Happy Hour Etiquette

What are the unwritten rules of the best part of the day?


Anyone who travels will be familiar with the ritual of happy hour, whether it is in a caravan park or a camping spot in the bush.

It is the nature of people to gather and exchange greetings, ideas, stories of their experiences and just to get to know others. And it is usually one of the best aspects of moving to a new place and having a chat to fellow travellers.

But for the uninitiated, happy hour can seem a little odd or perhaps intimidating, unless you know what to do. To make the most of it, you need to keep a few things in mind.


First, the timing. This depends where you are, but generally it starts around 4.30 or 5.00pm. From experience, the general impression is it should finish about 6.00 or 6.30pm, before cooking the evening meal, but that depends on the place and, to a degree, the weather.

For instance, you may suggest to the neighbours that everybody take their chairs down to the beach to watch the sunset. That may be after your evening meal.

Bear in mind, the main idea is to share conversation, become acquainted, and usually have a drink. As a mainly non-drinker, I enjoy happy hour but don’t feel the need to drink alcohol. I just like talking to the people.

Second, what to bring. Whatever you want to drink in the allocated time. People often bring something to nibble with drinks but that can become competitive. If we supply food, we now only have a bowl of chips or nuts. When we first started travelling, we had bickies and cheese or a mixed platter, but that becomes deadly for your waistline and difficult to maintain. We now say to people straight up that we don’t eat at happy hour. That makes it clear to everyone.

Third, who attends. I love the way people are instantly friendly in this environment. In a town, you might say hello for a couple of days, then have a chat. If you pull up in a caravan park, you are likely to have some jovial criticism of your parking as a first contact. It is often the case of talking to the neighbour as they drive in, inviting them to bring their chairs over once they have set up.

Sometimes, you mightn’t be in the mood to socialise, preferring to spend alone time with your loved one instead.

We don’t always have happy hour, mind you. If we are tired or don’t feel like socialising, we give it a miss, as do other people, and nobody seems to take offence. Travelling is a great social leveller. Your occupation, social status or bank balance makes no difference because people just want to share stories and hints, and ask questions, usually about a road somewhere, the price of fuel or a feature of your van.

Fourth, consideration. There are the written rules to a camping spot or caravan park which you must adhere to, but there are also the unwritten ones, those involving common sense and courtesy. Keep the noise down, not only your voices but music or television. Be generous with your sharing of knowledge and tips you have discovered or learned as you travel. If someone has a problem, offer hands-on help. It is all part of this lifestyle. Always check regarding fires and if you are allowed to light one, be aware of smoke drifting into other camp sites or over someone’s washing.


Don’t assume. Share the hosting if you are staying a few days. Don’t assume you are invited to someone’s van every night for a couple of hours. Respect people’s privacy. We once had a woman who asked to use our toilet at happy hour to save her walking to her van or the amenities! As Bruce says, outside we share, inside is for us or close friends and family we invite.

The great thing about meeting new people all the time is the interaction. Some people you will really click with, and with social media and email, phones, etc., it is easy to stay in touch and catch up another time. We have made some really good friends this way. Conversely, you may find someone you have nothing in common with, or who irritates you for some reason. That’s okay too, you may never see them again but one evening’s conversation is easy to take.

So when you are on the road, don’t wait to be asked. Greet someone warmly and ask them over. It is nearly always a very pleasant way to spend an hour or so. If they don’t seem to know the ‘rules’, do some gentle guiding. We all have to learn the hidden etiquette of happy hour.

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Bruce and Marg Gow are seasoned travellers, having been on the road in their caravan for more than five years. They are originally Victorians, but prefer to call themselves Australians as they love every part of this great country. Bruce and Marg share their travel stories and ideas on our website, as well as their Facebook page, Baby Boomers on the Road.