Most of us will be mindful of local customs when we travel - dressing appropriately when visiting religious sites and so on - but there are more ways to fall foul of locals than you might imagine - and some of them will earn you more than just outraged looks. Fines and even jail time can follow on from things that you may not otherwise have thought twice about. Read the rule book, people!
So you’re vacationing in Thailand and you haven’t packed enough clean underwear - ooops. What to do? Turn a worn pair inside out? Nah - traveling is all about freeing yourself, right? So today, you’re going … commando. Think again. Leaving the house without wearing underwear is illegal in Thailand - and do you really want to be put in the position of having someone actually check?
Spare your blushes - and your wallet - and keep your language expletive-free when you’re on Virginia Beach in Virginia, US - yep, even if you stub your toe on the boardwalk. Swearing has been subject to penalties since the nineties, in an effort to keep this family-friendly beach welcoming for all ages.
The mineral rich waters of Swaziland’s Cuddle Puddle are a constant 42 degrees, but that’s about as hot as it gets: despite its vaguely amorous name, kissing is forbidden here and nudity is an absolute no-no.
Italian men may be well known for their macho ways but take notes, boys: don’t try to make yourself feel bigger (ahem) by grabbing your crotch and messing about with your junk if you’re in Milan, as you’ll be hit with a fine. Way to feel small!
Let it mellow, right? So Switzerland’s law against flushing the toilet after 10pm at night - on the basis of it being noise pollution - isn’t such a big deal - until, that is, you get a touch of traveler tummy and find yourself being violently ill - from either end. Try letting that mellow - ugh.
You know when you’re traveling and you’re trying to stay within budget by maybe missing a meal or two? Don’t even think about trying to keep your appetite at bay by chewing gum when you’re in Singapore: unless you can prove it’s for medicinal purposes, it’s illegal. Do hunger pangs and breath concerns count as medicinal?
Not so much a law that you might be breaking but one that might prove to be an ace up your sleeve when you’re traveling in Scotland and really, really need to go. Knock on a stranger’s door - by law, they have to let you in to use their toilet. And if they’re less friendly than this law might suggest, remind them of it.
The Maldives are an enduringly popular honeymoon destination but if you’re thinking of spicing up your newlywed life with some pornography, think again: bringing it in to this Islamic cluster of paradise islands is absolutely forbidden.
You’re vacationing in Thailand and you take money from your pocket to pay for something… and a gust of wind whisks it from your hands. Let it go, rather than stamping a restraining foot on it as it skitters down the pavement. Stepping on the image of the monarch, which appears on bank notes, is disrespectful and a criminal offence.
If you happen to be visiting Tuszyn in Poland, leave your Winnie the Pooh t-shirt, bag, hat or lunchbox at home - especially if you’re visiting an area frequented by children, like a play area. Pooh is, shock horror, only half-dressed - and his absence of gender-specific genitalia has even led to him being branded an ‘inappropriate hermaphrodite.’
Cutting costs by making your own lunchtime sandwiches is a savvy move - but think twice about where you eat them if you’re in Italy, because if you’re sitting on the steps of a cathedral or some other cultural monument, it’s very possible that you’ll be swiftly encouraged to move by cleaners hosing them down with water. It’s a move designed to make visitors treat such sites with more respect.
Nope, not feathered friends: fines. Pigeon populations need to be kept under control because of the damage they cause to property, so feed the pigeons on the streets or sidewalks of San Francisco and you’ll be slapped with a fine. Never mind that your travel buddy bought you a wheat bagel and you only eat gluten free - either find a bin, or deal with the bloat.
It’s probably more strange that somebody would actually contemplate wearing stilettos for traipsing around sightseeing, than it is that it’s forbidden in Greece to visit ancient sites in high heels, but it takes all sorts, hey? Since 2009, visitors to places like the Acropolis have been forbidden from wearing shoes that contribute unduly to their wear and tear, so lace up your trainers and deal with an Insta-pose that doesn’t make you look like a gazelle. Priorities!
A lot of travelers might carry a deck of cards in their bag to while away long hours on planes or trains, or just to pass the time in a bar with new found friends, right? If you’re traveling in India, make sure that what you’re doing can’t be construed as gambling: not with money, not with anything standing in for money. A large fine or even jail time could be the only thing you win. Game of Snap, anyone?
When you’re packing for a vacation in Barbados, you can leave all of that inexpensive army surplus gear behind, thanks: it’s against the law to wear camouflage. The law came about in the 1980s when there was a spate of robberies carried out by people impersonating soldiers; such activity isn’t a problem now, but the law is still in force.
We’ve all been there - you’ve been keeping well hydrated in the hot holiday sun, you’re bobbing about in the water, you’re relaxed, you’re …. Oh come on, the lavatories are miles away. And ...aahhhh. Well, don’t get too relaxed on vacation in Portugal - it’s illegal to pee in the sea there - although it does make you wonder how they actually prove it?!
Spitting on the pavement is gross no matter where you are in the world, but be doubly cautious in Singapore and Malaysia, because doing so will see you forking out on a penalty. If you absolutely must spit, it needs to be done in a drain to avoid punishment.
There’s plenty to be happy about if you’re invited to a wedding in Australia - but do all of your whooping, hollering and fist pumping well in advance of the day, because a bride and groom Down Under can officially take legal action against anyone who ‘intentionally’ disturbs their wedding day.
If you’re thinking to maximize that vacation tan by driving your rental car in Spain without your shirt on, then you’d best think carefully about which indignity you’d rather swallow: that of a t-shirt sleeve line or that of a fine? You’re up for €200 if pulled over while topless: that’s a lot of holiday cervezas you’ll be missing.
It’s not just what you wear on your top half while driving that could come under censure when you’re vacationing in Spain: you could also face a fine for driving with thongs, otherwise known as flip flops, on your feet.
Taking to the autobahn in Germany may be thrilling stuff for speed lovers - there’s no limit on how fast you can drive. There is, however, a limit on how unprepared you can be when you’re on these highways: it’s illegal to run out of fuel.
As much as we’re encouraged to disconnect when on holiday, who can help wanting to post on socials about how much we’re loving life? Think twice about your connectivity if you’re in Singapore because, under its Computer Misuse and Cyber Security Act, you could face a $10,000 fine or up to 3 years in prison if you connect to someone else’s WiFi. Yep, even if your photo got loads of ‘likes’.
Female travelers in La Paz, Bolivia, might want to think twice about having their honeymoon there - or at least take off their wedding rings before going out in the evening. While single ladies can drink all they want, married women may only be served one alcoholic drink, presumably to prevent them from getting out-of-control flirty. Men though? Married, single - no limit imposed. Hmmm.
One of the joys of going to a foreign country is sampling new foods right? Well, it’s not entirely certain that experimenting with durian is likely to be a joy - chef Anthony Bourdain describes the taste as “indescribable … your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother,’ - but in any case, watch where you do your experimentation, as the fruit is outlawed in many public places in Singapore, including hotels and the train.
Adrenaline sports on a vacation are one of the highlights of being away from home - there’s something about the freedom of not being ‘in’ your everyday life that makes you far freer to indulge in a bit of bloodrush behavior. Take heed if you’re a married woman who wants to try a spot of skydiving in Florida, though - you can only do so on a Sunday. Presumably you have other ‘duties’ to attend to for the rest of the week?
Or should that be … formaggio? In Milan, there’s an old and not-yet-repealed law requiring people to smile at all times. Don’t worry, some exemptions do apply - like when you’re at a funeral, or visiting a sick relative in hospital. Other than that? Get your happy face on - and why wouldn’t you, you’re on vacation!
The French may love a baguette but they don’t want to see them in their municipal swimming pools, thanks - nope, not even one of the smaller ones. To that end, boys, you need to be sure you pack your form-fitting trunks or Speedos next time you’re planning to vacation in France: loose fitting shorts are not allowed.
Ever picked up a pair of “Roy Bens” from a street vendor? Fakes - some quality, some less so - are everywhere when you travel, but beware of jumping on the ‘labels for less’ bandwagon in Venice: the issue is dealt with harshly, with action taken against both vendor and buyer. For the amount you could be fined, you may as well have bought the genuine item.
You can pay for all the excess baggage you like, but it won’t mean that you can keep those potatoes. Nope, sorry - people in Western Australia aren’t permitted to own more than 100lb of potatoes at any one time. Best save that extra luggage space for cute toy koalas instead.
Well actually, if you’re in Eraclea, near Venice in Italy, you’re more likely to be the dirty rascal if you dare to build sandcastles on the beach. The law - which will attract a fine if broken - stems from the fact that such sandy structures allegedly ‘obstruct passage’. Probably not the best place to vacation with your kids, then.