How to Use iVisa to Avoid Travel Disasters
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“We have to try and beat the snow.” my mom said as we were getting ready for bed.
“ The embassy closes at 1 pm, so we should try to be in the city by 11 the latest,” my mom said, checking the computer. The blue glare from the screen was the only light in the room. I turned my head to look out the window and watched the gentile white powder accumulate around our home in the Hudson Valley.
“Got it,” I said, and rolled my eyes thinking my mom was being a little pushy about getting to the city so early.
If you let me go to bed then I won’t sleep in... my angsty self thought and set my alarm to 8 am.
But if I was being honest with myself, I loved going to the city, especially with my mom. But I couldn’t admit that yet. I fell asleep in the stillness of the countryside.
We woke up the next day in a rush. Even with our best intentions and pre-set alarms, my family always manages to be late. In high school, I had learned to eventually just lie to my family about when to be at places. From being picked up at school to graduations, my family had a penchant for tumbling out of our minivan, five minutes late, and rushing to our seats mildly sweaty and out of breath. But my time away from them and the leisure of winter break had helped me forget the need to prepare (lie).
Today, out of all days, wasn’t one I wanted to be late for. We were at the mercy of an embassy, so I could study abroad in Prague for the spring semester.
I left in two days.
For another country.
That I had never been to.
For a five-month trip.
And I didn’t have my visa.
( Nothing to see here folks, keep on driving)
This would be my first time on new soil and I was, well, in typical teenage fashion, apathetic about it. I honestly don’t remember my feelings at 19. I would assume I was excited, but I don’t have a visceral recollection. I think I had that beginner's mindset. Where you don’t have any expectations because you don’t know what to forecast. Or know where to place fear or happiness yet. I hadn’t experienced the delayed flights, the 14-hour bus rides through rocky Peruvian terrain, or the manspreading neighbor who hogs both elbow rests while blasting their music or the...I’ll stop there. I had never truly left New York, let alone the country.
So as a 19-year-old, I hadn’t a clue. Neither did my mother. The farthest she has ever traveled outside of America was Mexico on a quasi-honeymoon with my dad and her family to San Miguel de Allende where they traveled for five days only to spend three actually in Mexico and then hightailed it back to the states. At that point, that was the breadth of my mother’s travel experience. Needless to say, she didn’t know the ropes either, as supportive as she was ( and still is).
But I needed to get this visa and in traditional Behn fashion, I procrastinated getting it until two days before I left the country. And in what I would also learn to be traditional fashion, the Czech Embassy had weird hours that we had to comply with ( what kind of institution is only open from 9 am-12:30 pm on weekdays and CLOSED ON A WEDNESDAY?!)
The next morning, we ran from the front door to the minivan, and I felt that ominous crispness you feel when you know it is about to snow. As much as humans have detached themselves from earth’s unpredictable phenomenon, if you were raised in a world where it snows, you know that feeling before it comes. There is a rawness in the air. Something big is coming.
We jumped into my mom's Dodge Caravan, which we nicknamed “the boat” because it was wide and felt hollow on the inside. You had to hold onto the edges of the car seat on blustery days or when my mom made a reckless hard left. My middle sister Regina decided to join us. This was quite unlike my sister because she is a country girl through and through. We wore cowboy boots for her wedding, she plays the Dixie Chicks on the regular and loves long car drives around the hills during sunset. NYC is practically another planet for her.
At 8:30 ( already late), we drove down the road to get bagels and orange juice for the ride and start heading down the Taconic. The three-hour drive to the city is pretty much a straight shot down. If I was ever stranded in the city, I can walk along the Hudson river and find my way back home ( if I had the spare 40 hours to walk it).
We ( my mom) makes small talk with the owner of the cafe, and I’m starting to feel twitchy about why it is taking so long to leave.
20 minutes later, we hit the road which is...fine. There still hadn’t been enough time for them to be fully plowed from the night before, so the roads were slick. We traveled along at a comfortable 40 miles an hour on a 60 mile per hour road. I felt like I was watching the snow freeze around us we were going so slow.
We drove through the soft hills of the countryside with naked trees outlined in ice, like tight lingerie. It was calm; there were few people on the road, but more snow was on our trail.
An hour into our drive and full of bagel, the traffic slowed, and we could see the curve of red tail lights flickering on and off. The pulling up and stopping, inching up and stopping. Then waiting...
The red lights were muffled by the sweep of snow flurrying in between our cars.
I stare at the clock inquisitively.
We still had enough time.
But instead of moving, we sat.
And started and drove and then sat.
And jostled back and forth between inching and pausing, inching and pausing.
A tortoise could have made it to the city faster. We were stuck.
Not just physically but informationally as well.
This was the time before iPads were given to every kindergartener as a birthday present. The iPhone had come out two years before and felt like you were carrying around a hockey puck. My family had flip phones, but nothing to check the radar, traffic updates, or where the next gas station was. All we had to rely on was my mother's stellar memory and the wings of Mercury.
The weather was not cooling of my mom, who was starting to fume.
It’s incredible how even the nicest people develop road-rage within seconds of sitting in the car. Even if they generously give to charity and ritualistically give blood.
Now, it should be known that my mother is a wonderful human. She is a die-hard tree hugger, has selflessly raised three daughters, and will start unabashedly dancing in a grocery store if Michael Jackson comes on. She would do anything for us girls. And what my sister and I learned that day how unconditional her love is. Even if that meant braving a night in jail for reckless driving, which she was absolutely at risk for.
While pushing the speed limit, started recalculating our route like Sherlock Holmes trying to solve a mystery ( snow falling, slippery road, train 3.5 miles away, World's Best Doughnuts!, 100 miles to NYC).
“If we could get to Carmel MetroNorth, we could hop on the train instead!” my mom said, which was an impulsive if not an ingenious idea.
Regina and I looked at each other- we had never seen this cutting determination from my mother before.
Within the next 20 minutes, my mom somehow got us to the train station, and we inched our way into the parking lot. Regina and I jump out of the car and rush up to the train counter. We scan through all of the times and realized we wouldn’t get into the city in time. The tracks were being cleared of snow as well.
Around 10 am, we jump back into the car and begin booking it. And by booking it I mean, as hazardous as my mom could legally drive.
The snow was coming down harder. The muffled traffic reports coming through the radio were saying that the weather wouldn’t be lightening up anytime soon. Oh, and people should absolutely not be driving. I looked at my sister who was looking out the window and doubt starts to seep into my thoughts.
There is no way that my mom would keep driving in these conditions.
Maybe if we turn back now maybe we can get it tomorrow?
Or maybe I can get it before the flight two days from now?
“ Mom, do you think that we should head back?”
I looked up at the driver's seat to see my mother seething.
Her stress was warming up the car more than the heater and engine.
She did not want to stop. No delay, lane closings, or recalculations would get in her way.
It was as if my mother was taking the weather forecast as a personal slight against her. I realize where I get my spite from.
She was on a f#$%ing mission.
The accumulating snow blurred our windows and made it harder for us to see that we were inching closer to the city. Old trees quickly became replaced by high-rises.
At noon, we had magically made it into the Bronx.
T- MINUS 30 MINUTES
Good god, I can’t believe that we had made it this far. This was simultaneously thrilling and ill-advised. But just because we were in the city doesn’t mean our journey got easier.
What was once at a snail's pace, we now had to make up for in the insanity of the city. The long rolling roads were now replaced with constant stop signs, potholes, and rogue walkers crossing when it was convenient, not legal, for them. The snow had hit the city as well, and anyone who would be out on the road at that point should be labeled mentally unstable, but you haven’t met my mother.
Now my mom is weaving in and out of NYC traffic, halting and jostling between inconsistent traffic lights ( on EVERY CORNER?!). As we were from a town that has ONE stoplight, this seemed excessive.
We counted down every street from east 125 to 72nd street, our destination. My mom pulls the car up to the street corner and just shouts at us to RUN.
Regina and I lug open the van door, hop out, sin coats, and just start sprinting ( Regina being more youthful and the soccer player took the lead but had no idea where to stop).
As I’m running I hear the clink of my earring hit the cement ground but SACRIFICES MUST BE MADE. I get up to the door, but Regina keeps running, and I have to shout at her to come back. REGINA!
We stand at the entrance of this beautiful and building, and the doors are shut.
We pant, and it takes a minute for our eyes to focus and the adrenaline to calm down. Together we read the hours written on the door that says “Tuesday open from 9am-12:30 and 2pm-5pm.”
WHAT THE...WHY WASN’T THIS POSTED ON THE WEBSITE?!
I nearly faint.
“I’m never leaving the country,” says Regina.
My mom has been circling the block looking for her kids like a hungry shark and pulls up to the curb. We hop back in the car and spend way too much time looking for a parking spot. After getting gyros ( a forever Behn treat when we are in the city), we arrive back at 2 pm ON THE DOT and get my visa.
We walk in and I hand them all of my paperwork. I try to make small talk with the attendants and tell them our epic odyssey... for which they had no sympathy. It was my first taste of the austere and apathetic attitudes of Czech citizens.
I got my passport and flexed it open, cracking the spin in search of this inconvenient sticker that I had just lost years of my life over. The metallic paper shone back at me as I saw my face silvered and warped next to my visa’s expiration dates in the Czech language.
VALID: JANUARY 21st, 2009-JUNE 20th, 2009
I inhaled, closed the book, and headed home.
As ridiculous of an adventure that was, so much time, gas, and energy were wasted on getting this freaking visa. My family and I burned through the calories of those bagels with all of the stress of the situation, and that was before the 400-meter dash to the embassy! And I know that this is one of the THOUSANDS of stories where insanity, desperation, and anxiety has highlighted the experience of getting a visa.
It’s the 21st century: we can avoid these mistakes.
That is why I am elated that a company like iVisa exists. It breaks down each step that you need to take to apply for your visa, and customers get it promptly. I recently used iVisa as I researched how much a visa would cost if I lived in Prague.
Fortunately for the amount of time I plan on staying, I don’t need a visa for the Czech Republic. Researching on iVisa was much easier than the first time I had applied for a visa 10 (omg, wait..calculates math in her head) yes, 10 years ago.
But for more complicated visa’s, the website gives you an accurate time frame and anything else you need to know for applying ( you can’t just rock up to some countries without one). iVisa has a “ zero frustration policy.” For anyone who has applied for visas pre-internet era, you know the beauty of this.
iVisa does charge a small visa application fee. Personally, after spending years avoiding paying fees, I find that I’m more frustrated with the freeway. That money I “saved” ends up going towards therapy I need after, so I’m spending it either way. Now, I’m more than happy to pay a worry-free fee.
When I was 19, I didn’t truly understand how the whole process went down- all of the passport, visa, money exchange nonsense. iVisa is an incredibly helpful service and has you in mind. If you made a mistake on your end, they pay the embassy to try again. Additionally, when you do an online visa form, so many government sites are notorious for not being user-friendly, long buffering periods, or crashing altogether.
They take the tumult out of getting an electronic visa, no drives to a city 6-hours away or dealing with snooty embassy employees. They also have 24/7 customer service where government embassies typically have 0/0 customer service. One of the parts that I thought was wonderful about this website is that if you are in a panic to get your visa, they can have it expedited in as few as 18 hours. Less than a day. Where most government agencies take up to 72 hours. This would have been wildly useful information when I was 19. It takes the worry out of the eta for your visa application. iVisa is the most reputable and reliable Visa site in the world.
Now you don’t need your frantic mother or study abroad advisor to help you figure all of this hassle out. It is easily one of my new top tips on how to get a visa easily, and how to avoid e-visa application mistakes altogether. Save that energy for hiking SaPa in Vietnam, not for frantically sprinting in the streets of Manhattan to your tourist visa appointment.
Today, as a well-seasoned traveler, I know EXACTLY what to be afraid of ( and how to prepare for it).