When it comes to travel, I almost always fail to consider one little, yet so important thing: visas. Those pesky little pieces of paper, stickers and stamps on the pages of my passport that are so fun to look at in retrospect and so necessary while in country in order to avoid the unpleasantness of fines, arrest and deportation. Visas are so essential for a happy trip and yet I almost always forget to consider them while in the initial planning phase. And then, it hits me and the panic hits me as I delve into figuring out how to obtain one. While I completely understand and respect the need for visas, there is nothing quite like the process of acquiring one to send me off into land of bureaucratic-language confusion. Each country has its own process, set of requirements and varying levels of strictness, which just adds to the bafflement for me.
My first trip into the land of visas was five years ago when I volunteered in Tanzania. The process for the visa was so simple that I hardly remember it at all. Papers were filled out, a money order made and off they went with my passport to New York, returning less that a week later with a rubber stamp visa included. Easy peasy!
While Tanzania was so simple, my next visa adventure was as opposite as it possibly could be. Three years ago I studied in France, necessitating a student visa. The process required flying halfway across the United States to California in order to hand my application and passport to the embassy in person. Some papers needed one copy, others needed two or three and some needed no copies at all. I needed three sets of one thing, one of another and two of yet something else. My checklist was just as confusing as the numerous papers I read through to create said checklist because the requirements were pulled from different sources, some of which were more up to date than others. But, when it was all said and done, the acquisition of the visa went smoothly and made it legal for me to travel all over Europe without needing new visas each time.
Then, last year when I applied for my work visa in South Korea, the process was repeated all over again, only in its very own unique way. The visa request had to be sent in by my future boss, but only after I sent him the equivalent of 8 pounds of paper work (literally) which was processed and sent to various government agencies in South Korea. After he submitted the request and I received a special number, I sent my application and passport to the embassy in California for processing and happily did not have to fly there for an interview as my teacher predecessors have had to do in the past. Four days later the passport was back in my hands and I was on my way.
Now, after these experiences, it would seem logical that I would remember to check visa requirements first and foremost when planning an international trip, but of course, I get carried away in the excitement of visiting a new place and it becomes an after thought. And then, the panic sets in in a big way and it becomes a scramble to figure out how to make it all happen. Thus was my life today.
A and I spent most of the morning and afternoon planning our grand Asian adventure, only after which did I realized we should check out the visa requirements. Of the five places we hoped and planned to visit, two allow for upon-arrival tourist visas. The other three, however, are a totally different story. After doing the research, shifting through the numerous websites and government notices, it became apparent that our plans are going to have to shift a bit. Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are all possible (if we can get visas issued to us from the embassies in South Korea), but India, unfortunately, is most like impossible.
The land of bureaucratic-language, with its topsy-turvy visa process path is just too much for me this time around. Finding a contact email to send an inquiry proved impossible and as my stress levels started rising, I decided that maybe this time India wasn’t mean to be. The disappointment of this hit pretty hard, but after running it out, I realized that perhaps it would be so much better for India to be its own trip, when we can spend a longer time there and dedicate our time and energy to this one amazing place.
In the mean time, this opening in our plans allows us new opportunities in the other countries we are visiting. We will have more time to visit different cities and sites, and perhaps not feel quite as rushed. So, I think at the end of the day, it all works out. India is still a dream, but for now, this dream of seeing Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam can become a reality. And, with this decision made, my stress levels have returned to normal. Whew!