Broke? Travel Anyway!

I often get emails, and messages from people – asking the same question – “how do you afford travel? Are you from a rich family? Do you have connections? Did you get some crazy compensation deal – and have decided to blow it all on roaming the world rather than making sound investments?!” 

Well, no. No to all of those. I wish it was something as easy as being in a car accident – and getting free money, but it isn’t. It’s kind of like The Wizard of Oz…it looks like a spectacular vision until you see the cogs turning behind the curtain. Yes, the actual facts of the matter are a lot less glossy – and  whilst this may be hard to take for some…I actually work. 

Take my first major trip on my own, for example. My year abroad studying in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

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For two years before that I worked at an electrical store, moving televisions around, and trying to sell people outdated SCART cables they didn’t want…taking overtime whenever I could, whilst also taking shifts at my Aunt’s pub on the weekend…all the while squirreling away money whenever possible. With no disrespect intended, I wasn’t like the others that were accepted on to the study abroad programme (Newcastle UK – Atlanta USA) there would be no money from my Mother, or Father…I’m one of five children, I would feel rude even asking.

But I made it – and before I knew it I was in the midst of my own travel scrapbook! Carving out new memories for myself…whether it be visa worries at passport control, attempting to make the transition to the different pace of American life, or dancing insane jigs with Waka Flocka, I had flew from the ordinary day-to-day, and was living out these once impossible fantasies!

Sounds dreamy, dreamy – I’m sure? But the truth was my budgeted money soon ran out, and there were a couple of very hairy months – I recall that after weeks of eating next to nothing I sent my parents a whimpering email explaining the situation…and I received something along the lines of – “you’ll figure it out.” And I felt it was harsh, but the fact is…you will…if you want it that badly – you will. (And I’m still alive, so I guess I did!)

Study abroad programmes can be a great way to get away, and experience a different culture first hand – there are often great schemes, and incentives – with mine I was actually reimbursed for any costs throughout the year. Which meant I had thousands to play with at the end of it all – long story short, two weeks in Greece with some of my best friends from back home. 

My second major trip came just after I graduated university- although I was recruited before I had even been given my degree…and a month after I flew out to Beijing, China.

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Again I had saved, and saved working some terrible job – this time around it was a sportswear store, selling people trainers, and trying not to touch their sweaty feet as I assisted them with trying on their shoes. Not ideal – but a means to an end. This was just so I had some initial spends, as the programme actually flew me out at no cost, and many of the site-seeing trips, and other interesting adventures were paid for, or massively subsidised.

Either way, there I was again – in a totally foreign, and unknown environment…forced out of my comfort zone…but that’s what it’s all about…I was experiencing all of the weirdness, that was so different to anything the 9 to 5 version of myself would be encountering…whether it be bizarre disputes over taxi fares, relaxed views to public pooping, or trying to sample local dishes without being sick (such as dog) – I knew these were memories that would last a lifetime.

And thanks to the cheap day-to-day living China affords, I was able to save a little for the NEXT trip…you see, that is important – always have the next trip in mind. 

My third major trip to Scandinavia came unexpectedly…but was well worth it…

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My sister – someone who has worked all over the world with nothing more than a can-do attitude, and flexibility – found a two month long  job in the Arctic Circle at a remote lodge…it was placed right between Sweden, and Finland. Did I fancy it? Well…OF COURSE I DID! There was a catch though, we had to fly out (again at their expense, so no worries) the following day! You see, sometimes the opportunity comes abruptly, and if you ponder over it too much, it will go to someone else – you sometimes just have to grab it, and say YES! 

And I certainly did. Before I knew it I was crashing snowmobiles in Sweden, experiencing The Shining effect first hand in Finland, and after I finished my contract – experiencing the raw natural beauty of the Norwegian Fjords first hand.

The work was often not pretty; six day weeks, with long hours – and if my boss was ever pissed off he would make me scrub toilets for an ungodly amount of time…but still…huski racing? The Northern Lights? Spending a night in an igloo? You can’t tell me that wasn’t worth it. 

For my next major trip, I was off to South Korea! I scraped together the last of my meager savings – put up with the horrendous visa process…and then went on my way!

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And I couldn’t have asked for more! Yet again I was flown out at my employer’s expense, provided with a cosy home to stay in for free, and continue to live very comfortably – whilst also having an amazing time, with some amazing kids, in a truly amazing country! And, using Korea as a base, I have been able to save very efficiently, which allows for a great many adventures; including a  Christmas trip to Vietnam,  an interesting excursion to North Korea’s border, a heat-stricken jaunt to Nepal…back home to England, and Scotland – then on to Italy, Hungary, and Austriathen…well, you get the picture – the world suddenly doesn’t seem as hugely inaccessible as it once did!

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You see it’s not difficult, you just make it difficult. If you really want to travel, like really, really want to…then be willing to work, and be willing to take every opportunity. Rich, or not – you’ll get there – so stop just posting random sunset photographs, with “W A N D E R L U S T” etched over them, and start planning that next trip…and start filling up your passport, and with it your little book of memories. 

~

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ILLEGAL in the USA!

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It was back in 2010 that my first real trip took place, sure I had been on family trips to France and Spain during the school holidays – but this was different…I was heading off to the USA, for a whole year…by myself. Now, I wouldn’t blink at this kind of thing, but back then I was absolutely shitting my pants (literally – well almost literally – but that’s err…another…err, listen forget I said anything!), anyway yes, I was nervous. So while I was on my way to the airport I felt like I had made the wrong decision; safe to say I was running a lot of “what ifs?” through my mind…

What if I bought the wrong tickets? What if there are problems with the visa? What if the plane crashes? What if I was unwittingly used as a drugs mule? What if there are only recent Adam Sandler films to choose from while in flight?!

But despite all of this, I said my tearful goodbyes, began to check all my luggage in, and awaited the sexual harassment by hired strangers with rubber gloves. So far so good. But it was when I got through the first round of customs and passport checks, that I realized something…something big…

I had left all of the visa documents at home.

All of the big stupid important papers that had proved such a nightmare to get in the first place, I’d just left behind – not because I am forgetful, but more because I am a massive fucking moron. Ahem, sorry, hindsight is always such a huge bastard! You see, I had my passport and a page saying VISA in there, with some American looking patterns (I believe there were eagles, flags, and possibly Stone Cold Steve Austin…can’t be certain), so I guessed that would be it, that this would be enough. But naturally, it wasn’t.

I was suddenly panicking. I mean, I had got through this far! I would be getting on this plane to Amsterdam in ten minutes! So err…maybe I could make it through the other ones too? Maybe the whole visa thing is just like a take it or leave it, like “mehhh you don’t have it? It’s fine – just write us an IOU or something, no biggie!” Of course things were different now – as before I hadn’t realized it, so I was just wandering around, a totally ignorant buffoon without a care in the world, but now I had recognized my error…well, safe to say I would be a red, sweaty, nervous wreck at every turn. So yeah, not ideal.

When I got into Amsterdam I headed straight to Burger King to calm my nerves. I’ve found that there always seems to be a Burger King at the airport, I wonder why that is? I’m not complaining or anything, I mean I kinda like it – I feel like the fries are actually better than McDonalds, but ironically the burgers aren’t anything to write home about…hmm…like I do know kings aren’t elected…so perhaps that’s how they get around calling themselves the Burger King, and I suppose it’s not breaking any laws in that case, I just feel it’s a little dishonest, you know what I mean? …anyway, I digress.

It was time. I stood up heavily, and made my way to the gate. Every step more unwilling than the last. I kept my passport close to me and gripped it tightly – it was now slippery due to a mixture of double cheeseburger residue, and my nervous sweating. “OH GOD…OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD!” I was freaking out…maybe, maybe if I fainted and fell over they would just kind of cart me on there, and wouldn’t make such a big deal of my lack of paperwork?! Is that…is that a thing? No, don’t be silly. ”Argh, the guy looked right at me! He looked right at me…oh my God…he’s waving me over…argh!”

That was the passport check guy, right at the gate entrance – so fair enough that’s his job and it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But still. I was terrified.

As I walked up shaking, I handed him my passport – and tried not to look so uncomfortable (I’m pretty sure it came off as a constipated smirk)…but that’s when he uttered those fateful words…

”Where are your visa papers?”

“I…I…I, I don’t have them.”

He stared at me blankly.

“You don’t have them?

“No, I…I have them. I just don’t have them.”

(I have no idea what that meant at all, but that’s what I said.)

What took place next was very, very odd. To this day I am not entirely sure of what happened…it was…I don’t even know. As he looked at me in disbelief over my lack of visa papers, and probably wondering how I had gotten so far already, he let out a “hmmm…” and simply, turned around. He literally looked the other way. I stared at him (the back of his head) for a few seconds, not sure what was going on at all…and then, just…kinda…walked around him…

Of course the next few moments were TENSE! I kept expecting someone to run down that little tunnel bit, and tackle me to the floor…start spraying me with mace or something…so I kept looking over my shoulder, quickening my pace…I’m now doing this weird frenetic power walk thing, one more look behind – but nothing, NOTHING!

Only one more airport to go.

As I got into Atlanta it all felt different. There wasn’t going to be any cheeky winks or slip throughs here. Everything seemed 100% professional, like over the top serious. Gulp. This was the end. I could feel it. But that’s when I started thinking…the worst they could do to me is to send me home, right? And then, I’d be back home, with my best friends and my closest family members, right? So…like…nothing lost?

(This weak attempt at comforting myself didn’t work at all by the way.)

Final passport check, the big one. As I was called up, I wandered to the counter sheepishly, and placed my passport on the shelf in front…I tried a smile – it wasn’t returned by the lady behind the glass:

”FAAAYLZ?”

”Excuse me?”

“PAAAY-PERZ?”

I handed her my flight information print outs, knowing fine well that wasn’t what she was asking for:

”Sir. Where are your visa papers?”

“I don’t…I don’t have them. I mean I have them.”

“DO YOU HAV’UM?”

”Errr. No.”

“How’d you get this – whatever – goin’ that room.”

She pointed to a small room in a far corner – I dragged myself there with a heavy heart, trying to avoid the silent yet judgmental eyes of others, unsure of what I should expect…as I opened the door a sweaty smell automatically struck me in the face, and a general vibe of “ohhhh shitttt, I’m in trouble” pulsed through my veins.

Imprisoned GIF

I was seated next to a Mexican family (lovely people, trust me their story was crazier than mine, maybe another time) – anyway, an hour passed…two hours…more…eventually I was called up…

Of course they asked over and over again how I simply just didn’t have the papers, they couldn’t comprehend that I was simply stupid…they thought there must be more to it…they made calls, typed stuff, and stared at me for uncomfortably long periods of time…we were getting nowhere; for every question that asked if I was a drug smuggler or insane terrorist, I answered the same way: “I just forgot my papers…I didn’t think I needed them…so…I…yeah.”

That’s when they decided to put me through on some kind of “temporary alien status” or something like that…not sure exactly…so as I fill out form after form, they then tell me I’ll need to give them my fingerprints – no problem! I press them down on the machine as requested:

”Nuttin.”

“Wait, what?”

“Sir, try again please.”

“Okay, no problem.”

“Nope. Sir, is there any reason you don’t have fingerprints?”

“I…I…wha?”

She then called one of her colleagues over and explained the situation…and they just stared at me, asking questions about my past, and continuously asking for possible reasons my fingerprints may not show up…I then looked back at the Mexican family in desperation…they returned a sympathetic look, but there wasn’t really anything else they could do; I get it, they had their own problems.

After some time they decided it was probably something to do with the machine, I mean I didn’t look the type…whatever that means…I suppose a skinny English kid doesn’t really fit the bill. Anyway, eventually they found that I wasn’t some kind of criminal who files down their fingerprints to avoid detection (they’d watched something similar on CSI apparently), and let me go, three hours later, possibly more, no idea. But I was free.

FREE GIF

And that was that…I had tricked the authorities, and I went on to set up my new life in America where I became uncontrollably wealthy and powerful, I also picked up a penchant for machine guns and snappy suits…oh wait…that’s Scarface…never mind. 

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More from this country below:

https://storytimewithjohn.com/2014/05/07/the-struggling-artist/

India Visa NIGHTMARE.

This is an open letter to the Indian Embassy…

Firstly, so there is no confusion – I just want to say an honest and sincere: FUCK YOU. Ahem, okay great – now that is done with I can continue with a little bit more tact (not my strongpoint I know, but I will try my best). You see I can only feel a little annoyed due to the monolithic barriers you have put up to stop me from entering your country. Why must you be such a monumental pain in the arse? I called your office in South Korea (my current location), and you seemed irritated even to deal with me at all, before I had even spoken…

Continue reading “India Visa NIGHTMARE.”