From contracting parasites and bedbugs to illegally crossing a border or racking up exorbitant cellular fees, these 10 travel errors could have serious health or financial consequences that will haunt you long after your vacation is over.
Crossing the Wrong Border
In some places, it's easy to wander over an unmarked and unguarded border from one nation to another. While this might not be such a big deal if you're in, say, the European Union, it can mean big trouble in other parts of the world. Take the case of three Americans who were imprisoned from 2009 to 2011 for allegedly crossing into Iran while hiking near the border in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Iranian government accused the hikers of being spies and sentenced them to eight years in prison. (One of the hikers was released after 14 months, and the remaining two were let go after serving about two years and paying more than $465,000 each in bail money.)
You can't see them, and you might not know you have them until months or even years later, but parasites can ruin your health. Microscopic parasites can be contracted by drinking contaminated water, by eating undercooked meats or improperly washed fruits and vegetables, or through a bug bite.
One SmarterTravel staffer experienced the trauma of a parasite, and his story gives us chills: "I don't know where I contracted [leishmaniasis]. They think most likely when I was in Crete, since that timing seemed to fit and that was the only place I'd been where this disease occurs, although it's still pretty rare there. If it was Crete, the symptoms didn't appear until almost a year later. I was on and off sick for about four months until they figured out what it was. Went through lots of doctor's visits and tests. They were going to remove my spleen for diagnosis but found out what it was right before that."
Contrary to their name, bedbugs can live almost anywhere -- including in luggage, on clothing, or on furniture. All it takes is one bedbug hitchhiking from a fabric airline seat or hotel bed to infect your entire home. Getting rid of them once you have them can cost you more than your trip -- think thousands of dollars in extermination fees, furniture replacement, and laundry bills.
Be sure to always check your hotel mattress for signs of bedbug infestation, wash your clothing immediately upon returning home, and consider using hard-sided luggage to keep bugs out.
Having Your Identity Stolen
Opportunities for identity theft are everywhere while traveling. Making a transaction with an unfamiliar ATM, using a public Wi-Fi connection, or being the victim of a pickpocketing -- these are all ways in which your identity could be stolen. Identity thieves can open fraudulent accounts in your name and ruin your credit for years while the matter is straightened out.
Use secure Internet connections; consider using an RFID-blocking wallet; and check your credit card, bank, and credit-report statements carefully and frequently after traveling.
Having Your Home Burglarized
Being away from home for an extended period of time can make your house a prime target for burglars. Even something as innocuous as mentioning an upcoming vacation on Facebook can alert thieves that your house will be empty. Consider the case of a New Hampshire robbery ring, which used Facebook postings to target victims while they were out of town.
Limit who you tell that you'll be gone (including out-of-office emails, voicemails, and social media postings) and freeze newspaper and mail deliveries so they don't pile up when you're gone.
Getting Locked Up Abroad
The television show Locked Up Abroad may be entertaining to watch, but it won't be so much fun if you have to live through it. Make sure you know the local laws wherever you're going. For example, did you know that in Singapore, officials can legally submit anyone (including tourists) to a drug test -- which means that you could get in trouble for illegal substances consumed before you even traveled? It gets worse: Some narcotics offenses carry mandatory death penalties in Singapore. Or, in the less-obviously-illegal department, a British couple received a one-month prison sentence for kissing in public in Dubai.
Familiarize yourself with local laws before traveling!
Travelers, especially business travelers, can be easy targets for kidnappers looking for financial or political gain. Last year, an American tourist was kidnapped, robbed, and raped in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Four kidnappings in Honduras have been reported to the U.S. embassy in the last two years, and in 2011 the Mexican government reported a more than 300 percent increase in kidnappings since 2005.
Check the State Department's website for travel alerts and warnings for regions that you are planning to visit -- it will have good information on whether or not kidnapping is a high risk and which areas should be avoided.
Getting Too Drunk
Knowing your limits while drinking alcohol is important, especially while traveling. A drunken slip could mean lifelong consequences. Take the case of Joe Rickey Hundley, a former executive who lost his job after he got drunk and slapped a toddler on a plane. Be careful to always watch your surroundings while drinking as well -- the State Department warns of reports out of Thailand of tourists being robbed after their food or drink was drugged with a sedative.
Drink alcohol in moderation while traveling (and remember that being tired, jet-lagged, or dehydrated can make you feel more drunk than you would under normal conditions), and never accept a drink from a stranger.
Not Turning Off Cellular Data
Don't forget to turn off your cellular data (or set up an international plan) if you are bringing your phone with you on the road. Consumers have been hit with unexpected bills for exorbitant amounts (think $10,000) because they used their phones briefly while abroad or they forgot to turn off cellular data/roaming.
Consult our handy guide on using your smartphone abroad to avoid a surprise savings-ruining bill.
Consuming Counterfeit Products
Inadvertently buying a fake handbag in a foreign market may be annoying, but it's nothing compared to what could happen if you consume a fake product. Multiple tourists have died in Indonesia after drinking methanol (a lethal substance) that was sold to them as regular alcohol in a money-scamming scheme.
Other travelers have experienced dire consequences from taking counterfeit medicines while abroad. The CDC, for example, warns against buying antimalarial drugs while abroad; many sold outside the United States are counterfeit and ineffective.
Stick to bottled beer in places where counterfeit alcohol is a known problem, and buy your medications before you go.
--By Caroline Morse