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Drugs and Travelling

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 12 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
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Out on your own, meeting new people, going new places - gap years can be an incredible dose of freedom for most young people. Often with this freedom comes the idea that dabbling in drugs is all just part of the exploration. Unfortunately, many travellers have been jailed for less than dabbling, some even incarcerated for inadvertent possession! In order to enjoy your gap year at the pool bar, not behind bars, make sure you steer clear of drugs while abroad.

Definitions of Illegal Substances

Drug laws will vary from country to country on your travels. In order to avoid unwittingly breaking these laws, familiarise yourself with the legal codes of your host countries. These codes may also regulate cigarettes and alcohol, criminalising them in ways with which you are unfamiliar. For example:
  • In some U.S. states and European countries, smoking cigarettes in public buildings is illegal.
  • The legal age to purchase tobacco products varies from country to country.
  • Alcohol is prohibited in many Middle Eastern and officially Muslim nations.
  • Some countries may classify "soft drugs," such as marijuana, differently than "hard drugs," such as heroin.

Drug Smuggling

Travelling with cigarettes, tobacco products, alcohol and of course drugs is also regulated differently by different countries. A general rule of thumb is to never cross national borders with drugs in your possession, and to check with customs authorities on the amount of tobacco and alcohol you may transport. Many times young travellers are targeted to unknowingly smuggle drugs, so before you travel make sure to:
  • Inspect your luggage for any tears or holes.
  • Verify that your luggage closes properly.
  • Look over and inside any souvenirs that you may have obtained locally.
  • Pack all of your bags yourself.
  • Supervise all of your bags yourself.
  • Never accept items that others ask you to deliver during your travels.
  • Refuse to supervise any other traveller's bags.
At ports, depots and airports around the world, everything from customs agents to policemen with sniffer dogs to the military may be used to inspect luggage. If anything is found amiss, repercussions can range from routine questioning to a strip search and incarceration. Take every precaution to avoid any misunderstandings.

Travelling With Prescription Medications

If you will be travelling with prescription medications, make sure you keep these drugs in their original, clearly labelled containers. Travelling with prescription medication is not illegal, but you may be called upon to prove the type of drugs, why you need them and how you obtained them. Many travellers choose to keep a note from their GP with them at all times in order to explain their medications.

Think Twice

If your host country's drug laws aren't enough to scare you straight and you still have a yearning to explore drug cultures abroad, think twice. Remember:
  • Shapes, sizes and strengths of drugs vary from country to country so you have no way of knowing what you are really buying or taking.
  • The effects of drugs may be changed due to the climate of your host country, meaning that you have no idea how your own body will react.
  • You may have limited medical insurance in your host country, meaning that a bad reaction or overdose could easily result in sub-standard care or even death. In some cases travel/medical insurance wont cover illness induced by drugs or alcohol, which can lead to you not being treated.
Taking drugs is never a healthy activity, no matter which country you are visiting or living within. Avoid any unpleasant surprises during your gap year by steering clear of drugs while abroad.

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