… or What To Do When Bill Clinton Isn’t Coming To Your Rescue!
The cases of Euna Lee and Laura Ling in North Korea and the 3 hikers currently being held in Iran shows the difficulty when you run into trouble abroad.
In both cases it appears more and more that they caused their own bad situations. The reporters now admit they stepped into North Korean territory and the 3 hikers were warned not to go to the border area between Iran and Iraq…and yet they still went.
If you or I are being held in jail while traveling, the odds that a former President of the United States will not be coming to get us and fly us home on a private jet. What can we do?
Register With Your Embassy Before Your Trip
I admit that I did not do this when I went around the world. Trust me I would do that now. The embassy may be your first and last line of help in a foreign country. They know the lay of the land, they know who to talk to, can bail you out of jail and arrange for legal representation. Your tax dollars are paying for them. Register your next trip and use them if you need to. I posted on this before.
DO NOT Accept Packages To Carry
DO NOT Let Anyone Pack Your Bags
I’ve talked about Locked Up Abroad on The National Geographic Channel, the ‘Scared Straight’ program of international travel. Whether desperate for money or just naive, these folks end up in custody, usually for carrying drugs. While US and European drug laws can seem harsh, drug laws in many other places are downright brutal, with prison conditions that are considered inhumane by many.
If you are that desperate for money, go to your embassy for help. It’s even better to beg on the streets than try to smuggle drugs. You’re asking for trouble that can’t be fixed with a simple call.
Heed the Warnings of Locals
I don’t know if it was arrogance, stupidity, overconfidence or a combination all of the above that caused the reporters and hikers to venture into forbidden territory. The hikers in Iran were warned beforehand. Lee and Ling definitely had to know the consequences of getting caught inside North Korea. This is not Americans getting caught crossing over the border in Canada, or even Mexicans getting caught crossing over into America. At least the Mexicans will get 3 square meals while being held and then get deported back to Mexico. That happens everyday.
You can’t reason with dictatorships like North Korea…unless you call a photo-op with Bill Clinton ‘reasoning’.
Ask your taxi driver, the person at the front desk of your hostel or hotel, any random person on the street, what are the do’s and don’ts. Don’t be afraid to ask. And when they tell you something, listen.
Know What the Laws Are
Here in NYC, there was a big stink about taking pictures of the subway system after 9/11. I haven’t heard many stories about that in a while, but it was big news when native New Yorkers were being arrested.
Being a drug mule is the extreme and obvious case, but countries and individual cities and regions have their own laws that may seem ridiculous to you, but could land you behind bars. You can Google or ask when you hit the ground what laws you as a foreigner should be aware of.
Don’t be paranoid about it, but keep your hands where everyone can see them and be respectful of the culture you’re in, even if you don’t agree with everything in it.
Remember the kid who was caned in Singapore for spitting chewing gum AND spray painting cars? Don’t talk badly about the Thai royal family. Here are 12 other things you shouldn’t do while traveling.
Your best bet, stay away from drugs and that is more than half the battle.
When I was in Egypt a few years back, a friend and I got the bright idea to rent a car and driver and try to roll to Southern Egypt, close to the Sudanese border. Someone else on the trip, not a local but a frequent traveler to the country, ‘politely’ told us that is was a bad idea. Sometimes our love of adventure and new experiences has to be tempered by practicality.
As much as I advocate solo travel, your best bet SOMETIMES is going with a tour group, especially in developing countries, countries that have a history of political violence or war, or countries that would have a problem with your citizenship.
There are guided tours of Afghanistan, North Korea, Iraq and Iran. Google them, they are out there. Would I consider one of those? Absolutely. Would I go to any of those places by myself? Nope, not right now at least.
But if you do it smartly and know where you can go and where you can’t, you can go anywhere and come home without causing an international incident.
Any more ideas on how to stay out of trouble while traveling abroad? Let us know in the Comments below.