So, here is the thing. Long term travel will- in one form or the other, throw up a crisis in your face. No matter how much you have prepared yourself, no matter how many “local contacts” you have, no matter how much money (or lack of it), there will come a time when none of this will matter – what will, is your ability to work your way around logically.
I’ll tell you my story. Go ahead, laugh away, but I also hope there will be a lesson to take away from it all.
So, I am the most random traveler I know. When I set about my self-styled 101 travel days, I admit I did not spend much time looking for information, particularly about Vietnam or its visa process. E-visa for Indians was available – and I was clutching that straw. I had nothing to worry, did I?
Hence, I set off on my trip to Myanmar, knowing well that it would be some weeks before I’d enter Vietnam, so being the “casual” traveler that I had become, I pushed it to the back of my mind. I think I should replace the word “casual” with “cocky” or “over confidence” because had I paid a little attention to the visa process, I’d probably have saved myself time, money and well, unnecessary running around in the Cambodian sun.
Long story short – in a haste to be done with via process, I logged on to the first available link that looked genuine (perhaps it was genuine too), filled in the form (by now I was sure of my ability to fill visa forms with closed eyes) and ticked a few boxes and added in a dummy hotel address in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) and gallantly paid the fees.
Three days later I had an approved visa letter.
From that moment on, I made a series of mistakes.
1. I did not check the point of entry
2. I booked a bus ticket to Saigon from Phnom Penh (without checking my point of entry)
Only when I boarded the bus, the point of “correct entry port into Vietnam” was brought home. It seems that according to Vietnam e-visa policy, one can enter only through the entry point mentioned on the visa. Mine said Da Nang.
I’ll admit it was the first time I had heard of the place. Pray how did my entry option change from Ho Chi Minh to Da Nang?
Even the Vietnam Embassy in Phnom Penh had no answer. This roughly translated to losing
25 dollars visa fee (unless I fly to Da Nang), bus fare and the hotel booking (genuine) and lots of time.
In the end, I ended up applying for a new visa that I got in 3 hours at a cost of USD 60. But I made it to Saigon on late night bus.
This was a crisis of epic proportions, or so I thought- but fortunately I knew arguing or losing peace of mind over it wasn’t going to help. The only possible way to see this through was by keeping a cool head. Agreed- losing money while on long -term travel does force you to cut corners elsewhere, but I wasn’t ready to lose sleep over it.
…till I arrived in Saigon and did some math. I was missing over 1400 dollars!
Now, that was serious money to lose. I counted and recounted – no way could I explain the missing cash. Pushing away the rising panic, I tried to recall every situation I left my bag unattended. Yes, it was stupid of me to be carrying around all the cash all the time. Even more stupid was leaving my bag in the care of a “driver” while I happily floated down river in northern Thailand. And worse was NOT counting the money when I reclaimed my possession.
It took some determination not to let that bother me. I suppose it is a matter of perspective. I now know never to keep all the money in one place…an expensive lesson learnt.
I know of people who have lost their passports and had expensive stuff stolen – I think losing money (and nothing else) was better than losing a passport. I guess it is about looking at it optimistically. I know of a young girl who had a hand crushed by a tractor while on a working holiday in Australia and had to abandon her trip – but vowed to return after healing, no matter how long it took her.
Remember that no matter how much of a seasoned traveler you are, crisis can happen. You might miss your flight or be attacked by stray dogs…Crisis will make you weep with frustration, make you want to abandon your travels or hide in a corner and cry. It is only natural – but listen to that little voice of reason which prods you and tells you “crying over spilt milk isn’t going to help. Just get a new bottle.”
Fortunately, the most common crisis you’d face is getting lost, getting dehydrated (excessive drinking) or misplacing your ID or hotel keys. But no matter what situation you face, think calmly.
Here are a few simple ways to deal with issues – at least this is what I’d do -
1. Hostel – If I get a bad vibe, no matter that I lose money, I’d leave.
2. People – Uncomfortable with certain people and their behavior? Leave. This can avoid potential danger later.
3. Food – don’t like the sight of it? Probably it won’t taste great either. Leave. Rule of thumb is that if a restaurant is filled with people, you can be assured of good food. Empty restaurant? Make your guess!
4. Visa, passports, booking – Check, check and double check. You can never be too careful with this.
Pray, travel. Do not be held by anxiety, other people’s experience or anxious friends and family.