around with their nether regions flapping in the breeze. Genitals are out and no one is getting any side-eye about it.

The next time you’re agonizing over which swimsuit to bring on your travels, think like a baboon and don’t bother. Your pack will feel a lot lighter without a Victorian-era swim dress. Many countries allow public nudity, so let your bratwurst-induced fupa hang out.

2. Go with the flow.

Baboons are all about the bold moves. They wake up with the sun, poop copiously, and then head off in whatever direction they please. They cross miles of scrub desert in the searing heat in search of tasty leaves, delicious palm fruit, and the opportunity to surreptitiously hump a strange sir or lady in an exciting new setting. They sleep on the face of a different cliff every night, whichever is closest when the sun starts getting low in the sky.

So instead of prepackaging your travels, just wander around town stuffing your craw with local fruits and cheeses while lip-smacking at all the hot young thangs.

3. Never pass up a party.

When baboons discover something new, like the corrugated sheet metal roof that you built to protect your tent from the rain, they don’t hesitate to check it out. Baboons can take a sheet of metal nailed to four sticks and turn it into an all-night roof-deck rager, even if the downstairs neighbors are being total wangs and trying to sleep.

Unlike my home in puritanical New England, bars in most parts of the world are open all night. Take advantage! This is no time to catch up on Game of Thrones episodes in your hotel room under the guise of “getting over jet lag.” Bedazzle your fanny pack, stretch on the flight over to limber up, and get ready to freak out. A few hours later, you’ll be out at the clubs showing off your sweet monkey moves.

4. Don’t let kids cramp your style.

Baboons bring the whole family when they travel. Newborns pull their own weight right out of the womb, clinging to mom’s stomach while she forages. A few months later, a baby baboon is able to ride on mom’s back wherever she goes, entwining his tail with hers for balance.

Since human babies are barely-sentient blobs for the first year of life, throwing little Johnny on your back before sprinting to the bus may not work out so well. Wrap him in a papoose if you want to get fancy, or just stick him in your backpack. If he doesn’t have a tail, a little Velcro will work in a pinch to keep him upright.

5. Skip the Segways.

Picture a bunch of baboons driving around on Segways. They look stupid, and so do you. A baboon would never use a Segway to scale her sleeping cliff because it’s just plain lazy, and before you know it you’ve gained 30 pounds and your man is spending all his time with that skanky new female in the harem with the totally over-the-top and probably fake estrous swellings, and you deserve to be happy, okay?!

6. Pack light.

Baboons are ultralight travelers. When it rains, they use their giant manes as umbrellas, and their ischeal callosities make even the roughest rock a comfy seat. They’re too busy outwitting hyenas and dodging lions to be weighed down with unnecessary crap.

The next time you’re trying to decide how many pieces of matching roller luggage to take on your trip, take the baboon approach and streamline that shit. Leave the giant camera, Ziploc bag of jewelry, and eight pairs of shoes at home.

7. Use nonverbal communication.

Baboons are masters of body language. If you’re getting in a baboon’s personal space and he’s not really feeling it, he’ll let you know. The next time you need a little ‘me time’ on the road and your companion isn’t getting it, stare unblinkingly into his eyes while repeatedly raising your eyebrows. This move requires really growing out your unibrow for full effectiveness, which shouldn’t be an issue if you’re on board with the rest of this list.

If this doesn’t work, yawn mightily to show off your razor-sharp canines, preferably while whacking the dirt in front of you to create a badass and terrifying dust-storm. If he’s still not getting the message, charge him.

8. Make every day an adventure.

Sometimes there’s a drought, or the leader male is being a total slave driver and won’t give you any time off, or you’re short on cash because you went a little too crazy at the roof party last week. It’s okay — you don’t have to traipse all the way to the ends of the earth to have a good time. Grab a palm fruit, climb to the top of your favorite acacia tree, and just chill. Sometimes the most exotic observations happen right under your nose.

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