Why I stopped travelling to the US and I largely stopped doing business in the US.

With every trip I've taken to the US over the past 30 years, things have gotten a little worse every time. Things are now so bad that I have stopped visiting the US and i no longer have any clients in the US. Mostly because having clients in the US means having to go there. And I've grown to really dislike going to the US.

I'm a photographer. I mainly do street photography now, but i still do the odd bit of contract work. I travel with expensive gear though not that much of it. I like to travel light. The INS do not like that. If I turn up with just my camera backpack and a small bag of clean underwear for a one week stay I usually have to spend a lot of time being interrogated for my lack of a huge suitcase. (I guess they suspect I live in the US illegally. Which borders on comical since nobody knows more about my travel patterns than the US government. Besides, my passport is usually filled with stamps that should tell them that I travel a lot and that even if I lived in the US, I spend most of my time flitting around the world)

Paranoid as the INS are, the TSA are even worse. Mostly because they are a huge bureaucracy where nobody seems to be accountable and their on-the-ground personnel are mostly people who had to choose from a range of other low paying jobs. On several occasions I've had expensive gear disappear from my carry-on during security checks and last year a TSA agent dropped my Canon 1D Mk3, smashing both the lens and the camera body. No apology, but more importantly: I was never compensated. I'm not rich and that camera (and the lens) was important to my livelihood. An expensive piece of kit lost that meant that I basically didn't make any money that month.

Oh, and of course, now you have all this nonsense with pat-downs and backscatter X-rays which increases security with exactly zero percent and makes an already tense atmosphere even more tense. Well played.

Taking pictures in the US is another hassle. After 9/11 everyone is utterly paranoid and everyone from security guards to police, and even random passers-by, have hassled me. Claiming that I am breaking the law (I am not) or demanding I explain why I am taking pictures. Believe me, I have spent a lot of time figuring out what laws apply to photography in various states, but on the ground and with a camera in your hand, that means absolutely nothing. Explaining the laws in effect to a law enforcement officer only gets you into more trouble.

I've been to Russia before the cold war ended. I've been all over the middle east. I've been to China. I've travelled all over Europe. I've been to Cuba and I've been to Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Nicaragua.

What all of these places have in common is that going there was a far more pleasant experience than going to the US. Yes, you read correctly: going to the US is more unpleasant than going to Soviet era Russia or even Iran 10 years ago. Sure, you sometimes have to bribe people, but at least I've not had gear stolen off me during security checks or had people break my gear without at least compensating me.

And taking pictures. Well, let me put it like this: you are 20 times more likely to get hassled for whipping out your camera anywhere in the US than in, say, downtown Teheran.

I offer this as an observation from the outside. The US is isolating itself and it is becoming a very, very unpleasant place to visit. I often talk to fellow travellers and even a lot of business types in nice suits often relate how they'd rather not travel to the US if they could help it and that they'd rather work with people in Europe or Asia. I can relate to that.


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