Travel smart, not stupid

Published 10:27 pm Saturday, December 30, 2017

By Ed Fancher

Having spent a great deal of my adult life living and working overseas, first in the military and also as a Department of Defense civilian employee, I had an opportunity to visit a lot of different countries.

One of the things I found out early was the importance of respecting the laws of the various countries I lived in and others I visited. Anyone with any common sense should know before they travel that being an American citizen does not exempt them from obeying and respecting the laws of the places they visit.

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Despite this, we hear about stories where Americans have been put in prison for simply not following the laws of another sovereign nation. Recently, some basketball players visiting China did a very stupid thing and got caught shoplifting, but thanks to the president, they were returned to the United States. They are very lucky young men, and I am not sure they fully realize how extremely lucky they were having their bacon saved by President Trump. I have been to China, and these people don’t know how miserable they would have been spending time in a Chinese prison.

However, Americans who travel abroad should not think that any time they do something wrong and break another country’s laws, they can simply ask for our government or our foreign consulate to bail them out. This is not how it works, and to me, people like this showed another example of American arrogance.

This week on the news, it told of a young woman who brought prescription drugs illegally into Egypt for her boyfriend and now has been sentenced to three years in prison. Why did she not check to see if such drugs were allowed to be brought into Egypt in the first place? All she had to do was ask the travel agent if doing this was against the law. So now, like others, she learned the hard way, and I cannot even imagine the conditions of where she will serve her sentence. To say it will not be pleasant is an understatement.

These are hardly rare incidents, and other Americans have also learned the hard way when disrespecting the laws of a country they are visiting. Singapore, for example, is a beautiful island nation, and the people are very kind to foreigners, especially Americans. But they also cane lawbreakers — domestic and foreign — and bringing in drugs can get someone hanged, and it has.

So just a reminder to those who plan on traveling outside the United States: save yourself a lot of grief by simply learning about the laws of the country you will be visiting. Be respectful and above all, travel smart, not stupid.

Ed Fancher is a Suffolk resident and a Vietnam War veteran, having served from 1969 to 1972. Email him at