Nothing like a bit of Border Patrol to start your RTW

Border PatrolMy original plan for today’s post was going to be summing up our preparation and last minute details of our current round the world trip (currently 20 hours in!).

So you guys know that Shaun and I have issues with being harassed by American law enforcement. During our Burning Man road trip we were harassed multiple times, once where I was almost asked for my papers because the border patrol agent refused to believe our road trip story and that I was an American citizen. If I was asked for my papers, I probably would have flipped my shit.

I digress…

I hate feeling  like I’m in a police state. The fact that I am asked what I am doing in my own country really bothers me.

I was feeling abnormally nervous about the Border Patrol stop today for some reason. I just wanted to finish our 15 hour drive from San Antonio to Phoenix. We were asked the dreaded question:

Where are you going and where are you coming from?

We are from Austin and we are going to Phoenix. This is something we had rehearsed before – not because we were lying but because we wanted to avoid any sort of suspicion that any differences in our answers would create. Much to our dismay, while our story was perfect, apparently the drug dog decided to hang out on our window.

Border Patrol Agent (BPA): Can you pull off to the side up there. We need to search your car.

Fan-freaking-tastic. We have absolutely nothing to hide but this was the icing on the cake of my Border Patrol experiences.

BPA: Turn off your car. Step out of the car and please stand far away so our K-9 does not attack you.

This is the part where I tell you that El Paso is about 30 degrees colder than Austin/San Antonio is and we were standing outside in sandals and next to nothing shivering. Shaun reaches into his pockets to warm his hands…


Shaun and I stood there in silence. We were flabbergasted. While we may enjoy beer, we are probably some of the most annoyingly straight laced and boring people on the planet.

BPA: Do you guys smoke pot?

Shaun: No sir.

BPA: Because our dog is currently smelling something. Are you carrying a personal stash? If you tell us that you have as small amount we will just confiscate it and you can be on your way.

Shaun: No sir. We do not have anything.

I sat there fuming. Shaun is always the good guy to talk about. I’m sure I’m going to land us in jail one day.

BPA: If you don’t tell me and we find a joint, you guys are going to be in some serious trouble.

The dog continued to wag his tail happily in the back of our car, sniffing one of our backpacks. He was accompanied by another agent that looked annoyed that she was going through this much trouble to find the narcotics her dog was looking for. She looked at us looking at her (we were shaking our heads) and snarkily said,

Woman BPA: You know that our dog isn’t there to sniff out cake. He has obviously found narcotics. You should just tell us where they are.

Shaun: We don’t smoke pot and there isn’t anything in the backpack.

The other BPA was sitting there in front of us blocking us from running to our car (or from running away).

After another 5 minutes of shivering in the cold and all our perfect packing for our RTW thrown in disarray, in frustrated defeat they asked,

Woman BPA: Does anyone else use this backpack?

Shaun: No ma’am.

They shook their heads, looked at the dog, looked at us, and excused us to continue on our trip.

I was shaking I was so pissed off driving away. I am yet to make it through a border check without being harassed. We sat in the car over the next few hours trying to figure out how any trace landed on our pack.

We decided that the dog just liked cake.


76 Responses to “Nothing like a bit of Border Patrol to start your RTW”

  1. Laura April 10, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Yikes! This may sound dumb but you had to pass through checkpoints within the US? I like how they told you if you had a small amount they’d just confiscate it… you know what they’re doing while they sit their bored waiting to check another passerby. Haha. I’m so excited that your trip has officially started!!!!

    • Erica April 10, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

      @Laura: There are multiple checkpoints in every state on every major highway that touches the Mexican border so that they can catch people before they make it to mainland US. They have drug dogs smell for narcotics and hidden people and make every person stop, roll down their windows, and claim their nationality. Depending on the border check you also have to explain where you are from and where you are going and they send you through a small interrogation. All my friends and family live in the Southwest so I have to go through it often.

      • Heather April 14, 2011 at 6:19 am #

        Wow guys…like Laura I had no idea we had these checkpoints in place.

        I felt frustrated and upset reading about the way you were treated. For you two to know you’re going to be targeted based on prior experiences and have to remain calm and pleasant because responding any other way won’t aid the conversation…I have to applaud you.

        I know you expect more of the same in the future — love and hugs from all of us!

        • Erica April 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

          @Heather: I’m glad I can depend on Shaun to get us out of sticky situations. Lord knows I get us into some.

  2. Guillermo Ledesma April 10, 2011 at 11:29 pm #

    It could have been worse… you could have been detained.

    • Erica April 10, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

      @G: This is true. My mom had to go through that once. They refused to believe she was American.

  3. Ali April 10, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Ridiculous. I still don’t understand why there was some sort of border patrol going from one state to another, that in itself is crazy. I hope that’s the only border crossing issue you have on the whole trip!

    • Erica April 10, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

      @Ali: It has been like that for years. There are many from every major highway. I think we get harassed more by American law enforcement than foreign!

  4. Gondi April 10, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

    Hehe, op success.

  5. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures April 10, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    What an awful experience! I’m really sorry that happened to you two!

    • Erica April 10, 2011 at 11:48 pm #

      @Aaron: I wish it was the first time but we are constantly harassed by them. I guess I wished that this time around it would be different.

  6. Kim April 10, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    Holy shit, how infuriating. Wow guys, I’m so sorry you have to deal with that crap.

    • Erica April 10, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

      @Kim: It isn’t surprising per say, but I have been trying to give them a chance to redeem themselves.

  7. Page April 10, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    That’s terrible 🙁 I hope you guys don’t continue to have that much trouble!

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

      @Page: Lets hope not!

  8. jill- Jack and JIll Travel April 10, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

    Yeah, I wasn’t aware either that there are border controls between US states…. wth? I’m an Indonesian passport holder and have had my shares of being questioned at the airport, but compared to how you guys were treated, the federal immigration officers I’ve had to deal with were old-fashioned gentlemen. ‘So our K9 doesn’t attack you”?!! Wth? Grah, can’t imagine how upset you must’ve been.

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

      @Jill: The border patrols are less concerned about the states and more about drugs and people from Mexico – but still, it drives me insane. They are never nice.

  9. kristina April 11, 2011 at 12:06 am #

    I had no idea there was border control between US states! That’s so bizarre. Reading it, I was thinking you must be crossing the Canadian border… but then your story of moving from Austin to Phoenix just wasn’t making any sense. Haha. What’s the reasoning behind state border control? These officers sound like total dicks! Hope it’s nothing but smooth sailing from now on! 🙂

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

      @Kristina: They are related to the national border patrol but are there to keep people from making it to inland US. Since we were coming from an area where you could have made a border crossing (El Paso, TX) they check every car.

  10. Bethany April 11, 2011 at 12:23 am #

    What douches. I also would’ve been so pissed. This type of shit has happened to me before and it’s just profiling and it pisses me off. The good news is that your olive skin is going to help you out heaps in Central & South America!!!

    Almost out of the U.S. – just a couple more days…. So I have to ask – were you in Arizona at this time? I love the state but man for whatever reason so many cops and authority figures there just suck balls.

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

      @Bethany: The profiling drives me insane. But yes, it was the border coming from El Paso in New Mexico, heading to Phoenix.

  11. Bethany April 11, 2011 at 12:27 am #

    Oh yes too, they even have some in California and they have one between Nevada and CA too for fruits & veggies (but it’s not up all the time). I am so sick of the freaking immigration bullshit. We are all immigrants! I totally understand you because for some reason I hate border patrol more than any of the other government idiots and have dealt w/ them so many times between San Diego & Mexico. Ohhh…yes, I actually know someone too that got pulled over at the checkpoint in AZ and got busted for pot. All she got was a fine but had to get a lawyer, yadda, yadda….

  12. Bethany April 11, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    oopsss… anyway answered my own question – saw you were in el paso…

  13. Evan April 11, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    Maybe it was scent of the ferrets? We adopted a retired shepherd a long time ago that would trigger on people who had cats.. which was half the people we knew. Seemed kind of ineffective. 🙂 Glad you made it through, I don’t miss the checkpoints AT ALL. The guys are always jerks.

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

      @Evan: You know, we considered that when we were driving away. They played in that backpack often.

  14. Lauren April 11, 2011 at 2:28 am #

    That sounds absolutely ridiculous.. What jerks!! Still, at least you managed to get through ok eventually, and now you have a story to tell 🙂

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

      @Lauren: I do! I may have been pissed off but yeah!

  15. Christine April 11, 2011 at 5:31 am #

    WOW. Whenever I travel with my (Mexican) father, they always treat him poorly. It’s so ridiculous–he’s been living legally in the States, longer than he’s even lived in his home country! I understand Border Patrol is there for our protection, but the profiling takes it way too far. Hope you’re feeling better and are looking forward to much more exciting things, like your trip!! 🙂

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

      @Christine: Aww! Poor dad! It kills me. But since I didn’t want to end up detained, I had to keep my mouth shut.

  16. Gillian @OneGiantStep April 11, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    Sounds to me that this might be the worst border crossing you will have on your whole trip! We crossed into 14 countries and only had good experiences. Good luck…and Congrat-u-freaking-lations for being on the road!!! Cheers!

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

      @Gillian: I can only hope it won’t be as bad. I’ve never had this bad of an experience abroad. My countrymen don’t like me!

  17. Mark Mayo April 11, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Wow! That’s frustrating. I guess the dogs are trained to search, but really, to go through all that in the first place without probable cause is horrible.

    I made the mistake of flying in from Colombia to Florida last year, travelling on my own, having only spent a few days in Colombia after Ecuador, as I was meeting friends in Orlando. Apparently young male backpackers travelling on their own who don’t know anyone in Colombia and are only there for three days tick just about every box on the ‘profile-o-meter’, as I was the very last person from our plane to finally get through customs. 🙂

    To be fair, he was very polite about it and did ask if I realised why he was asking these questions, but I still dislike the profiling action 😉

    Keep on trucking, may your experiences only get better from there on in!!

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

      @Mark: LOL! Oh Mark wow. Yeah, it was like you were a walking target at that point. It is just funny because somehow tattoos are associated with smoking pot. I worked in the industry for years. I can say with confidence that most of the artists and clientele do not!

  18. Tricia April 11, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    “I’m sure I’m going to land us in jail one day.”

    -this is me and why I let Keith do all of the talking when it comes to anything official. My smart ass attitude won’t help matters. 😉

    Hope the rest of the trip is not nearly as…eventful!

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

      @Tricia: This is why I have Shaun call all our utility people. I freak out.

  19. shutterfeet April 11, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    That really sucks! As a brown man (Indian), i can feel your pain. Happens with alarming frequency every time I am going through airports and border patrols, though not usually for drugs!

    Hopefully, you got the bad stuff taken care of right at the start and it’s just smooth sailing now!

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

      @Shutterfeet: No dark chocolate in my bag. I have bad experiences with forgetting about it and leaving bags in the sun. I’m so glad we had nothing to hide. I can imagine how people feel if they are carrying something.

  20. Jaime April 11, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    Oh man I am sorry you had to go through that at the start of this big trip. Its like you already have a million things to worry about & now you went through this. I hate border control… that shit happens to me & my fam all the time when heading south in Texas. Sometimes its just profiling & that is just wrong. Just brush this off & continue on to the amazing new life y’all are starting!

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

      @Jaime: I was just hoping that this one time would be different. Post 9-11 kills me.

  21. Akila April 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    Yuck! What a sucky story — so sorry you had to deal with this in the start of your trip. I hope the rest of your drive down goes okay.

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

      @Akila: I’m hoping this doesn’t set the tone for the rest of our trip but honestly, it can only go up from here right? 😉

  22. Skott April 11, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    Brutal – what a very unfortunate way to start your adventure – super sorry to hear that….hopefully this is the worst border crossing you have to deal with…It’s all downhill from this point forward!

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

      @Skott: I’m thinking it just may be my home country mentality. Lets just hope it is better abroad!

  23. shutterfeet April 11, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    So, I just remembered my dog’s trainer telling me a story where an airport k-9 security dog was found pulling people over if they had dark chocolate with them 😛

    Were you carrying any Erica?

  24. Debbie Beardsley April 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    So it is definitely inconvenient having to go through these checks but the attitude makes it doubly worse. I don’t understand the attitude!

    Last December we drove to San Felipe from the Palm Springs area. On the way back from Mexicali we had to stop at a border check (after we were in the US). They had theses cameras a ways in front of the actual check. They were taking pictures of the license plates and checking them by the time you got to the check point. At least his way, they knew who to stop, I guess.

    Onwards and upwards from here!

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

      @Debbie: The attitude is what gets me as well. You’re talked to like you’re guilty of killing kittens! I wouldn’t have minded as much if they were nice about it.

  25. Andrea April 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    Try not to be discouraged, guys. Some people are just stupid ar*eholes with little to do with their lives than be pig-headed, judgemental ignoramuses. This is their failing, not yours. Hope the rest of your travels are happy and incident-free! =)

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

      @Andrea: Trying not to be. It is really hard when it keeps happening to me!

  26. Lorna - the roamantics April 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    oh for EFF’s sake. so sorry that happened to you guys when you should actually be on your MERRY way. that just has to be boring as all fuck and this is how they make it “exciting”
    so glad you’re past it and hopefully it’s smooth sailing from here on out. you deserve it sweeties! 🙂 <3

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

      @Lorna: I think I was more upset that I was treated like a criminal more than anything. First of all, even if I DID smoke I sure as hell wouldn’t try to take it across a border check. Secondly, we didn’t do anything remotely suspicious besides looking like we do. I’m hoping this is all over (until we drive back lol!)

  27. Camels & Chocolate April 11, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    This is RIDICULOUS. I can’t believe the nerve of these people! And it totally sounds like a real live episode of Breaking Bad to me (which if you haven’t seen it, is based in New Mexico and deals with moving meth around the Southwest!).

    • Erica April 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

      @Kristin: So bad. They are like this all the time. Honestly, it didn’t surprise me that they did end up searching us. They wanted to do it before. I wonder if we had been tagged because we had been through the border so many time as well.

  28. Mike Lenzen April 11, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    At least they weren’t snapping on the rubber gloves.

    • Erica April 12, 2011 at 1:12 am #

      @Mike: This is true. I’ve already cried during an invasive search like that in the airport.

  29. Ayngelina April 12, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    When I saw the photo I thought you were in Mexico as they stop buses all the time but pretty much leave foreigners alone.

    • Erica April 12, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

      @Ayngelina: Nothing like dealing with it in your own country!

  30. Nick Laborde April 12, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    That’s a bunch of crap. So, you have to cross the border to get to Phoenix?

    • Erica April 12, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

      @Nick: This is in the United States. I didn’t cross into another country.

      • Nick April 12, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

        I’ve never heard of border patrol within the states.

        • Erica April 12, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

          @Nick: Yeah, it has been there for a better part of 20 years now. I remember yelling “AMERICAN!” at the top of my lungs when we would pass through the checkpoints.

  31. Angela April 12, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    Wow, pretty ridiculous. “Don’t put your hands in your pocket”?! I haven’t had such experiences anywhere, but I feel Europe is slowly getting there.. I hope I’m wrong, it’s just humiliating and makes unpleasant any travel experience.
    Congrats on the start of your trip, looking forward to your next adventures!

    • Erica April 12, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

      @Angela: Humiliating is a good way to put it. I’ve had my fair share of experiences like this but this one in particular takes the cake.

  32. Alisha - Small World Pursuits April 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    oh wow! What a fiasco! Don’t you just love the Texas border?! Crazy stories always make for fun storytelling though! Wishing you guys all the best and happy travels! Maybe we will run into each other in South America!

    • Erica April 12, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

      @Alisha: It was in New Mexico too! The one coming back from El Paso to Austin is god awful too though. Lets make the meet up happen!

  33. joshywashington April 12, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    Don’t they need probable cause to search your vehicle? Or is a cake loving dog wagging its flea ridden tail probable cause enough these days?

    sorry you had to be subject to that garbage!

    • Erica April 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

      @Joshy: That appears to be probable cause now. I think if I would have blinked at them funny they would have called it probable cause.

  34. Christy @ Technosyncratic April 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    Ugh. I don’t even know what else to say. It’s one thing if they’re just doing their job cuz the dog smells something (or they think it does), but there’s just no freaking reason for them to be so damn snarky about it.

    • Erica April 12, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

      @Christy: If they were more respectful about it, I don’t think I would have been nearly as pissed off. I’m just annoyed it keeps happening.

  35. Bluegreen Kirk April 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Thats annoying I think that they just wanted something to smoke themselves. Maybe the dog was just tired of being there with them and heard you two were going on a RTW trip and wanted to join.

  36. Dina April 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    That’s so annoying. But in the brighter side, it’s great that you already have a travel story to tell 🙂 Bon Voyage, guys! I’m so excited for you!! 2 years ago at the 15th of April, we left Canada for the backpacking around the world. I loved the sensation of leaving. You guys coming to Central America, right? Too bad we are leaving Central America soon.

  37. Emily April 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    OMG!!! I seriously can’t believe how awfully they treated you and Shaun! That is SO uncalled for. I actually didn’t realize there were checkpoints like that within the US–I guess the only times I’ve gone that far in that direction, I have flown. I have dealt with the insanity of the Mexican border stops, but I am shocked that they put you guys through that much grief just in the US, and when you were doing nothing wrong! Awful. I’m so sorry about that 🙁 I hope you don’t encounter much other trouble like that, and that you have a fantastic journey!!! xoxo

    • Erica April 18, 2011 at 9:46 am #

      @Emily: It happens so often now that I’m not surprised when it happens, more annoyed than anything. As for getting into Mexico, I had the quickest immigration pass ever!

  38. Sarah Wu April 21, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    oh I remember those border check up. Me and my fiance were driving up to Montreal. They ask him if he was in any gang, and ask me who is he and show them my enegment ring too. Sometime it just odd.

    • Erica April 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

      @Sarah: A GANG?! lol!

  39. Tracy February 1, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Congrats on your trip~!!!!!!!!! I’m so excited to start following your blog as we prepare for our RTW in the far future (as we save up). Best of luck!

    • Erica February 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

      @Tracey: Thank you so much! If you have ANY questions, please feel free to ask. We have loads of information! 😀 Good luck on your savings!

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