Living by My Rules: About Transport, Border Crossings and Visa
Traveling is the best thing in the world, but there are some important differences between traveling on your own or with a group. When traveling with a group there are some rules to live by you don’t want to mess with. It’s a little like Mother Nature, don’t obey her rules and things can get ugly.
Another rule to live by is to accept, play along and carry on. Or maybe bend the rules here and there and challenge the status quo a little.
The first rule I live by is to realize that transportation always takes more time than I anticipated on forehand. Something I’ve learned the hard way.
It was complete darkness except from an occasional oncoming car or truck appearing from behind a curve. Everybody was hungry and tired, but nobody dared to fall asleep. Our driver couldn’t see it, but I’m sure he felt the group’s eyes poking in his back watching every move he made to guide us safely through the darkness to our destination. We hadn’t encountered any road blocks, ferry crossings or accidents, no floods or typhoons, nothing of that. It was just my own mistake to depart too late from the hotel that morning. It was during one of my first tours in Vietnam and I promised myself then and there never to disobey these rules of traveling with a group again.
Everything always takes longer than you think, so leave early. And never let other people convince you otherwise. Sometimes people in the group try to make me change my mind by telling me in a dramatic way the end of the world is near if we leave early the next morning.
It’s like something I do for fun, getting up before dawn and hoping my coffee-to-go will bring me back to life along the way. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that other people who depend on my decisions will get into trouble if I fail at time management. I felt so sorry for my driver who already had such a long day and had an unnecessarily more difficult trip because of me.
Another rule to live by is to accept, play along and carry on. Or maybe bend the rules here and there and challenge the status quo a little. This is a good one to apply to border crossings. To my friends and family I may appear as an easy going, never-in-a-hurry, Asian girl, but sometimes when I work, my hot-tempered, impatient, western side appears. Not too convenient when you’re waiting in line to leave a country and see other people with some kind of special authority cut the line and put a big pile of passports on the counter, so your stay in this particular country is unwillingly extended with at least another hour.
Depending on my mood and how many cups of coffee I’ve had I might feel confident and adventurous enough to take a chance and put my pile of passports next to the other ones. And sometimes my assertiveness works and me and my group can walk pass the other people who are still waiting in line. But I have to admit that this kind of initiative is not always appreciated by immigration officials. Maybe their random decisions also depend on their caffeine intake that day, because more than once immigration made me do the walk of shame back to the end of the line and leave my group and especially me disappointed, contemplating my bold move. As for western assertiveness, sometimes Asian acceptance and a go-with-the-flow-attitude are much better and less energy consuming to make it to the other side.
My third rule to live by is to stay updated and informed. This is especially important for visa and passports details for the obvious reasons. You don’t want to be on a tour through Indochina to find out your guests’ visa details are missing, they don’t have enough empty pages in their passport for those large visa and stamps, or carry a passport not valid for another 6 months.
Most travelers consider those visa precious souvenirs from the trip, but for me they are page consuming necessities that force me to renew my travel document on an unusual high pace. Together with the visa hassle over and over again, these are the big annoyances of living the life I live. Nothing I can’t handle, so more reason to stay informed and up to date to avoid overstaying my visa. If it wasn’t for some of my dear friends, I had been in trouble with this for sure. Thanks to my friends who warn me on time when, once again, visa regulations have changed or my friends who arrange last minute tickets, documents and visa applications, I manage to stay out of trouble.
When I’m with a group I check all details so I won’t get any unwanted surprises at the borders, but when it comes to my own travel documents I tend to get sloppy and hardly ever live by my own third rule.
It’s the same with preparing a group for the next day. I tell them for example to bring a poncho and flashlight.
Guess who gets soaking wet the next day and is walking in the dark. Not my group …
Photo of Baggage Claim Sign by David McKelvey