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By Jordan W. Charness

With the crazy weather that we’ve been having this summer, many of us are seeking vacations far away from home where there is a somewhat more stable climate. And with a poor economy and fewer people travelling, there are some great deals to exotic foreign destinations. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to think that a foreign country is just like home, except that the locals speak with a funny accent. The fact of the matter is that every country develops its own set of rules and laws which may not be exactly what we’re used to at home.

Through the many Steering You Right tales in this space, you have learned a lot about my friend Peter. In this, and next week’s column, you’ll get to see a slightly different side of Peter and learn about the trouble you can get into when you are not aware of local laws and customs.

Peter is a do-it-yourself type of guy. He is fairly good mechanically and he loves cars; he also gets a kick out of driving different types of cars and the easiest way to do so is to rent a car at his travel destinations. So, most of the time, Peter rents a car when he is out of the country and drives himself from place to place. Mary, his wife, is an excellent navigator. With his fine driving and her great navigating they rarely get into trouble. Rarely, that is, except for his last trip, where he ended up in jail.

Obviously, Peter did not intend to go to jail when he rented a car in a foreign land. He figured that a great way to see the local countryside would be to take a rented car and drive it wherever he felt like going. He thought that he would get a better feel for the country than he would if he took an organized tour. Since Mary speaks some of the local language, they bought a map and pointed the car west.

This was probably their first mistake: going wherever you feel like it does not work terribly well in a dictatorship. There are many off-limits areas that admit only authorized personnel. The words denoting these areas are not common words so Mary didn’t recognize them on her map. To add to their difficulties, not all restricted areas were listed on the map. For obvious reasons, secret locations are not to be found on any map you can buy over the counter.

Mary’s first clue that things were about to get dicey was a serious increase in the number of soldiers standing alongside the road. Her second big clue was a roadblock and a rifle pointed at Peter’s face. The soldiers were polite and as she was under pressure Mary’s first words out translated as, “Hi friend, I am a pencil.” Nonetheless, Mary’s high school language lessons gave her enough words to convince them that they were not spies or terrorists. After a thorough search of their car, the soldiers pointed them back the way they came and strongly suggested that they join an organized tour.

Not to be deterred, they decided that they would put a little more planning into the trip and carefully chose a route along major roads into the closest big city. They assumed that this would keep them out of trouble, but they assumed wrong. More next week…

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