Well this was unexpected

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So apparently my golden ticket is not so golden. This morning I went to the Senegalese consulate to inquire about visas, since they are not required for visits of fewer than 90 days but I may want to stay beyond that.

It was quite a surprise to be told that the visa is the least of my problems. Once in Senegal I can visit the immigration office at any time to apply for a visa… but I will not be allowed in the country – or for that matter, on the plane – if I show up to the airport without a return ticket.

I spent about twenty minutes trying unsuccessfully to ascertain whether “return” meant going back to the country of origin, or onward travel to any destination outside of Senegal. The two people I spoke with consulted about the nuances of this question and I could not follow along in the least (nor could they give me a firm answer in English). At first I thought they must be speaking Wolof, but I kept hearing words that, if pronounced entirely differently, would have sounded like French to me. This led me to wonder, not for the first time, whether Senegal is actually the best place for an American to learn French. But I’ll table that question for now in favor of the bigger issue.

As it turns out, you can’t just buy a one-way ticket somewhere and promise them at passport control that you will definitely leave within the time allotted to you. I feel pretty naive for making this little faux pas, but I’m not entirely sure how best to correct it, since I have no idea when I want to leave Senegal nor where I want to go next. I don’t want to book an arbitrary placeholder return ticket and change the date and/or destination later, because that will cost money that I haven’t budgeted for this particular use. But it looks like that’s exactly what I’m going to have to do.

Looking forward to spending the next eight hundred hours on the phone with United…

[Photo: Eva Holm]

what not to do when planning an international trip

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1. Buy your airline ticket.
2. Vaguely look into visas and decide you don’t need any for the countries you’re visiting.
3. Wait a month.
4. Two days before your trip, think to yourself, did I adequately check whether I need a visa for that one country?
5. Do a quick Google search.
6. Convince yourself a visa may be necessary even though the vast majority of the information online claims that you can get it in the airport… But there are those one or two sites that differ.
7. Panic.
8. Call the airline and attempt to ask in Spanish (yes, it had to be in Spanish) whether it is in fact possible to get the visa in the airport.
9. Further panic when the customer service guy wants to look up your ticket first, but can’t find it. (Yes, panic, even though when you click on a link in your ticket confirmation email, it takes you to a second confirmation page directly on the airline’s site. And even though the reasonable explanation for the confusion is that you can neither correctly spell your name in Spanish letters nor intelligibly articulate dates or times in Spanish numbers.)
10. Miraculously understand when the guy tells you he’s going to attempt to find someone who speaks English because the conversation will be too complicated otherwise.
11. Wait on hold for fifteen minutes, worried.
12. Call back when phone gets disconnected. Wait on hold another twenty five minutes.
13. Finally get on the line with someone who speaks English, and within the space of two minutes, confirm that your ticket is just fine and that you can get the visa in the airport before your flight, no problem.
14. Hang up the phone, and close ten Chrome tabs on which the same information was written, but which you chose to ignore because you court anxiety like it’s Vitamin C and you’ve got scurvy.

[Photo: JD Hancock]