As we made our third bus transfer outside of Bangkok, we hoped desperately we were getting close to the immigration office. It was 95 degrees Fahrenheit with 90 percent humidity and we needed to extend our visitor visas. Immigration is a part of this wandering life. Visa applications, passport photos, and permission come with a price tag. I am not talking about the amount of money charged depending on the country or, in some cases, the official doing the paperwork. I am talking about the emotional cost of international travel.
When we left Europe in the Spring of 2015, we had achieved Italian Citizenship which is essentially citizenship to all countries in the European Union (with some stipulations). We absolutely love Europe but felt like it was a geographically small area when looking at the globe, and we wanted to see more of the world. I guess we took our citizenship and the comforts that come with it, for granted. What we didn’t really comprehend was how traveling in foreign countries where we are not citizens, may challenge our wandering ways.
Living Outside the Box
Every time we booked a one-way ticket, we had to have a ticket out of that country, prior to entry, in order to board the plane. That means we had to know exactly how long we were staying, where we going next, and how long we were staying in that next location. If we planned to extend or apply for an extension to our entry visa prior to arrival, completing it from outside one’s home country presents unique challenges in some cases. Add to all of this the fact that simple forms stump us after 1,200 days on the road. Boxes titled ADDRESS, PHONE, OCCUPATION, and SCHOOL gives us pause. I guess you could say we have been living outside the “boxes” which makes them harder to fill in.
My husband and I looked at each other, standing room only, rocking back and forth, as the bus bumped along the outskirts of Bangkok, sweat dripping down the kids’ backs. We needed a break from borders, controls, travel warnings, maximum duration clauses, and the never-ending feeling that you can only get so comfortable because before they let you in, you have told them when you are leaving. I get it. From the beginning of civilization to the present, there are many issues with human movement and what it means to the economy, political stability, and environment. But I just wanted to feel free again and for us, that meant returning to the USA or Europe.
Remembering the Adventure
Europe may be small geographically but it is special. Because of the (mostly) open borders, tourists can drive into a completely different world, with a different language, cuisine, and set of customs, with ease. One of our favorite memories of our time living in Italy, was when the kids would wave at the empty border guard towers as we crossed into Slovenia, France, Spain, Switzerland, and beyond. With the wind in our hair and the open road awaiting our adventure, we drove more than 30,000 miles in Europe through 20 countries. We felt, during these long drives, even more appreciation for our American citizenship that gives us the freedom to dream big and embrace possibility.
Learning From Every Culture
The most important thing we have learned since we started meandering the globe in 2013, is that we are connected to every culture, every landscape, and every living thing on this remarkable planet. The politics of the borders were making it harder for us to feel the connection as we trudged through paperwork, airports, and sometimes daily changes to duration laws.
It once sounded cliche to talk about all things being connected. Now I think of those moments daily. I remember when I saw my in-laws likeness in the couples walking arm and arm in Italian piazzas or men that looked just like my father on fishing vessels in Sweden. When we were teaching English at an orphanage in Indonesia, we had flashbacks to our classrooms in Seattle, and we saw our former students in these universal faces looking up at us. We have touched oceans where they turn to seas and then rivers, walked glacial valleys, and seen what development really means in “developing” countries.
Appreciating Touching Down … Again
Our plane touched down in Europe last week and our oldest son was playing with the in-flight map as we taxied to the gate. I heard him say, “Hey dad, I think we have gone all the way around the world.”
After all of these travels, we have learned what we already knew. We are all connected. Perhaps there has never been a more important time in our country’s history to remember something so simple and yet so easy to forget.
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Today’s Tweetable: Appreciating Travel Without Borders