I’ll Drink To That!

11 12 2008



“Hey Ernest, you’ve been propped up there so long you look like a fixture!” (Havana, Cuba)


I once worked part-time in a small shop that sold newspapers, magazines and sweets and chocolates from the United Kingdom and which offered video transfers from international formats to the North American system. People of all nationalities would transfer their family videos of weddings, vacations and get-togethers. Often, it was only when they returned to collect the finished product that they would learn just how long the video their relatives had sent was – and they would leave richer for the family-link in their bag, but considerably poorer for the 9-hour blurred and shaky wedding they’d just paid for!


Then there were the people who had returned from their vacation and forgotten to buy a souvenir for Uncle Fred. They’d race in and pick up some rare imported chocolate that they would then claim had been thoughtfully purchased at Heathrow on their way home. Around the corner was a UNICEF store which I suspect was similarly raided by absent-minded travellers.


I used to faithfully buy gifts for people during my travels until I realised that not everyone appreciated snowglobes, fridge magnets and bobble-heads as much as souvenir shop owners do. Gradually, I weened myself from the habit although just to ensure that wealthy Great Aunt Agnes doesn’t leave me out of her will, I still diligently send postcards from most of my travels.


Duty-free alcohol used to rank high on my list of overseas purchases and neighbours would know when I was returning from a trip by the clanking sound as I walked down the road. I would seek either something unusual – like a fancy bottle of Curacao from Curacao, Konyagi from Tanzania or berry-liqueur from Finland – or a downright bargain. A nice bottle of grog made a great gift for someone or a great addition to my own bar: ie the space beneath the kitchen sink. However, as airport security tightened, the bobbleheads looked more and more appealing.


Before you buy duty-free alcohol, make sure you familiarise yourself not only with your own country’s limits on what you are allowed to bring home, but also on what security arrangements allow you to carry in your checked luggage or your carry-on. Otherwise, the closest you may come to a tipple will be watching a uniformed official pouring your nectar down the drain!


The U.S. is one of many countries that does not permit liquids to be carried in your carry-on unless they meet strict security restrictions. While this may seem obvious, you can still be caught off-guard if you are transitting via a third country. While most airports now again permit you to purchase duty-free alcohol and carry it onto the aircraft, if you are changing flights in another country, you will likely be advised that you must place those bottles in your checked-baggage or have them confiscated. Just because it was security-cleared at one airport does not mean it has been security-cleared at all airports enroute. It is a common sight in places like Los Angeles, Chicago or New York to see dozens of travellers on the floor frantically re-packing bottles into their checked-baggage in the secure baggage-claim area before re-checking it for an onward flight….and people travelling without checked-baggage have no alternative but to abandon their booze altogether.


With the holidays approaching and many would-be Santas carting bags full of gifts around the world, make sure that you check with your travel agent, airline or airport officials to familiarise yourself with the security arrangements for your entire trip, and not just your first flight. It can save a lot of frustration and thirstiness later on.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan




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