How a Passport Blunder Cost Me 3 Days — Reader Mistake Story
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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Molly, who ran out of passport pages during a trip through Africa. Here’s what she had to say:
My husband and traveled through five countries in Africa for our honeymoon. We planned everything on our own and it went amazingly well, except when we tried to go to South Africa.
Earlier in our trip, we went to Victoria Falls on the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe. My husband did extensive research prior to our trip about visa and entry requirements. We learned that there was a dual visa for these two countries, which meant one visa in our passport would be sufficient for entry into both (this was clearly described on the government website). However, upon arrival we were told that the dual visa was a temporary program and they no longer offered it. I then had to get two full-page visas in my passport, leaving me with only one full page for entry into South Africa, which has strict requirements for two full pages.
When we tried to fly to South Africa, I was denied because of not having enough pages in my passport. We had to buy flights the next day to get to the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia. To make matters worse, we arrived in Lusaka on New Year’s Eve, which meant the Embassy was closed the next day, further delaying the continuation of our trip. Ultimately, we lost three days of our trip, spent a night in an ant-infested hotel room near the airport, and had to eliminate a trip to Swaziland. We did finally continue to South Africa once I had a new passport.
The first lesson here is to have more pages than you need for entry requirements. As for foreign government websites, hopefully they can be trusted, but if not, just chalk it up to an adventure that comes along with traveling and roll with it. The biggest lesson was that I picked the best life and travel partner possible, because we made it through the entire incident without a hint of tension between us.
Passport and visa requirements can vary widely from one country to the next, and even seemingly insignificant violations can derail your travel plans. As Molly learned, several countries require that you have at least two blank pages, and South Africa further requires that those two pages be consecutive. Other commonly overlooked details include having a passport valid for at least six months beyond your expected return, making sure your passport isn’t damaged, and checking requirements between other countries on your itinerary.
Before you travel internationally, I recommend thinking through your entire trip to make sure things go smoothly at each border you plan to cross. That includes not only making sure your passport and visa are in order, but also things like getting properly vaccinated and verifying the legality of any medications or other controlled substances in your possession. Give yourself plenty of lead time, since some of these steps may take longer than you might expect.
Molly’s last lesson is also an important one. For better or worse, the company you keep will help define your travel experience, so it’s crucial to choose your travel companions wisely. Good communication and willingness to compromise are key. Just because you get along with someone at home doesn’t mean your travel interests will align, but I’ve found that setting plans and expectations before you depart is a reliable recipe for having a good time together.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Molly for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!
Featured photo by @wander_travel_dream/Twenty20
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