Traveling While Abroad: Make It Easy on Yourself

I’d say, for the most part, that I’m a pretty organized, prepared person. I always have important documents in one place, I “measure twice, cut once” in every situation, and I’m the queen of “what if.” Extra socks? Check. Have I packed a reading book, music, cards, and a coloring book in case I get bored? You betcha – even though I’ll never get bored enough to get through all of those items. Usually, I’m prepared with items of actual importance too, i.e. a copy of my online visa.

Cut to mid-semester break. For the past month, I’ve been planning a two-part trip: 4 days in Cairns, Australia and 5 days in Dunedin, New Zealand. In preparation, I printed out all of my flight information, as I’m more inclined to have physical copies of things, rather than electronic copies. Although I had only printed these out to keep dates and flight times straight in my head in the days leading up to my trip, I decided to shove them in my bag as I flew out the door to catch my first flight. Technically, I didn’t actually need my flight information – these weren’t my tickets and I had my flight numbers on my phone ready for check-in.

My experience in Cairns and traveling to Cairns was delightful. No issues, lots of sunshine and warmth (finally – a day above 60 F), and a great reunion with a friend from DU. But leaving Cairns took a bit more effort and involved enough frustration for me to learn a little travel lesson.

My friend and I showed up to Cairns International Airport relatively early in the morning. Sleepy-eyed and deprived of coffee, I walked up to the Virgin Australia counter to get my ticket and check my bag. A few seconds after handing my passport to the woman at the counter, she began to ask me questions about my travels. I was a bit surprised, as I would only expect to be interrogated at customs, but nonetheless I answered. She asked me why I was in Australia, my plans for New Zealand, and other standard questions directed towards international travelers. Following this, she asked me for my flight itinerary. Perfect. My flight information will come in handy for this. But she then asked, “Ma’am, when will you be reentering Australia?” In my sleepy state, I struggled to answer.

“Um…I fly back on the 2nd”, I answered. She gave me a weird look and replied, “The 2nd of October?”. Shoot! *palm to face moment* This is when I wished I had gone to sleep earlier or bought coffee that morning.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that. I meant the 12th…the 12th of September. I guess I just forgot to put the 1 in front of the 2.” I smiled as my cheeks turned red in embarrassment. It was obvious she wasn’t very happy with me, and it didn’t get better when she asked for my visa and I told her it was an online visa. She then proceeded to make me pull up my visa on my computer and finally handed me my ticket.

I learned a few travel lessons from this. One, always have your flight itinerary – having that definitely made this situation better. Two, always have a copy of your visa, even if it’s an online visa. If you don’t want to carry that around, then you better be able to access it with your phone, computer, or tablet. Three, make sure your brain is awake when you go to the airport. This is especially important so you can remember the simple things, like what dates you’re reentering a country that has graciously taken you in.

In the moment, I was a bit flustered, but I know the Virgin Australia representative was just doing her job and enforcing the law. Thank you, Australia, for letting me be absent-minded every once in a while.

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