Travel is an adventure, but adventure isn't always safe. It's not supposed to be.
Whether a foreign country or just a new street corner, the unknown always involves an element of risk. It comes with the territory. That keeps an adventure exciting. Knowing that anything could be up ahead, that the bubble wrap has been pulled off your world just a little bit, is thrilling.
Danger doesn't keep us at home, but it also doesn't mean you should be cavalier. Any big trip needs a bit of risk management.
The law is a great place to start.
Frankly it's tricky enough just knowing all the laws here at home. Some research suggests that, by now, we've engineered the legal system to the point where everyone in America constantly commits mild felonies.
We're not alone, and if it's hard to keep track of all the laws you're really supposed to know just consider keeping up with the legal system over in Romania or Thailand…
Foreign laws aren't crazy, usually, and they aren't designed to be cruel, most of the time. What they are is new, and that can make some trips a little more dangerous if you're not careful. Here, thanks to a study by the Coonway & Coonway law firm, are 11 popular countries to make sure you read up on the next time you head out on vacation.
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With more than 32 million visitors per year, Mexico is the second most visited country in the Americas. Depending on your tastes it can offer temples, cosmopolitan adventures or spring break debauchery.
The latter can be particularly dangerous for a traveler who's not careful.
Despite the reputation of places like Cancun and Tijuana, Mexico takes a dim view of some of the more outspoken forms of debauchery. Shouting offensive words, carrying any kind of marijuana (even with a license or prescription) and even displays of nudity are all banned.
How seriously do they take this? Well, the movies on Aeromexico flights blur out any cleavage, so that might give you an idea.
Cuba has become newly relevant to American vacationers thanks to increasingly relaxed travel and import rules from the State Department. ( Would-be vacationers might want to get their skates on though. The Trump administration might not be as kind.)
Admittedly much of the advice about visiting Havana borders on poverty tourism, as travel writers urge people to get there while the city is still "authentic," which is generally code for "too poor to have a Hilton." That doesn't mean you shouldn't go, because the city really is beautiful.
Just, be careful when you do, because Cuba has a lot of laws that might take a U.S. traveler by surprise. Bans on cross dressing, for example, are enforced alongside strict restrictions on taking pictures near any military, police or transport facilities.
In other words, that airport snapshot might draw unwanted attention.
If you're interested in art, architecture, food, history or basically anything about anywhere that people live, Berlin is not to be missed. In fact, it is rapidly becoming one of the most popular destinations for young people looking to work abroad.
They just… have a few legal quirks.
Probably the biggest is to be very careful when wearing a mask of any kind, including ski masks or any face covering for warmth. In a German winter that can be very relevant, but the police really don't like it.
They also have decided to move aggressively against drunk cycling, perhaps to prevent an epidemic of cross-eyed cross trainers. Whatever the reason, don't take your bike to the bar. It will end poorly.
Did anyone expect us to leave Russia off this list?
Interestingly enough, though, the land that invented winter isn't such an onerous place for tourists. While you shouldn't join any political protests or march around in an anti-Putin t-shirt, the country otherwise has few laws that would surprise most Americans.
Do not drink and drive. Do not carry drugs. Do not remove antiquities or artifacts without permission. These are all fairly common.
The big one, though, relates to homosexuality (which will prove a common feature of this list). The Russian government takes a very dim view of it and has passed numerous laws to ban gay "propaganda." In practice this can mean anything from political demonstrations to PDA, which couples traveling to Moscow should keep in mind.
This African country is a surprisingly popular tourist destination. With well over a million visitors per year, primarily driven by wildlife and eco-tourism, figuring out the landscape over Uganda is an increasingly important issue for world travelers.
It's not a small challenge either.
Uganda has issued a series of strict and potentially surprising laws that tourists should keep on their radar. This includes a ban on illegal drugs so strict that you can receive a jail sentence for not disclosing prescription medication. Photography of any site considered official or military is prohibited, as is wearing anything considered military or camouflage-style.
Homosexuality is strictly prohibited and punished, as is wearing clothing considered too risqué and failing to carry a passport. All told, it is a country that might require some care when visiting.
The fourth most visited country in Africa, Algeria averages over 2.5 million visitors per year. Between its long Mediterranean coastline and numerous architectural and natural wonders (such as the Atakor Plateau), it's small wonder why.
Like Uganda, though, Algeria has several laws which can make travel difficult.
Most notably, this includes the country's ban on homosexuality and its strict laws regarding religious behavior. Worship of any faith other than Islam is restricted to permissible spaces, so public expressions of faith might cause a problem.
The Middle East is a difficult place to visit, even when security concerns aren't a problem. Many of its laws regarding dress and behavior might surprise Americans, creating a problem for people who want to see the magnificent cities and deserts of places like the Saudi Peninsula.
The rules are extensive enough that travelers should absolutely do their homework before visiting. Many local laws might be relatively predictable, such as the ban on drinking in this strictly Muslim country or that men shouldn't approach local women unless they're certain it's O.K.
Other rules, however, might be less predictable. Holiday decorations associated with non-Muslim faiths, like Christmas and Easter, can be confiscated for example. Criticism of Islam or the open practice of other faiths have landed people in jail, as has photographing women without permission.
The list is extensive and travelers would be wise to look into their own circumstances up front.
The United Arab Emirates is a contradiction. Dubai is steadily becoming one of the world's playgrounds, a marvelous city of improbable buildings propped up in the desert. Yet at the same time, this is a strictly Muslim country with often unaccommodating laws.
Public profanity, for example, can result in fines or arrest, so can taking photographs in a restricted area. Anything which the government considers religious proselytization can result in arrest or deportation.
Drinking might be accepted with a wink and a nod in Dubai, but public intoxication might well land you in jail, and even accidentally failing to pay a bill can result in lengthy prison sentences.
Like Saudi Arabia, this is a country that needs a bit of research before visiting.
The second most visited country in Asia, Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. However, it does come with a few rules that the average traveler might not expect.
The most important one is lese majesty, or violating the dignity of the sovereign.
The truth about Thailand is that it's a fairly conservative country that turns a blind eye to most tourist behavior. The legendarily debauched Bangkok actually has a midnight curfew, except for places that cater to visitors. Men should keep their tops on, but that hasn't stopped crews of Aussies on spring break (#squadgoals).
They do not, however, tolerate criticism or offenses towards the royal family. This prohibition extends so far that in 2012 a mentally ill woman from New Zealand, while visiting with her family, was jailed for appearing to make an obscene gesture at a picture of the king. So, go forth and have fun, but don't make the royals angry.
Many Americans don't realize that Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country. Although this nation is a clash of peoples, including large populations of ethnically Indian and Chinese, Muslim Malay makes up the dominant culture.
The result is that this popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia doesn't quite have the anything goes attitude of its neighbors to the north. In most places (aside from special exception zones like Penang and Kuala Lumpur), alcohol is highly taxed and somewhat difficult to get.
Publicly advocating for religions other than Islam is banned (so be careful about wearing that crucifix) as is open homosexuality.
Most interesting, though, is the country's attitude toward souvenirs. Taking home any flora or fauna without permission is a serious criminal offense. So… maybe leave that flower be.
Some readers might remember the story of Michael Fay, an American teenager in 1994 who was sentenced to caning in Singapore for vandalism.
The corporal punishment took America by surprise, even if the crime itself did not, but this extremely orderly Asian city has a lot of laws that might surprise the average traveler.
For example, singing out loud can land you a fine if the lyrics are considered obscene. Smoking in many public spaces carries a $1,000 fine, and contributing to the distribution of any material the government considers inappropriate can land some light jail time.
Oh, and don't try to bring in any chewing gum. Importing this highly banned substance can lead to fines of up to $200,000.