8 Unexpected Laws That Could Turn Your Vacation Time into Jail Time

OK…so you think you already know the basics for staying out of trouble when traveling abroad, right? You’ve seen “Locked Up Abroad,” and you’re not interested in following in their footsteps! You know better than to smuggle drugs, obviously, and you are aware that observing the customs of the country or countries you are visiting is courteous and appreciated. But did you know that breaking some “unexpected” laws in several countries could impact your wallet … or even send you to jail! Here are several of the craziest and most unexpected activities that could get you in trouble when you’re abroad … you might thank me later!

  1. Not Flushing a Public Toilet in Singapore

    Singapore likes to keep its streets and facilities clean — I’m sure you’ve heard about the gum thing — but did you know that neglecting to flush could cost you $500!? And littering could cost up to $1,000. Breaking the infamous bubble gum law can cost you $600! While the only penalty is a stiff fine, it’s probably a good idea to respect the city’s wishes and keep that gum at home … and remember to flush! (But you do that anyway … right??)

  2. Stepping on Money in Thailand

    Thai currency, called the Baht, has the likeness of the Thai royal family on it, and defacing any image of the royal family is against the law and could land you in jail. So keep an eye on your cash and treat it well!

  3. Bringing Sudafed into Japan

    In Japan, over-the-counter allergy and sinus medications that contain the ingredient pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed, are banned under Japan’s anti-stimulant drug laws. Medications that feature codeine are also prohibited and shouldn’t be brought into Japan. In addition, many prescription medications that are legal elsewhere are illegal in Japan, so be sure to do your homework!

  4. Water Guns in Phnom Penh

    In 2001, Governor Chea Sophara banned the sale and use of all water guns in the Cambodian capitol because of potential accidents or even malicious use of the water guns, specifically during the Khmer New Year in April. Water guns probably aren’t a must-have in your luggage, but you never know!

  5. Bringing a Bible with you to the Maldives

    In the Maldives (home of breathtaking overwater bungalows), public observance of any religion other than Islam is prohibited, and it’s an offense to import Bibles into the country. To ensure that you don’t upset the locals or run afoul of the law, don’t bring a Bible along on your trip.

  6. Kissing or Holding Hands in the United Arab Emirates!

    Public displays of affection (kissing, hugging, or even holding hands) should be avoided while traveling in the UAE … even its main city of Dubai. Tourists have been arrested and thrown in jail for kissing in public. And, did you know that it is technically illegal for non-married couples to share a hotel room? A little harder to enforce, but a law, nonetheless!

  7. Topless Sunbathing in Fiji!

    Fiji is a beautiful tropical paradise where sunbathing and swimming are part of daily life, but don’t get caught with your top (or pants) down … Fiji is an extremely conservative nation and public nudity and topless swimming or sunbathing are illegal. So stay covered up and out of jail.

  8. Going “commando” in Thailand

    Thailand has a bunch of strange laws, but perhaps the most difficult to enforce (and a personal favorite to imagine how it might be enforced) is the law prohibiting leaving your house without underwear on. Make sure you take that into account when packing or plan on washing your unmentionables frequently so you don’t run out! It’s unclear to me exactly how this could be enforced, but I don’t think I’d want to find out what the inside of a Thai prison looks like ….. would you?

So, be sure to familiarize yourself with some of these strange and baffling laws before you travel … a good travel professional can help you navigate the process. I appreciate my customers greatly, but I really don’t want to add “arranging bail” to my list of services!

Kati Knowland
India: A Land of Beauty, Color and Diversity

When people say to me that they aren’t interested in visiting India, I have to shake my head. Clearly the diversity and beauty of the country has missed them! From the snow-capped Himalayas in the north to the sun-drenched coastal villages of the south, India unfolds like an ancient tapestry. At times threadbare and fading, the land stretches from desert dunes and scattered slums to the rich mix of ancient, jeweled palaces and the majestic domes of forgotten empires.

India is a feast for the senses; where the air is heavy with the scent of jasmine and dancers trail frenetic melodies in colorful silk saris. Its cooks compose dishes from a palette of exotic spices that may leave a lingering taste of saffron and aniseed. In India's cities, the hardship of slum-living competes with the cacophony of seemingly endless traffic and a myriad of other textures, colors and movements all jostling for attention. India can be overwhelming, but its variety is part of its charm.

India is one of the most thrilling tourist destinations in the world, offering an astounding diversity of people, landscapes, sights and sounds. From lush jungles to sun-bleached deserts, from mountain peaks to golden beaches, India has something to entice everyone.

The difficulty is in deciding what to see and do in this vast and complex country. Famous sights such as the Taj Mahal, Amber Palace and old Goa seldom fail to instill a sense of wonder in visitors, while the modern face of India, evident in the crowded cities and chaotic traffic, is also thrilling.

It is the people, however, that live longest in the traveler's memory. They are renowned for their warm welcome, engaging conversation and love of bargaining. India's vibrant culture remains distinctive and unique despite years of colonial and Western influence.

India has a bit of something for every visitor — from the luxury traveler with high expectations when it comes to service and attention to detail, to the wanderer searching for authentic experiences and cultural connections.

If you’d like to learn more about what you can expect when you visit, CLICK HERE to check out my FREE online destination guide to India.

Kati Knowland
Why You Should Eat Bugs in Cambodia

I wouldn’t call myself a picky eater … but I also wouldn’t call myself a bug-lover, so when presented with heaping piles of deep-fried bugs at a market in Cambodia, I can’t say that my first reaction was “Oh, YUM!”

But, I was there for a food tour, and Cambodians eat a LOT of bugs, so this was my chance to to try out the crispy critters in an authentic environment. And so, at the urging of my guide, I grabbed one small cricket and popped it in my mouth.

It was … not bad, actually! Crispy and fried are two of my favorite food descriptions, and they honestly didn’t disappoint even when the food item was something I’d normally shoo out of my house rather than serve to my guests.

For me, and I think for many Americans, the problem is not so much the flavor (crispy, salty, garlicy) as it is getting past the mental block of actually eating some of these creepy crawlies. Even I, in my most adventurous mood, stuck with the smallest of the bugs on offer and hesitated any time something new was presented, even just for a second.

But for Cambodians, with not-so-distant memories of living off of whatever they could catch and eat during the rule of Pol Pot, insect eating is a way of life. Those giant water bugs on display look to me suspiciously like the creepy cockroaches that scare the daylights out of me when they surprise me in my house and get promptly squished, but look to many cultures around the world like a heaping helping of inexpensive protein.

I don’t pretend to be a bug-eating aficionado because I tried a few crickets, grubs and ants while I was in Cambodia, but I DO wish that more Americans (myself included) could get past that socially ingrained mental block, even if just to experience a huge part of the culture of the country they’re visiting.

That being said, my culturally ingrained blocks kept me from getting anywhere near the scorpions or tarantulas that were on display, as much as I wanted to be able to say later that I’d tried them! Maybe the images of Anthony Bourdain choking down tarantula in Cambodia were just too much for me to imagine that I might actually like it!

What about you? Have you tried bugs, or would you try them if given the chance?

Kati Knowland
My Top Five Experiences in India

Spending time in the beautiful and vibrant country of India is an experience like none other, and every day I spent there was filled to the brim with unique experiences. Seriously, we almost never sat still - we were GOING from the time we got out of bed until we crashed in the evenings. But rather than regale you with a minute-by-minute account of my time in India, I thought I’d do the hard work of picking just FIVE experiences to highlight as my favorites. Not an easy job, but someone’s got to do it!

Helping make roti at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib (Delhi)

Now, it’s probably questionable how much I was actually “helping” and how much they were just “offering the tourist a chance to try to help,” but the fact is, I was deeply touched by the mission of this and other Sikh temples, and it was nice to pretend like I was pitching in a little bit. This temple is beyond just a place of worship — it serves an open-door cafeteria for anyone and everyone who wants a FREE healthy, home-cooked meal. Everything is done completely by volunteers, from the donation of the ingredients to the preparation and serving of the food, to the clean-up in between meals. It is absolutely refreshing to see people practicing their faith in such a concrete and selfless way, and I was honored to be even a small, slow cog in the service of such an honorable goal.

Interacting with elephants at Dera Amer

I love animals, and my older son, Oliver, is absolutely smitten with elephants specifically. But we both recognize that for every ethical elephant (or other animal) encounter, there are hundreds that mistreat these majestic creatures. So it was an absolute delight to visit Dera Amer, a wilderness camp just outside of Jaipur. They have rescued three elephants so far (with two more on the way) from lives of hard labor and punishment and have brought them into a comfortable retirement surrounded by tourists excited to meet and care for them. Visitors stay in luxurious tents on the grounds of the camp, interacting with these gentle, lovable creatures throughout the day. The elephants will come to your campsite to wake you up with a gourmet breakfast, and you’ll have the opportunity to bathe, feed and otherwise care for the elephants during your stay. It’s the ultimate in luxurious, ethical animal interaction. (And, if you’re like my son and your first question is about the type of paint they use on the elephants, rest easy! These are organic, vegetable-based paints, and they’re only used occasionally, usually when kids are visiting and ask to decorate the elephants.)

Experiencing the Taj Mahal first-hand

I am not the kind of person who generally enjoys they typical tourist attractions. They’re usually crowded, and they almost never live up to the hype. They’re more the kind of thing that I feel like I SHOULD see rather than the highlight of my trip somewhere. But the Taj Mahal is the exception to that rule for me. It is, quite simply, BREATHTAKING. And, I’m going to be honest, I’m kind of a cynic. So trust me when I say that this place is so beautiful, the story so heartbreaking, that I had to try really hard to hold back tears when I stepped inside. A building has never made me cry before (not even close). But there is something so special about this place that I felt extremely moved and overwhelmed, both by its grandeur and by the story behind it. Definitely a somewhat unexpected highlight of my trip.

Receiving a blessing at a Hindu temple in Jaipur

I can’t profess to understand exactly everything that took place while we were inside this many-hundreds-of-years-old temple in Jaipur, but I can definitely say that it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. We received a blessing and a kalava, which is a red string bracelet that was blessed as part of the ceremony, and we chanted along after the priest and acted out a number of rituals involving rice and fruit and rose petals. It was an interesting insight into the religion, even though I am not sure exactly the specifics!

Our lavish welcome at Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur

Every hotel welcomed us lavishly, with a shower of rose petals, a garland of flowers or a scarf, and a specialty welcome drink, among other greetings, but at the Oberoi Udaivilas, we were in for a special surprise, as local dancers and musicians met us, along with camels and horses dressed in their finest attire, to welcome us to the hotel. Of course, this lavish welcome was followed by the otherwise “standard” rose petal shower and scarf presentation. It was over-the-top in the most amazing way and definitely a welcome I won’t soon forget!

There are so many other fond memories and amazing experiences from my time in India, but I’m cutting myself off at five! If you want more, stay tuned to my social media pages as I announce my in-depth guide to planning your first trip to India. Or, if you can’t wait, feel free to reach out to me at kati@mosaicworldtravel.com, and I’d be delighted to help you plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip to this beautiful and surprising country!

Kati Knowland
How I Prepared For My Trip To India

Traveling to Asia is one of the most life-changing experiences that exists in travel. Anthony Bourdain described it this way:

"I remember the moment I first realized I've been living my whole life in black and white. It was like discovering a color I never knew existed before. A whole new crayon box full of colors, that was it for me. From then on, there was no putting the pieces back together. No going home. Things were different now. Asia had ruined me for my old life."

I guess that's what I love about it as well - everything is so DIFFERENT, which opens up my eyes to all of these incredible. brand-new experiences every time I visit. 

However, visiting Asia does require a certain amount of additional preparation. Many Asian countries require visas for U.S. citizens, which is a step that might be completely foreign to U.S. travelers. You often need vaccines, many of which you might need to get months in advance. You're also generally in for a 14+ hour flight, depending on where you're leaving from and where you're headed, as well as how many stops it will take to get you there. That sort of flight is a very different beast from a 5-hour flight across the U.S., or even a 7-hour flight to Europe, and requires a different sort of preparation. And that's not to mention that you're generally deposited in a country filled with food, culture and languages that might be completely different from anything you've ever experienced. 

All of those things make me adore traveling in Asia, but they can also be a bit overwhelming if you've never traveled there before and you're trying to navigate, say, the Indian visa website (which is worth its own separate blog post because it is INSANE, I'm not going to lie).

To me, the discomforts, both external (heat, monsoons, unfamiliar foods and customs) and internal (jet lag, culture shock, and preconceived notions), make for absolutely intriguing stories upon your return, but they can be less than pleasant when you're there. That's why I do everything that I can to prepare (that's me, the list-maker/planner!) for everything that I can have within my control. With that in mind, here are some of the steps that I took to prepare for my trip to India ... for the most part, they're applicable to just about any trip to an unfamiliar country.

  1. Research visa and vaccination requirements for your destination. As soon as I had booked my flight, my next step was to research the visa and vaccination requirements for India. I read that the online visa application is confusing (it is), so I knew that when it was time to sit down to fill it out, I needed to set aside some time. I also knew that there were a number of forums and other resources for filling out my application in the best possible way. (Side note: They'll ask you your religion, which struck me as completely bizarre, among many, many other intrusive questions.) As for vaccinations, I was lucky in that I had gotten the vaccinations I needed before I went to Peru, so I'm good. And I'm never taking malaria meds again, so that's not on my list.

  2. Get some general understanding of the culture. To be honest, before I was invited on this trip by one of my favorite suppliers in Asia (shout out to Eastbound!), my knowledge of India was largely limited to my experiences in Little India while I lived in Singapore, Indian restaurants here in North Carolina, and the Taj Mahal ... I knew about the Taj Mahal! So the first thing I started to do was read blogs from people who recently traveled to India to get a feel for the culture and the people and what to expect. I have also read a few books set in India to get a feel for the atmosphere and grab some nuggets of what to expect. Of course, I'd be lying if I said I thought I knew exactly what to expect every minute (and how boring would that be?) but I am not walking into this new country completely blind.

  3. Prep for the flight. Long-haul flights are not for the weak-minded. They require stamina, strategy and self-control. It's like starting your trip with a trial by fire. (Have I mentioned lately that I'm not the biggest fan of air travel??) Upgrade to the highest class you can possibly afford because you're going to wish you'd sold your kidney for that lie-flat seat about 10 hours into your trip. Pack only essentials in your personal item bag because you want to maximize the legroom that you have, but be sure to make them COMFORT related - lip balm and hand cream to combat the dry air, a blanket or large scarf because it will be freezing, dorky neck pillow will help you sleep on the plane if that's your bag, download 10x more media than you think you'll need. I've been on a plane where the entertainment system didn't work and nothing on my tablet or phone was interesting to me and I was relegated to staring straight ahead for most of the flight. NEVER AGAIN is all I'll say about that. There are so many other ways to prep for these flights, but I'll leave those for later!

  4. Make a jet lag plan. There are plenty of sites that will give you an idea of how to adjust by a few time zones ahead of your trip (Jet Lag Rooster for one, or the app TimeShifter), and it can make a HUGE difference in the speed with which you adjust to your destination time zone. Most of them aren't that practical (I can't wake up at  11 p.m. and go to sleep at 1 p.m. to get on India time while I'm in North Carolina, while also trying to work and spend time with my family. But I HAVE been getting up really early and going to bed early, hoping to adjust slightly. The general rule of thumb is that you go to bed early and go to sleep early if you're flying eastward and get up and go to sleep later than normal if you're flying westward in order to help you adjust a few time zones before you leave. I'm also taking melatonin now, at the times that it will be getting dark when I'm in India, and I'm going to try to sleep as little as possible on the flight, since I'll be landing at 9:30 p.m. India time and I'll really need to be ready for sleep shortly after I arrive. I'll let you know how all of that preparation goes when I get there!

  5. Pretend like you leave two days before you actually do. This is a tip that I actually got from the venerable Rick Steves. He suggests packing and completely preparing for your trip as though you were leaving two days before you do. That means no last-minute scrambling to throw everything in the suitcase, no last-minute realization that you don't have several things that you need, and an overall calmer and more relaxing two days before the trip. That means you can get enough sleep and start your trip well-rested and calm, rather than frazzled and off-kilter.

So, what about you? How do you plan for your longest trips? Any suggestions for me as I head out to India? After I get back, I've only got 10 days before I head back to go to Myanmar and Cambodia, and I'm incredibly excited, but I know all of these concerns are going to blindside me in triplicate before October is over!

If you'd like to stay up-to-date on my travels and get some tips and insights that I share in India, Myanmar, and Cambodia, be sure to follow me on social media AND be sure to keep an eye on this blog. I'll be posting some comprehensive wrap-ups of my trips once I'm back!

Wish me luck!

Kati Knowland
5 Major Travel Mistakes to Avoid

It's probably not a surprise to you that travel is one of my favorite things, but it might surprise you to know that even though I plan (and take!) trips for a living, I often find the time before my own trips a bit stressful, especially when I'm heading somewhere I've never been before. Over the years, though, I've developed a bit of a system for the various steps in the process, and I've got my own methods for ensuring everything goes smoothly. 

While everyone travels differently, I will say that there are at least five HUGE mistakes you can make while planning for a trip that would count as major oversights for anyone who is traveling. Here's what they are and how you can avoid making them:

Not knowing the climate at your destination
You obviously can't know six months in advance what exactly the weather will be like in your destination, but you should familiarize yourself with the basics before you plan your trip. Planning a trip to the Caribbean during hurricane season or to Vietnam during the rainy season might mean you snag some good deals, but it might also make for a very different trip than you imagined. If you have a low tolerance for rainy days or cold weather, just do a little research before you book your flight. Oh, and don't forget that summer in the Northern Hemisphere is winter in the Southern (and vice versa). It seems obvious, but I've had more than a few clients forget that basic geography lesson!

Not having proper documentation
As soon as you decide you want to travel internationally, check to see what the various requirements are for entry. Do you need a visa? If so, can you apply online or do you have to do it in person at an embassy? The very best source of information on the various documentation requirements for U.S. citizens is the State Department's international travel siteJust enter the country that you want to visit in the search box, and scroll down. Then:

  • Check the passport validity requirements. Generally, your passport can't expire within six months of the END of your trip, and most countries require one or two blank pages for stamps and/or visas. 

  • If a visa is required, be sure to click on "Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements" and you'll find official information about how to apply and various other requirements. If there is an online application process, you'll see a link to the correct site. (This is SUPER important because there are loads of fake "official" visa sites that often charge more for the same visa OR are just total scams. So be sure to stick with the official site.

Not knowing how to stay healthy
There are obvious measures that you can take no matter where you travel, like washing your hands before you eat and ensuring water is safe to drink before chugging a glass, but be sure to check to see what other measures the CDC recommends for your specific destination. Vaccinations against hepatitis A and typhoid are often recommended, as are malaria medications and other preventative measures, but I'm no doctor (I don't even play one on TV), so I recommend checking the CDC travelers' health site and talking to your doctor before you travel for real, legitimate medical advice. P.S. Some vaccinations require multiple doses spread out over the course of several months, and some aren't kept on hand at a lot of doctors' offices, so don't wait till the last minute to run see what vaccinations you might need.

Not reading up on the culture or history of your destination
OK, so if you're heading out to sit on a beach somewhere and don't plan to move for a week, maybe this isn't a huge mistake for you. But whenever I travel, part of my adventure is always exploring the culture of a country, so I like to have some understanding of the place I'm visiting before I head there. I'm not suggesting you read a history book's worth of information about a place before you visit (although I wouldn't blame you if you did!), but knowing some basic geography and history can be helpful. Plus, knowing a bit about cultural norms (especially when it comes to how to dress or act respectfully) can really make your trip more pleasant. 

Being inflexible
This probably should have been #1 in my list of mistakes because it's so easy to fall into the trap of inflexibility (especially when you're a planner, like, ahem, SOME of us are). But travel REQUIRES flexibility. Flights get delayed and canceled. Your luggage can get lost. You might not love the food or the pillows might be too hard or too soft. You'll probably be hot or cold or tired or frustrated or confused or misunderstood at some point. Try to see it as all part of the experience and recognize that the EXPERIENCE is what travel is all about. (But [SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT] I will say that having an experienced travel agent on your side can be a huge help when those inconveniences arise!)

Kati Knowland