Monday, October 10, 2011

Travel Tips

Fox News has an article about what to do if you get into trouble with the law while travelling abroad.  I thought I'd add my two kopeks.

  1. Don't be stupid.  That means educate yourself.  Learn how to contact the local consulate or embassy.  Know a few words of the local language, starting with the words your grandma wanted you to use:  Sir, ma'am, please, thank you.  Learn a bit about the local customs and laws. Look to see if there's a European or American expatriate community in the country, and use their resources to learn about the country, the customs, and places you can get food and water that won't kill you.   If you're going to a third world country, learn how to contact Doctors Without Borders so you don't get treated for eating the wrong food by someone who has to consult the bones before making a diagnosis.
  2. Don't travel to countries that don't have diplomatic relations with the United States.  If we're not talking to the government of the People's Republic of Douchebagistan, then that should be an indicator that Americans just aren't that welcome.  That means don't try to get into North Korea on the sly, or go hiking in the mountains on the Iranian border.  
  3. Tell people where you're going, where you plan on staying, and how you're getting there and back.  Bonus points for having a GPS and an international or satellite cell phone.  I hate to tell someone to tell the government anything, but registering with the local embassy or consulate will at least let them know you're in the country and they can tell you areas you probably should avoid.
  4. Stay in the tourist areas unless you know the local language very well and know the local customs and laws almost as well as you know the ones in your home town.   And then be prepared for a lot more hassle and danger of doing things that you didn't know were illegal.
  5. Stay away from the seedy part of town.  Yeah, you'll never be in that little city again, and you want to see some of the local night life.  But going to a dive bar in Singapore that's not frequented by anyone but locals will tend to get you in trouble.  Bad parts of town are considered bad for a reason.  
  6. Stay in a reputable hotel.  First, there's better security.  You're less likely to be arrested for assaulting someone for trying to take everything you have on you.  Second, if you tip well and are decent to the staff, they're more likely to help you get the heck out of Dodge in the event that the country goes pear shaped.
  7. Budget for bribes.  You can call it a "Warning Fine" in Germany, or you can call it "Mordida" in Mexico.  They're all bribes to me.  But hey, if passing a 20 euro note along with your passport to the nice gentleman in the uniform clears things up that quickly, what's a little official corruption between friends?  Interestingly enough, most of the time that I've had a cop hassle me for a bribe was right around either lunch time or shift change.  The only place I've had to deal with law enforcement that a bottle of booze or a bit of cash didn't smooth the waters was the United Kingdom or most of the United States.  
  8. Don't break the law.  This goes back to not being stupid and staying out of the seedy parts of town.  If you're in a Muslim country, stick to water and soda.  If you're in a country that frowns on the use/trafficking of narcotics, stay clean and don't carry any packages for anyone.  Don't speed, don't run from accidents if you're not in danger, and for God's sake don't handle weapons unless you're absolutely sure you can do so without ending up in a Turkish prison.
  9. OPSEC is your friend, and be respectful.  Unless you're fluent enough in the local language and customs to pass as a native and you look like one of the locals, you're going to stick out as a tourist and as an American.  But walking around in your "America, F*** Yeah!" tee shirt or having your kid walk around in miniature ACU's yelling "Airborne Ranger Hoowah!" will make it even easier for the locals to play "Pick out the Gringo".  Also, if the country has a dress code for your sex, follow it.  You can argue about your grrrllll status when you're back home.  No-one gives you bonus points for getting beaten up on the street by the local morality police because you just had your hair done did and you're not wearing a head scarf for any man.
  10. Follow your POW training.  If you are arrested, and a little silver crossing a palm or two isn't working, name, nationality, and "I want to speak to the American government" is all that should come out of your mouth.  Don't argue with them, don't try to talk your way out of it, and don't admit to anything.  The embassy staff isn't going to act as your lawyer, but they'll at least make sure you get what amounts to a lawyer and try to make sure you don't get strung up by your thumbs while two guys with a deep well battery play "Make the Tourist Twitch".
As you can see, most of these are preventive in nature.  Remember, the best way to survive a gun fight is to avoid it in the first place, and the same goes for dealing with foreign legal processes.


Julie said...

Agreed! I'ld add a few others:

1. If you're female be wary of making eye contact with males, in many countries this is taken as a 'come on' and you're only get a lot of hassle.

2. Keep your sense of humour, however minimise the sarcasm - it never translates well.

3. Keep your eye on your passport at all times, do not let it out of your sight.

DaddyBear said...

Good points! The eye contact thing is a good one for men to think of too. In some places I've been to, making eye contact is a challenge or considered being a bully.

MrG's said...

Excellent Post DB. Also I am a proponent of the "Bugout bag" When you go anywhere have a bag ready to go with your passport and local currency and dollars. Along with a multitool if possible. Map out a route to egress quickly out of the hotel in case as DB puts it "goes pear shaped" and the locals come looking for some gringo's to have sport with. Also no flashy clothes, something that blends in with the area and don't wear lots of bling. If you can pack heat, keep a couple of extra clips in there along with basic first aid and something to treat the water.

You can add more to it but basically apply common sense.

Old NFO said...

Excellent points... Plain and simple... However, if you're travelling to military bases overseas, numbers 5 and 6 pretty much don't count. Just sayin...

Julie is dead on for females, like it or not...

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