Congratulations on Your Free Accommodation

One of the most rewarding parts of travel is meeting new people and experiencing new cultures; indeed, these new cultures are often more generous and open than the ones that we come from, and the local individuals you meet will often offer things that will cut down on your daily costs – the largest of which is, on average, accommodation.

So surely it should be a bonus when the local cops/soldiers/rebels pick your poor butt off the dirt road and act like something’s wrong. Surely, something could be – after all, these funky laws are rather foreign to you, being the foreigner, and your actions may indeed be foreign to the accepted conventions of the place you’ve visited. Therefore, as is almost always the case in your home country, you will be engaging in an activity usually referred to as “breaking the law”. This, generally, will put you in touch with local authorities so that you can mediate a resolution with them.

Depending on the nature of your infraction, you may be able to save yourself some time by providing them with paper of monetary value in exchange for you being on your way. This can often be the case – however for larger infractions, or downright blundering ignorance, you may find yourself granted with some involuntary free accommodation – which is what this article’s about.

Quite possibly, you’ve fucked up somewhere along the way. Hey, that’s okay – even if you haven’t, assume that they’ve found a solid excuse to toss your butt in jail. Many places only need the weakest of excuses to do this, for example refusing to pay off the appropriate authorities whilst gallivanting around throughout their territories. Quite possibly, your actions may be in the right. More than likely, you’ve done nothing wrong. But as a wise man one said – “Good, bad, I’m the one with the gun.”

So by extension you will be introduced to an even more sparse level of accommodation than you were used to by traveling through these places on the cheap. A mat on the floor, a daily meal, it’s the thing of luxury for many of the world’s poorest, and you’re getting it for free! What a deal! There is one problem with this arrangement, though – you are not exactly able to leave this luxurious establishment to see the town and hang out at the bar. In fact, while the exclusivity of the prison could be construed as attractive for certain elitist backpacker types, most of us will endeavour to escape these confines as soon as possible.

So – pay your fine. Offer to pay a fine, even if they haven’t asked about a fine. If you’ve “done nothing wrong” as you have more than likely protested to them while they were tossing you in the slammer, they will more than likely be listening. If you have, in fact, done something wrong, it may take a little more money.

So with this taken into consideration, you should remember to never travel cashless. Always strap a little bit of cash under your clothes somewhere, as this is expected from your local soldier guardian. You will be separated from your personal belongings and if all of your cash is in “my other pack” you will have far less negotiating power than if you can just pull out a few bills. Don’t start with large ones, start slowly. Patience is not so much a virtue in these situations as essential – you’re working to understand your surroundings and befriend all who will come near you.

If you’re in line to speak to a top official, make some small talk with not-so-top officials beforehand. They’re your friends – all of this is simply a misunderstanding that can be sorted out amicably. If you act like a criminal, or act like they’re the criminals, guess what – one of you will be treated like a criminal, and it won’t be them. We’re here for laughs, shits and giggles if you will, and the more of them you can spread around the better off you’ll be. Hey, the bus station is only on the other side of the wall, why panic so much?

Chances are, if you’ve broken any kind of minor law, it can be sorted out numerically. Admit to your infraction and offer some money for it; however, if you’ve been caught redhanded with foolish things like drugs and/or murdering someone, you may very well be fucked. The positive, friendly atmosphere of negotiating a fine will more than likely be replaced with severe suspicion, reprisal attacks, and a deep mistrust between you and your captors.

So. Escaping may be your only choice. Escape is, of course, dangerous, but then again so are murder and doing drugs where it’s illegal. (Like really. Most drugs are legal or ignored in various parts of the world. Do a little research and avoid prison. What were you thinking anyway?) The bonus of the situation is that you’re in a not-so-maximum-security facility, assumably, given third world construction standards. You had better hope you are, because springing out of any jail is harder than the movies tell you it is.

Quite often, regional jails will be so escapable it’s ridiculous. However, it’s also ridiculously easy to spot the one white man on the dirt road hitching a ride to the next town and the lack of the white man in the local prison. You’re a big fish in a small pond, and if you can’t get out fast, you are, for all intents and purposes, fucked. And you will be even more fucked once they catch you again – possibly physically as well as literally.

Therefore arranging things before ‘the big break’ is another essential must. If you’ve exhausted all other avenues, and no one else is available to help you, perhaps you can call on – the A-team. But more than likely not. More than likely you’ll have to arrange a pickup with a local taxi driver, for a fair chunk of cash so that he will dodge the local authorities and carry you away fast. Again, if you’ve lost your luggage, it will remain lost forever. This option is solely about getting your ass out of prison when it more than likely would have stayed there for a very long time. There are always opportunities to speak to folks on the other side of the wall in third world prisons, and you can make your arrangements quietly through curious free citizens or with other inmates acting as interlocutor.

Yes, it will suck. Getting thrown in jail, anywhere at any time, generally sucks. However if you travel to enough armpits of the world you are bound to get stuck in sticky situations which offer free room and board in exchange for you being frightened you’ll spend the rest of your life there. Now, granted, you could call your embassy, or your embassy could call you – but embassies are only officially allowed to tell you your legal options, none of which will be much help to you.

And finally the obvious – springing yourself out of jail, with or without the consent of local authorities, should be your cue to cross the border and get out. Don’t stick around to see the paperwork for your release, don’t ask to get it notarized and endorsed by your embassy. You’ve been given a modest suggestion from the local culture that while your cash is welcome in their country, you are not. Heed that advice carefully.

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