Back in August, I wrote this post: What Travelers Can Learn from Brittney Griner’s Sentencing in Russia. As you are probably well aware, a Russian court sentenced WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for bringing cannabis into the country after being arrested on February 17, 2022 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport.
Her case has made international headlines because of Russia’s war with Ukraine. Brittney’s lawyers argued that “she had a medical prescription for the drug that she mistakenly carried into Russia.” Griner apologized in court saying she never meant to break any laws and it was an honest mistake.
It was a huge mistake and as you can tell in Britney’s case, it doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity or Joe Schmoe. You must know the rules when visiting foreign countries. I think there’s a valuable lesson to be learned by all travelers from Brittney’s arrest. It doesn’t matter what the laws are at home. When you travel, all that matters is what the laws are of the country you’re traveling to and through.
Yesterday, President Joe Biden reiterated my tip in his welcome home speech to Brittney Griner. At the 3:13 mark of the 3:53 ESPN video clip below, President Biden said: “We also want to prevent any more American families from suffering this pain and separation. And I strongly urge — I strongly urge all Americans to take precautions, including reviewing the State Department’s travel advisories before they travel overseas, which now includes warnings about the risk of being wrongfully detained by a foreign government.”
It’s great, and important, advice. I might also add a couple more tips. I’ve made the mistake of not checking country-specific State Department’s travel advisories multiple times. The biggest mistake was when my buddies and I were in Budapest, Hungary almost a couple of decades ago for our good friend’s wedding. It was the night before the wedding and we went out on the town and happened to bump into a couple of girls that we’d met earlier that day.
As my buddy Matt wrote in a guest post: “Had we taken but a moment to read the travel advisory on the US embassy website, none of this would have come to pass. It was all there. The women. The overpriced drinks. Even the “I’d be happy to hurt you”, muscle for hire. But the summer nights in Budapest made it easy to feel sweet on life like the fruits of our labor were within reach and we had but to reach out. Unfortunately, as it turned out, we were the ripe fruit ready to be picked. And when two young women approached us looking for a bar, well, we were already lost. I’d like to say that looking back it was all so obvious but it really wasn’t. They were simply dressed and looked very much like the student tourists that they claimed to be. One was tall and pretty, distinctly central European, black hair and black eyes with a wide mouth like a fish. She spoke English with a heavy Hungarian accent and when she laughed it was a watchful gasping laugh.”
I’ll spare you all the details but they were in on the scam where four drinks and four shots cost us over $250 USD. As Matt said, the advisory with the name of the Bar (Galaxy) among several others were listed. We could have saved a lot of money and heartache but it was a good learning experience.
It’s also important to check foreign advisories from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom before you travel, not just the United States’ travel advisories. That’s because the State Department’s advisories could be incomplete or politically motivated. So before you travel internationally, consult and cross-reference foreign travel advisories of our ally nations.
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