Monday, September 28, 2015

American passports are valid for a period of ten years before they need to be renewed. As I currently hold my now voided passport that was my only constant companion through my travels in the past decade, flipping through its stamps and visas bring back so many memories.

I recently just got a new passport, and my old one was returned to me through the mail today. It contains more pages than when I was originally issued it nine years ago because it ran out of available space while I was living in Thailand and I had to get some added. It was on one of my usual visa runs to Cambodia when I learned my passport had no more empty pages left. While living in Bangkok, I would often travel alone to Cambodia. This was one of the closest and cheapest ways to technically exit Thailand and acquire a new Thai visa outside of the country. Once I got my visa, I would cross back over in to Thailand to be able to legally live there for another extended amount of time.

It was during a visa run like this at the Cambodian border town of Poipet when to my surprise, I was notified about being denied entry to the country because my passport had run out of room.

For my passport to have no space for new stamps and visas was the last thing on my mind to ever anticipate would go wrong. I couldn't believe I was being refused admittance into Cambodia because of it. It was hard not to momentarily panic right then because I was traveling alone, was on an extremely tight budget, and hadn't had a bank account in years to pull out more non-existent money. I had no back-up plan at all, and absolutely needed to enter Cambodia to obtain that Thai visa. Going back to Bangkok empty handed just wasn't an option, because then I would be forced to leave Thailand, my studio apartment, and entire life there on terms that weren't mine.

Then magically, I was offered a solution to my problem by customs officials---but of course it would come at a price. I was told that the last few pages of passports were usually supposed to be left empty for administrative purposes. Cambodian border agents were not supposed to place visas on this part, however, for a private fee of ฿500 cash, they would be willing to make an exception for me. Thankfully, that was a sum that I could actually afford, and was more than happy to fork it over. Suffice it to say, I was subsequently allowed in to the country and got my Thai visa like I had planned.

After eventually returning to Bangkok, one of the first things I did was to make an appointment at the American Embassy to have more pages added to my passport. I eventually would've had to do so because I traveled a lot more after that trip, but I guess I found out the hard way.

Traveling alone for years like that was actually so much fun, now that I think about it. Sure, it was scary and stressful at times but definitely had an element of adventure. I never had an itinerary or any plans at all. I liked to just go somewhere and figure it out when I arrived. Not having a bank account or credit cards at the time didn't allow me the luxury of booking things in advance, so I would usually go somewhere and just find a hostel or other accommodations by asking around or word of mouth. And everything always worked out somehow. Doing this was never really hard because I prefer to wake up in a new city or country with an open day ahead of me instead of some rigid schedule. Walking around for hours to explore by foot and discover what I want to eat and do on my own never failed me.

Now, with my brand new passport that I will hopefully be using for the next ten years, I'm excited to eventually fill up its pages. I'll be breaking it in with a work trip to Berlin next week, which I'm pretty excited about. I would love to travel again soon to a foreign country for pleasure, but that probably won't be any time soon. But for now, Germany next week will be enough to satiate me until then.

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