I think it makes sense to dedicate one of the first articles of this travel Blog to the very first misadventure of my trip to Australia, for which I scheduled a couple of stop-overs of a few days in other countries, before finally arriving at Sidney.
Recently graduate in Law, I quit my job as a legal practitioner (paid just few hundred bucks a month) to leave for Australia on a Working Holiday Visa.
As it always happens when you take a life-changing decision and face the risks involved head-on, the world immediately pushes a test at you, to see if you can really handle it.
You have to be well geared up, and also a precaution like a condom could end up saving your life.
I land in an opulent airport, furnished with palms, waterfalls and huge white columns everywhere. I am dressed like a typical western tourist: cap, hoodie, loose jeans and a backpack.
My appearance seems not to convince the employee at the passport control. In fact, until a few days before, I worked as a legal practitioner and in the picture on my brand new passport I’m wearing a suit, a shirt and have some beard, while I’m now cleanly shaven as I normally do for longer trips.
“It’s not You”, the immigration officer says.
“No no no, wait. That’s how I appear at work, I’m on holiday right now, I did shave: look at me, you can definitely tell it’s me!”
“It’s not you.”, the immigration officer says again.
My reaction to the remonstrances of the passport-control employee
I get away by providing my id card and driving permit for comparison, so I can finally pass the checks, text home to tell them that I’m fine, and keep going.
I’m chatting with Guido, an Italian guy who was sitting next to me on the plane. He just graduated and accepted a job proposal which brought him here. In contrast to me, he is well dressed up. We go through a further check-point and, predictably enough, one of the policemen points at me and tells me to step aside, while Guido continues on safely. I will never see him again.
The cop wants to check my backpack and starts digging in it. He pulls out a small leather sachet that I brought with me to keep some necklaces, bracelets and other “Beach style” trinkets.
That little sachet had been gifted to me and two of my housemates in Spain at the end of our Erasmus period (a university exchange program) by a Greek who had a hippie shop at the base of our building. The three leather bags contained some round and colored seeds: black, green and red.
You don’t need to be a savvy traveler to understand that carrying with you some sort of “seeds” while traveling is not a good idea. I had therefore already removed the seeds from the bag before hitting the road.
The policeman, who’s a big guy wearing a basque and a blue uniform, puts his fingers in the bag and begins to inspect it.
In my mind I’m thinking: “Dear cop, I knew you could check the sachet, hence, I removed the seeds, I’m not stupid”.
To my astonishment, the policeman extracts with his two fingers a black seed, which I didn’t noticed earlier, it probably remained stuck and concealed in a fold of the sachet and i never took it out!
He looks straight in to my eyes and asks me:
“And What is this?”
I go pale, in my mind I only got this one question:
“Ok, how do I now explain to this cop that this is a good luck charm I had as a gift by a Greek, in Spain…”
With my command of the English language at that time, I didn’t even know the word “seed”.
there were more…
I don’t know what they are…
I knew they could have been a problem at the airport, so I removed them…
It’s something that brings good luck… “
Stares. Maybe he’s not understanding me.
“Fortune! Fortune! “ I exclaim, ” Good luck! “
Ok, I’m screwed. I’m going to jail, a jail thousands of kilometers from home, and I just texted home: “Just landed, all good. ”
And now, what do I do?
The policeman leads me to a closet which is about one meter or two in dimension. He starts searching me, he pokes my pockets and keeps repeating insistently:
“What is this?”
“What is this?!”
It’s getting intense, I can feel the cold drops flowing down my face and for the first time in my life, I truly understand the meaning of the expression “cold sweat”.
How do I get out of this situation?
The policeman wants to check my wallet, I give it to him and he starts to search in every pocket and fold. Suddenly he extracts a long since forgotten condom, probably from the ice age.
“And What is this?”, he questions.
Pushed by the grotesque situation, words come out of my mouth by themselves:
“Come on man, You know!“
It seems like the policeman likes the answer because he starts laughing, laughs out loud even more. In the end, he doesn’t look much older than I am.
He looks at me, shows me the seed again, pinched between his two fingers and asks me:
“And What is this?”
Exhausted, I go like:
“Listen, I -DON’T-KNOW”.
The policeman opens the door of the closet, gives me the passport from behind his back and signals with his head that I can go.
He retains both the condom and the seed.
If you’re not already used to having a condom on you when you’re traveling, I hope this article convinced you, it could save your life.
- If you find yourself in a difficult situation, try to throw a joke.
- Make sure the picture on your documents and your appearance match.
- While traveling, and especially going through security checks, it’s always convenient to have a clean and neutral appearance. Try not to wear anything related to politics, religion or other sensitive subjects. I now always bring a clean polo shirt with me for this and other “formal” situations.
- If you want to text home that you landed and everything is fine, wait until you passed through the immigration checks and entered the country of arrival.
- Always have a condom with you. A tip I got from a fellow traveler: finding a condom during a search still tends to cause some kind of awkwardness for an immigration officer, so it might lead to a premature ending of an annoying safety inspection. He personally keeps a condom in every pocket of his travel backpack. Now imagine the feeling of an officer who keeps finding condoms in every single pocket he inspects…
Attention: In addition to objects well known to be banned on board an aircraft or not accepted by the customs (sharp objects, liquids, gases and flammables…), there are other objects of common use that, even though innocent, could get you in trouble in some countries. For example, allegedly the sole ingestion of poppy seeds could distort the results of a drug test (read this Wikipedia article). Always be well informed about the country you are about to visit before traveling!
Are you about to leave and don’t have any condoms with you? Too bad! You can buy some here.
Credits: Airport pic by Giovanni Ayala