I was only 15 when I watched Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale in Brokedown Palace suffer one of the biggest nightmares that can befall a traveler: getting thrown into a foreign jail for a crime they didn’t commit.
It was a terrifying movie for me to watch at the time. Mostly because as a world traveler, it could happen to me, too.
With shows like “Locked Up Abroad” on my DVR lately, I frequently think of the worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, this sort of stuff can happen when traveling.
While Brokedown Palace may be a sensationalized Hollywood movie, there are some things we can learn from watching it.
Don’t let your trip become another Hollywood movie! Here are some tips on how to avoid getting into trouble with the law while traveling.
Tell Someone Where You Are Going
This should be obvious but please: tell someone where you are going.
If you’re traveling solo through Southeast Asia (or anywhere, really), then do your due diligence to make sure someone knows where you are and where you are heading next.
These days cell phone tours are almost everywhere. If you have T-mobile, then you’ll have free international data and texting.
Share your location services with your best friends, and your family, so they can always see where in the world you are, too.
Be Cautious When It Comes to Men
In Brokedown Palace, Claire + Kate meet a hunky Australian who seems too good to be true. In reality: a dog is a DOG. If he hits on you and your best friend, dump him. Even in a foreign country: a player is a player.
Men are the biggest threat to women worldwide. Don’t let your emotions blind you from making sound judgement calls. If he seems too good to be true, he probably is.
Unfortunately, it’s not just men who prey on women while traveling. In human trafficking rings, women are often used to lure in unsuspecting travelers. Always be cautious of who you’re talking to.
Never get into a car blindly or without verifying that the cab is legit or that the Uber driver is indeed your driver. And don’t trust strangers who seem to be too sweet to you, too quickly.
Leave the Illegal Stuff Behind
Also known as, “don’t do drugs while traveling.”
In Brokedown Palace, while boarding a flight to Hong Kong their carry-on bags are seized and searched by angry customs officials. Unbeknownst to the girls, one of the bags is stuffed with an insane amount of heroin. Uh-oh.
It’s easy to become accustomed to a country’s lax drug laws when traveling, but think twice before attempting to bring a stash of narcotics back home as a “souvenir.”
The Bang Kwang Jail in Bangkok is unfortunately frequently referred to as the “Bangkok Hilton” because of the number of foreigners who are jailed here for drug-related offenses.
Police in Thailand are often looking for foreigners who break their strict drug laws. DO NOT mess around with anything illegal on your travels.
We’ve also heard stories of police coming to night clubs and collecting urine samples from all inside to do on the spot drug tests.
Keep your wits about you, drink but don’t get drunk, and avoid all illegal drugs while in Thailand or elsewhere in the world.
Don’t Sign Anything You Don’t Understand
Movie: Darlene is tricked into signing a confession written in Thai. They are sentenced to 33 years in a Thai women’s prison. Alice, on the other hand, had the right idea when she refused to say anything.
Lesson learned: When arrested abroad, be careful of signing or admitting to anything, especially if you don’t understand.
Do as the Locals Do, Even in Jail
When waiting in line for a bowl of cockroach soup, the girls see baskets filled with fresh fruit that no one is eating. Thinking it is okay to have some fruit, Alice tries to grab some but ends up beaten by a prison warden instead.
It was pretty obvious since no one was eating the fruit, it was off-limits. This is a good example of: do as the locals do, even in jail.
Know Where Your Home Country’s Embassy is Located
And, don’t expect that they’ll immediately come to your rescue. In the movie, the American Embassy tries to get the girls released but alas, they cannot help.
One of the best travel tips I ever received was to always know where your home country’s closest embassy is located. You might not need it, but you should at least know if there is an embassy located in the country where you are traveling.
Americans tend to have a sense of privilege associated to them. In general, we believe that if something terrible were to happen, our government would come stomping in to save the day.
Unfortunately, this is the stuff of movies. If something happens to you and you find yourself in jail in a foreign country, the reality is you might have to stay there for quite some time.
That being said: If you are arrested abroad, you are legally entitled to call your embassy.
Be Cautious, Not Paranoid
The world is mostly safe, and people are mostly good. But things can and do happen. Keep your wits about you when you’re traveling, don’t trust anyone too much or too quickly, and constantly update your family about your whereabouts.
99% of the time, you’re going to be totally fine.
We’ve traveled the world over and have never had a problem larger than petty theft. But it helps to be prepared, just in case!