Travel long enough and every thing that can go wrong will go wrong. Most hassles in my travel career have occurred when crossing borders.
My first such hassle happened while driving back into Canada from the United States after a week of canoeing when I was 18. I still don't know why the customs officials ripped my car apart and sent in the drug-sniffing dogs.
After about an hour of questioning in an isolation room, I was released without the least explanation. All my gear was scattered around my car in the parking lot, and it was up to me to put it all back. It was a frightful introduction to the power and intimidation border guards have.
My experiences over the years have taught me one important lesson. When dealing with border guards, remember, it's their border, their rules. Even if it's Canada that you're trying to get into, it's best to be quiet and polite.
The European Union has changed many border rules lately. Canadians flying into one European country don't usually have to pass through customs when entering another EU country, but that's not always the case.
Greek officials often want to see your passport even if you're entering from another EU country, but German and French officials usually don't. Your best bet is always to inquire at the border; don't just follow the crowd. Once, when crossing from France to Spain, I simply assumed that there was no border control. Wrong. The not so friendly Spanish border guard made sure I understood that since I was not a citizen of another EU country, I had to check in.
As for the Swiss, nowhere is their legendary efficiency more on display than at the border. Friendly, efficient staff check everyone coming into the country. They've gone through every piece of my luggage, then folded and repacked it all. As Switzerland is not part of the EU, everyone needs to undergo a border inspection, but there's never a lineup.
Many borders, especially in Africa, are porous, and it may seem like an unnecessary hassle to find a proper border station before heading into the next country. But without a stamp in your passport, you may find it an even bigger hassle to leave the country you've gotten into.
Make sure you get a stamp or proper visa when entering a country, and never overstay if you're travelling on a time-limited visa. Inquire when entering if you need an exit visa to get out again. Zimbabwe requires you to pay for an exit visa in foreign currency, and the price keeps rising as the government gets increasingly desperate for hard cash.
Perhaps the friendliest border guards can be found in Sweden. They make sure travellers are aware of the embassies and consulates of their home country. Swedes see their border guards as ambassadors a wonderful idea that someone in Ottawa should pick up on.
Of course, even if you follow all the rules, you may still encounter the occasional hassle, but knowing the rules and following them is still your best bet. If you're faced with a surly border guard, keep your cool and be as helpful as possible. Remember, these guys can mess up your vacation in no time flat.
Finally, I always make sure I have the address and telephone number of the closest Canadian embassy or consulate when I'm abroad. For travel information, check out Canada's Foreign Affairs website at www.voyage.gc.ca/consular_home-en.asp.