Traveling abroad is a marvelous adventure. There are so many opportunities to learn new things, try new foods, meet different people… and get into trouble. What adventure would be complete without a little bit of trouble? When traveling in a different country, with written laws and unspoken rules that can be very different from your home, it is much easier to make a mistake that will land you in hot water. People who choose to adventure abroad ought to become familiar with the laws of the places they intend to go, but even the best-prepared of travelers can still find themselves in trouble.
46. Fast and Furioso
Once my family and I and our close family friends were on vacation in Akumal, Mexico (small coastal village an hour south of Cancún). We were 16 at the time (my friend and I) and he suggested we take the car to go pick up one of our family members at the airport. Our families were even cool with this.
What we didn’t know was that you can’t drive in Mexico at all apparently, especially if you’re a child. At least you can’t rent a car until you’re 24.
The police pulled us over on the highway to the airport because my friend had his foot out the window. They had their hands on their guns when they got out of their car. Ticket book out. Very little English. My friend and I immediately thought to ourselves and gave them whatever cash we had on us, it was equivalent to around $50. They let us go.
45. Do Not Passport Go
I lost my passport for a few weeks doing bar crawls around Bangkok. Finally checked the embassy few days before I flew out, luckily some Irish guy had found it in a puddle and handed it in. They were mad because I had people’s autographs in it and threatened to destroy it instead of letting me use it to get back home. Whoops.
44. Your Worst Nightmare.
I know a couple who traveled to Israel and accidentally hit a pedestrian who jumped in front of them while they were driving. The pedestrian was put in the hospital while the husband went to prison for a night. They let him out a day later after getting word from the victim that she was alright and it was her fault.
After she got released from the hospital, she walked a few steps and collapsed, dead unexpectedly. This landed the husband back in jail until he was released a couple of weeks later when they figured out what all had happened.
43. Baby Gangster
My family and I moved around a lot when I was a kid, and once when we couldn’t afford the rent in El Paso, we went across the border and stayed in Juarez. Since you can’t just run across the border, I played in the streets of Juarez. Turns out, there’s a pretty strong drug-gang presence there. I stumbled across a torture scene that I’m pretty sure turned into a murder scene a short while later, and I got caught. Two of them held me in place while a third squatted down in front at me and yelled furiously at me in spanish. When I tried to say I didn’t understand, he full-out slugged me in the stomach over and over. I was in 5th grade. They carried me about a block away and threw me out into the street. I got back to the room we were renting a long time later having coughed blood up all over my shirt. I still feel surprised they let me go.
42. Playing At Spies
While in Libya this past summer, I took a photo from my balcony. It captured some of a checkpoint into the biggest air base in Africa, manned by not well trained ex-revolutionary fighters. They spotted me and a couple minutes later I had six guys with machine guns banging on my door, demanding I come out and let them search the apartment. While neighbors vouched for me, a family member called a friend of mine who happened to work in the airbase. He came running from the base and stopped them as they were escorting me downstairs to for further questioning in the airbase. Close call.
41. A Little Underdressed
Wore shorts and a tank top ( I’m female) in a Muslim country… Aaaand tried to enter a mosque. I swear I’m not stupid, I was just young and clueless. This was in 2000, I was 22. Thank goodness I had lots of US dollars with which to bribe, bribe, bribe my way out of that.
40. Currency Complications
I was (nearly) arrested at Hong Kong airport.
I’d just flown in from China, and handed over all of my remaining Chinese currency to be exchanged. The very nice lady at the TravelX booth explained that one of the bills appeared to be counterfeit and said that they always had to involve the police when someone hands over a counterfeit bill. Uh oh.
As I’m trying to find somewhere to stay the police arrive, and suddenly I’m being escorted though the airport terminal to the police station for a “chat” and a “sign this document” sort of thing.
The police take down my story about getting the bill from an ATM in Beijing and tell me that if the bill turns out to be real, they’d send it on to me, but for now they were going to keep it.
So a bit of an adventure, but not really very serious in the end. Somewhere I have the letter they sent about six months later telling me that the bill had indeed been a fake, and that it had been destroyed.
39. Your Own Personal Brexit
I routinely travel between the US and UK to visit my partner. In October, I got detained for 5 hours at the UK border (after a 9 hour flight) because I didn’t have my return ticket, and a few of the statements I made didn’t correspond with ones my partner made. They suspected me of coming over to work illegally.
Luckily, everything was sorted and I was able to come into the country.
38. Plank Prank
A couple years ago I was in India and a friend of mine and I were trying to get funny planking pictures around the city. We ended up in a random train station after riding the metro out of the main part of the city and we thought it’d be funny to plank on the escalators. Apparently that counts as defacing government property and two police officers game and grabbed us and were flashing their guns and stuff and wouldn’t let us go and it seemed like they were about to take us to some Indian prison, but we saw the train come into the station and was about to leave so we took of running up the escalator and hopped on as the doors were closing and it left and we got away. It was pretty intense.
37. Chew And Swallow
That whole no chewing gum thing in Singapore got my friend busted once at work. Got off a plain chewing it, forgot he had it, went to spit it out before he got in a cab, it hit the ground instead of a trash can he’d been aiming for, and he immediately reached for it to throw it away when a cop saw him. Cop was a good guy and laughed because it was clear he was aiming for the barrel, but any other cop he said would’ve given him the $500 ticket. He was made to throw the rest of his gum away that he had in his bag though, just to be cautious, since he can’t chew it outside the airport.
36. Cambodian Scooter Bribe
Rented a scooter in Cambodia, got pulled for having the headlight on before 6 pm. I got taken into a room and was told why I was there, they then asked for my international driving license (which you don’t actually need for a scooter) I lied and told him I lost it in Australia.
He started shaking his head and telling me this wasn’t good…first the headlight issue and now no license…
This is when he asked if I wanted to do things the easy way or hard way, I said easy and he gave me a little speech about lights in Cambodia and then proceeded to ask me how much I thought the info about light in Cambodia was worth.
I paid him 10 bucks and went on my way.
35. Assassination Plot
When I landed in Nepal this German guy accused me of plotting to kill him while on the airplane. I was sitting a few rows behind him reading from a tablet. He told the police I had a laser pointer and insisted I was an assassin. He was hysterical. I was terrified in this new country and was put in a room while the police searched my bags for a laser pointer. An actual laser pointer. I had none. The guy turned out to be very mentally unstable and was sent away.
The airport police chief gave me his own phone number and told me to call him if I needed tourist recommendations.
34. Six Years Kind Of Illegal
In India, jumped the fence around the park next to the Taj Mahal at 5:30 am to take pictures of the building at sunrise. Once in the park, my friends and I thought we could get better pictures if we go right up to the river flowing next to TM. Turns out that was very illegal, 6 years in jail kind of illegal. The pissed off armed guards finally let us go after an hour of pleading.
33. Watch The Days
I was traveling across Kazakhstan for work. One thing I failed to notice on my visa/landing card was that after x number of days in-country, I had to go check in with immigration. Whoops.
So when I went to leave the country, the passport control official noted that there was no appropriate stamp, pointed this out to me, and eyeballed me like his life depended on it. While I was being coldly stared at, I was terrified, and I thought “oh no, I’m going to spend a few nights in the cells before being fined and deported”.
THANKFULLY he said, “In the future when you visit our country, you must comply with the law.” and let me go. I apologized profusely and got on my flight out.
I haven’t been back but certainly wouldn’t rule it out. Just don’t go during winter – Kazakhstan is pretty cold in November.
32. Strange Pull Over
I got “pulled over” (a cop stood in the grass and waved his arms at me) in Negril, Jamaica for speeding. The limit was 20km/hr IIRC because we were driving through the resorts area and I was doing about 40km (everyone else was doing about 60). The officer walked up to me with his button up halfway undone with his chest hairs exposed (lol) and let me off with a warning. The entire time my girlfriend was yelling at me to drive away because she thought we were going to get shaken down
31. Google Translate Saves Ears
Two weeks into a seven-month backpacking trip around South America, my girlfriend got a severe ear infection when we were in Puerto Madryn in Argentina. The pain was so bad she could barely stand and said it felt like her head was about to explode.
Obviously, I knew I needed to get a doctor involved ASAP in case her eardrum ruptured, but I’d only been learning Spanish for two weeks at this point. I could about handle formal greetings but hadn’t yet covered medical emergencies.
I sprinted from clinic to clinic, and using the Google Translate app eventually was able to find one that would take her in. After basically carrying here there, the doctor and I basically communicated using Google Translate, passing my phone back and forward as he asked questions and I answered them. It was weird at first but it worked well, the doctor was pretty cool about it (especially considering he was about to leave for the day when we rocked up).
He gave her a STRONG painkiller and a prescription for antibiotics and sent us on our way. My girlfriend was high as a kite and went straight to sleep. I went into the kitchen and drank a bottle of wine.
30. Keep This In Your Passport
I went once to Russia from Nice(France) by train with my then girlfriend. Obviously, there were frontier controls at Belarus, so we showed our passports with our transit visas (funny enough, we didn’t need visas for Russia, but we did need them for Belarus). As none of the guards spoke any language other than Russian, they just gestured that everything was ok, and that was that.
We spent 2 weeks and a half in Moscow and St. Petersburg, using Airbnb. It was pretty good and I genuinely enjoyed the trip.
Then, when we were going back to France (by train again), we stopped again at Belarus for exit control, and it was like 2 am. We were in a 4 people cabin, and with us was a Russian lady and her daughter, she was very kind and we sorta chatted a bit (and then we realized that she had an awful experience with our country, won’t give many details here). The thing is, when the guards saw our passports, asked for something in Russian again. The lady translated our “check-in documents” or something like that. It turns out that, when you’re a foreigner in Russia, you have this sheet of paper that you should give to your hotel to be filled and then hand it back when exiting the country. Nobody told us that, and we were puzzled. The guard says “We’re going to take your passports. I am going to talk with my superior”.
Then, we spent a tense hour. The lady called her husband, who, as it turned out, worked with some Russian ministry and had something to do with migrations. She then grimly explained that the guards could detain us and send us back to Moscow in the middle of the night for not having the required documents. At that moment, we were livid, we had a flight to catch in France in 4 days or so (and the trip by train takes 2 days), we didn’t have much money for a last minute flight and the prospect of being detained in Belarus wasn’t a pretty one (later I discovered that Belarus is called “the last European dictatorship”, so, there’s that). I was already worried, my ex was very chill until I kinda explained the situation for her, and then she started to worry as well.
The guard came finally and handled our passports back. The lady asked “What happened? Is everything ok?” and the guy said “Well, my supervisor and I had a great day today, we’re in a cheerful mood, so, we won’t bother you. You’re free to exit the country, have a nice night”. We were relieved…
Months later, I found a colleague from Belarus who explained to me “well, next time you slip a 20 Euros note in your passports, and problem solved”. The more you know.
29. Canada Really Is Another Country
I was a research assistant in an ecology lab when I was 20. My lab group was flying from Seattle to our research site in the remote Canadian Arctic, with a stop in Edmonton to change planes. I’d driven across the Canadian border multiple times and just used my driver’s license as id. It never incurred to me that I’d need a passport when flying in. The immigration agent gave me this incredulous look and I could feel the shame rising to smother me. He just stared me down for several seconds, then hands my drivers license back and says “You do realize Canada is an independent country, right?” and let me continue. He seemed so defeated by my thoughtless American arrogance.
On the way home, a grad student volunteered at American customs inspection that she’d collected samples of an arctic poppy species that wasn’t on her import permit. Like they would ever have known otherwise. She had to leave her samples behind.
The 90s were a more innocent time.
28. Just Act Scared
I was 18 visiting Spain from the US. I was with my Spanish friend who was only 17. I wanted to drink alcohol because it was legal for me but not for my friend. I bought us some bottles of beer and we started drinking them out on the street when suddenly the police showed up. They got in our faces but I couldn’t really understand what was going on so my friend had to translate.
They said something to the extent that I could be arrested or deported but instead of translating directly, my friend was telling me what was actually going to happen which was that they were going to make us pour them out and maybe write me a ticket that I’d never have to pay. So I’m just nodding dismissing everything and the police started yelling at him. So he turns to me and said, “they want me to make sure you know this is really serious and you can go to jail”
I still wasn’t getting it so my friend then adds, “so look scared.” I then made this face like I was afraid I’d get in trouble and started acting really apologetic. The police got this satisfied look and kinda stared me down as I poured out our beers. They then finally left us alone.
27. Surprise Weapon
So I was in the US on Holiday, visiting my girlfriend at the time. I was using her parent’s car when I got pulled over by the police as I drifted out of my lane as it was the first time I had driven on the other side of the road.
So in Australia, your car registration is all electronic and tied to the number plate, so it can be checked by the police on their computer and insurance isn’t required so of course no need for an insurance certificate or proof of it.
Cops walks up to the window, asked me why did they think I was pulled over and for licence, registration and insurance and I freeze, then quickly said to him “Let me just have a look” and without thinking about the fact he might be worried about weapon because ‘murica, I whack open the center console…to be greeted by my girlfriend’s mum’s handgun which she had neglected to tell me about.
Well this is where everything went downhill, I instantly hear the sound of the policeman’s getting whipped out and him yelling at me to put my hands up, of course, I comply because what else do I do.
He calls for someone else and orders me out of the car, handcuffs me and sits me down on the curb while we wait for them to arrive. As I’m sitting there he asks me where my wallet is and grabs it from me, grabs my license only to notice that it’s an Australian license and suddenly changes his tone.
Anyway, while we are waiting for the other cop to arrive, he asks me about why I’m visiting, what am I doing driving alone etc then asks for the vehicle owners phone number and such to call them.
Thankfully after a 15-minute call with my girlfriend’s mum, they straightened out things with the fact that there was a weapon they had forgot to mention to me and just told me to pay a bit more attention while driving in the US so that I don’t drift outside of the lane.
26. So Scary
I was studying at King’s College London for a semester. King’s is right next to Somerset House, this huge former palace that now houses various museums and offices and things. One day as I was leaving class I saw a bunch of people crowded around the entrance to the Somerset House courtyard and after asking around a bit, I determined that the Queen would be passing through momentarily. While I’m not one of those people who’s obsessed with the royal family, I was interested in seeing the Queen so I hopped up and took a seat on a stone wall just inside the courtyard entrance.
After a few minutes, a policeman came along and nicely told me to please get down off the wall, as it was dangerous to sit up there. I complied, but as there were now people standing in front of me I couldn’t really see anything, so I put my hands on the wall and started pushing myself up so I could stand on my tiptoes more easily. The policeman happened to look back and see me doing this, and it must have looked like I was getting ready to jump back up onto the wall, so he sternly told me “I’ve told you once, if you try to get back on that wall I’ll have to ask you to leave.” I apologized and took my hands off the wall.
That was my big, scary run-in with the London police.
25. Almost Conscripted Abroad
I was in Russia, in one of their two main cities, doing my studies. I was a college-age male and American. One day, I’m walking around without my documents, but its like, late September and the police like to hang around the subway stations stopping young adult males and making sure they’re not avoiding conscription. So I get stopped, and I speak a bit of Russian because I had been studying it for almost two years at that point, but that was my second mistake of the day! Despite my heavy American accent, the lack of passport plus my sex, age, and the fact I knew Russian got me a trip downtown to the local military recruiter’s office. I assume I’m about to be conscripted into the military in mere moments, so I pay the guy a bribe and make a phone call to my flatmate and beg him to bring my passport down to the station. He shows up, they see my visa, I get released. That was fun…
24. A Friendly Scrap
A friend and I were visiting Krakow about a decade ago. We checked into our hostel (which was really nice) just around dinner time. The host at the hostel, Norbert gave us some food recommendations and a map that wasn’t the best (had probably been photocopied hundreds of times), but we figured we could manage. We go and have a great meal/pint and decide to head back to the hostel to rest up for the next day.
By this time, it was dark out and the streets were not very well lit, making the shoddy map even more difficult to read. I noticed what I think was a lit bus map not far down the street and suggested we check that out and at the very least use the light to read the one we had. So, we go over to it, at this point obviously lost tourists when two guys approached us. They were speaking what I’m assuming was Polish. I was pointing at the map and saying the name of the hostel in hopes they would be able to help us when all of a sudden one of the guys tackled my friend and a street brawl ensued. It didn’t seem like they wanted anything other than a scrap, but it was still scary looking back. When the fight was over neither my friend or I (or them I think) were seriously injured. I had a split eyebrow and my friend had a small chip in his tooth.
When we got to our feet, we just looked at each other like did that just happen? Some other local (I’m assuming) people came over and were able to speak a bit of English and asked if we were ok and I tried to explain the situation. They apologized and walked us to our hostel and said we’d be better off not contacting the police. We thanked them and parted ways.
23. Kosovo Operations
Went through the border at Kosovo coming from Albania. Border police confiscated my passport and told me to park in this barb wired section. They told me I need to pay 10% of what my car is valued at to ensure that I don’t dump it in Kosovo. I thought this was absurd but they refused to let me go unless I paid 300 euros. I ended up paying the money and the man put the money in his back pocket then told me I have 2 hours to leave Kosovo. Was a really scary situation as I’ve heard about abductions and awful things happening to people who are driving through that area. There were thugs walking around in a joint operation with the police. Scary stuff.
22. No Change On A Bribe
Was in Puerto Nuevo, MX eating lobster and drinking. After we were done while walking back to the car I had to take a leak and there were zero public bathrooms around. I found a tree next to a big truck and did my business. Zip up, turn around and a Federali was standing there. He held out his hand and said 17 Dollar. I handed him a $20 and did not get my change!
21. The Hand Dealt
Two of my friends and I were backpacking around Europe. We were in a train station in Italy, waiting for the parents of one of my friends to pick us up and take us to the villa they had rented for a few days. We had taken to playing hearts to pass the time at airports etc and were playing at one of the tables in the waiting area. For some reason we also had a small stack of euros on the table, I think because we were taking turns buying beers and just wanted the money for the next round ready to go.
Out of nowhere, we were approached by a pair of Italian police officers who spoke to us angrily in Italian. Needless to say, we couldn’t understand them but were immediately intimidated. If you’ve never been to Italy, some of the police there carry around rifles, so it was a tense moment.
Eventually, we figured out they wanted to check our passports. They took them and my one friend into their office. While we were awkwardly waiting my other friends’ parents arrived, and we had to explain that we couldn’t yet leave because the police had detained our friend and were holding our passports. Finally, he came back and explained that the police thought we had been gambling on our card game. They ran our passports through Interpol, found nothing and let us go. So we were never really in any trouble, but it was tense for a few minutes there.
20. Waiting On Justice
Was in Firenze last weekend and had scheduled Duomo for 15:30. The climb has to be scheduled ahead, otherwise you cannot climb it, we did that and also had a talk with a very kind authorized person outside and around Duomo which told us, that guards have to let us in no matter how long the waiting line is because we reserved the climb.
We came 1 hour early, watching people get in in intervals every 30 min as they reserved the climb. After last round we were first to get up at 15:30, but it was 30min left, so we decided to sit down on the stairs beneath the gates as we were the only one of the next group. At 15:25 came a group with a teacher, they did start to format a long 50-60 people line around us, 10 students passed us. We didn’t mind but we stood up and turned around in direction of gates because we didn’t want to go stand on the sun, that’s when teacher approaches me and says “Hi, are you booked for climb?” and I said yes, we are and then she points to the end of the line with her finger “I’m sorry, but the line is over there.”… I refused politely and told her, that we were here more than 1 hour already and that I’m not willing to go stand on the sun again, so she made that nodding face “oh yes you will” , she dashed to the gate guard and told him in Italian that I’m refusing to leave the group, that we look suspicious and refuse to go in line. Guard came to me and told me to come with him. For a moment I thought we will get in trouble, but he asked the teacher if we are the one that “cause trouble”, she nodded and began to speak Italian very quickly and that’s when he stopped her and told her to stop lying and that he saw us here waiting peacefully for way longer as we should. He pulled the entire line of students behind us, then explain us in English what happened.
We were so grateful that some justice still exists! There are so many self-proclaimed people that think that they have some kind of authorization and abuse it.
19. Watch Where You’re Standing
I was in India on business. I and a coworker were out on the weekend site seeing. We were in this nice garden, and I was walking around, not paying a lot of attention. Suddenly these guards with weapons were yelling at me in the local language. I was like “what? What do you want?”
I was standing on Gandi’s wife’s grave.
18. Quack Doctor
I broke three of my right posterior ribs. Lucky for me? It was at a very expensive resort in Zanzibar. So they called the doctor on call who literally just shot cortisol into my back and then charged me $500. I tried to board an Emirates flight and the captain and his first officer sat me down in first class and then refused to let me board and made me get wheeled off the plane.
When I asked why they explained that when you fly your organs (like most other things in your body) expand. And three broken ribs provide plenty of potential for a punctured lung or other organs. Then asked the resort I stayed in so they could call on the ‘quack’ who suggested I fly at 40,000+ elevation so they could complain and get his license revoked.
I was transported to a medical clinic in Arusha and hospitalized for a week. The doctors couldn’t understand I had no one (I was traveling alone). So they called the US embassy who sent a rep the same day. I’ve worked with the embassy for years but didn’t realize the full extent they go overseas to help Americans. They do their due diligence and if you are missing or lost they are your first line of defense.
Always register with them. Even if it’s just hotel names. Their goal is to bring you home.
17. Worth It For The Pets
Got locked in Peruvian airport jail because I pet a security dog. Was napping and woke up to a beagle sniffing my foot, instinctively pet its floppy ears, officers dragged me to jail, and I had to get on the phone with the 7 US embassy and explain what happened to go free.
Was worth it for the dog.
16. A Polite No
I was on the Canadian side of Niagra Falls with a girl I was interested in. We were more than just friends, but not yet dating. As such, we were goofing around all day. At one point, I tried to get her to sit on a snow covered bench.
As we play wrestled, she stopped and pointed. I looked over my shoulder and there were two Mounties a little ways off watching us and shaking their heads no.
So we stopped and continued on our way.
15. Cosmetic Close Call
I was in the Philippines with my mom, girlfriend, and sister and we were in a little beach town on Palawan called El Nido. One day we decided to rent mopeds to ride about 45 minutes to another nearby beach. My mom does not have the best balance, so when we were about 5 minutes from the beach we were going to riding mopeds on a rocky dirt road, my mom loses control. She drives through a bush and crashes into a barbed wire fence and severely cuts her arm. Out of nowhere, about 15 Filipino people come to help her up (they are some of the nicest people in the world) and luckily a van is driving by in the opposite direction heading back to El Nido where we were coming from. Somehow (luckily), inside the van is a French nurse who immediately wraps my mom’s arm in a towel and insists she needs stitches. So they toss her in the van with my sister who is bawling and take off. Meanwhile, my girlfriend and I need to find out how to get 4 mopeds back with two people. So two of the Filipino guys grab their mopeds and take off insisting they know where to return them. My girlfriend and I take off a couple minutes later and upon getting to town 40 minutes later, realize we don’t know where the medical center is. Finally, find the med center, and it is closed because it’s Sunday. Having no idea what to do or where they went, we head back towards our hotel. Amazingly, there is a separate emergency medical center right next to our hotel we didn’t even realize. I walk through a filthy alleyway passing my sister who is still in tears and look into a door to see my mom laying on a table with her arm hanging open (I didn’t see the wound before, it was already covered by the towel) and being worked on by an old man and a little girl (maybe 16) in scrubs. I’m now freaking out due to the sanitation in this “hospital” but my mom is calm. I see they are washing everything in alcohol and she told me the doctor had practiced in the US and had been a surgeon for over 30 years. Thank the lord. He proceeds to give her 25 stitches after the power goes out in his building. Next day we fly back to Manila to get checked out in a real hospital and incredibly it was great work, no infection, everything was clean. Very close to severing an artery and nerve damage, but thank god it turned out to be all cosmetic damage. The wound healed up and she now has a badass scar about the time she crashed her moped in the Philippines.
14. Stuck And Almost Deported
I was visiting my best friend who was living in Hong Kong at the time and together we traveled to Japan. Besides a bit of technical trouble with our plane that left us stuck in Shanghai for a night where we had to lead a group consisting of us, a well-traveled Japanese tourist, and some middle eastern businessmen through an empty airport to find where we were staying for the night the trip to Japan went relatively well. Japan was great and we had some fun times there. Our trip back was a bit more of a problem. We ended up missing our flight back to hong kong so my buddy ends up snagging us a way to get back with a layover in Shanghai. Well this would have worked fine but unfortunately, you’re not allowed to stay overnight in mainland China without a pass and I don’t have one since I was expecting to be in Hong Kong. So I’m facing being deported back to Japan. Eventually, I talk my way through security and get the proper papers from my mate, who had rushed off ahead to secure our belongings, to prove to the security lady I’m not planning to stay here and we get through. I also should add we did all this while I had a 6-foot walking stick I was adamant to being back with me after I bought it and took it to the top of Mount Fuji.
13. From A River To A Near-Marriage
A few months ago I was driving a beat-up Nissan from London to Mongolia.
One day on my journey, I was aiming to drive between Osh and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. I put in my destination in Maps.me and went on my way. On my way, I noticed the road quality started to decline; slowly at first, but before I knew it I was climbing boulders and crossing rivers in my Nissan Micra. After about 2 hours off-road up a jagged valley, a muddy river swallowed my wheels.
I Panicked. Tried to get out. Failed. Water was now inside the car, and the chips I spilled on the floor that morning were floating around my feet. I panicked some more.
Realizing that I could do nothing else on my own, I set off on foot looking for help. After about 3 Kilometers I found a small settlement consisting of 2 long rectangular huts. I was able to get assistance from a couple of wasted fellows. Unfortunately, I learned that the “road” I was on could not get me to my destination; I would have to backtrack a few hours to get into the main road.
The men offered to sell me some much-needed gas to get me going back the way I came. I accepted. However, what I thought would be a 5-minute process ended up taking all day, as my new friends introduced me to the entire local community as Usep, the legendary American traveler. I was given food, taught how to ride a horse, and offered to go on a hunting expedition. The townspeople were especially eager to introduce me to a lovely young lady, who was in search of a husband. The young lady’s mother spoke to me about the village and about her daughter, a muse for the entire valley and the perfect bride for a man like myself. Flattered as I was, I excused myself and headed out from the valley, unmarried.
12. Not Even Trying To Be Subtle
Taking a cab back to the resort in Mexico from a club. Federalis pull us over, drop some pills in the floorboard (probably Tylenol), tell us to pay up or we’re going to prison. Cough up $2-300. They slip a $20 to the cab driver to cover our ride back. Get back to the resort and the cab driver says it happens all the time. Be careful out there my dudes.
11. Listen To The Kid
I was 10 or 11 and my parents and I were heading on a vacation trip to Mexico. After going through security at JFK, I was looking at my passport and I saw that my passport was past its expiration date. I tried to grab my mom’s attention and just kept telling her, “Mom, mom, look!!! My passport is expired! We’re going to get in trouble!” Of course, my mom didn’t pay attention to the pandering of a petty pre-teen and ignored me.
Welp, we arrived in Mexico and went through security again. This time, however, they saw that my passport was expired and took us aside. We were then interrogated on why we were in Mexico, how we managed to get through security at the US passport, etc. The head of security said that it was unbelievable that the US would let this happen. In a situation like this, he would normally send the person with the expired passport on a plane back home. Because I was so young, however, I was allowed to stay.
10. Always Up To Something
I was in Jerusalem waiting to take a tourist bus to Cairo. I had a single piece of luggage. I wasn’t positive I was in the correct spot so I asked a woman nearby if this was the place for the bus. She didn’t speak English but finally said “Cairo here” and smiled. I thanked her.
Less than a minute later a police car and motorcycle screeched to a halt right in front of me. The guy on the back of the motorcycle (with an Uzi) jumped off and ran right at me. The other officers went to the woman. It happened so fast I just sat there as the officer approached me.
He asked for ID so I gave him my passport. He said, “You don’t look like an American”. “Is that your bag”. Yes. “I’m going to search it” Fine. “What are you doing in Israel” Here for a wedding. “Why did you talk to that woman”? Directions “What did she say to you”? Not much.
Then he asked if I had any other ID. I pulled out my wallet and opened it. He saw my mini-police badge. “Oh, are you a cop” Yes. “Where” Then I got out my additional ID which was a military reserve ID card. “Oh, you are a captain in the reserves”. Yes. Suddenly we were buddies.
I asked, “Do you still want to search my bag”? He said, “just put on a show like you’re moving things around”. Then he told me someone called in suspicious activity between you and that woman. I told him she didn’t do anything either. He said, “She’s an Arab, they are always up to something”.
9. Hungry, Hungry Cops
In Rabat, Morocco a few years back. On the plaza in front of the royal palace with several other tourists when I get approached by two cops who grab me and inform me that I am not allowed to be on the plaza and they are arresting me. As they are taking me to their car my mind is running 100mph thinking what the hell is happening, how can I get out of this, what does the prison look like.
As we are walking towards their car they keep telling me they are hungry, which at first I taught was odd. We get 50 feet from the car and they slow their pace down and keep telling me they are hungry. After panicking for what seems like 30 minutes during a 5-minute walk a light bulb goes off. I offer to give them money for food, 20 USD worth, they agree and let me off with a warning.
8. Worst Motorbikes Ever
Rented a couple of motorbikes in India with a friend and took on the Leh-Manali highway in the Indian Himalayas (in Jammu-Kashmir, near Pakistan and China). It’s a 400km drive through the mountains, often skirting cliffs, with incredibly low access to medical and repair stops, at altitudes higher than 15,000 ft at some points. Everything went wrong…
Bikes broke in every conceivable place: speedometer broke, kickstand broke, headlight blew out, sparkplug was a little too sparky, air filter broke, tires flattened. We almost spent two nights out in the Himalayan countryside because our bikes couldn’t handle the lack of oxygen and throttled down to >10mph.
The worst thing though was on the last day we were driving through a gravel heavy pass. I decided I wanted to feel the wind for a bit, so I took off riding thinking that my friend was going to be right behind me. Bout 20 minutes pass and I look back to find that he’s gone. So I’m sitting there, experiencing the eerie quiet of a land that is nothing but blue sky and white rock thinking “well, I hope he’s not strewn bloody over the highway somewhere….”. Well, I drove back, and I think I must’ve been part gypsy because I arrive to find him on the side of the road, leg red and covered in white sand. I know you’re supposed to be calm when you see/help an injured person, but that didn’t stop me from saying “holy crap” when I saw his visible kneecap bone and white/yellow fat draining out of his leg.
Luckily we flagged down some other bikers and got him bandaged up. It was another 4-5 hours before we came across an Indian military base. My friend got taken into a medical tent. I hand motioned my way through a conversation about our bike troubles with a 20-something-year-old Indian soldier. He hand motioned to me a thorough discussion about how India had the best women because of ass. He then fixed half of my bike problems with some leftover metal wire from a chain-link fence.
Honestly, it was probably one of my more frustrating travel experiences. It’s funny though, when there’s a lot of it, frustration almost resets to pave way for humor in the face of absurdity. On the second to last day of our trip, I was driving and heard a loud clang behind me. Given the circumstances of our misfortune, I thought for a moment that I lost my engine. But on second glance I decided to report to my friend that “I lost my dang muffler!” I think I was upset when we ended up hooking it to my bike rack with bungee cords, but I couldn’t stop laughing as I terrified half the goats and villagers below Rohtang Pass with a bike that sounded like it was part Apache helicopter.
7. Hedgehog Scare
I was in Tanzania doing research on the Maasai language. I was working in the city of Arusha, and my first trip I didn’t have time to do anything fun like go out to any parks to see wildlife. I was alone, so I’d just talk to everyone. One night, I was coming back from the bar that had reliable internet, when a young man struck up a conversation with me. We were walking down the road talking when I saw a hedgehog run across the road. I ran after it to get a picture–the only wildlife I’d seen (except a monkey from the train) was a hedgehog in a ditch. It was the one time I’d forgotten my camera, and I was determined to get a picture of one before leaving. Confused, the young man caught up with me standing disappointed by a black plastic bag that had blown across the street. I told him that I just wanted to get a picture of a hedgehog. He told me to meet him the next night (they’re nocturnal)–he’d find out where they are commonly seen.
I assumed he didn’t mean it (though in Tanzania if someone says they’ll call you, they call. If they say “you should meet my family sometime”, you go meet their family (even if you were strangers before you sat down at the same coffee stall). The next night I was returning from the bar, and my new friend was waiting.
He took me a bit south of the city to an abandoned or rundown school. We squeezed through the gate, but then a dog chased us out. Did we give up? No. He led me down a dusty street. We peered through the dusty grass in the light of my dim phone flashlight.
Suddenly we were illuminated in the blinding light of seven or eight armed police officers with powerful flashlights. In the dark, I hadn’t realized we were trespassing in people’s yards. Wide-eyed I explained in my best Swahili that I was just trying to take a picture of a hedgehog. One guy with an intimidating rifle screamed at me. It took me a second to translate, “I just saw one!” as he ran down the road and dove under a car. He shook his head–it was gone. The police talked briefly too quickly for me to understand and then they were all fanning out with their flashlights. Some crawled on their hands and knees through the bushes and shrubs.
And damn if they didn’t find one. Picture me on my knees in the dark in the dust surrounded by a semicircle of armed police officers. They used their feet to herd the hedgehog toward me so I could snap a picture. They realized their lights were scaring it, so they turned them off. My flash kept scaring it, so I never did get a good picture.
6. Zippo Excitement
In Romania, I was waiting to board a flight out of Bucharest. I heard my name called over the tannoy and went to the information desk. The lady on the counter was rather stressed and told me they had been calling my name for an hour (I hadn’t noticed). I was swiftly led away to an area underneath the airport. It was poorly lit and I was starting to panic a little, trying to figure out what I could have done wrong.
After ten minutes of taking lifts deeper into the darkness, I was met by some Romanian police/border officers who asked me to open my suitcase which lay on the table before them. I obliged and stood back. One of them put his hand in and pulled out a bottle of lighter fluid for my Zippo I had forgotten about (but flown from the UK without any issues). I tried to explain this but they just said it wasn’t allowed, and put it in the bin. Friendly bunch all in all but my heart took a little while to recover from that one!
Made my flight on time, though we had to abandon some bits and pieces that didn’t fit in our bags such as huge boxes of luxury fruit juice and similar foody stuff, that we gave to a taxi driver waiting outside. Never seen someone look so happy as that man did that day.
5. You Must Be Very Muggable
When I was living in Barcelona, I got mugged outside my apartment, twice in one night. Sort of.
I lived just off the Ramblas, so it was tourist central, and I’m a small, pasty white girl; I couldn’t have looked more touristy if I tried. I’d been out drinking in a nearby bar, I walked home, I put my key in the front door and felt someone grab me from behind and start going through my pockets. There was another guy nearby, who penned me in from the other side. Immediately, my mind started into a worst-case-scenario mode.
As soon as his grip loosened just a little bit, I ran. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, and so I took off down the street like I was trying out for the Olympics. Unfortunately, my dumb, wasted self left my keys in the door. I was alone in a city I’d only just moved to, where I barely spoke the language, and I no longer had my purse. I called the police on the local number — thanks, Spanish payphones — and they directed me to the local station where I could file a report and explain the situation. It was about a twenty-minute walk there to be told that there wasn’t really much they could do, but then I checked my pockets and found that I had no keys to my apartment. I distinctly remembered having them when I was grabbed, which meant that whoever grabbed me probably had them now. Which meant that they could be inside my flat.
This was a problem.
I was told that they’d send someone when they could and that I could wait there or meet them at the flat. I chose the latter (stupidly; my feet were killing me at this point, and I had massively soured on the whole walking-around-the-city-at-3AM thing). As I was waiting, another guy grabbed me. As I was trying to figure out what the Spanish for Jesus Christ, you did me already, go pick on someone else, I felt something slip into my pocket, and then the guy ran off down the street.
They returned my purse, minus the four-euros-and-fifty-something cents I had left in it, but including the cards and things. Turns out that this isn’t particularly uncommon — I discovered later — the reason being that you’re significantly less likely to call the police if your cards and driver’s license and such are still safe. Why they put the wallet in my pocket rather than just throwing it at me, I have no idea, but it is what it is.
After about twenty minutes, with me both shaken and confused, the police arrived. My keys were still in the door, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t upstairs, so two very nice Spanish police officers took me upstairs and made sure that the flat was empty. I assume that they didn’t feel like taking the risk of adding a breaking and entering charge if they were caught, but it was still a good long time before I felt entirely comfortable in the flat, and walking around town at night.
And that’s how I was mugged and reverse-mugged in Spain.
4. Keeping Out Of Trouble
Back in the 90s, I spent some time traveling around North West Pakistan. While there I picked all kinds of interesting curios including a Russian bayonet from the Afghan War and a rather vicious looking antique knuckle duster hilted dagger. On my return home I had to catch a flight from Peshawar to Karachi and then another to London.
I was pulled aside by police at Peshawar airport after they scanned my main suitcase with the two weapons inside. I was going to check in the suitcase so I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. The policeman asked me in broken English “Do you have punch in bag?” I guessed he was referring to my knife so I just owned up to it. On searching my bag they also found the bayonet and confiscated both of them. I expected that this was some kind of shakedown and I was going to have to pay a bribe to continue my journey, but I was pleasantly surprised.
They explained that the UK government had complained about the number of bladed weapons entering the country from Pakistan on domestic flights and that they did not want me to get into trouble at UK customs. While I thanked them, I heard some commotion behind me. Some guy was raging at the airport police for not letting him take his pistol onto the plane!
3. You Left The Door Open!
On our way back from Japan to Australia, my girlfriend and I had a stopover in Manila. It was a 24-hour stopover so we decided to try and stay at a hotel for a night to rest up. We walked around the airport looking for an exit and got kind of lost. Eventually, we found a way out but there was no security, just an open door leading out to the front of the airport. We just wanted a place to sleep so we left to find a hotel – no passport checks, no scans just straight out the door.
Manila was a bit of a scary place as there was private security everywhere walking around with assault rifles and it left us pretty on edge. We got a room at the nearest hotel, went out for dinner and then the next morning we were ready to get back on the plane.
Getting back into the airport was much harder as when we queued up we had to explain why our passports weren’t stamped. We were met with many angry officials and quickly rushed into an interrogation room where we were questioned by multiple people as to how we got into the country at all. Literally, our only excuse was ‘you left the door open’ and we started getting really nervous thinking that we may get locked up for illegally entering the country.
After about 2 hours of questioning, we finally convinced them that it was a big mistake and we were let back into the airport. Looking back on it, I still can’t believe that we actually broke into a country through sheer ignorance.
2. Not On The Queen’s Flowers
When I was 6-7 our family went to stay with British cousins for a month. For the most part, it was boring, no offense to England, France, or Scotland but besides castles and swords, most everything is boring to a 6-year-old boy.
Anywho our story takes place in what I believe is Windsor Castle. I’ll spare the details but if anyone cares I’ll elaborate. However, due to odd circumstances, our cousins were allowed access to the grounds pretty much whenever (may have changed post 9/11).
So one sunny afternoon grandma, her cousin, and I are walking through the garden. The cousin droning on and on about the royal family and such. Deciding I had enough walking I asked if I could go sit at a bench we had passed twice already. With permission, I walked back but stopped at a closer flowerbed. It was about 3 feet up and had a foot of space before the soil. A perfect spot I thought.
Sitting down I pulled out my Gameboy color, thank you 90’s cargo shorts. As I was getting my Pokemon on I was suddenly jerked up. A well-dressed man had hooked me under my armpit and pulled me up. I can’t recall exactly what he said because it was years ago, and I was shocked. “You will not sit on the Queen’s flowers, that’s a disrespect to her. And you must respect the queen!”
Looking at him I just blurted out the only thing I could think of, wide-eyed I half apologized, half told him “No I don’t, I’m American.” The man snorted and let me go. “Fair enough, look just don’t sit on the beds?” I nodded and he patted me on the back and walked off with a chuckle.
1. Broke In Bali
I took the year off study in 2009 to save for a trip around SE Asia. I was traveling alone and had never gone overseas before. Landing at Denpasar airport in Bali at around 11:00pm at night I was tired from the long flights but really excited about having finally started my 3 month adventure. Outside the airport I managed to find an over-priced taxi to take me to Kuta, the tourist area of Bali. We arrived and I reached into my pocket to pay but realised my wallet was gone. I searched my pack and clothes for 15 minutes while sitting in the back of the taxi. I looked in all my pockets and down the seats using a torch but couldn’t find it anywhere. I figured it fell out on the plane or was stolen by the porter at the airport so then I looked for my spare credit card that I packed at the bottom of my bag but it was gone. I can’t explain why.
So anyway the driver was getting angry so I agreed to give him all the money I had (in my safe-bag that I kept under my shirt) which payed for half the fare, and I secretly kept the rest of the money (perhaps $10). I then jumped out of the taxi and he sped off. Looking around I was on a dark street with squalid houses and no people around. The driver had actually only taken me about half way to Kuta and had left me in the middle of nowhere, presumably so he could make it back to the airport and get another fare. So I was alone, tired and left in another country with little money. All I could do was hold back tears which I think the tiredness helped with. I was in a daze.
Eventually someone on a motorbike pulled up and I payed him like $3 for me to jump on the back take me back to the airport, where I spent the night sleeping on a bench outside. It worked out ok though because I met one of the security guards who let me stay with him and his family for a few days until I got another card. The rest of the holiday was amazing and I had no problems at all. I will be forever thankful to Aday and his family for helping me and I will go back sometime in the next few years now that I have graduated and will pay them back for their kindness.