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Forbidden travel: you're not the first
The most critical lesson is to remember that there is "no such thing as safe." Any country that does not have diplomatic ties with the United States provides limited options if trouble arises. So, plan ahead. If you're going to see the Mass Games in North Korea, note that the Swedish Embassy is the lone outpost for westerners in Pyongyang. In general, take steps to keep yourself safe. For once, calling home to let your mom you landed safely won't seem like age-instigated paranoia.
Also, learn from those who have been already. Even if the part of the world you want to see is off-limits, there's a good chance you won't be the first American with a Canadian flag stitched to his backpack to tread the local turf. Be prepared to carry cash, as your ATM card may not get you far, and be prepared to be scared as hell while doing so. Hey, there's nothing quite like cruising the Bakara Market in Mogadishu with a few thousand dollars forming a lump inside your shoe.
When you get home, keep the pictures to yourself. Travel to Cuba, for example, is generally illegal. So, forcing someone to sit through an endless carousel of slides could sow the seeds that will get your behavior reported to the Feds. Unless you live in California, Massachusetts or New York, your swing through the remaining outposts of Communism could be interpreted as unpatriotic! So, savor the memories alone ... or at your next workers' rights meeting.
[Photo by Brian Sayler]