As I pull my thoughts together to speak of unwanted surprises I had while traveling, a smile spreads across my face recalling my panic and hysteria at the time. Essential travel documents like passports and visas are needed to enter foreign countries. An itinerary planner knows to double check, cross check, and recheck papers to ensure there are no mistakes which can up-end vacation plans. Well, back then, I was not an itinerary planner, but from a couple close calls, I have learned valuable lessons that shape what I do today to avoid unnecessary pitfalls. Valid passport and appropriate visas are necessary to begin a fabulous holiday.
The first near miss occurred in a place that was far from home. The country was Cambodia. In an effort to kill two birds with one stone, I had originally traveled to Vietnam, and from Ho Chi Minh City, I traveled by long distant coach to Cambodia. As I exited Vietnam, the entry process into Cambodia was smooth. Passengers had to disembark to be processed through immigration and customs, then walk less than 100 meters between the two countries to embark the bus again. A headcount was conducted as we re-boarded and traveled the remaining miles to our final destination.
While in Cambodia I visited many places of interest in both Phnom Penh and Krong Siem Reap, but the biggest draws for me were Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor Thom, Royal Palace, the killing fields and the Tonle Sap River. When all the sightseeing was over, then the adventure began. It was time to catch the bus heading back into Vietnam for my impending flight home the next day. I boarded the bus but what a shocker it was when the attendant took my travel documents – passport, airline ticket confirmation and returned to tell me I did not have a visa to re-enter Vietnam.
I was numb. Even though he tried to explain to me what was wrong, my brain was not comprehending anything. Of course, I had to disembark, and the bus left for Vietnam without me. To cut to the chase, besides crying, begging and pleading to everyone for help, I did a lot of praying, running back and forth to offices as directed, made phone calls to my bank to release funds, etc. That day was one hot mess. My predicament was dire. I needed to be in Ho Chi Minh City to catch the return flight back to the USA in time for work the following day. Total strangers worked tirelessly to process the emergency visa which would allow me entry into Vietnam. Because the bus was long gone, I had to hire a private taxi to drive to the border where another taxi was waiting to transport me into the Ho Chi Minh. The ordeal cost me a pretty penny but by this time I was only too glad a resolution had been worked out and so I couldn’t argue. With the emergency visa in hand, both taxi drivers understood I was in a race against the clock and needed to make up for lost time, so they drove like the wind to cover the distance.
The second near miss was because of a calculation error. More than 18 months prior to planning a surprise cruise for my Mom and sister, I had checked my passport to confirm everything was in order, and on the day I checked, it was. However, I had failed to recognize that by the time the future departure date rolled around my passport would be nearing expiration. At the airport, the ground flight attendant informed me that I could not leave the USA because my passport did not satisfy the amount of time for international travel. The flight was to Barbados. Because the flight was very early, I thought the attendant was joking and wanted to make sure I was fully alert and wide awake. She repeated herself and if I wasn’t awake before, I sure was by then. She explained my passport was due to expire in less than two months. For a passport to be acceptable for international travel it must have six or more months of validity. Grasping the magnitude of what was unfolding sent my body into a panic. People seemed to be moving in slow motion, voices sounded slower and tears began to fall. My niece, who was my traveling companion, eyes welled-up with tears, but she could do nothing for me. It was obvious, she would have to leave without me. The flight departed, but I was determined to correct my oversight.
To make a long story short, acting on the directions from the flight attendant, I headed to the immigration office in New York City and pleaded my case. I was told the waiting time to process an emergency request was six weeks. To my mind, that was not an option. I needed to be on the island the next day to start a week-long cruise through the Caribbean. All of a sudden, I was left with a few hours to get there. After much praying, pleading, and explaining the mistake, I was granted a new passport in less than 8 hours. I can only attribute all thanks and praise to God for answered prayers. I missed my flight that day, but was able to fly out the next morning on a flight connecting through Miami. I arrived at my destination with just two hours to spare before boarding the cruise ship at the Bridgetown port. Needless to say, it was a close call to ruining a perfect surprise vacation for my loved ones.
Community Peeps, all’s well that ends well. I cannot begin to impress just how important it is to pay attention and double check that you have the correct visas, and updated documents before you travel. Give yourself enough time to make any adjustments. Kudos and appreciation to all those strangers who came to my rescue back then. It is forever etched in my mind. What has been your experience? Anything similar? I’d like to hear of it. Please share in the comment box below.
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