travel checklist

Overseas Travel: Don’t Spend Your Weekend in Jail

Before I had Lou Lou and Jaf, my husband and I lived in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for 20 years.

travel checklist
Driving the UAE highways

In 1993, I got into a fender-bender with a van while driving in the Emirate of Sharjah. Since I did not have an international license, and the car that I hit was not driven by the actual owner, the police asked us both to follow him to the nearest police station.


At the station, I was told that I was going to be “held” until the owner of the vehicle I hit returned from Oman.

Which it turns out, was in 2 days.

At first, I thought it was a joke.

But as the police officers took my passport and belongings, and escorted me to a jail cell, I realized something was seriously wrong.


I proceeded to tell the officers I was an American and wanted to speak to someone from the US Embassy. Visions ran through my head of 2 men in black suits showing up at the station demanding my release.

Sadly, I was mistaken. The person I spoke to at the US Embassy said they were unable to help me and that I should follow all instructions given to me by the police.

The only help they offered was to help me find an attorney…that was it.

Apparently it was illegal for me to drive in Sharjah without a UAE license. I had assumed that since it was legal to drive in Dubai with a US license, the same would apply for the entire country.

Boy, was I wrong.

Each Emirate had their own laws…something I had to find out the hard way!


I ended up spending 2 nights in a Middle Eastern jail for a minor vehicle accident. We later found out the owner of the van was in Oman for the weekend, competing in a camel race. Everything was cleared up once he returned from his weekend race, but still, how embarrassing…

Looking back, I can say it wasn’t the worst 2 days of my life, but it’s still not something to brag about.


When traveling overseas, the last thing most families worry about is whether or not you’ll end up in jail. And, as an American, the assumption that “I have rights” won’t help you once you’re in jail…in a foreign country.

Fast forward 15 years and I’m now a pro at making sure our family is aware and prepared for international travel. Here is our “before-we-go” international Travel Checklist:

  1. Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
  2. Keep your contact information up-to-date on (STEP) so that you can be notified if any developments happen in the country you are visiting.
  3. Read about the current conditions in the country, warnings about areas of unrest, how and where to seek help, and other useful advice
  4. Study the local laws of each country you visit. Especially if you are driving, as it varies from place to place.
  5. Monitor our State Travel website for updates. This how important information is disseminated during a crisis.
  6. Follow their social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.

travel checklist

It’s always important that before you travel to a country, you read up on its cultures, customs, as well as laws to make sure you avoid any problems with the law. This will save you a lot of heartache and embarrassment in the future.

What are your tips and tricks for you and your family to stay informed while traveling overseas? Leave us a note in the comments below!

1 thought on “Overseas Travel: Don’t Spend Your Weekend in Jail”

  1. Thank you. I think its important to meet some Locals to be your host or a guide. In Thailand it felt safe having a guide.

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