Most people see travel as a harmless, if a little expensive, part of life – something that they do to experience the sights and sounds of different cultures all over the world. Travel, though, is fraught with peril, as any seasoned holiday-maker will tell you. When you step outside of a familiar environment and wind up on shores unknown, you face a steep learning curve. Not everything you can do back home is legal abroad. And even if it is illegal where you live, the penalties for breaking the law in foreign countries can be much more severe.
Take Thailand, for instance. Bangkok is one of the world’s most-visited cities, offering food, sunny weather, ancient temples, and plenty of women. Numerous western tourists, however, have fallen foul of the country’s draconian anti-drug laws, with some facing the death penalty for trying to bring certain illicit substances through airport security.
And it’s not just Thailand that will impound and possibly kill people for the vegetation that happens to be in their pockets. Many other countries in the developing world take a hardline position too.
You might say that this kind of danger is easy to avoid – just don’t take drugs across borders – but there are a host not-so-obvious things too that can land you in serious hot water when you go abroad.
Ask yourself this question: do you know all the laws regulating behavior in the country you live in right now?
The answer is probably “no.” If you live in a western country, most laws are just an extension of common sense, and you’re not going to go to jail unless you do something that is actually immoral. For instance, if you decide to drink and drive in the US, you can lose your license and face criminal charges, as Scott Rose points out. This offense makes sense, since driving while drunk makes it more likely that you’ll hurt other people on the road. But other countries that don’t have western values can take a wholly different attitude. You can get banged up for non-crimes – things that are moral in your home country – and it can be hard to find your way out.
Let’s take a look at some of the examples of how your love of travel can get you in trouble with the law.
Failing To Flush The Toilet In Singapore
Most people are in the habit of flushing their toilets after visiting the bathroom. It’s hygienic and prevents smells. Most countries, therefore, don’t have to create laws, compelling people to flush their lavatory and make use of the public sewer system, but Singapore does.
Singapore is a bit of a strange place. On the one hand, it’s exceptionally wealthy, home to some of the most lucrative international trade in the world. The city features glittering skyscrapers and architecture to rival any other city in the world. But when it comes to personal freedom, the country is way behind North America and Europe. You don’t sing obscene songs (always a pity), jaywalk or spit in the street (not that you would, anyway).
If the authorities come to your hotel room and find that you haven’t flushed your toilet, you could face a fine of around $500. Ouch!
Loitering In Front Of Churches In Florence
Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, giving the likes of Rome and Naples a run for their money. The laws here, however, takes some getting used to for tourists.
Take the city’s churches, for instance. If you’re a traveler who enjoys a bit of sightseeing, then you’ll probably want to spend a little time admiring the architecture, taking a few photos, perhaps having a smoke and chatting to friends. But don’t let the Florentine authorities see what you’re up to. In Florence, you’re not allowed to loiter outside the city’s churches – pretty standard tourist behavior. If you do, you might have to pay a fine.
The reason for the new law is to preserve the views of these iconic buildings. Portly tourists were, apparently, an eyesore.
Running Out Of Fuel On The German Autobahn
Germany’s autobahns are famous all over the world for the fact that you can drive as fast as you like. It seems like a libertarian dream. But when you peel back the curtain, you realize that the Germans aren’t as freedom-loving as it seems. While speeding along at 200 mph is perfectly acceptable, running out of fuel is not. If the police find that you’ve stopped without good reason on the hard shoulder, you’ll get a nice big fine. Not good.
Here’s a pro tip: keep your tank topped up regularly, especially if you’re driving over 100 mph. At those speeds, you can burn through fuel very fast indeed.
Using The Phrase “Polish Death Camp” In Poland
While some of the worst atrocities of WWII occurred in what is now modern-day Poland, they didn’t have anything to do with the Poles themselves who were victims of the occupation. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that people in Poland don’t like references to “Polish death camps” in their country.
Strangely, though, instead of correcting people who use the term, the government has made it illegal even to say it. The reactions from the international community have been mixed.
With that said, if you visit Poland, it is probably a good idea to avoid discussing the events of WWII altogether.
Urinating In The Sea In Portugal
Going for a bathroom break in the water is one of the joys of beach holidays abroad. Nobody can see what you’re doing, and you can avoid having to use public toilet facilities, which aren’t always well-maintained.
Doing a wee in the sea in Portugal, however, can land you in some serious legal trouble if you get caught. The authorities don’t take kindly to it, citing it as a public health hazard.
With that said, enforcement is pretty sparse. There are no heat-detecting cameras on the lookout for cheeky tinkles, so on a practical lesson, this particular crime will probably go unpunished. But should you be peeing in the sea anyway?
Failing To Cover Your Buddha Tattoos In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, takes Buddhism very seriously. Whereas in the west, it’s an eastern philosophy synonymous with meditation, on this island, it is a way of life.
The laws protecting images of Buddha in Sri Lanka extend to your body. Merely representing the historical figure on your arm or leg is reason enough for deportation!
Take the case of Naomi Coleman, a British tourist with a Buddha tattoo staying in Sri Lanka in 2014. When authorities saw that she had a Buddha tattoo on her arm, they arrested her for causing offense, held her in police custody for four days, and then sent her home. Fortunately, she did eventually receive some compensation for her ordeal (not much though) and was acquitted of all crimes. Still, it goes to show that not every country in the world embraces free expression.
As you can see, therefore, traveling to foreign countries with different laws isn’t without its perils. What’s more, you couldn’t guess some of these rules in advance. Who would have thought that it would be illegal to stand for too long outside a church in Florence?
The best approach is to read ahead about weird laws, use a guide, and get clued up. You don’t want your dream holiday turned into a disaster in a police cell. That’s no fun – no fun at all!