Getting in Trouble Abroad: 5 Tales of Tourists Behaving Very, Very Badly

While international travel can be all breezy beaches, partying until dawn, and awe-inspiring landmarks, the truth is that a successful journey does take a little savvy. And part of that savvy includes familiarizing yourselves with local customs and laws. The world, while seemingly becoming smaller and smaller everyday, is -- in fact -- a wildly diverse place. Merely crossing a border between two countries like Thailand and Malaysia, for instance, will put you squarely within two cultures dominated by different traditions and laws.

You see, there are consequences for behaving badly abroad -- these have ranged from deportation to arrest and even the death penalty in the most extreme cases. And while most travelers are unlikely to have run-ins with the law while they're enjoying their travels, those who openly flout laws regarding drugs, nudity, blasphemy, and other socially and culturally sensitive issues are putting themselves at risk. Read on for five stories that range from mild to wild.

Stripping Atop Holy Mountains May Cause Earthquakes — and Jail Time



Influencers and Instagram travel bloggers alike might be to blame for the trend that we all fondly remember: being naked in wacky places. For some time there, bare backsides were on display on beaches, in rainforests, atop mountains, aside glaciers. In this age of hyper-sharing, it may seem natural to combine exhibitionist streaks with the thrill of reaching a bucket-list destination. However, it’s important to understand the context before you strip down. 

In 2015, a group of tourists hiked to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, a sacred volcano on the island of Borneo in Malaysia. According to The Telegraph, once the group reached the summit, they decided to strip down and take nude photos despite warnings from their guide. Word of the incident set off anger in the local community, which reveres the mountain as a resting place for spirits of the deceased. With photographic evidence, the Malaysian police arrested four members of the group — Eleanor Hawkins, Lindsey Peterson, Danielle Peterson, and Dylan Snel. Hawkins was arrested in particularly dramatic fashion as she attempted to board her flight from Borneo to Kuala Lumpur. 

Local authorities take matters like this seriously, and signs are posted around the volcano warning tourists and hikers to behave respectfully. In fact, the incident was even blamed for triggering an earthquake in the region on June 5, which killed 18 people according to BBC News. The four tourists were given jail sentences, which were all commuted for time already served.

The Strange Case of Schapelle Corby

Depending on who is telling the story, Schapelle Corby is either an innocent victim or a convicted drug trafficker. In any case, what is clear is that this Australian boarded a plane in 2004 from her home to Bali for a vacation and wound up in a world of trouble. As The New York Times reports, Corby left for Bali and was arrested for smuggling several pounds of marijuana in her luggage. She claimed that she had no idea where it came from, and that it had been planted by authorities — a position she maintains to this day. 

In 2005 she was spared the death penalty — a fate that was handed down to members of the Bali Nine (an international group that included Australians accused of heroin smuggling in Bali) — but given a 20-year prison sentence. As Australia sought to diminish what they viewed as an overly harsh sentence, Corby became something of a celebrity in her home country. According to CNN, after serving nine years in prison, Corby was paroled for three years before being deported in 2017. Today, Corby maintains a low profile, though isn’t immune to the temptations of social media. She even recently posted a video with the infamous boogie board that was part of her luggage and wound up getting her in so much trouble. 

Death and Destruction By Selfie

Jan Kraus/Flickr

Jan Kraus/Flickr

Naked pictures aren’t the only type of photography getting tourists into hot water around the world. Unfortunately, reckless selfie behavior is almost too common to pinpoint one incident of tourists behaving badly (though, admittedly, it’s not always tourists causing the problems). Pretty Lisbon has borne an unfortunate brunt in this epidemic, as 2016 saw not one, but two separate statues dating back centuries be destroyed by tourists intent on scoring that perfect picture. As Conde Naste Traveler reveals, in the first incident, a tourist tried to pose with a statue on Lisbon’s iconic Rossio Station, which led to it becoming detached from the building and being destroyed. Some months later, an 18th-century statue of St. Michael was toppled by a selfie-taking tourist in the National Museum of Ancient Art. 

This is to say nothing of more recent misadventures in selfie-taking, like the visitor to Los Angeles’ The 14th Factory, who caused nearly $200,000 worth of damage to a contemporary art installation after she toppled several pillars of artwork, per ABC7 Chicago

It’s not just priceless artifacts and art that’s at risk from careless selfie practices. As we become ever more vain in our pursuits to capture the cool places we find in the world, even riskier consequences are becoming prevalent. In 2015, a Slovakian tourist visiting the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia strayed from designated pathways to avoid crowds and snap a picture. He wound up falling to his death. The park has gone so far as to launch social media campaigns against self-taking in dangerous and unsanctioned parts of the park, according to The Telegraph

Do Not Feed, Touch, or Bother the Animals

Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr

Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr

We’ve already told you about how exotic animal attractions around the world — including places like Thailand — are causing major issues with regard to animal welfare. But even while avoiding these tourist traps, travelers can still have an adverse effect on wildlife. While a chance encounter with animals is many a traveler’s dream, you should never touch, feed, or interact with them, despite what your own desires and the actions of those around you might say. While most encounters like this are innocent enough in nature, humans can be unthinkably foolish when it comes to wildlife. 

Take, for instance, the famous swimming pigs found on Big Major Cay in the Bahamas. Over the last several years, the phenomenon of seeing this farm animal swimming in the crystalline waters of the Bahamas has understandably drawn swarms of tourists. However, in early 2017, several of the pigs died, leaving the population dwindling. According to National Geographic, while the deaths were originally attributed to tourists giving the pigs rum, it actually appears that a number of tourist-influenced factors caused their demise. The main culprit is feeding, as tourists show up with all manner of food and drink to entice the pigs to come closer. As this food winds up on the sand, the animals engorge themselves on what tourists leave behind, taking up vast quantities of sand in the process. This is likely to have killed them. 

In any case, feeding human food to wildlife has dire consequences. For instance, if you are visiting the Florida Keys, you absolutely must not feed the endangered Key deer, despite what guides and other tourists might be doing. As with all instances of feeding wildlife, this alters the animals’ natural manner of finding food, draws them closer to human populations, harms their health, and causes populations to diminish. 

Lessons in Parenting — New York-Style

Billie Grace Ward/Flickr

Billie Grace Ward/Flickr

Americans and Europeans share a lot of cultural traits, but when it comes to issues like public nudity, drug laws, and parenting, there are vast gulfs in the American approach and those found throughout Europe. The latter became an issue in late 1997 for one couple, a Danish woman named Annette Sorensen (who was visiting New York City) and the father of her child, Brooklyn resident Exavier Wardlaw. And what an issue it was. As the parents sat inside the Dallas BBQ in New York’s East Village, they left their 14-month-old daughter asleep in her stroller, within eyeshot of their table indoors. 

As the Los Angeles Times reported, a caller phoned 911, the cops arrived, the couple were arrested, and the child was taken into protective custody. As Sorensen told it, this sort of thing was something like common practice in Copenhagen. Her account was backed up by government officials from Denmark and the media back home. However, the New York authorities were having none of it, and the couple spent two nights in jail while their baby was placed in foster care. Eventually, they were reunited with their child under supervised visitation and the case was dismissed by the court system. Sorensen subsequently filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against New York City. That, too, was dismissed by the courts. 

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