One of the most exciting and rewarding parts of travel is experiencing the unfamiliar—being immersed in cultures and societies unlike our own. In the contexts of cuisine, celebration, natural beauty and historical landmarks, the unfamiliar is often welcome and safe. But there’s another side to the world unfamiliar, one involving strict social conventions, religious doctrine and foreign laws.
An exotic vacation can quickly turn into a nightmare if you’re not well-informed about the places you visit. Beyond the typical travel anxieties like airplane crashes and other transportation accidents, there are a number of things to keep in mind when traveling. Trust us, your travel liabilities extend well beyond keeping track of luggage, passports and picking up a few souvenirs for the family. Below we examine eleven notable countries, and all the ways you should exercise caution within them.
There are many freedoms we enjoy here in the US that don’t extend throughout the world to many of our neighbors. That begins just to the south of us, in Mexico, where it’s illegal to shout offensive words or display nude art in public. Also nearby, in Cuba, it’s illegal not just to possess firearms, but to possess even a single round of ammunition.
If your idea of getting away to enjoy another part of the world involves libations, there’s more than a few places to avoid. Every country on this list is strictly intolerant of driving while intoxicated, as they should be, but there are some countries that take a particularly strict stance on alcohol beyond that. In Saudi Arabia, alcohol is flat out illegal, in any form (as are dancing and playing music in public). In the United Arab Emirates, public drunkenness is prohibited. We don’t recommend testing the UAE’s standard of “drunkenness,” either—it probably won’t match up with how drunkenness is defined and tolerated in the West. On the subject of substance use, it should be noted that some drug offenses are punishable by death in Singapore.
In many countries, homosexuality is frowned upon and formally punished. In Uganda, Algeria, Malaysia and Singapore, public displays of affection by homosexuals can lead to arrest and imprisonment.
While so much of this subject is serious and sobering, we uncovered a few exotic laws and regulations that are comparatively amusing. In Saudi Arabia, Christmas decorations are prohibited and will be confiscated, in Germany a pillow is considered a passive weapon, and in Thailand, a country known for stifling heat throughout the year, it’s illegal to drive a car shirtless. Perhaps that’s the most unfair law of them all?