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Smooth Travels - Be Prepared

Photo by Leonardo Yip on Unspash

I was so used to flitting between the UK and Ireland, and taking a few trips to the continent that, over the past 19 years, I completely forgot that such a thing as a visa to enter another country even existed. This oversight put a wee bit of dampener on our very recent travel plans and made what should have been an exciting time of anticipation into a nightmare of anxiety. I had forgotten to check if Ewen would need a visa to visit Australia and New Zealand!

I knew I could – after all, I am an Australian citizen (which gives automatic entry rites to Australia) and there’s a bit of a free travel deal between Australia and New Zealand, but Ewen’s British. It just never occurred to me there’d be a problem.

Well, there was! And we found out when the gates opened for our flight – an hour before take-off.

What followed was a mad dash to get a visa (didn’t happen in time), a flood of tears, and having to find a place to sleep in London while we sorted out our options. I could have gone on ahead and had Ewen follow, but my fear was that he wouldn’t get the visa and I’d be there on my own. That wouldn’t have been a tragedy, but the whole point of the plan was to visit my family and introduce him, at last, to them all.

Finding a hotel proved to be almost as difficult, but once we finally settled on the Travelodge at Twickenham and had settled in, I set about researching alternative avenues of securing the visa and applied, this time through the Australian Consulate in London. I still wasn’t convinced we’d get there and spent a few anxious texted conversations with my mum and sons before finally settling down to the thought that que sera sera – what will be, will be.

So, a good night’s sleep later and I woke up to the good news that the visa had been granted, the not so good news that we couldn’t just shift our flights to the next day, and then the final good news that, despite now having to pay an extra nearly £2K, we would be able to resume our journey, this time via Emirates, who I have flown with before and would have preferred in the first place.

So, with the benefit of hindsight, which is always 20/20, here are my tips to ensuring you don’t go through the stress, anxiety and sheer hell of those first few hours of our journey!

As my experience so eloquently demonstrates, overlooking this critical aspect of overseas travel can make or break your travel experience. Failing to ensure you have the correct visas for wherever you are planning to travel can (or will) lead to unexpected obstacles and could even derail your travel plans altogether.

Remember that Boy Scout Motto? Be Prepared. I’ve never been a Boy Scout – for fairly obvious reasons – but this is something that had been drummed into my psyche from an early age. And I was very well prepared in this case – except for checking visa requirements. As a wee aside, our return travel is via San Francisco and I had been forewarned of a need for a travel document to just sit in the San Francisco airport for a few hours. I really should have twigged that a visa would be required for a more lengthy stay. And while we’re on the subject, our Dubai stay of under four hours didn’t require a transit visa at all!

Which segues nicely into this quick guide…

Research Before You Go:

Before you book your tickets and pack your bags, take the time to research the visa requirements of your destination. Each country has its own rules and regulations, and assuming that one-size-fits-all can lead to unpleasant surprises. Different countries also have different requirements for different nationals, too. For example, as an Australian citizen, I have the right to enter New Zealand without the entry permit that Ewen, as a British citizen needed. And for this reason, my journeys to Australia and New Zealand have been on my Australian passport. However, as I am also a British citizen, my journeys back to the UK and Ireland are on my British passport.

Early Planning Equals Peace of Mind:

Visa applications often require documentation, processing time, and sometimes interviews. By checking and addressing visa requirements well in advance, you avoid the stress of last-minute preparations. This ensures that you have ample time to gather necessary documents and meet any specific criteria. In our case, we were lucky that we could do these online and have a relatively quick turnaround (apart from our first attempt). Luckily, with the computer age, a lot of these things are done digitally, even the photos. It saves a lot of time – and would save even more time if these are sorted before you travel, even before you book your tickets!

Avoid Travel Disruptions:

Imagine arriving at your dream destination only to be turned away at the airport due to visa issues. I don’t think this can happen so much these days, given the almost world-wide use of technology, and in fact, we couldn’t even get Ewen’s boarding pass without him having the visa, even though it was in progress, and could quite possibly have been granted mid-flight. Still, we had begun our journey in Ireland and flew into London Heathrow with no bother at all. It wasn’t until we turned up for our onward journey that the error was discovered. Therefore, checking visa requirements in advance would have helped us avoid our travel disruption. and we would have had a seamless and stress-free journey.

Types of Visas:

Understand the various types of visas available for your destination. Whether it's a tourist visa, business visa, or specific entry requirements, being informed helps you apply for the right type of visa that aligns with your travel purpose. Our research was done at the boarding gate where the internet access was patchy. considering our flights were booked well in advance, we had ample time to check what was needed and didn’t do it! Don’t procrastinate – it’s not always good (see an earlier Blog post!

Online Resources and Official Websites:

Go to official government websites as your preferred online source to obtain the most accurate and up-to-date information. I had relied on the standard information provided by the Flight Network, which is who we had originally booked our flights through. These official platforms often provide detailed instructions, application forms, and contact information for any queries. They also know what they’re talking about. My first attempt was utilising a resource given to me by the Boarding staff, and although they are a legitimate company, they weren’t able to deliver on the promised 3-hour turnaround I had paid for. We were reimbursed for that, eventually, although they were quick to point out that we should have checked beforehand (very true). However, since we hadn’t heard anything from them until close to 15 hours after the application was lodged, they graciously agreed to the refund! On the other hand, the official website we ended up going through made no such claims. It was a little after midnight when I applied and we received an answer shortly after 9:00 am. Relief!

Professional Assistance:

If navigating visa requirements seems overwhelming, consider seeking professional assistance. Travel agencies and visa services can guide you through the process, ensuring that you have all the necessary paperwork and meet the requirements for a successful application. It’s worth noting here that we booked online, and although it was a ‘travel agency’, like a lot of online services these days, the personal touch is sadly lacking. I remember booking my first flight out to the UK from Australia nearly 20 years ago and our travel agent couldn’t do enough for us. Of course, we did already have the necessary visas…

Keep Copies of Important Documents:

Once you've obtained your visa, make sure to keep copies of the approval, along with other essential travel documents, both physically and digitally. This precautionary step can be a lifesaver in case of unforeseen circumstances. Having the physical copy isn’t so important for us as the visa is linked to the passport. If we had arranged these visa beforehand, though, I will have printed them off. We have our USA transit visa in a travel pouch, ready to be presented if needed, and I had thought we needed some other form for each country (due to the ambiguous information provided by Flight Network) and have them printed off, too!

Continuous Monitoring:

This is so important! Visa requirements can change, so it's advisable to monitor updates regularly, especially if you're planning a trip far in advance. Make sure you stay informed about any policy changes that may impact your travel plans.

Don’t take a leaf out of my book! Be prepared well before you travel. Make a checklist and tick things off as you go. Particularly check your visa requirements! Don't let visa-related surprises put a damper on your travel experience – take the time to research, plan, and meet all necessary requirements. Your future self will thank you for the hassle-free adventure that follows! Trust me!!

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