More than 65 million Americans travel overseas each year –mostly without incident. But as the recent case of Sarai Sierra –the New York City woman who disappeared while vacationing alone in Turkey shows --just about anyone traveling overseas can be at risk. Here are five things to do that jack up the chances you’ll become a victim of a crime, get thrown into prison –or worse.
1. Taking Pictures of Military or Police
You think capturing the perfect sunset -- at the airport -- is worth time in prison? Want to land in the slammer for that perfect candid snap of a sentry standing guard. In many countries, taking of pictures of military personal or installations –even police officers on the street -- can land you in some serious hot water. And we’re not talking just in military dictatorships. In the U.K., for example, anyone taking a photograph of a police officer could be deemed to have committed a criminal offense and is considered a possible terrorism risk. If you really want that picture as souvenir, it’s best to just ask. Most times they’d be happy to be the subject of your snap.
2. Carrying a Knife
Leave that Swiss Army knife in your hotel room –or better yet at home, even if it does have a handy can opener. Having some innocent fun can turn into a disaster if trouble starts. You don’t want to be hauled into the police station, only for an officer to find that you’re also carrying a weapon.
3. Getting Drunk
Go ahead and have a few drinks on vacation. But getting completely, fall-down drunk puts you and your group in serious danger. Weaving down a dark street late at night after drinking too much alcohol will make you an easy target. Also you’re more likely to do stupid things like get behind a wheel or get into a fight.
4. Trusting Touts
Don't know what a tout is? If someone comes up to you on the street calling you, “my friend,” promising the best rate at his uncle’s hotel --that's a tout. Touts make a living by ripping off naïve travelers. Most of the times they’re simply after your money, but they could want to do you harm. To avoid becoming a target in the first place, don’t wear conspicuous clothing or carry excessive amounts of money. Also, do not leave unattended luggage in public areas and do not accept packages from strangers. There’s no need to get rude with them, but if they’re persistent, sometimes ignoring them is the best policy.
5. Buying Illegal Drugs
You may think that buying drugs like marijuana is no big deal, but in some countries it could mean a life sentence. In places like Thailand, famous for its Full Moon Parties on the beach, Thai police regularly arrest foreigners, and some are still festering in Thai jails. Also, beware of places where drugs are openly sold. Just because someone is offering you hashish on the street in Morocco doesn't make it legal.