Fun & Misadventures

Before we left, I had all sorts of scenarios playing in my head about the things that could go wrong on this trip; illness, lost baggage, missed flights, but so far most of the frustrations in Asia have taken place pre-adventure; namely visa applications. Of all the things that I thought could go wrong, visas didn’t even make the long list, but they’ve been an ongoing challenge. Predictably, there have been some luggage and health issues too. Here’s how to avoid some of our mistakes.

Application denied

Our trip to India has been one of the greatest adventures so far in our gap year but the visa application process almost broke me. I know, broke sounds exaggerated, hyperbolic even but when we’re talking about more than a dozen attempts to complete the form, it’s the perfect word, in fact, it may be an understatement.

Let me explain….

The Indian government has attempted to make it easier for tourists to apply for a visa by offering an online service. That all sounds good all well and good until you download the document. It’s long, very long, we’re talking 20 plus pages of names, addresses and even, bank account details – at least an hour’s worth of “filling in” time per application. If you’re thinking that’s a lot of personal information the Indian government has about you, you’re right, including your parents’ name and contact details as well as your current and previous occupations. 

Before you start, you’ll need a whole lot of data at hand to complete the application and if the system times out, you’ll need to re-open it with a gagillion-character file number which can’t be copied and pasted. That’s right, you have to manually input this file number EACH and EVERY time you want to update your application. I had to redo ours 17 times, now the “broke me” reference is making sense.

When you eventually re-open it, make sure you double check your answers to all the YES/NO questions as previous answers may not have been saved. I learned that the hard way, submitting an application in which I answered YES to the question, am I of Pakistani heritage? I’m not, but the online application has YES as the DEFAULT answer. Not joking.

So, before you get started, make sure you have the following information handy: passport details, contact details of the tour operator/travel company you’re using (including name, phone number and address), and a JPEG copy of your passport in a sub-1MG file size. 

Occupational hazards

When it comes to India visa applications, there’s such a thing as sensitive occupations, sensitive enough to get your application rejected the first time around i.e. journalist. It happened to me. If you are a journalist just going to India for a holiday, find a truthful but creative way of describing what you do e.g. office manager, artist, even home duties if you’re also a wife/mother. 

After my online visa application was rejected, I was able to reapply in person at a visa processing centre operated by a third party i.e. not a government office. This time around, I made sure to “desensitise” my previous occupation; I went from journalist to office manager. But, I also had extra paperwork to complete (because 20 pages isn’t enough!) as well as submit bank statements and proof of income. By the way, when I asked about their data destruction policy, I got a whole of blank stares. Privacy is overrated, right? 

The good news is, I eventually got my visa but the online user experience was horrendous. I say this to all nations, big and small, if you rely on tourism, for God’s sakes, make it easy for tourists to vacation in your country. Nepal, this is message is for you! That’s right, India isn’t the only offender on my hit list, but I’lll cover that in a separate piece.

Back to India, make sure you apply directly through the Indian Government’s online visa portal and not some third party company. They charge hundreds of dollars and while painful, it’s better to go through an official portal. 

Handle with care

As I said, lost luggage is par for the travel course, damaged luggage too. We’ve all seen those YouTube videos of luggage handlers using suitcases for football practice. But when the internal METAL frame of your bag is BENT, and bent so hard you can no longer pull up the handle, you have to wonder whether it may have been ejected from the cargo hold before landing. 

Unfortunately, we discovered this at 2am when we picked up our luggage in Kathmandu after a four hour delayed flight. This is a small airport, with an almost community-run feel, there was no airline desk, no one to lodge a complaint with. Again, I’ll save details of this delightful incident for my another piece. 

The lesson here, don’t skimp on luggage. Choose hardy suitcases, preferably with a lifetime guarantee. Photograph the damage as soon as possible and email the company right away. Ideally, reach out to the airline within 24 hours and also consider an insurance claim, depending on the damage. You’ll want your receipt/warranty information at hand too with make, style, colour information, so scan that in your cloud-based travel folder for easy reference

Battling bacteria

When you’re travelling for a long time, it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to get sick. The irregular sleep, irregular meals to say nothing of digestive irregularity. Then up those chances of feeling off by visiting developing nations and/or ones that have a reputation for travellers’ tummy, including India. 

We got sick. Our symptoms ranged from queasiness to days spent hugging the porcelain, but it could have been worse without our magic pils. Probiotics. Get the highest strain available and start taking them before you go. Good gut health will help enormously in the fight against whatever it is that makes you feel horrendous on the road even when you avoid tap water/ice, cut fruit, meat and dairy. 

But of all the things we packed in our medicine bag, the one thing I didn’t realise I’d be using, and using often, is anti-histamines. In fact, we’ve already chewed through our first packet and are half way through pack two. From dust and ash in India, to forest fires in Nepal, and general pollution in Sri Lanka, our allergies have been out of control. At the time of writing, we have also sneezed and sniffed our way through Oman and Egypt so there’s nothing xenophobic about this, allergies are allergies, wherever you are. Hopefully, we have less to sneeze about in Europe.