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My travel tips are not the kind that will help you find the cheapest airfare for where you want to go. Sorry, nothing on how to get a cheap rate at an expensive hotel or some wonderful-find-hotel at a destination either. I can never help you with driving or road trips.
THIS TIME: Do you know what it means when they tell you that you must
have a visa to enter a country?
Hint: No, they do not mean a credit card.
Some countries, in order for you to enter, require visas. First you must obtain your passport and then apply to the consulate in the USA for a visa application. Some also require you to have pictures accompany the application. You must answer every question on an application, none may be left blank. In places where you feel there is no answer, the words: nil, none or not applicable should be used. After completing all the questions on the application, and attaching passport pictures, properly cut if required, it and your passport must be sent to the consulate along with enough postage on a SASE to be returned to you.
ANYONE WHOSE EYEBROWS HAVE SUDDENLY SHOT UP IN SHOCK AT THIS IDEA, TAKE NOTE.
Yes, the danger of losing your passport this way seems very possible. That is why I recommend, as most travel agents will, that you use a visa service. You may think their fees excessive, however your passport is then secure. Yes, you have to pay for the postage to and from the Visa Service, but you have the added security of knowing that they have couriers walk you passport to and from the consulates. They also check all documents carefully to be sure they are correct.
One of the countries you may not have realized had a visa requirement is Mexico. Originally they provided them to airline ticket counters and travel agencies in bulk, to complete for everyone who bought an airline ticket. But in later years, they were handed out on board the plane to be completed before entry. They were called Mexican Tourist Cards.
The other country that makes it very easy is Australia. They made a form available online and travel agents and the airlines can issue them for you. They will need to see your passport to complete it.
Russia demands a visa if you wish to travel on your own or by tour. If you go in by ship and only take the shore excursions, no visa is required-you travel in a group visa and no toodling off by yourself is allowed. However only a photocopy of the first two pages of your passport is required to be sent to the consulate. My personal experience in dealing with the Russian Consulate is that they are quite good at loosing applications and operate at their own good speed. Receiving visas a day before the client's departure can cause major stomach upset. A visa service prefers to show up with a hand full of applications, bribe the clerk and wait until they are all done.
Many other countries require visas, most notably Brazil, India, China, Kenya and South Africa, for tourists. Almost all countries require them when extensive stays are planned or you are traveling on business where documentation or currency will change hands. Needless to say, many businessmen planning on only doing some talking claim to be traveling for pleasure.
If you are someone who enjoys seeing and collecting all those entry and departure stamps in you passport, you will love a visa. It's the thrill any collector feels when they come upon an exotic variety for their collection.
NEXT TIME: The delights and benefits of cruising. (PS I just returned from a ten-day cruise in the Baltic on Holland America. It was my tenth cruise. One unpacking, 7 cities visited.)