(The featured image is of a bracelet my Australian friend gave me because I have few pictures from my trip.)
Yyyyyyep! It’s another “on my way to X, Crazy Thing Y happens” story. I’m beginning to see why the process of planning and traveling stresses me out, and even why looking at a sign for an airport sends my worries a’flurryin’.
My full confession up front: I was foolish.
In spring of 2015, while living in Japan, I took a trip to Australia to see my friend for roughly a week. This was my first real trip to another country where I had to research and plan everything pretty much on my own. I had some help from my friend’s family as to which airport to fly into (not Syndey, unless I allowed at least 3 hours between flights), but, otherwise, I had to rely on myself.
Well, after canceling my tickets through Sydney and switching my flight to a different airport, I was all set to go. I had my small suitcase and my backpack packed. I had the correct passport this time. Everything was good.
I traveled the two hours to my airport and flew to Tokyo. After transferring airports there, I was on my way to Singapore, where I would enjoy a short layover at Changi Airport.
When I arrived at Changi, I was nervous because it was my first time transferring from one international flight to another without staying over at a hotel first. (Ugh. That Dubai flight.) After my worried self double-checked that, yes, I was doing everything correctly, I went to my gate and waited. I had never seen a gate separated from the hallways by glass walls before, so that gifted me another ten minutes of anxious observation of other waiting passengers.
About thirty or forty-five minutes before our flight boarded, they checked us in, and I was relieved to be behind the glass walls.
Until they asked where my visa for Australia was.
Remember how I said I was foolish? It’s because I assumed.
I’m not the greatest of researchers. I do my bit, but my efforts aren’t as wonderful, dogged, or fruitful as those of others. So, it was my understanding (and assumption) that, like other countries I had visited, as long as I was in Australia only 30 (or 60, or 90) days, I didn’t need a visa.
Boy, was I wrong. Apparently, anyone who is not from Australia or New Zealand must have a visa, at least as of 2015 when I traveled. (Please don’t be like me and assume things, like that my information here is still accurate. If you’re planning on visiting Australia, check and double-check the visa requirements yourself.)
When I heard that I needed a visa, I knew that this time I had really messed up. The only thing I knew about getting visas was that it had to be applied for and my passport sent away for it to be taken care of. How was I going to tell my friend that I’d screwed up royally and wouldn’t be able to see her now?
Praise be for the airport staff, because they said they could call and get an electronic visa for me then and there. Though it would cost me about $58 USD (or 79 Singaporean dollars), the money and the nerve-wracking ten or twenty minutes I had to wait were a small price to pay for boarding the flight in half an hour. Lesson learned. When I later went to South Korea, I triple-checked the visa requirements.
The airport I flew into in Australia was two hours away from my friend’s town. She told me I would have to take a train, and that it ran straight from the airport to where she lived. After that, I would need to take a couple-minutes-long taxi ride to her house because, as I arrived at nine on a weekday morning, she was in school and her parents at work. They’d told me how to get into their house, and they would see me that afternoon.
As you know by now, transportation stresses me out. I’m not accustomed to subways, trains, buses, or taxis, and, of course, my airport experiences have ranged from good to heart-stopping. But I could do this. I wasn’t in a country where I didn’t speak the language, so asking where the train was and that I needed a ticket were no problem. Within no time, I boarded and settled in for the long ride.
My eyes followed the map on the wall as we clacked along. One by one, I checked off the stops we arrived at, and I continually checked to see where my stop was and what the three before it were so I would be ready. When the train started skipping over stops, though, my heart sank into my stomach. Had I gotten on an express train? Was it going to pass by my stop?
Scared that I had messed up again, I got off at a stop far ahead of my own, and I asked a nearby conductor what was going on. He assured me that I was on the right train, and he ushered me back on quickly so the train wouldn’t depart without me. As much as I trusted him, I couldn’t stop the doubt gripping my chest.
It didn’t help when the train switched from…honestly, I forget if it was above ground to underground or vice versa. I think it was vice versa. Either way, it wasn’t what I was expecting and, indeed, it wasn’t like anything I had ever experienced before. Now I was convinced I was on the wrong train.
Except the stops were still correct.
At long last, I made it to my stop and went to find a taxi. It was drizzling now, so I sat under a covering with another woman who wanted a taxi. She got one before I did, and I overheard that she had called for one specifically. Great! Was I supposed to have done that? The only taxis I had taken to that point were from an airport to the hotel I was staying at that night.
The answer to my question was “no”, as I soon got a taxi myself from one that had pulled up nearby. I gave him the directions and, in no time flat, I was at my friend’s house–which, yes, I had looked up on Google Earth beforehand so I knew which one it would be.
After struggling with the gate and feeling like a fool, I walked to their front door and let myself in. I explored, got a shower, and read the note my friend had left behind for me. The return trip went smoothly.