Philosophically, borders can be thought of as imaginary lines on a map drawn decades or even centuries ago by some stranger you’ll never meet. Governments and their customs and border agents tend to view them in a more concrete way. While crossing those geopolitical lines is much harder for some people than it is for others, there are a few things travellers can do to make border crossings as hassle-free as possible no matter who you are.
Do your research
Certain countries have rules about what visitors can and cannot bring with them that might not be immediately obvious to a first time visitor. The usual list of suspects (ammunition, large piles of cash, fruit, flowers) can be accompanied by stuff travellers wouldn’t think twice about throwing in a suitcase. For example, it’s prohibited to bring books or photographs into Dubai that stand a chance of offending Islamic morals or teachings. In Rwanda, plastic bags are banned (meaning travellers need to find another way to keep muddy shoes or dirty laundry separate from everything else).
Searches happen. Whether you’re randomly chosen by an airline’s algorithm, pulled aside to explain a strange looking item in your carryon, or simply sidelined because someone else is having a bad day, a search will go a lot more smoothly with luggage that’s well-organized. Pack liquids and cosmetics together and keep tech stuff corralled in one spot — these are the items most often called into question by security screeners and the faster they OK them, the sooner the vacation begins.
Double-check your documents
Of course passports are paramount but what about visas, vaccines, hotel addresses, and any other documentation a traveller might need to cross borders? A consultation with a travel health clinic can inform travellers of any mandatory (versus recommended) vaccines and provide them with the proper documentation. In some countries, visas can be handled at the airport but it’s typically easier to take care of them ahead of time and most are obtainable online. As for knowing the address of where you’ll be sleeping that night? That’s helpful in more ways than one.
There’s an authority that border guards and customs agents have that can put travellers on edge. That, plus the fact that we’re often in a hurry to get to our destination creates a recipe for less-than-great interactions. Add to that the fact that securing a border isn’t an easy job, and we’ve got tension on both sides. The best strategy for a traveller is to be polite, cooperative, and to answer any and all questions asked of you in the most direct way possible. Check attitude and frustrations like they’re luggage, and crossing becomes much easier.
The experience of crossing a border can vary widely depending on who you are, where you’re from, and what you look like. It’s much easier for certain people to travel from country to country than it is for others. Travellers can be held up at a border for something as small and inconsequential as a tattoo or something as big and all-encompassing as their identity. Protecting yourself when you cross a border can be simple — like dressing in a way that makes you feel confident and secure — or it can be more complex. It could mean choosing not to visit a certain place at all or, rather than setting off on a solo trip, booking a group tour with a trusted provider so that you’re equipped with the sense of security that comes with numbers and experience.
Ready to go? Check out our full roster of small group tours here.