To be honest, I hate the concept of visas. Sure I like crossing borders and collecting stamps but not If I have to pay for it. If you ask me, the world should be toll free. Or at the very least, a new “backpackers” visa should be established, which would exempt the backpacker from regular visa fees.
Fortunately, not all countries charge money for a visa. For Americans, the entire European Union, along with signatories of the Schengen treaty are accessible on a free 90 day tourist visa. In fact, US passport holders can enter approximately 160 countries visa free.
On the other hand, the remaining countries that do require a visa, can often charge a small fortune. Take China and Russia for example, who each charge around 130$. Even more expensive, the Congo charges 300$ for a 3 month visa. While this sounds bad, it’s nothing compared to visa fees for travelers from some African and Eastern European countries. If you were wondering, these varying visa prices are based on a system of reciprocity between countries. Whatever the cost, it is never good for a backpacker’s budget.
Not only can the cost of visas cut short ones travel aspirations, but visas kill ones freedom to roam. Though many countries allow one to obtain a visa at the border, many others require that your visa be obtained at their embassy and well in advance. And these are the countries that really get on my nerves.
The combination of high visa costs and the need to plan ones route in advance, really doesn’t bode well with a broke and free spirited runaway like myself. So, as a result of my resentment, I have adopted a rather rebellious stance towards visas. That being, I simply don’t contemplate them until I hit the border. While sometimes this motto works in my favor, most of the time I am forced to either wait for days at the border or backtrack to the nearest embassy.
For example, after hours of walking through the desert, I finally arrived at the Syrian border. I soon learned that the visa fee was 16$ and that it was only possible to obtain a visa back in Ankara or Istanbul, a serious trek. Persistent as I am, I convinced the guards to grant me an appointment with the border general.
His face resembled that of an angry constipated bull dog and I initially believed that he would never grant any exceptions for me. But to my delight, he proceeded to fax the visa application to Ankara. Little did I know at the time but this would take 6 days to complete.
Even though I spent those nights freezing in the desert outside the border station, it was actually quite enjoyable. I made friends and drank tea every night with a bunch of Syrian cab drivers whose names made up the entire cast of Aladdin. And I spent the days watching the various interesting peoples as they went in and out of Syria.
On the sixth day, I was finally awarded my visa and free to pass. It just goes to show that at some borders, the visa regulations aren’t set in stone. However, while I made it this time, there are plenty of other instances when I was forced to backtrack hundreds of miles. So, even if you’re like me and despise visas, it remains a good idea to do some visa research before you hit the road.