One of my goals in life is to fill up my passport at least once. To literally walk up to the guys who stamp visas and watch him flip through a bunch of pages, then hear him muttering about how there is no space, before he finally squeezes the stamp into the last remaining empty spot on my entire passport. That would fill me with an incredible amount of satisfaction at the way I am living my life. If it’s not on your bucket list, I suggest you see how far you can get to filling up your passport with visa stamps from all over the world. Even if the whole point of it would be to be able to recall and share the different experiences from each country.
Mozambique was the first place I ever travelled as an unaccompanied minor in 2010. I, with my younger brother in tow headed out to a foreign country by ourselves to do mission work. We were going to stay with some friends of ours who lived and worked there, and volunteer in their local outreach. We were so excited we could not contain ourselves. Though it was obvious that at age fourteen and eleven there was some apprehension tucked in.
I don’t remember the process of getting our visas because our parents probably handled everything, but it was not complicated as long as we had a host, knew where we were going, how long we were going to be there, and what we were going to do. Though I may not remember much about the visa and passport things, I do remember the country. The smell of the sea in the air so pungent you could almost stick out your tongue and taste the ocean salt. At one point we crossed the border and went to Swaziland for a day of shopping. Swaziland was beautiful as well, full of green hillsides and mountains. It was my first independent visa and a trip I will never forget.
Germany in 2012 I got another brilliant opportunity to cross borders, and for the first time ever oceans. I got the chance to travel with Kenya Music Project, a Youth Performing Arts Ministry that was going to do a round trip of Germany. They used the Arts to touch and inspire lives as much as possible. It was also my first group visa, which actually went quite well. When the embassy knows that you are travelling as a group, they can attest that you are accountable to each other and have considerable far less apprehension of your intent in traveling to their country.
The German embassy is quite strict, so it is important to have all your papers in order. Again on this trip I even got to cross the border again and walk over to Poland for Ice cream, which was brilliant. When you get a Schengen visa to a European country, you are legally allowed in any European country. This means that if you wanted to do a back packing trip around Europe, you would only need a visa for one country in the continent, which is fantastic.
South Africa my most recent adventure took place just last year. When I look at this visa I am reminded of the struggle it was to get it. I originally had been told that it takes a measly two weeks to get any type of South African visa, so I thought I was safe when I started the process about a month and a half before my flight date. I went back after about two weeks to be told that a student permit, the type of visa I had requested actually took anywhere from four to six weeks! This had my heart almost leaping out of my chest.
Over the course of the next few weeks I kept going back and being given the same tight lipped response, “We’ll call you when it’s ready ma’am.” I could see they were getting frustrated, but it got down to one week before my flight date and I was getting extremely anxious about having to postpone my flight. Finally on the Tuesday before the Thursday I had to leave I was turning around from the lady at the desk who had just told me no again, resigning to the fact that things may not work out the way I had planned when her colleague went into the back to check on some of the files. She asked my name, and I told her, a sliver of hope in my gut. She finally said, “Yes you got your visa but you didn’t write your telephone number in the application so we had no way to reach or contact you.” I swear if there wasn’t a glass window pane between us, at that moment as what she said registered I just might have kissed her!
Asia from South Africa, my next stop was Asia and believe me every step of the journey was crazy. I had to apply for my visa to Thailand from South Africa. I was in Cape Town, and the only embassy was in Pretoria, near Cape Town which meant I had to send in my applications by mail. I ended up applying for my visa about a week or two before we were supposed to leave and getting it the day before our flight. Talk about stressful situations. The Philippines on the other hand, was a piece of cake. I was able to get a ninety day tourist visa at the airport on the day that we arrived there.
• Find out what papers you need for your visa and get them. All of them. Yellow Fever Card, valid passport, valid flight itinerary, letters of invitation if you are being hosted, etc.
• Find out from the RIGHT sources how long it takes to process your visas and be prepared. If the embassy says it takes two weeks to process, start a month before, if they say six weeks to process, start two months before. You would rather be prepared than miss an opportunity because of a technicality.
• Traveling in a group makes it easier to get a visa if instead of getting individual visas you get a group visa.
• Always know that whatever sacrifices and hurdles you have to go through with preparation, the embassy and what not will be worth it on your trip. Envision the end goal.
Shingai is an upcoming writer with a passion for words and expression through writing. She lived in Zimbabwe as a child and has traveled to over ten countries. She craves adventure and hopes to be an inspirational writer. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with a minor in Psychology at Daystar University.