Sometimes things happen to us, randomly, that can remind us of the fragility of this life and the freedoms that are aligned with it. I had a moment like this over this past weekend and have been spending the last few days reflecting and trying to decide how I wanted to share the way it has affected me. I have had these moments in the past as well, and overall I feel as though they are necessary, no matter if they are big or small, to keep us humble and to give us focus on the gratitude we should feel every day for being able to enjoy this thing called life.
We are spending the summer in Whistler, Canada before leaving for our adventures in Asia in September. Being a US citizen, I drove up here and crossed the border north of Seattle. Last week I had to go back to the states for a few days in order to do a little bit of work. When I was on my way back, I made one mistake. which lead to a series of compounding poor decisions and got me to writing this post.
As I was approaching the border, I stopped to fill my gas tank being that it is much cheaper to do on the US side of the border. I was on the phone with my dad at this time. We were having an engaging conversation and it distracted me from my other task of disposing of a joint that I had legally purchased in Seattle. I realized this while I was in a line of cars getting ready to cross the border and this is when my initial mistake happened.
Quickly, I looked up what the best thing to do in this process was and read varying responses online. My poor decision was to hop out of my car and run the joint over to a trash bin to dispose of it myself. There is a sign at the border that states you can declare any weed there to the Canadian border patrol. It does not say what the results would be if you did that. I was nervous and felt as though this would likely be best way for me to handle the situation. Man was I wrong!
A couple of minutes later a border patrol agent walked up to my window and asked why I had gotten out of my car. I told him exactly what I had done and what I had thrown away. He had me grab the joint from the container and told me to remain in line to cross as usual. Then they had me pull over as they do with other cars, leave my vehicle and go into their office building.
Throughout this process, I was very calm, and knowing that my only mistake was to get out of my car and throw this away, was feeling ok about my eventual result. At this particular border crossing, it is not illegal to declare it if you have marijuana (likely up to a certain amount). What I did not see coming was how the random travel and work I had done over the last few days would exponentially create more problems.
I want to say up front that the agents working with me that day were extremely professional and courteous. They were doing their jobs at a very high level. They began to question me as you would expect. What are you planning to do in Canada; for how long; etc.…
I answered their questions with full honesty confident that my simple mistake would not result in any serious legal issues. As they began to search my vehicle and phone, they found that I had been in the states very briefly (less than 72 hours) and in that time I had been in Seattle, Denver and Miami.
The reason for the travel was because I was closing on the sale of a property of mine in Florida and with those funds, investing with a guy who I knew who lived in Miami. I had flown down to meet with him and decided to not stay more than an afternoon because I wanted to get back to Whistler. If you have never closed on home before you may not know that many times the funds from the sale are wired into your account. Because I was then reinvesting some of those funds, I had had multiple large wire transfers in a 24-hour span. I had the paperwork for all of that in my vehicle and this is what the border agents found.
Through more questioning and searching of my phone records (texts, emails, FB messages) they soon discovered that I had been speaking to people in Whistler about potential cash work. I was also being honest with them about everything as I felt I had nothing to hide. They told me that it is not illegal to discuss or pursue work without a visa in Canada, just illegal to actually perform the work and be compensated. This saved me!
Looking at my rapid travel schedule and irregular sums of money being transferred around gave them pause to fully believe my story. I was able to provide proof of sale of my real estate, proof of residence in the states and gave them my planned date of exit of Canada. At this time, I was convinced that I would not be allowed in because I had been seeking cash work and that seemed to be their biggest concern. What ended up saving me in the end was that I had been working and saving for these long-term travels and could show that I had enough money to be in Canada for the next 6 weeks without having to work. Thank goodness!!
Eventually, they allowed me to cross into Canada with the added caveat that I have to check in with them before leaving the country again in August, I assume for further questioning and proof that I did not work at all while here. Obviously, I do not plan to let them down!
What this 3-4 hour hurdle in my day did to me mentally over the next few days was profound. Besides some lingering anxiety, it gave me the reminder I needed leading up to this trip, where we plan to go to 4+ different countries, how lucky we are to be allowed the opportunity to enter different countries and experience their cultures.
When you are born in a country like the US, we typically have no issues traveling anywhere in the world. Because of the ease that we tend to experience with this, it can be greatly taken for granted. This was my first ever time having this sort of scrutiny crossing any border and although it was 100% self-induced, I feel as though I can partially (maybe 1%) relate to what it might be like to for others, less fortunate, who try to travel to different countries.
As I mentioned, this incident came at an opportune time being on the verge of some global travels. This will stick with me and hopefully continue to fill me with gratitude and appreciation for how fortunate it is for anyone who chooses to do so, to be able to travel and cross into other countries’ lands. The facts are that it is a privilege and one that should not be taken lightly. A reminder that it is important to take the time to try and learn about the places we travel to, not be disrespectful to their laws or customs and to engage with the local people to try and better understand the different ways of living.
Our freedom is fragile and can be taken from us at a moment’s notice. This can happen whether it is deserved or not and for many, it happens undeserved simply because of having the misfortune of being born on the wrong side of an imaginary line drawn by who knows who. I plan to look back at this post regularly throughout my travels as a reminder of this as I hope to fully appreciate the opportunity I have to take this journey at this time.
If you have ever had an experience at home or abroad that relates to this, please feel free to share in the comments or send us a message. We will respect your privacy. It has helped to ease my anxiety to write this out and put my feelings on the screen. Perhaps it will do the same for you too. Thanks for reading and happy travels!