There are 1,600 Brits locked up overseas and with our wanderlust showing little sign of abating more will fall foul of laws abroad. But who looks after you the worst happens? Aidan Jones speaks to a Ladbroke Grove resident who knows only too well.
"It seems so stupid now," Tommy Kennedy says, recalling the moment he was caught smuggling five kilograms of cannabis out of Kingston airport, Jamaica.
"I was the only white guy in the check-in queue and I stood out by a mile.Two customs officers came over and asked me to step aside. The adrenaline was pumping... they took me to a room, searched me and pulled out the gear from my bags and smiled. I knew I was done, but even then I couldn't believe how much of it I had."
It was 2001 and Tommy was 43.He wouldn't taste freedom for three years, but having survived Kingston's notorious General Penitentiary alongside convicted murderers and rapists, he is thankful time is all he lost.
"Maybe 30 people were murdered while I was there. It could happen just because someone didn't like your face, and my face was one of two white ones in there," Tommy explains in his Cheshire drawl.
"It was hell, and I honestly thought I would die every single day." Tommy survived through a combination of luck, judgement and skill - he played in the prison band alongside Dennis Lobban, who is still serving a life sentence for the murder of reggae legend Peter Tosh.
But how Tommy, a Warrington-born musician who now lives in Ladbroke Grove, ended up behind bars is as a circuitous a story as his 12-year route across the world.
Sunglasses perched on his head, sipping at a coffee at the Portobello Gold, he hurries - in no chronological order - through a blur of years travelling, playing music and partying. From running the "$10million View" bar on a Thail tourist hot-spot to gigging across Australia, Tommy says the urge to travel, and the accompanying lifestyle, dragged him into danger.
In Jamaica he succumbed to the temptation of a making a quick buck. "There's shady people everywhere in the music scene. I'm not poud of it but the life I led meant I was almost destined to end up doing time, it was just a question of where."
What that meant only dawned on him when he entered a seven-man cell in the Gen. Pen.for the first time. Sleeping on a concrete floor with just a plastic bottle for a pillow and thin gruel for sustenance, Tommy says he was prepared to die in jail.
"There was no food, no order and the guards were sadists," he says. "Prisoners without families to give them cash were emaciated, they fell ill and could not eat. Without money you live like an animal and within a couple of weeks I was in deep trouble."
Then Prisoners Abroad - a low-key London-based charity which looks after 1,600 Brits locked up across the world - stepped in via the British Embassy. Every three months they sent Tommy £50 to buy food, medicine and clothes, providing a lifeline to the outside world.
Tommy is eternally grateful to the charity and next month he is running a fundraising gig at Paradise Bar, Kensal Green, although he is well aware that giving money "to unsuccessful smugglers is not a sexy cause".
That maybe, but it is an important job, according to Stephen Nash of PA. "It's about maintaining human dignity in difficult conditions. Drug offences, murders and sexual violence may horrify us as people, but these are British citizens in dangerous places with no language, no money - although everyone else thinks they are rich - and no friends or family. They need support."
In its thirtieth anniversary year - PA was founded in 1978 on the back of the surge in drug arrests of British travellers on the hippie trail - the charity now looks after prisoners in 70 countries. Its role has expanded, in parallel with cheap flights and the British penchant for exotic adventures.
PA can not give legal assistance - nor does the British Embassy, which cannot interfere in local laws - but provides money, books, vitamins, help with medical treatment and a pen-pal service to keep prisoners in touch with the outside world.
And its role is growing, with the reality of becoming caught in a foreign legal system made more public by the recent jailing in Dubai of British DJ Grooverider (cannabis possession) and the two British workers caught having sex on the beach.
"It's not just drug smugglers. There are criminals of all kinds and even innocent people who, naively or
otherwise, end up snared in legal systems they can't understand."
India, for example, is notorious for keeping people on remand for many years, even if they are later acquitted. "There is nothing the Foreign Office can do - once you're in the system, you generally have to just see it out, barring exceptional cases."
That can mean surviving extreme conditions. The gang-ridden jails of the Caribbean and South America are infamous for their brutality, but conditions vary country to country, Nash explains. Japan, for example, holds foreigners in solitary confinement throughout their detention, while India and Thailand allow free association albeit with up to 80 people per cell in appalling conditions.
PA tries to keep tabs on who is locked-up where through British Embassies, although the nature of dealing with overseas legal systems means it can take several months to contact an arrested British citizen, by which time they may have been freed.
Uniquely, it also provides support when people are released back to the UK, often without homes, money or families, after many years in a foreign jail.
It helped Tommy resettle in west London and now he is paying it back, with charity gigs - for the latest, he has enlisted infamous Oxford graduate turned drug smuggler, Howard Marks - a.k.a Mr Nice - to speak.
"What did I learn?" says Tommy finishing his coffee. "You learn to read crazy people, because your life depends on it. Oh and not to try to smuggle drugs out of Jamaica."
Brits Jailed Abroad - Top 15
USA - 260 Spain - 122 France - 66 Australia - 49 Thailand - 48 Jamaica - 25 Ireland - 22 Canada - 20 Brazil - 19 Germany - 19 Peru - 17 Portugal - 16 Pakistan - 15 Cyprus - 13 India - 12
* Prisoners Abroad benefit gig at the Paradise Bar, 19 Kilburn Lane, Kensal Green, Sunday November 9. Free before 8.30pm, £3 after. The Delinquents, Big Linda and DJ Billy Idle among others.