Destination Unknown


By the time I got to the check-in counter at PDX airport this morning, I knew I’d go through with the plan. PDX-DEN-FRA to start with… but then what? I wasn’t sure.

“Will you be traveling on from Frankfurt?” the United agent asked.

This is a polite way of saying, “When will you be leaving the European Union?” – to ensure I don’t decide to take up residence in Germany.

“I’m going to Belarus the same day,” I told the agent, and showed her the other ticket to Minsk. “Great,” she said, and printed my boarding passes.

So now I’m writing from the terminal, and waiting to board my first of four flights. The problem is, I don’t really know where I’m going. Yes, I’m off to FRA, and then to Belarus (finally! attempt number three) for a couple of days. But then I get back to FRA, and I’m not sure what will happen the next day.

I have a ticket for Algeria and a hotel reservation in Algiers, both of which were required to apply for a visa in Washington, D.C. two weeks ago. The whole point of this trip is to go to Belarus and Algeria, two countries that are relatively difficult to get to. The problem is, I still have no Algerian visa, and my duplicate passport is still in Washington as I fly off to Europe with my regular passport.

Two weeks ago I dutifully applied, and apparently my application wasn’t good enough on its own, because I was then asked for a notarized letter saying… basically the same thing that the application said. Frustrating, but I can work with that. I got the letter, FedEx’d it back to Washington, and kept waiting. But last week, still no news.

Thus I came into my latest quandary as I attempt to roam the world, going to harder and harder countries that all have visa issues like Algeria. I also have plans to stay completely in the U.S. for four whole months starting in September, so there’s not much room for error in the travel schedule.

By the way, before someone tells me, I’m already aware that the U.S. does not make it easy for foreigners to visit. If I could change that, I would, but my influence with Hillary Clinton is minimal. I wasn’t even invited to the wedding!

Anyway, after I heard that I wouldn’t get my visa on Friday, I thought about options over the weekend. What to do? Here’s what I considered:

Hope for the best. This is what we’re working on now. Technically, the embassy could still come through today or even (fingers crossed) tomorrow. In that case, my visa service is going to attempt to FedEx the passport to my hotel in Frankfurt. Under this scenario, I’d get it Thursday night at the hotel, and then 7am Friday morning I’d be off to Madrid and Algiers for the weekend. Very tight! But it’s my best hope.

Cancel the trip. But this is my last chance to travel overseas for a long time. I don’t want to rebook for the end of August, because I’ll be getting ready for book tour mode then. It’s pretty much now or never, and I have to try to make a good use of the limited travel time I’ve allotted.

Reroute the Lufthansa ticket. This is the same ticket that I already rerouted to go to Thailand—next week’s stop before coming home. If I could do it, I would, but the problem is the same… no visa to go anywhere. I checked into several African countries, another Central Asian country like Uzbekistan, even Yemen—all with no luck.

Go somewhere else in Europe. The problem with this option is that I’m running out of new countries. In Europe, only Norway and Monaco remain. Out of 149 countries so far, Norway is like Australia—for some reason, I’ve just never made it there. I’m thinking of saving it for country #192 in 2013, so Norway is off the list for now.

Monaco is easy; just a quick hop to the south of France and then a 30-minute bus ride to Monte Carlo. But the thing is, I’m also trying to save a few easy countries for the next two years, so hopping over to Monaco doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment for this trip.

Of course, I could also take a short vacation—head to Amsterdam from Frankfurt, perhaps. But as much as I love Amsterdam (or wherever), that isn’t really the point of this trip. I’m on a schedule and have to use the time well if possible. So if I can do that somehow, I will. Otherwise, well, I guess I’ll eat some stroopwafels.

Now or Never

I’m flying to Denver in a few minutes, then on to Frankfurt. It does feel a little odd to not know where I’ll actually be going on this trip after the next few days. But when I thought about canceling the trip, forfeiting the ticket I’ve already purchased for Algeria, I knew I’d have to follow the path and see where it leads.

Besides, I write about risk and adventure, so I do try to walk the walk. To Germany and beyond! Well, hopefully beyond. I’ll find out in a day or two where “beyond” actually is.


Image: Phil

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  • Magdalena says:

    Unfortunately the last thing that Algerians like is to hurry up, but little bit of good luck and hopefully you will be able to say Salam to the White Algiers 🙂

  • Joel says:

    I love the fact that you refuse to stop trying even when some things happen that would make most people cancel their trip (i.e. not getting a visa in time).

    I love your attitude Chris & can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

  • ABCcreativity says:

    can we vote on this?
    i vote for vacation!
    vacations nourish and inspire our creativity and then afterwards magical new solutions and ideas can pop up.
    but whatever you do i’m looking forward to hearing about it.

  • Ivona says:

    You should come to Croatia. Its amazing now in summer…:)

  • Chris says:

    Thanks, guys. Off to DEN now – will post other comments in transit there.

    @ABC, nothing wrong with vacations, but I’d rather go to Algiers. We’ll see what happens…

  • Mike says:

    Madrid -> Alicante -> Beach = wait for visa.

  • Marie Monteux says:

    Wow. I used to do travel arranging as part of a support job. I feel your pain. Passports needing extra pages, waiting on letters from other countries, even travel agent couriers deciding to just go home and drink beers instead of delivering the passports & visa’s the night before a trip to China. Most trips were planned far in advance, but sometimes things come up and I just had to push through and get it done.

    Hope it works out for you, bon voyage!

  • Merijn Vogel says:

    Hop over from Frankfurt to the Netherlands (Amsterdam may be easy to reach using a last-minute) and get some very nice stroopwafels! I’m already on my way to the vending-machine here at work to get a few :).

    On the other hand, the weather isn’t the best of worlds in western-europe this week, so if you have a choice and want a short vacation, maybe budapest, rome or some other nice southerly destination is better.

  • Rebecca in Switzerland says:

    Oh, I so get this — both the Keep Going mentality and the oddness of Uncertainty. Similarly, I’ve just rented my apartment to a lovely family who’ll move in Sept. 26th and I have no idea where I’ll go — like not even what country. HA! What an adventure!

  • Sassypatti says:

    You should go to Rwanda! No visa requirement for Americans for short stays and it is an amazing country!! They have a presidential election coming up next week, and it would be an exciting time to be there.

  • EFT Tapping (Natalie) says:

    Your mis-adventures make me feel a little better. I’m selling my house and leaving the country and still haven’t figured out where I’m going – for starters anyway.

  • Shannon says:

    Best of luck Chris! I hope you make it to Algiers. I can’t wait to hear about how this pans out.

  • sally hanna says:

    Namaste my friend.

  • Diane Edwards says:

    Go to Norway! Not only a beautiful country but wonderful people and a culture that supports art, artists, women and all things good. The vikings were like you–out to see the world! Adventurous!!

  • Kimberly says:

    My advice? First step, don’t step. Second, close your eyes wherever you are. Third, breathe. Fourth, repeat third step as often as you need to. Open your eyes and drink some water. Try breathing again. See? Now doesn’t that feel better already? There’s meaning in any trip worth taking in the delays, the missed connections and the wrong turns. No doubt, you’ll find your way to the place you should be:) Just breathe.

  • pamela says:

    Love your attitude Chris. I’m attempting to have the same about the journey I’m embarking on with my life/career. Safe travels. Looking forward to hearing where your adventure brings you next!

  • Alecia says:

    It is hard for me to think of traveling not as a vacation but your current dilemma definitely makes it sound like work. Good luck and I hope it works out how you want.

  • Dirk says:

    Hey Chris,
    Let’s hope the Algerian visa checks out, ins’allah! If not, I’d be happy to eat stroopwafels with you should you come this way… I’ll even introduce you to dropjes (salty dutch liquorice) and pickled herring, for the more seasoned euro-traveller.

  • Melissa Dinwiddie says:

    I have to admit, Chris, it’s fun to read about the interesting problems you’re facing. And I love that you’re not giving up on your goal, no matter what obstacles land in your path.

    Good luck getting to Algiers.. THIS time around!

  • Will says:

    Perhaps this is your greatest adventure as this trip may be more about the journey than the destination. Your recent itineraries have been so well researched and programed that this is a moment that all of us can identify with- flying into the abyss and wondering what now? Enjoy the unknown, at least for a moment and best of luck with whatever options present themselves.

  • Audrey says:

    I’m not sure if this is an option with your ticket/miles, but you can get a visa to Kyrgyzstan upon arrival at the airport in Bishkek. Might be a way to explore a new country on this trip. Good luck and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Belarus. Safe travels!

  • Monica says:

    For the next two and a half weeks, my boyfriend and I are in the same boat. But the thing is that it is kind of exciting to have this time in Tanzania but no itinerary. The options are endless. It’s like the blank pages of a a journal, something in the future is going to happen to fill them but we have no idea yet (a couple of options, but no firm plan). I think you’ve talked about this before too, just living in the moment.

  • STEPHEN says:

    I understand your situation. Am soon leaving for Beijing where I will meet a friend who will then accompany me back to the States for a holiday cross country road trip. But her US visa is yet to be approved and her meeting with the US embassy is only 3 days prior to our scheduled departure from Beijing to LAX.

    Reading your post, Chris, I’ve just decided to not worry about it and just go with the flow. …….worst case scenario is I will enjoy 3 weeks in China and we will take a road trip there instead. As you said the adventure element is important too. Best made plans of mice and men.

    Good luck on your journey.

  • Ariane says:

    Good luck Chris. Let’s hope that first options comes through.

  • Mike Ziarko Musing says:

    A little R&R in Amsterdam might not knock off countries off your list, but damn is it ever a fun town =)

  • Chad says:

    Mmmmm, siroopwafels … I have a Dutch co-worker who sends me a package of them every year at Christmas. They’re amazing frozen 😉

  • Jes Albro says:

    Good luck Chris! I’ll be sending some positive Belarus/Algerian visa vibes your way! 🙂 Can’t wait to read about how it turns out.

  • Jennifer Bones says:

    One of the many notes I have posted around my work area is “Don’t hold onto outcomes” and I must say it’s always served me well. We put out to the Universe what it is we want and usually get back more than we ever imagined (even if it doesn’t necessarily resemble our original intent).

    Whatever you end up doing and where ever you visit, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it to the fullest. After all, these are awesome problems to have!

    Bon Voyage (do people still say that?)


  • Frank van Houten says:

    Hi Chris, just let me know if you hit Amsterdam between friday 06 and tuesday 10. I can show you the isles in the north of Holland. They are little countries by themselves……:-))

  • Devin says:

    I am rooting for you.

    I don’t think you can give up, even if you can’t get into Belarus or Algeria again. Then you would have to say, “I visited every country…except these two,” which would kind of suck.

    Actually, I have little doubt that you will eventually make it to them both.

  • Etsuko says:

    If I were you I’d go to one of the two easy countries if I couldn’t go to Algiers. There is no guarantee in life, so do whatever it is whenever there is an opportunity 🙂 But it’s just me.

    Looking forward to reading how this trip will turn out!!


  • J.D. Meier says:

    It’s funny how while we’re surrounded with so many possibilities, at the end of the day, it comes down to what we want to do … and something that might be just as fun, can feel like miles apart if it’s not what we had in mind.

  • Andi says:

    In travel, what will be, will be. Fingers crossed you’ll get to Algeria!!! What an adventure…

  • Eric Bakkum says:

    Good luck, Chris. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you, too!

  • rob white says:

    What an interesting experience. I love your flexibility. Sometimes we have to let Universal Mind be our guide. What measure of your experiences put you in a heavenly state, and what measure feels like a hellish nightmare, depends entirely upon how you manage your connection to Universal Mind.

  • jules says:

    hey chris – if you still need yr visa- call your congressperson (call the dc office, not the district office- usually dc will has more competent, e.g., efficient, staff). this is what they excel at doing: constituent relations including, but not limited to, visas and travel emergencies. a call from a congressperson puts alll the wheels in motion-snap. and oh yes- thank you for your wonderful and momentum-producing blog.

  • Sam says:

    Way to keep on keepin on! Perseverance we can all learn from. And the travel experiences… ah, the travel…

  • Sinclair says:

    Good luck Chris – I’ve always wanted to go to Algeria, so I hope you keep us posted on your success, whether immediate or eventual. 😉
    – Sinclair

  • Jeff says:

    Chris–Good luck–it is, after all, the “Art of Non-Conformity,” not the art of coulda, woulda, shoulda.–Jeff

  • Tim says:

    Straight down to Oloron Saint Marie or Bedoin and enjoy the Pyrenees Atlantique or Provence.

    Hire a bike and tackle the Tourmalet, Aubisque etc, or smash Ventoux.

  • Noel Malone-Miskovsky says:

    Okay Okay! All that is challenging and magnificent BUT WHEN are you coming to Oklahoma???:)

  • Stephen Johnson says:

    Sounds awesome mate. Good luck!

    I can recommend Australia… and also Malta, where we spend a chunk of the Northern summer most years. Have you been there?

  • Trisha Carter says:

    Brilliant Chris!
    No not the visa frustrations but your attitude in response to them -and the great posts above – love Kimberly’s steps, close your eyes, breathe etc and Jennifer’s -don’t hold on to the outcomes and Jeff’s reminder of what this blog is about!

    I think this is one of the most important lessons for all of us -but especially travellers and expats -there is a time to stop pushing and go with the flow!

    enjoy whatever path you end up on

  • Trever Clark says:

    Chris – I like the idea of just winging it. That’s how I like to travel! Stay open to serendipity. You never know where a trip can take you…

  • Del says:

    Good Luck Chris. Hope you get your visa.(My thoughts are to get to the countries that you can and give yourself more time with Algeria. I wonder if you could even send them a link to AONC to tip the balance in your favor.)

  • Galina says:

    oh… Belarus…
    They don’t make it easy :((
    even for me (being a citizen of Belarus) I still have some bureaucracy to deal with (while being\living in US)
    It’s sad (for me) that diplomatic relationship are not that great now.

  • Casey Friday says:

    Wow. You’ve got a fantastic disposition about you, even in trying times! It’s fantastic that you are so analytical, that rather than giving up, you’re searching for new ways to get where you need to go.

    You are seriously an inspiration, and I’m extremely grateful for that.

  • John Sherry says:

    Chris a good metaphor for life this. We have planned routes, destinations on our mind or places to aim for but sometimes we get re-routed or delayed. The modern traveller wants to get from A to B seamlessly every time whilst the true traveller always has a back up plan or prepared for a change to the itinerary. In life too. We can’t always land where we want but we can where we gain or learn something. The true borders are in our minds. Safe travels and Godspeed.

  • Beth Jennings says:

    Guaging by your never say die attitude, I’d say that whatever governmental stuff ups you encounter are not going to dampen your enthusiasm. Besides sometimes when something goes wrong…well that can end up being the best thing! funny that…Good luck and have fuuuuun!!!!!!!!!

  • Tina Cassler says:

    Love your story! Journeys always end up just the way they should and not always as we plan them. That’s the difference between a plain ol’ trip and a true journey. 🙂

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