How to NOT End Up in Jail When Traveling

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To some people (especially in corrupt or Third World countries), as a traveler you’ll look like a walking cash machines; rich (compared to them) and easily exploited (if you’re unfamiliar with the culture of the country you’re in).

The problem with traveling in such foreign countries is that they may have strange or easily misinterpreted laws (meaning they can be easily broken if unaware), and combined with potentially corrupt individuals it’s easy to see how travelers can sometimes end up doing time in foreign countries.

Unlike in the USA, foreign jails/prisons are horrible. Just ask Warren Fellows, a convicted drug trafficker who was given a life sentence to the notorious ‘Bangkok Hilton’ prison in Thailand (which he then went on to write all about in his book ‘Send Them to Hell: The Brutal Horrors of Bangkok’s Nightmare Jails’).

In this article we’ll take a look at what you can do to prepare yourself and what you need to be aware of along the way, so you can minimize your chances of finding yourself in trouble while traveling.

Prison cell

Using Embassies

Most foreign countries will have an embassy from the UK/USA (or wherever you’re from) within them.

When you get into trouble, your embassy is there to help you, and although they won’t be able to get you off any charge, they will be able to provide you with legal representation, bail you out of jail, give you a small amount of emergency funds (if you have all of your money stolen) and possibly even provide you with a plane ticket home.

Educate Yourself on the Local Laws

While most laws translate seamlessly from one country to another (such as don’t murder people, don’t sell drugs), lots of countries have their own subset of laws that you might never even know about; laws that you might consider to be ‘silly’ but that could land you in trouble if you break them.

Oftentimes guidebooks (such as the ‘Lonely Planet’ books) will have a section giving you a rundown of any laws you need to be aware of (such as the fact that you can get fined for not flushing a public toilet in Singapore or arrested for badmouthing the royal family in Thailand).

As well as finding out the local laws, it’s also a good idea to educate yourself on what is socially acceptable and what isn’t, and what things you need to avoid doing that might offend people. For example, in Islamic countries it is disrespectful to show the soles of your feet as they are considered to be unclean.

Heed Local Warnings

You might think that you know best most of the time, but when traveling it’s safe to assume that the locals (who have lived in the country their whole life) will know better than you.

If you’re staying in a hostel, the hostel staff/owner is usually a goldmine of useful information, so don’t hesitate to ask them the dos and don’ts of their country, and make sure to listen to what they say!

For example, if you’re planning on going hiking into the wilderness but one of the locals tells you it’s unsafe, make sure you heed their warning, as this is usually how most travelers find themselves in hot water.

Use Common Sense

Remember to use common sense when traveling, and that if something is wrong or illegal in your home country, it’s probably illegal in most other countries.

Stay away from drugs, no matter how tempting or safe it might seem. The punishments for drug use/possession in some countries are much worse than they are in the UK and the USA. For example, in Singapore you can actually be sentenced to the death penalty for being caught with drugs!

Also note that some drug dealers in tourist hotspots work in association with the police. When you buy drugs from them, they’ll instantly report you to the authorities and you’ll be arrested before you even realize what’s going on.

In some countries (particularly Thailand), when you’re caught with drugs you’ll be promptly escorted to the nearest ATM machine, where you’ll be given the choice of handing over every last penny in your bank or spending the rest of your life in jail. Not cool!

Travel as Part of a Tour

Although traveling alone or with a couple of friends is a great way to gain independence and have fun, when traveling in ‘difficult’ countries (such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran) it’s best to travel as part of a tour group (i.e. on a guided tour).

The main benefit of this is that tour guides will know the country and the culture inside out, and they’ll be able to keep you out of trouble.

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