So today was supposed to be the start of my big trip; traveling around the world and going on uncountable adventures. But… no. No, it was delayed yet again by random bureaucratic nonsense.
So my mom and I (thankfully she offered to drive me, so I didn’t have to try and get a cab into Boston at 4:00 in the morning) woke up at 3:15 on Thursday morning, threw my bags into the car, and headed onto the road. I was exhaustedly tired, but full of adrenaline, expecting that I’d be on an airplane flying to Aruba for seven hours on the beach. We parked with little fuss, found the check-in area without any trouble, and I walked up to check my backpack in before the flight. As I went through the pre-flight check-in procedure everything went rather smoothly; I swiped my credit card, swiped my passport, entered emergency contact information, and picked out how many bags I’d be checking. And then it hit, “Please show the printed slip to an airline representative”.
I handed the woman behind the counter my slip, she uttered a “hmmmmm” while pressing way too many buttons on her keyboard, and then finally looked back at me.
“When is your return flight booked for?”
What? “Umm… never? I’m going to be traveling around the world for a long time” I replied.
“Ohh. Dear. Well you don’t have a visa to Venezuela, and you need a return or continuing flight booked in order to enter the country. Same with Aruba, so you’ll have to sort this out in Miami. I’ve checked you into this flight though”
“Wait… so I could be stuck in Miami? I’d prefer that not happen… is there anything we can do now? How can we make this happen right now?” I asked her, my voice slowly starting to creak and strain.
“Here’s the Priceline customer contact information, give them a call. I can’t do anything from here.”
Great. So I call Priceline, and their not open until 6:00. My flight is supposed to leave at 6:40. While I’m waiting for them to open I try to quick-book a flight into Brazil for myself, since that should theoretically clear this entire thing up. Kayak has a flight! I check it out, but of course the link from Kayak to the airline doesn’t work, so I try to go there myself. Its in Portuguese. I fill it out as best I can, only to find out that I need a Brazilian visa, and to get that I need a flight exiting Brazil. I nearly punch my computer across the terminal in frustration, instead somehow burying myself in trying to figure out what to do. My mom’s pacing around behind me, trying to keep herself calm too… I feel horrible, todays already stressful enough for her, seeing her son starting on a trip around the world with no plan on returning home soon. And now this…
When 6:00 rolls around I call priceline, since I didn’t have any luck booking myself a flight (A combination of the slow netbook, Google trying in vain to translate the website, and my lack of a Brazilian Visa). I talk with the woman on the other line, and end up canceling my flight, saying that I’ll rebook it for another day, once I have my shit figured out.
So here I am… sitting at home instead of on the beach in Aruba, trying to figure out how the hell I’m going to deal with this shit. I figure I’ll drop the entire “plan as I go” scheme, cut away my ability to improvise and make “in the moment” decisions, and just book my entire South-American section NOW. I’ll loose a lot of my flexibility, which was a huge goal for this trip, but at least I’ll actually be able to go, right?
Hey, I was right there and I think you handled the whole thing amazingly well. American Airlines could have made this requirement much more transparent–if an exit flight is a requirement to board the plane, it should have been mentioned somewhere as part of the booking–right?! Can’t we just go back to the time when actual humans handled these things? A travel agent certainly would have made you aware of the requirement before we got to the airport, or even a human on the other end of a phone. Maybe even a different travel site would have…who knows?
But I was very proud of you, didn’t even hear you raise your voice, you just hunkered down and went through all the options to try and fix the problem. Isn’t there a saying somewhere to the effect of, “you can tell the true character of a man by how he handles defeat”? Regroup, replan, and we’ll be off to the airport again…leaving at, what, 3am this time…Good Lord!!
I know, I know…it was frustrating. But the very fact that you didn’t bust your laptop into many small pieces is a good sign. And to tell you the truth = we’re all very relieved about the itinerary. The free-floating Ben was a little more than your loved ones could wrap their head around. So when’s the new “wheel’s up” date exactly?
The US State Department has a dedicated website for travelers. You should check the entry requirements for each country before you plan to travel. For instance, Aruba says
“Visitors to Aruba may be asked to show onward/return tickets, proof of sufficient funds and proof of lodging accommodations for their stay. Length of stay for U.S. citizens is granted for thirty days and may be extended to 180 days by the office of immigration.”
Brazil’s entry requirements are a little ominous:
“Brazil requires U.S. citizens to carry a valid U.S. passport and a visa when traveling to Brazil for any purpose. You must obtain your Brazilian visa in advance from the Brazilian Embassy or consulate nearest to your place of residence. … The U.S. Government cannot assist travelers who arrive in Brazil without proper documentation.”
Have you spoken to the Brazilian embassy yet to secure a Visa?
Yeah, Brazil was always going to be a bit of a tough nut; was originally planning on getting a visa in Venezuela (since the process would be a bit quicker there), but I’ve decided to skip Brazil altogether instead, and head south to Buenos Aires.
The main reason that I hit the “onward ticket” problem is that the state departments site doesn’t mention onward tickets for Venezuela: it seems to be a bit of an open secret or something. I called the Chilean embassy to check about this, and the conversation went just about as follows:
“Hello, I’m going to be traveling to Chile in late October, is there anything I need to do beforehand to get a Visa? And are there any requirements for US citizens to get a visa?”
“No sir, as a citizen of the US you only need to get a tourist pass, which will be issued to you at the airport when you arrive”
“Ok, so to double-check, do I or do I not need an onward ticket in order to get a tourist pass?”
“Ohh, OBVIOUSLY you need an onward flight sir.”
DAMNIT WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY THAT THEN?!?!