BY ANNE SPEED
How did 2 Australian retirees, with little motorcycling experience, nil mechanical skills and minimal planning manage to travel 52,000 km around the world over 15 months and have the best experiences? That’s what we managed, a couple of years ago. The funny thing is that we have no idea whose idea it was.
So how did we manage this trip? It certainly wasn’t thanks to our great motorcycling skills (which we still don’t have) but thanks to our ability to be flexible and take the opportunities that present themselves or handle the hurdles as they arise. As my favorite motto goes, if it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
Here are our top to tips to cross borders quickly, safely and with our sanity intact:
Visa requirements and travel conditions change often and suddenly. For example in December 2016, Uzbekistan announced a visa-free regime would be extended to citizens of certain countries as of 1 April 2017 but on 9 January 2017, this was postponed to 1 January 2021!
Pick your border
– Some borders crossings are for locals only, i.e. for citizens of the countries on either side of the border. As an example, this applies on the border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan but also between Canada and the USA.
– We found that the smallest or most remote borders were easier due to fewer people crossing.
– Check opening times and public holidays; avoid lunch times if possible as some border offices close for an hour in places.
– Have several photocopies of your passport(s), international driver’s license, and motor vehicle documents – not sure what these border crossings do with all these copies, but you will need to hand some over so it is easier to travel with them than looking for the local photocopying service which invariably exists around the border crossing. Have spare passport photos too for visa applications.
– In addition, good quality color photocopies of your vehicle documents on thicker paper can be used as ‘originals’ – these will be shown at each border a number of times and can quickly end up tearing.
– Have a short list of passport number, dates, vehicle VIN and chassis handy on a small piece of paper/card as you will be required to complete immigration forms asking for the same information each time – easier to complete immigration forms from your small piece of paper while you are queuing at a border crossing than having to open your official documents and juggling paperwork!
Before the border
– Turn off and put away all cameras and phones: many countries have a no phone/camera policy in immigration and customs areas
– Have any prescription medication easily to hand for inspection if required (be aware some countries have an issue with medication containing codeine)
– Be aware of how much of each currency you have and again available for inspection
Take your time completing the immigration/customs forms
– Sometimes you need to complete the same form in duplicate. You may not be allowed to rectify errors and may be required to start again so take your time.
– Top tip! If you are not sure what information to put in a particular field, best leave it blank. The official will help you and tell you what to put if anything at all. If you make a mistake, you may be sent back to start again.
Treat it as a day’s event
Border crossings can take anything from 1 hour to 7 hours. On average, ours took 2 hours on each side. Anything less was a bonus!
If you treat border crossings as a significant day’s event, you are less likely to stress over the amount of time the process takes.
Have food and drink available as you are unlikely to find any at the border.
Be emotionally prepared to spend time at the border and be confused by the steps required. Some borders have many buildings to go to in a specific order.
Be courteous and respectful of local customs
– a hello and a smile always go a long way
– be patient – there is usually a process to follow and you will find officials or locals or regular travelers willing to point you in the right direction
– the official has a job to do, and whether the process makes sense to the official or you, there is nothing they or we can do but help make it as easy as possible by our attitude and patience
– If entering Iran for example, women should cover their heads with a scarf
Remember to look for local currency exchange and vehicle insurance before leaving the border area!
Enjoyed Anne’s tips? Her more about her adventures: 2 SLOW SPEEDS