Personal travel blogs: Our #1 most expensive mistake of full time travel
Hey guys! I recently posted in our personal travel blogs about how much we spend in one month living in Bali and I’m working on a detailed post of the exact costs of individual items, to help people wanting to have a cheap Bali holiday (or those wanting to move to Bali) create a personalised budget.
One of the great things about getting a six month visa to live long term in Bali is that the longer we stay somewhere, the easier it is to live and travel cheaply. We spent 6 months travelling full time through Bali, Thailand and Sri Lanka (and Thailand again!) and quickly came to realise that we had made a serious underestimate when it came to one aspect of travel.
I would say that it’s this aspect that has had the most impact financially and emotionally while travelling, even though it sounds pretty innocuous and straightforward. Personal travel blogs often cover the rainbows and sparkles of travel and we always want to give a realistic of the whole picture, including this thing that has eaten into our financial reserves.
Want to know what it is?
Ack. Ew. Retch. Visas. The bane of our life.
“But it’s easy- you just go on the country’s official website and get the right one, surely?”
Come closer, friend. A little closer. A bit more, that’s it; let me whisper in your ear…
“You have NO IDEA!!!”
In this “visa” category of Hell I’m also including entry requirements for a country, because these have as much of an impact as getting the right visa.
An example for you. Sri Lanka says that you can get a visa when you arrive, which can be extended for another 30 days and then again for another 30 days. In reality this is technically true, but the small print when you get to your second extension is that you need a *really good reason* for wanting to stay another month. “Enjoying yourself” isn’t an acceptable reason. Neither is contributing to the economy (and boy did we do that a lot).
This *really good reason* is located one of two places. The first is tightly guarded inside one of the immigration officers’ brains, so good luck figuring that out. The second is interwoven in the magic work that suspicious “agents” do when you hand them a hefty wad of cash and your passports and watch them disappear over the horizon (it’s a sobering moment). What I’m saying is, just because it’s on a website doesn’t make it fact in reality.
We couldn’t get a third month in Sri Lanka without paying through the nose (and even once you’ve paid the agent there’s no guarantee it will work) so we went to Thailand again- meaning we forked out for another load of flights, accommodation and the premium that comes with being in a new area where hotels and taxis and restaurants can and will take you for all you’ve got because you don’t know any better. Every single time you move to a new place because of your visa limits, it will take at least a week or two before you find the budget places, and this hits your wallet hard.
A second example. Some countries require you to have a ticket out of that country before you go in. It’s basically a vague insurance to them that you do in fact intend to leave and not outstay your permitted time. When you are full time travelling this is obviously a pain in the neck as you don’t know exactly when you’ll leave; in Sri Lanka we might have hated it and wanted to leave after a month, or loved it and wanted to stay the full three months.
On the official Sri Lanka website it says very clearly that you do NOT need an onward ticket, which was great. However we were flying from Thailand (remember this horrendous journey?) and as it turned out the airline we were flying with refused to take us there without an onward ticket. This was because apparently if we were to overstay in Sri Lanka, the airline that brought us into the country would be held responsible and fined. Go figure. Cue us frantically booking tickets out of Sri Lanka at the check in desk (to India, don’t ask, we got a refund), when our flight to Sri Lanka was sending out its final call for boarding. Does wonders for your nerves.
Thai visas have various rules as to whether you need to get the visa on arrival (for a shorter length of time) or in the country you are flying from (for a longer length of time). We got very distracted by an erupting Balinese volcano, the naughty minx, as well as misunderstandings the impact of Buddhist holidays that meant the office in Bali was shut (Buddhists holidays are basically every other day). This resulted in us only being able to get a 30 day visa for Thailand *unelss* we used three of our days there to take our kids on a 24 hour coach trip in and out of Burma, which some people told us was illegal and others positively encouraged us to do. Simple, right?
And don’t even eat me started on the calamity of errors and frustration that was the process to get our 6 month Bali visas (ok I might have started). Despite following the instructions of our agents to the letter we had a failed trip to Colombo to pick them up followed by two round trips for Patrick to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, followed by, finally, a trip from Phuket to Singapore.
I kid you not when I say that I think our visa bill easily run away into thousands of pounds.
We are incredibly glad that we visited the places we did, and we have no regrets. However we are also thrilled and relieved to be somewhere that has everything we were looking for in our travels where we don’t need to worry about the practicalities of sorting visas every month or two. Mentally it means we can relax into life here, invest in friendships as we know we are here for a good amount of time, and not face unexpected flight or agent bills.
Are your surprised? What’s the most frustrating thing about travel for you? Have you got a nightmare travel story or know of personal travel blogs that have similar stories? Let us know in the comments!